Indonesia Still Far From a Rainbow Nation

Indonesian transsexuals hold placards during a rally on World Human Rights Day in Jakarta, Sunday, on December 6, 2006. (EPA Photo/Jurnasyanto Sukarno)

Indonesian transsexuals hold placards during a rally on World Human Rights Day in Jakarta, Sunday, on December 6, 2006. (EPA Photo/Jurnasyanto Sukarno)

Indonesia is a long way from achieving the openness and tolerance of the United States and Europe toward people of diverse sexualities, experts and activists say.

But a National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) statement calling for more protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is a step in the right direction, they say, adding that civil society groups should push the government to end discrimination and violence.

Heru Susetyo, a human rights expert at the University of Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe that community leaders needed to engage in public debate on LGBT issues.

“There should be more people speaking out, especially political leaders and powerful individuals whose influence is immense, like [US President] Barack Obama, because it will help to change the perception of the masses,” he said.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a human rights activist and lawyer, said that when influential people fight against an established practice, other people will follow.

“A long history of opposition to this group has been embedded in our minds and it will take a long time to change our mindset. There has always been deep antipathy toward these groups, and rejection. There is an understanding but it’s not yet openly expressed,” he said.

Indonesians are strongly opposed to LGBT rights, research shows. Last month’s “Global Divide on Homosexuality” study by the Pew Research Center surveyed more than 37,000 people in 39 countries.

It found Indonesians were overwhelming opposed to homosexuality, with 93 percent saying that gay people should not be accepted.

“Acceptance of homosexuality is particularly widespread in countries where religion is less central in people’s lives. These are also among the richest countries in the world,” Pew said in its summary of the findings. “In contrast, in poorer countries with high levels of religiosity, few believe homosexuality should be accepted by society.” Muslim countries were found to be overwhelmingly opposed to homosexuality.

Gay rights as human rights?

Opposition to LGBT rights exits even inside Komnas HAM, with members of the commission divided on whether to discuss LGBT as part of human rights issues.

Some members say LGBT people are abnormal, need medication or should be “cured” by religious guidance, meaning medical experts and clerics rather than the human rights commission have responsibility for the issue.

Others say the LGBT people, like all citizens, have the right to choose their sexual orientation without any institution, including the state, interfering.

After heated debates, Komnas HAM settled on a compromise, calling for more protection for LGBT people without deciding if they would discuss it as a human rights issues.

“I think the Komnas HAM’s decision is a good start. Indonesia needs people like Obama, who openly expresses his support for LGBT people, and there has already been same-sex marriage legalization in several countries. It greatly helps to change the perception of the citizens and public,” Todung said.

“We are not yet at that stage and it’s impossible to hope for such a thing in the near future. There should be more people speaking out. Advocacy groups should be out to defend them; tolerance should be practiced openly,” he added.

Heru said that LGBT people are marginalized in Indonesia, susceptible to becoming victims of violence or sexual assault and also discriminated against in the workforce.

He compared Indonesia to Thailand, where transgender status is more socially accepted in urban areas and beyond.

In Thailand, he said, transgender people work in many industries and can climb the corporate ladder because people are accommodating. But in Indonesia, transgender people typically only work as buskers, shampoo boys or prostitutes.

“Among Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], we are not the worst nor the best; we are somewhere in between. We are not excessively open and welcoming but we do not forbid LGBT people from existing [openly], as compared to the Philippines or Thailand, which are more open,” Heru said.

Influence of Islam

Komnas HAM’s position was welcomed by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), an Islamic group strongly opposed to LGBT issues being categorized as human rights matters.

MUI leader Amidhan Shaberah said all citizens should be protected by the law.

“Every human being should be protected, no matter what their sexual orientation is, and it is already in Indonesian law — we all agree to support the implementation of the law,” Amidhan told the Globe.

Amidhan said the government should protect the right of every citizen, including the rights of education and employment, adding that any discrimination that breaches those rights should be stopped, including for LGBT people.

Hartoyo, secretary general of OurVoice, a civil society movement advocating LGBT rights, said the protection of LGBT people from discrimination is urgent in Indonesia, where discrimination is rife.

“We need to see more concrete steps from the government regarding LGBT rights. If the government wanted to provide protection in a concrete way, then we should have a concrete program for that, and I’m still looking what the program is,” he said.

Muhammad Nur Khoiron, deputy chairman of Komnas HAM responsible for the protection of minority rights, said the commission was discussing with LGBT rights organizations their policy preferences.

“Discussion of the protection of LGBT people from violence and discrimination became an important agenda item at our plenary meeting, following the increasing number of cases of social discrimination and physical abuse against the groups reported to the commission,” he said.

Nur Khoiron said commission recently learned of physical abuse against transgender people in North Sulawesi.

“We receive many reports of abuse and discrimination across Indonesia. We will check every report and compile them. We know there is a lot of sexual orientation discrimination out there, and the result of the plenary meeting to protect the LGBT community is the umbrella ruling for the work of all of the sub-commissions with Komnas HAM,” he said.

Nur Khoiron said Komnas HAM planned to compile a report on sexual orientation discrimination, along with reports on discrimination against other vulnerable groups including disabled people, to inform its recommendations to the government.

Komnas HAM’s position suggests it is still some time from getting involved in a discussion that has raged in many foreign countries — gay marriage.

The cause is strongly opposed in Indonesia, OurVoice’s Hartoyo acknowledged. “We actually support same-sex marriage as an essential right, but we know that it’s too early to discuss it in Indonesia.”

  • Rule Britannia

    Good progress all round as we are now in the year 1013

  • Roland

    PEW said, “Acceptance of homosexuality is particularly widespread in countries where religion is less central in people’s lives. These are also among the richest countries in the world,”

    Conclusion due to the fact that a staggering number of 93(!!!) percent are opposed to homosexuals (while on the other side strangely homosexual moderators are entertaining in popular local TV “reality” shows and in certain areas of Jakarta cross dressers are “singing” at street cross-section) –
    a) religion is extremely central in people’s lives in Indonesia
    b) Indonesia as a country itself has amazing natural riches, not only in its soil abut also on animal diversity and plant life but that the people of Indonesia (with the exception of maybe the missing 7 percent) are basically poor (and therefore undereducated – again because education is in Indonesia ALWAYS closely connected with the wealth of an individual) and fall easy prey to indoctrination of religion – any religion which sees homosexuals as sub-humans which can easily be socially discriminated and physically abused as the back of the perpetrators is covered by religion and of course their peers. Regarding peers – I personally believe that a lot of this non-acceptance is actually due to peer pressure, especially in rural areas and areas with a very strong religious “life-style”.

  • TGIF

    MUI’s interest in protecting same sex orientation individuals with the same rights as any civilized citizens is a step in the right direction of acceptance in a predominantly Muslim country. However creating and maintaining the law to protect the rights of gays, transgenders and bisexuals will certainly anger religious Islamic bigots and their Wahhabi masters.
    In Thailand, the culture and the Buddhist religion uphold tolerance and an understanding of enlightenment do reveal a tolerant attitude toward diversity. God created humans equally and it is the duty of any faith to protect diversity within the rule of law on earth. This is a good month in Indonesia to reflect the importance of love and compassion toward vulnerable people in dire needs of protection and equality from meaningless intolerance, discrimination and violence.

  • Euan Mie

    “Some members say LGBT people are abnormal, need medication or should be “cured” by religious guidance.”

    I think I’d want a little medication if I’d been born gay in this country. Gay rights in Indonesia: just another example of the fundamentally hollow morality offered by bronze-age monotheism.

  • TGIF

    1st Gays don’t need medications. Politicians probably do.
    2nd The leader cannot defend the rights of gays let alone the rights of religious minorities. Unlike Obama who is not a coward. He recognizes minorities and respect their places in society.
    Corrupt people can’t even be cured by religious guidance…so who to say that gays should be cured with spiritual guidance. Gays are born this way since god has created everyone differently. Gays can be a good Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist and a Hindu for that matter.

  • NoH8

    “Some members say LGBT people are abnormal, need medication or should be “cured” by religious guidance”
    “Others say the LGBT people, like all citizens, have the right to choose their sexual orientation”
    Yes, LGBT is not a disease that could be cured by treaments or religion. But also, sexual orientation is never been a choice. Why would someone choose a life that is harder and more unwelcomed? LGBT people are made that way. There’s nothing they can do. Why can’t we just welcome them? What harm does it do to you when some guy marries another guy?

  • Larry Tan

    They will be accepted as long as they pay the “right” people.

  • captainc

    we don’t want rainbow nation, stop shoving this (edited) down our throat!

  • TGIF


    • captainc

      i am the majority.. they can live, but not too obvious.. we don’t want them to dictate the way we live because we would offend them, etc..

  • TGIF

    LGBT will always be the minority anyway. Dictate who?? No one is dictating anybody. You are the majority of what, actually, bigots?

    • captainc

      no, ask people around, and stop being internet extremist.

  • Rustynails

    “stop shoving this (edited) down our throat!”

    Ho Ho Ho…ThatI think I have discovered what the Captain is really afraid of. Don’t worry C, unlikely they find you very attractive anyway.

    • captainc

      ya, you my psychologist and other useless commenters here.

  • snoopy

    I’m gay my self, muslim teenager and just came out to all my family and they got no problem with it ! I no need rainbow nation, as long as there’s freedom who to love in my family, it’s enough for me, thank you !! :)

    • styrostearloose

      While acceptance coming from our family is cool, it’d be more awesome to live in a country where I can have the same legal rights as other people to get married, adopt kids, and what not.

      I know Indonesia as a rainbow nation is far-fetched..but who knows. Maybe I get to be alive when it happens! :D