In January this year, Indonesia’s education minister said that LGBT groups should be banned from university campuses because they pose a moral threat to the nation.
And it spiraled from there – public vitriol was unleashed on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The national psychiatric association labeled homosexuality a mental disorder, the vice president rejected UN funding for LGBT projects, and one local mayor even warned that instant noodles could turn your children gay.
While the media storm has subsided, many LGBT groups continue to face the fall out, reports Nicole Curby.
More than 100 incidents of hate speech, sexual violence and gay bashings targeting the LGBT community have been recorded in the last 3 months, in just eight of Indonesia’s 34 provinces.
That’s according to initial research from the LGBT rights organization Arus Pelangi. They understand first-hand the risks faced by LGBT people across Indonesia.
When the organisation ran a training for LGBT advocates from around the country earlier this year, they were threatened by the vigilante group, the Islamic Defender’s Front, or FPI.
“The FPI reported our trainings and then asked the police to ban these trainings,” Ryan Korbarri, from Arus Pelangi, explained.
“The police push the hotel management to say this training has to end. We decided to evacuate all the participants. Because there are 20 police in the hotel and the participants are really frightened. It’s really crazy. We have to move.”
Since then, Arus Pelangi have tightened their own security measures. The office and it’s address is hidden, and visitors are no longer accepted.
Instead I spoke with them outside the office, where Chairperson Yulita Rustinawati explained her concerns for LGBT people across Indonesia.
She told me about one gay couple in West Sumatra, who were recently, forcefully evicted from their home.
Despite living in their neighborhood, or ‘kampung,’ for many years, the community suddenly turned against the couple, extorting money from them, and then reporting them to police.
“Because the community thought they make the kampung dirty, they make the area where they are living dirty because they are a gay couple. The have to pay to clean the kampung – quote unquote - to clean the kampung because they are gay they make the kampung dirty. And then after that, they, the gay couple, are not allowed to live in that area,” reported Yulita Rustinawata.
Even in the capital Jakarta, a bustling, modern, mega-city, some in the LGBT community told me they are too afraid to go out to the handful of the city’s gay bars anymore – in fear they might be raided by police, or attacked by hardliners.
Across Indonesia, the impacts of the LGBT backlash have reverberated around the country.
In Yogyakarta, the Al Fatah Islamic Boarding School for transgender women remains closed, after a fundamentalist group threatened to attack the school in February.
Claiming they couldn’t offer protection, police forced the school to close its doors.
Leader of the school, Sinta Ratri remains adamant it will reopen in the same location, despite threats of further attacks.
While Sinta and many others say they feel safe in their immediate communities, intimidation and threats of violence from religious thug groups has made them vulnerable.
Even more so, the relative impunity with which such groups operate.
In March, for example, the feminist event LadyFast, also in Yogyajakarta was attacked by a group of religious hardliners.
When the police arrived they shut it down, arrested three of the LadyFast organizers – but no one from the vigilante group.
Yulita Rustinawata from Arus Pelangi maintains that the mandate of the police is to protect citizens, regardless of religion, or sexual orientation. “The police have a mandate to protect citizens including us, but why they don’t do it?” she asked.
In many ways Indonesia is an open, tolerant society, but there are strong currents of religious conservatism.
And in a country where more than 90 percent of the population subscribes to Islam, the more visible and open the LGBT movement becomes, the more tension that creates with conservatives, and fringe vigilantes, says Yulita.
“The reason why it is happening now is because we start to talk about our rights, because we start to speak out. And then on the other side there are increasing intolerance groups, the vigilante groups, rising at the same time.”
While hysteria has vanished from the headlines, the attacks, the hate speech, and the growing intolerance continues to be felt on the ground.
The feeling in the LGBT community here is that this is unlikely to be the end of it.
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