In light of Orlando: LGBT community in Indonesia speaks up

Photo by Fibonacci Blue

By Fawnia

The recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida has sparked movements from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities all over the globe, including countries in Southeast Asia.

Omar Mateeen, a 29-year-old man, opened fire in Pulse gay nightclub on 12 June, killing 49 patrons of the club ranging from age 18 to 50 years old. The horrible massacre instantly drew attention to LGBT communities both in the US and in different parts of the world. Support flooded in, as grieving family members, friends, and even US President Barack Obama sounded their disapproval on the targeting of the LGBT community.

In Singapore, a candlelight vigil was held in the remembrance of the victims of the Orlando shooting. In Indonesia, dozens of organisations and individuals under Gerakan Keberagamaan Seksualitas Indonesia (GKSI), or Indonesia Sexuality Diversity Movement, condemned the shooting. Members of GKSI also expressed their condolences, and refused to associate the shooting with any faith group or belief.

On the same occasion, GKSI also voiced its concerns regarding the safety of members of the LGBT community in Indonesia and other countries, noting that the LGBT community has been under constant threat around the world. Furthermore, GKSI asked the Indonesian government to voice, promote, and campaign for the rights of the LGBT community, both in Indonesia and globally.

GKSI expected that by doing so, less similar occurrences will happen in the future, protecting the LGBT community in the process. GKSI also urged the government to create legislation and regulations that ensure the LGBT community is protected from all kinds of violence and discrimination.

On top of it, many share the view that the government must intrinsically involve religious leaders and public figures to promote peace and diversity, to discourage discrimination towards the LGBT community, and against violence in general.

The LGBT community in Indonesia

The LGBT community in conservative Indonesia has indeed been under constant persecution and attacks.

The Indonesian Defence Minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, went as far on one occasion as to identify the LGBT community as part of proxy war, in an attempt to gain control over the hearts and minds of the country. He said that members of the LGBT community “are dangerous, since we can’t identify our foe.”

In a similar vein, Technology, Research and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir said that members of the LGBT community should be banned from university campuses. He argued that universities are institutions for the safeguard of morals, and that the LGBT community was guilty of corrupting the “morals of the nation”.

He also disapproved of the formation of the Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC) by University of Indonesia (UI), which offers counselling for LGBT students.

Minister of Education and Culture, Anies Baswedan, named LGBT movements as “deviant behavior”, and urged parents and teachers to proactively “prevent” a so-called social anomaly by stepping up their communication with children and teenagers in their growing year.

The Ministry of Communication and Information even banned LGBT-themed stickers and emoticons to combat the spread of “LGBT ideology”. An ex-minister went even further,  quoting a hadist, a report or an account of Islamic prophet Muhammad’s words or actions,  that encouraged the murder of members of the LGBT community.

In Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, hearing such strong reactions is not surprising. As LGBTs in Indonesia live under constant fear and negativity, many of them hide their sexuality or gender in an attempt to assimilate into Indonesian society.

“Coming out” is rarely an option, especially for Muslims, or those raised in conservative, religious families. Users of social networking sites also do not hesitate to use harsh words and derogatory terms when discussing LGBT issues on social platforms.

Friends and relatives at times also show strong repulsion towards LGBT lifestyles. Thus, closeted LGBTs often prefer to lead a seemingly normal life, getting married to a member of the opposite sex and raising families just like heterosexual couples.

Indonesia  is in fact a country of rich cultural diversity. For instance, the Bugis ethnic group, in South Sulawesi, recognises five different genders – male, female, calalai (one assigned female at birth but takes on the role of a heterosexual male), calabai (one assigned male at birth but takes on the role of a heterosexual female), and bissu (neither male or female –androgynous).

However, it is both surprising and ironic that in the same country where different gender roles are socially accepted, LGBTs are put under much stress and social pressure. In the era of globalisation where citizens can easily access unlimited amount of information regarding gender roles and sexualities, most Indonesians tend to remain ignorant on LGBT issues.

On a brighter note, the rights of LGBTs are in fact protected by the 1945 Constitution of Indonesia. The constitution does not prohibit any same-sex sexual activities. Indonesia, interestingly, also has one of the oldest LGBT organisations in Asia – Lambda Indonesia, founded in the 1980s. Despite opposition and discrimination, LGBTs in Indonesia firmly fight for their rights.

Will the situation get better for them in Indonesia? Only time will tell.