Expert Says LGBTIQ Indonesians Conditions Are Getting Worse

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West Sumatra, Indonesia

OutRight Communications Officer, Rashima Kwatra, and Communications Intern, Rachel Alatalo, took the opportunity to interview Saskia Wieringa, expert on LGBTIQ issues in Indonesia in follow up to her blog, “Indonesian University Prohibits LGBT Students to Register.” The interview starts with a discussion on an incident where the Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra required students entering the university to sign a document declaring that they were not part of the LGBT community. The requirement was met with pushback by the Padang Legal Aid Institute, which “wrote a sharp open letter (dated 29 April 2017) protesting against this violation of the right to education of LGBT people. The requirement has since been removed from the website.” The discussion concludes with Wieringa reflecting on the deteriorating situation for LGBTIQ people in Indonesia.

Wieringa, along with Nursyahbani Katjasungkana and OutRight’s Grace Poore, also penned report Creeping Criminalization, which was launched earlier this year. The report documents the departure of regional regulations from national level laws and the growing criminalization and encroachment of rights of LGBTIQ people and women in Indonesia. As Wieringa pointed out, the future seems bleak and dangerous for the LGBTIQ community, many of whom have been forced to close their organizations, operate in secret, and live lives of consistent fear.

Wieringa fills OutRight in on the environment facing LGBTIQ people in Indonesia:

OutRight: Is West Sumatra known to be more conservative than other parts of Indonesia, like Aceh?

Wieringa: There is quite a bit of diversity in the country, it is a huge country, which has 13,000 islands and over 600 cultures and languages. But this kind of issue is a problem all over the country. In Aceh it is the worst because there is Sharia law. As you have seen in the report that we did with OutRight regarding the regional regulations, and that is the kind of creeping criminalization that is going on everywhere. It is a serious development. Again and again you find out that some district has enacted homophobic regulations. Just recently an article came out which noted that of all the ASEAN countries, the level of homonegativity in Indonesia is the highest. Even higher than Malaysia. That is very worrying because Indonesia used to be known as quite tolerant. I’ve always had my doubts about that, having lived in Indonesia. I never felt as a lesbian woman at ease there. But of course the waria, the male to female transgender, have been visible, and their visibility has been seen as a marker of tolerance. But these waria were visible because they were in the sex trade, but why were they there? - because they could go no where else. That is not a marker of tolerance, that is a marker of exceptionalism.

OutRight: Since the incident have other regional regulations or other legislation emerged to undermine the protections for LGBTIQ people?

Wieringa: Indonesia did not have Penal Code 377, which is the problem under British former colonies. But what Indonesia has is an almost 1:1 of the criminal code by the Dutch colonial government. In Dutch law, there was no full scale prohibition of sodomy, but we had prohibition of same-sex relations with a minor. A conservative group, AILA Alliance, or Family Alliance, is trying to change the law in Indonesia to delete “with minors” out of the law as it stands, so that it will read “homosexuality is prohibited,” therefore the law will criminalize homosexuality. On the legislative front we are all waiting with trepidation on the outcome of the case with AILA Alliance. If the AILA Alliance gets their way, we are done for.

It is striking that LGBT groups cannot appear themselves to challenge the case as the danger is very grave. If LGBT people came in front of the court themselves, the judges would become very agitated and push back. So it is the women’s movement in Indonesia that fights for them - helping them formulate their defence.

There is also another homophobic law that is in the works. There are some right wing hardliner Muslim parties who have proposed a law to criminalize homosexuality and already the legislative council of the Parliament said the draft bill of the law will be treated with urgency. They will immediately try to pass the law.

OutRight: What impact would such a legislation have on the lives of Indonesian LGBTIQ?

Wieringa: The impact is already felt in the moment. Gay men are avoiding saunas. People don’t go to offices anymore. Already lesbian organizations, which were already very careful, are taking extra steps. For example one organization has bought their own house so they can’t be ejected by landlords who might be homophobic. It is in such a backstreet so that big vans cannot easily go there, so that the militia cannot come in, beat up, and shout at people.

What is also going on is that all other foreign agencies which had LGBT programs have had to leave and stop funding local LGBTIQ organizations. The government is cutting off any financial lifeline to LGBT organizations, and they have been successful. Because of this, people have had to become creative in their solutions. In another organization, all of their members are involved in trading, to find other sources of income. It has a big impact on LGBTIQ rights programs - it is difficult to be working full time on an issue like this.

Another dangerous development is what is happening to the LGBT youth in Indonesia. Young people can’t find information anymore because websites are being monitored and shut down by the government. Not only that, their parents are monitoring them. Parents are being brainwashed, to be very harsh on their children if they are LGBT, to prohibit it, so they themselves feel guilty. It is seen as their fault. So young people are not finding support anymore and organizations that should help them cannot work anymore.

OutRight: Is there anything else that is notable?

Wieringa:  This is Salafist Islam that is creeping in. They are funding everything, training colleges that produce teachers. Also, the 32 years of New Order has created a population in which education meets propaganda. People are not trained to think for themselves. People come up with one sentence - that LGBT people are “sick” or they are “criminals” - they are only taught what people teach them.

The government, which is so anti-communist, they are saying the same things. What is happening is that they call LGBT and communism on one banner - Muslims are against LGBT and against Communism. So what’s happening in the mind of people are that LGBT people are possibly communist and that communists are LGBT - and now they are associated with each other all the time, they are satanized and dehumanised.

I see Indonesia sliding back into a very depressive state at the moment.

OutRight: What other ways can international groups support Indonesian LGBT groups besides funding?

Wieringa: I’m not sure, but we have got to ask the groups on the ground who are working on these issues every day. Honestly, good intentions to help can backfire. We simply have to go by what Indonesian groups think are possible. Things are taking a turn for the worse and we do not want to exacerbate the situation.

OutRight: Are you working on anything currently?

Wieringa: I am now writing a book on propaganda and how propaganda was motivated in Indonesia. Also about the sexual moral panic in 1965 and the current sexual moral panic for homophobia, and the linkages. You see terror, physical terror and ideological propaganda in both cases.