Now that the movement toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual equality is in full swing across the globe, it’s a good idea to get some insight from one of the local activists who’s relentlessly pursuing equality.
“I believe that your body is yours. The country does not own your body. Your religion does not own your body.”
The powerful message that Hartoyo, general secretary of OurVoice Indonesia, said during the interview reflected strongly his opinion on LGBT issues and his passion to achieve equality for everyone.
How did you get involved with the LGBT community?
I have been an activist since 2002, but it wasn’t in the LGBT community. I was a farmers’ activist for about five years. I first got involved with LGBT NGOs in 2007. I had an incident with the authorities in NAD regarding my sexuality,
Yes, well, I am gay, and you know how religious Aceh is. I was actually dragged by some people in Aceh, and God knows what they were going to do to me. Then some LGBT activists managed to save me and took me to Jakarta. It wasn’t until 2009 that I got the courage to establish my own LGBT organization.
How did you come up with OurVoice, what’s the reason behind it?
After I got to Jakarta, I noticed that the LGBT movement in this country was stagnant, and people were continuously associating the term ‘gay’ with ‘condoms’ or ‘HIV/AIDS’ or ‘free sex.’ It was a very common stereotype.
We were referred to as the culprits for spreading HIV/AIDS, and pretty much nothing more.
They were so oblivious to the fact that we were also human. I felt the need to change their perspective, to show them that we are more than what they say we are.
What are the goals of OurVoice, and what have you done to achieve them?
We have rallies or monthly discussions regarding LGBT issues from time to time, but we are focusing more on media awareness.
Our main goal is to be the primary media portal for LGBT news, and we do it by hosting workshops on journalism, documentaries, writing and photography.
We also encourage our LGBT correspondents to write about their struggles, their thoughts, their hopes and dreams, and then we publish them on our website.
It’s important for the readers to see the human side, and I think sharing a part of ourselves is one of the ways to do so.
Is Indonesia showing signs of opening up and respecting LGBT people?
I think Indonesian people are still highly homophobic, and we are put in that state of mind largely because of the media.
Back in the New Order, there was hardly any exposure of gay people in the media because the whole nation was repressed by the regime. Nowadays the print media are more objective on LGBT issues, but the portrayal of LGBT people in television is brutal.
We’re almost constantly being portrayed as a laughing stock, all in the name of high ratings. The government is not doing anything about it. It’s very disheartening.
What about for human rights?
I have to admit that after the May 1998 tragedy, in general, human rights have progressed a lot better in this country. So that is definitely a step in the right direction. Everything is certainly more democratic, and everything is out in the open.
But speaking about it as a gay activist, I’d say we’re kind of the middle ground. We’re miles away from the United States or Europe in terms of LGBT rights and equality, but we’re not as bad as how it is in some of the developing countries of Africa or the Middle East.
Considering the recent uproar with Lady Gaga and Irshad Manji, do you think it reflects how Indonesian people tend to think?
It wouldn’t be fair to say that the actions of a small group represent the general opinion of the entire nation. I believe that we are a liberal people that are open to discussion and have our own opinion about these kinds of things.
The people that are causing the buzz have political agendas of one sort or another. They create the sensation that the media seeks and get all the attention.
It doesn’t speak for Indonesian people as a whole. I’m Indonesian, and what they do certainly doesn’t reflect my opinions on the issues.
Hartoyo was talking to Marcella Sualang.