Indonesia’s Frightening And Sudden Turn Against LGBT People

An Indonesian activist with painted face and body waves a colorful flag that represents LGBT people during a protest demanding equality for them in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Friday, May 31, 2012. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BINSAR BAKKARA

By Beenish Ahmed

It’s not easy being an LGBT person in Indonesia, and it’s only gotten harder in recent weeks.

More than 89 percent of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have been the victims of “psychological, physical, sexual, economic, and cultural abuse,” according to a survey conducted by Arus Pelangi, an Indonesian LGBT rights organization.

The country’s vice president called for the United Nations to stop funding a program that is meant to end the stigma, discrimination, and violence LGBT people face in Indonesia.

“What is most worrying is that they want to fight for equal marriage rights,” Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla said, even though the relatively small LGBT rights community in Indonesia has not made any real push for marriage equality. A whopping 93 percent of Indonesians polled by the Pew Research Center in 2013 said that society should not accept homosexuality.

Homosexuality is not criminalized in the country aside for in the conservative Aceh state. Still, a flurry of anti-LGBT statements and policies in recent weeks have exemplified the country’s intolerance.

‘A Kind Of Modern Warfare’

Last month, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu called the country’s LGBT community “a threat” that he likened to something worse than nuclear bombs.

“It’s dangerous as we can’t see who our foes are, but out of the blue everyone is brainwashed — now the [LGBT] community is demanding more freedom,” he said. “It really is a threat.”

The hardline minister said that the “threat” is one that poses the same sort of threat as a guerrilla-style “proxy war.”

“In a proxy war — another state might have occupied the minds of the nation without anyone realizing it,” Ryacudu said. “In a nuclear war, if a bomb is dropped over Jakarta, Semarang will not be affected — but in a proxy war, everything we know could disappear in an instant.”

“This sort of brainwashing is dangerous, as it skews the mindset of our nation away from our base ideology,” the hardline minister told the news website, Tempo.

The Fight Over Emojis

The Indonesian government ordered instant messaging services to remove emojis depicting same-sex people in February. Line, an instant messaging app, has done so although its competitor Whatsapp has yet to comply with the demand.

“Social media must respect the culture and local wisdom of the country where they have large numbers of users,” Ismail Cawidu, a spokesman for the government’s communication ministry, told the Guardian.

‘LGBT Is A Disease’

About 100 men carried signs that read ‘LGBT is a disease’ through the main street of Yogyakarta, an Indonesian university town last week after a group of LGBT rights activists called for a halt to attacks on the community.

Mohammad Fuoad, a leader of the Islamic People Forum, had similar harsh words for LGBT people.

If legalised, this disease will be more contagious and harmful to our children. Why would they even ask for legality?

“We reject the LGBT because they asked for equality and legality from the government and it’s getting more and more disarming,” he said. “If legalized, this disease will be more contagious and harmful to our children. Why would they even ask for legality?”

The protests coincided with a report from the country’s main psychiatric organization that classified LGBT people as mentally ill, as ThinkProgress reported last week.

“We really do care about them,” Suzy Yusna Dewi of the Indonesian Psychiatrists Association told the Jakarta Post. “What we are worried about is, if left untreated, such sexual tendencies could become a commonly accepted condition in society.”

The classification is in stark contrast to the most of the world’s psychiatric organizations which consider sexual orientation and gender identity to be rooted in an individual’s biologic make-up.

Instant Noodles and Baby Formula

During a seminar on pregnancy last month, an Indonesian mayor made the bizarre claim that instant noodles and baby formula are “making babies gay.”

“To create Indonesian children that are healthy smart and competitive, the most important thing is, from the beginning, to provide them adequate nutrition, especially breastfeeding,” Arief R. Wismansyah said.

He said a reliance on instant noodles and baby formula by busy parents are causing a rise in the country’s LGBT population.

“It’s no wonder there are more LGBT,” Wismansyah said.

Transgender School Shut Down

Following protests from an organization that calls itself the Islamic Jihad Front, a Muslim academy for transgender women closed down last month.

There were about 40 transgender women, or waria as they are known, enrolled in the school which was opened in 2008.

“Before people still understood that waria is separate from LGBT, but now even us waria have been becoming part of the LGBT,” Shinta Ratri, the school’s director, told Buzzfeed.