Budi Sudarto came to Australia hoping that a developed country would be more open to LGBTIQ+ people. But he says the toughest experiences in his personal journey as a Muslim gay man came about in Australia.
Budi Sudarto came to Australia in 1998 to continue his education and enrolled in an undergraduate course at Monash University. He has been living in Melbourne ever since.
Mr Sudarto says he chose Australia because he wanted to be in an environment that was more open to LGBTIQ+ people.
"Because while in Jakarta, I had to hide away," he says.
- Mr Sudarto says he experienced racism within Australia’s LGBTIQ+ community when he first arrived in the country
- He says he did not have friends because LGBTIQ+ people in Australia didn’t want to associate with Asians
- “Non-conservative” interpretation of the Qur’an helped him accept his identity as a Muslim gay man
The former coordinator of Gay Asian Proud of the Victorian AIDS Council says the attitudes of the Australian community towards LGBTIQ+ people have changed a lot since the time he first came to Australia.
"Compared to the 90s, there are now more LGBT rights in Australia," he says, referring to the right to marry and the legal protection against discrimination.
"It is indeed a lot different and more progressive than it was back then."
He says not only the attitudes are changing, but the communities are also becoming increasingly diverse.
"In the 90s, most of the communities were white, and those from Asia were still small in numbers," he says. "Right now, especially ahead of Mardi Gras, we have seen many communities from many countries, including Indonesia, that will be in Mardi Gras. So the scope is growing."
"Not into Asians"
But being a gay man wasn't always easy for Mr Sudarto, not even in Australia - a place that he thought would be way more open to LGBTI people than his native country Indonesia.
He says the hardest part of his personal journey as a gay man came about in Australia.
"Even though we have more rights now, there are still issues about racism in Australia... there are still issues with the fact that we have brown skin," he says. "That is a very big problem because racism in the LGBT community is quite strong, especially in the 90s it was quite strong."
Mr Sudarto, who is the Vice-President of Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council, says this had turned him into "a bleak and semi-depressed" person due to not being able to find a place where he could be himself.
He says he didn't have friends as some people from within the LGBTIQ+ community did not want to associate with Asians.
"Sometimes when we went to the club if for example, we like someone and we wanted to talk to them, they would say to us right on our face 'not into Asians'," he says. "That knocked my self-esteem so low."
He says being a Muslim did not help either.
Mr Sudarto - founder and trainer at a training and consultancy agency on diversity and inclusion - says it took him several years to be able to accept himself.
The pivotal moment for him was when he attended a seminar about homosexuality in Islam around three years ago in Sydney, delivered by a South African gay cleric.
"I learned about the notions towards the LGBT community from the non-conservative interpretation of the Qur'an. It was then that I really felt that there was nothing wrong in being a gay Muslim," he says.
"It is others who make me feel guilty but there is no problem with myself and my spiritual relationship with God."