• An anti-LGBT Muslim group march to blockade pro-LGBT protesters in Yogyakarta, February 23, 2016. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The rights of same sex-attracted and gender diverse people in Indonesia have come under attack on a number of fronts in recent months. Rebecca Shaw breaks down the battle lines.
Rebecca Shaw

29 Feb 2016 - 4:01 PM  UPDATED 29 Feb 2016 - 4:01 PM

There's increasing concern from the international LGBTQI community regarding an increase in homophobic rhetoric from religious groups and the government in Indonesia.

While homosexuality is not criminalised in the majority of Indonesia's provinces, there has been a surge in anti-gay statements and harsh measures passed by hardline conservatives in the country.

Dede Oetomo, a veteran gay rights activist, expressed surprise and concern at the growing sentiment.

“It has been one thing after another,” he said.

“At first, I thought it was just a storm in a teacup. But the teacup is getting bigger."

Here are some of the most recent examples of how the same sex-attracted and gender diverse population in Indonesia has come under fire.

Higher education

The impetus for the latest rash of homophobic rhetoric in Indonesia appeared to come following a minister's outrage at learning of a group that was offering queer-friendly counseling at the University of Indonesia.

The country’s research, technology and higher education minister, Muhammad Nasir, reacted to the discovery, arguing that gay students should be banned from campus.

After coming under fire for the remarks, he later backtracked and said queer students were allowed, as long as they do not express their sexuality.

“My prohibition against the LGBT community entering campuses is if they show inappropriate behaviour such as having sex, or public displays of affection on campus,” he said.

The University of Indonesia has distanced itself from the queer counselling group, claiming to have no knowledge of its existence.

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Lower education

Minister of education and culture Anies Baswedan started the year off with a bang in January by stating that queer ‘deviant behaviour’ amongst young people should be a concern for parents and teachers.

The minister also said improved communication would mean ‘irregularities’ in children could be detected early and resolved.

Off message

While the rest of the world gets adjusted to Facebook ‘reactions’, allowing them to go beyond ‘liking’ a post and instead having the ability to express emotions such as [love], [laugh], and [wowed], the Indonesian government is doing its best to cause [anger] and [sad face] emotions within the queer community.

The government has asked messaging and social media apps like LINE, Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to remove all LGBTQI-themed emoticons and stickers, citing concern that the emoji could appeal to children.

Information and Communication Ministry spokesperson Ismail Cawidu praised LINE, a Japanese-based app (with 30 million users in Indonesia) for being the first to comply with the request. Others are expected to follow.

On screen

In a letter circulated to local television stations, The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission has reminded networks of an existing regulation that forbids them from showing male actors dressing or acting like women.

They are also forbidden from using ‘overtly female’ body language, encouraging other men to act like women, or showing effeminate behaviour.

The commission has stated on its website it discourages broadcasters from running programs that promote or normalise the queer community.

The organisation said it would be monitoring all broadcasts, and would punish those caught violating the rules. 


Anti-social media

A number of posts on twitter denouncing queer, or LGBT, people have gained traction in the last couple of weeks, with users tweeting the hashtag #TolakLGBT, which means ‘reject LGBT’.

Some of the more popular of these posts have been accompanied by images, including signs stating ‘LGTB is a disease, not a human right’.

School shutdown

Following the inflammatory comments by the education minister, a Muslim school for transgender women that has been operational in the Yogyakarta region since 2008 has been shut down following protests from the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI), with members of the FJI going as far to appear at the school in order to pressure students to return ‘to the right way’.

The students had already been evacuated from the campus before the protestors arrived and none were harmed.

Concerning combination

Vice President Jusuf Kalla recently requested that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) not finance any queer community programs that might seek funding for activities within Indonesia, claiming that such campaigns were not in accordance with the current social values of the country.

The Indonesian Psychiatrists Association has announced that homosexual or bisexual people will now be categorised as having psychiatric problems, and transgender people will now be categorised as having mental disorders.

Criminalisation push

The country’s most influential Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), has called for legislation banning all queer activities throughout Indonesia.

The organisation has a history of issuing non-legally binding edicts to the nation’s Muslims (almost 90 per cent of Indonesia’s population), issuing one against homosexuality last year.

They have now taken it one step further, calling for criminal punishment for those engaging in queer activities.

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Modern warfare and instant noodles

Indonesia’s hardline defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has attacked the LGBTQI community, calling its influence 'a threat'.

Mr Ryacudu said fighting the queer community was akin to a kind of modern warfare:

“It’s dangerous as we can’t see who our foes are, but out of the blue everyone is brainwashed,” he said.

In an unsubstantiated claim, the mayor of Indonesian city Tangerang told a pregnancy seminar that busy parents using baby formula and instant noodles was the reason there is now more queer people.

It is clear that anti-queer sentiment is on the rise in Indonesia, with homophobic attacks being waged politically, religiously and socially.

Only time will tell if the government will move towards legislating against homosexuality, or if more officials will join Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister, who recently became the most senior government official to defend the queer community, maintaining their equal position before the law.

One thing is for certain, if instant noodles really turned people gay as per Mayor Wismansyah’s statement, then almost every university student would be gay.