LGBT people and communities in Indonesia have recently come under a series of unprecedented verbal attacks from top government officials, state institutions and extremists.
This series of verbal assaults began in January when the Minister for Education criticized a group providing counseling services for students. On February 15, Vice President Jusuf Kalla called on the United Nations to shut down its groundbreaking $8 million regional initiative, Being LGBTI in Asia. Two days later an umbrella organization of Muslim groups called for “banning LGBT [sexual] activities and other deviant types of sexual intercourse and prosecution of those involved in LGBT activities.”
On February 23, the Defense Minister called the LGBT movement a form of “proxy war” to undermine Indonesian sovereignty. The Minister for Women’s Empowerment condemned LGBT people for promoting a “deviant lifestyle.” On February 26, a former minister from an Islamist party said those committing “homosexual acts” should be put to death.
These harsh criticisms of LGBT people are surprising to many as they are occurring during the presidency of Joko Widodo, a politician with reformist credentials who was elected in July 2014.
Fortunately, there have also been voices supporting LGBT people in the cabinet. The Coordinating Minister for Security issued a statement saying LGBT people have a right to protection by the state and expressing regret that they had been victims of abuse.
“The government has shut down a slew of websites, ordered TV programs depicting gay lives off the air,” Asia One reported. “[The government] demanded all instant messaging apps remove same-sex emoticons - like men holding hands and the symbolic rainbow flag - or face a ban.”
Religious activists have rallied to denounce LGBT rights as a disease. Additionally, the Indonesian Psychiatrists Association defied established scientific consensus and changed its diagnostic guidelines and labeled gay and bisexual people as having psychiatric problems and transgender people as “mentally disordered.” A member of the Association claimed that being LGBT can be “healed through psychiatric treatment.” This would involve the discredited and dangerous practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” which the U.N. has declared to be tantamount to torture.
Last month, the Islamic Jihad Front pressured the local government of Yogyakarta to forcibly close a school for transgender women. According to Buzzfeed, many regarded the school as “a symbol of Indonesia’s religious pluralism.”
“Indonesian LGBT people are resilient and we will fight for our rights no matter what comes our way,” Indonesia’s best known LGBT activist Dede Oetomo, who started the country’s first LGBT rights group GAYa NUSANTARA in 1987, said. “We were engaged in human rights activism during the oppressive Suharto dictatorship and have undergone a lot worse.”
With 250 million people, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and has the world’s largest population of Muslims. A Pew Research Center study in 2013 indicated that 93 percent of Indonesians reject homosexuality, the highest figure among all Asian countries surveyed. Indonesia’s national laws do not criminalize same-sex relationships but the semi-autonomous province of Aceh, which is governed by Shariah law, subjects LGBT people to caning.
HRC will continue to closely monitor the situation in Indonesia as it develops. To learn more about LGBT rights and criminalization laws across the world, visit HRC.org/Global.