What you need to know
As Indonesia’s Constitutional Court considers criminalizing homosexuality, a new report bemoans the proliferation of the anti-gay movement across the archipelago.
Despite drawing the ire of the international human rights community, Indonesia has reaffirmed its anti-gay stance, and a report released today by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the “unprecedented” attacks in recent months on the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Responding to the report, presidential spokesman Johan Budi told Agence France-Presse, “There is no room in Indonesia for the proliferation of the LGBT movement.”
The report suggests that anti-LGBT comments by government officials earlier this year led to a spate of “threats and vitriol against LGBT Indonesians” by state commissions, militant Islamists, and mainstream religious organizations.
“That outpouring of intolerance has resulted in proposals of laws which pose a serious long-term threat to the rights and safety of LGBT Indonesians,” HRW says.
The publication of the HRW report comes as the country’s Constitutional Court hears a petition bought by 12 academics to make it illegal for homosexuals to engage in sexual activities. The Jakarta Post reported earlier this month that five hearings had already taken place after the court affirmed the plaintiffs had grounds to present their case.
Despite some attacks in recent years, the report notes that civil society in Indonesia had strengthened – there are estimates of 120 NGOs working with sexual and gender minority populations. However, it appears that increased visibility in society has now led to increased risk for the groups.
The New York City-headquartered organization interviewed 17 waria or transgender women, eight transgender men, 13 lesbians, 13 gay men, and one bisexual man.
Whereas previously sexual and gender minorities “lived in a climate of relative tolerance, based on discretion,” now “suspicion that LGBT groups will organize and gain public influence has been a stronger trigger for attacks than bias against individuals,” HRW says.
“A waria in South Sulawesi told Human Rights Watch: ‘The fundamentalists never attack individuals, only gatherings — they are not panicked about us as people because we have been around forever. They are panicked about ideas they associate with us — like same-sex marriage,’” the report says.
Religious groups, some of whom are understood to hold significant political power, have been active in the discrimination against LGBT groups, the report says. In some cases, major Muslim organizations have called for criminal sanctions against LGBT people and activism.
“The country’s most powerful nongovernmental political institution is now on record openly supporting discriminatory legislation and is promoting a bogus model of ‘curative’ intervention, positions which reject science and respect for the basic rights of LGBT people,” the report says.
While Indonesia has never criminalized same-sex sexual behavior, in some areas local officials have passed by-laws classifying homosexual behavior as "immoral" and prescribed punishments.
The report adds that regions with Sharia by-laws, like Aceh province, also implicitly give greater power to religious extremists, “and the sense that they could attack minorities with impunity.”
“A 32-year-old waria in South Sulawesi told Human Rights Watch, ‘The most terrifying part is the Islamist groups in Makassar…. Even if we want to hold a small gathering of waria for HIV education or something, we know the FPI will show up and harass us.’”
The report documents the numerous instances of high profile politicians making derogatory and inflammatory remarks against homosexuals.
It also points to fearmongering by some media – a headline reading "LGBT a Serious Threat" dominated the front page of right-wing tabloid Republika back in January.
One LGBT NGO leader is quoted as saying, “Our landlord came to us and asked 'Is this an LGBT organization?’ We said yes, and he said, ‘I don’t have a problem with LGBT, but now it’s in the media so the neighbors have come to me to say they’re worried about you being here.’”
In addition to pressure being put directly on NGOs, some universities have cancelled LGBT events and threatened students or staff involved in LGBT organizations with expulsion.
The report suggests homophobia is becoming institutionalized and freedom of information and expression is being restricted.
It notes that the National Broadcasting Commission (KPI) has banned “the broadcast on television and radio of information related to LGBT people, calling the ban protection for children and adolescents that are vulnerable to duplicating LGBT 'deviant behavior.’”
The sensitivity over the issue has extended to the health sector, with Indonesian National AIDS Commission informally discouraging agencies from funding gay-related projects.
HRW calls on Indonesia’s government to provide leadership on the issue.
“Instead of slurring LGBT people, government officials should make and enforce public pledges to protect all Indonesians from violence and discrimination,” the organization says.
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole