Activists say fundamentalists stoke public fears

International researchers and activists gathered in Yogyakarta to network and develop better strategies to advocate sexual rights.

The International Policy Dialogue was held from Monday to Wednesday and carried the theme “Bridging the Gap Between Sexuality Research and Advocacy for Sexual Rights”.

The dialogue was the first international meeting to discuss issues in gender and sexuality after the International Lesbian and Gay Alliance Conference in Surabaya was abruptly cancelled in March due to intimidation from a radical Islamic group.

Participants discussed the sexual rights of women and lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) people.

Sexual rights activist Soe Tjen Marching — who edits the Surabaya-based Bhinneka, a magazine which focuses on pluralism, and Jurnal Gandrung, a newly launched journal on sexuality — said in her presentation that intimidation and acts of violence by fundamentalist groups, such as the Islam Defenders front (FPI), have created a public fear, which is the dominant factor in determining people’s behaviors and decisions.

“Public fear can indeed work to the favor of fundamentalist groups. It can be their biggest ally,” she said.

“The fundamentalists don’t have to do a single thing sometimes. The public already responds on their behalf,” she added.

For example, two universities in Surabaya refused to accept Bhinneka and Jurnal Gandrung because they did not want to be seen as supporting or facilitating discussions of sexuality due to fear of the religious fundamentalists, Soe Tjen said.

Human rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana said that the cancellation of the Surabaya conference was example of discrimination against LGBT rights. Radical groups base their arguments on morality, culture and religion, she said.

Gadjah Mada University’s policy studies center head Muhadjir Darwin said the public believes that sexual orientations that differ from heterosexuality are immoral.

“They just have a different sexual orientation from the dominant group,” he said.

Nursyahbani, who is also the coordinator of the Kartini Asia Network, said organizers chose Yogyakarta to host the workshop to commemorate the Yogyakarta Principles.

In 2006, international human rights activists in Yogyakarta defined universal principles for international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Yogyakarta principles say: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Human beings of all sexual orientations and gender identities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights”.

The Policy Dialogue was organized by Kartini and SEPHIS (South-South Exchange Program for Research on the History of Development) with the collaboration of Center for Population and Policy Studies of Gadjah Mada University.

Hartoyo — an activist who was once tortured and humiliated by police in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam due to his sexual orientation — said he was lonely in his struggle for rights and has yet to see many LGBT people fight for their rights due to discrimination.

Nursyahbani said the workshop aimed to bridge the gap between research on sexuality and advocacy at the grassroots level.

Several scholars have said that research on sexuality is a long process, which sometimes do not meet the need of fast action in the part of advocacy groups.

Researchers and activists agreed that research on sexuality is an important for advocacy groups.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta | National | Thu, August 12 2010

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