While Indonesia officially recognizes a number of religions and perspectives, the country is largely conservative in social values. This has led to vilification and persecution of the LGBT community, which is again under threat from heavy-handed authorities and a complicated judicial system.
Recent targeting of the community has raised questions, with many argue that the laws simply do not apply to LGBT, as arguing laws condemn someone who has sexual intimacy with another person to whom they are not married, while fornication laws mostly punish pedophilia. The largely autonomous province of Aceh, which abides by Shariah law, condemns homosexuality.
For the past few years, persecution of the LGBT community has greatly increased. The sensational early 2016 cyanide coffee murder of Wayan Mirna Salihin by Jessica Kumala Wongso led to widespread rumours of a sexual and romantic relationship between the two, while iconic dangdut singer Saiful Jamil was arrested for sexual relations with boys under 20 escalated contempt toward the community.
A recent public caning in Aceh, which saw two young men punished with 85 lashings after engaging in consensual sex, saw widespread condemnation from LGBT and human rights activists and support from conservative groups. A raid on a North Jakarta spa in late May has further escalated concerns within the community.
Organizations have sprung up to help protect the rights of the LGBT community. Arus Pelangi, the largest such group, formed to campaign for the rights of people across all sexual orientations and gender identities. The group has been active in defending rights as persecution increases.
“The ideas of hate are growing stronger and it is proven by the comments posted online about LGBT people. There have even been comments to destroy and burn LGBT people and communities,” Arus Pelangi activist Lini Zurlia told Indonesia Expat on Wednesday, June 7.
“The most excruciating thing is that most Indonesians think LGBT is a mental defect that has to be ‘cured.’ Most Indonesians think homosexuality is criminal and immoral and so LGBT people need to be imprisoned as soon as possible,” Zurlia said.
While the Indonesian government does not have any laws targeting LGBT specifically, Zurlia said there are at least 47 laws, including regional and provincial bylaws, used to target LGBT groups, including pornography laws.
For Arus Pelangi, the biggest concerns relate to supporting LGBT identifying individuals in coming out to their families and living their best life, but also revisions to the Penal Code which could see LGBT Indonesians targeted.
“If the revision is approved and concluded […] more human rights would be taken away and the worst is, the country would agree to do so,” Zurlia said.
Social persecution impacts the mental health and confidence of LGBT identifying individuals, particularly the young or at-risk who are in the process of accepting themselves.
Benny, a former Youth Advisory Board Member at the National Centre for Prevention of Youth Suicide, told Indonesia Expat that it is becoming harder and harder for community members to obtain basic rights, such as education or work, due to intolerance.
“Cisgender-hetero people may not realize the danger of pressuring their LGBT counterparts – but, as people give them pressure to live in accordance to the ‘norms,’ LGBT people will try to hide their identity and it is not so rare that they decide to end up in a mixed orientation marriage,” Benny said.
“This could be harmful to their heterosexual partners who don’t have any idea about their sexuality. But they have to do it – most of the time, it’s because they want to make their family happy and conform to society as they are afraid to be rejected, victimised and sometimes threatened to be killed,” he added.
Misinformation spread by community leaders exacerbates the issue. In 2016, Tangerang Mayor Arief Wismansyah famously claimed homosexuality is caused by eating instant noodles. According to him, parents are now busier working and so children are raised on a diet of instant food and canned milk.
“To create Indonesian children who are smart and competitive, parents have to give adequate nutrition, especially breastfeeding,” Wismansyah said. “It’s no wonder that (the number of) LGBT people is increasing.”
“Statements that came out from the country’s apparatus, public university rectors and even ministries which have the tendency to be negative towards LGBT people will, of course, create major negative impacts, including discrimination, towards LGBT,” Zurlia said.
Once a gay individual perceives their own sexuality as an illness, and that belief is then reinforced by authorities, it can create a thwarted sense of self, Benny said.
“You see yourself as broken, bent and abnormal – then the self hatred comes. In the scientific community, we know this as internalized homophobia/homonegativity, a negative attitude towards your own homosexuality. You try to change, but you cannot. This would end up in deep frustration that may haunt you for the rest of your life,” Benny said.
“Much research has shown that health and behavioral problems – ranging from higher risk of risky sexual behavior, loneliness, trust issues in a relationship, masculinity and body image problems, depression, self harm, substance use problems and suicide – exist among the homosexual community, particularly among gay men, due to the marginalization and internalization of these negative heterosexist worldview. Not because of their sexual orientation/gender identity per se,” he added.
Among the criminalization of LGBT, activists have accused the government and other authorities of being unjust. Zurlia said that, for instance, in Aceh, public caning was meted out to two men who held little power in society.
“For example, a rumor said that there has never been any official who was publicly caned even though they violated the same rules. Once again, what we know is only rumours and not hard facts. It is best to conduct further investigations regarding this,” Zurlia said.