Lesbians face double discrimination

Lesbian world: A woman reads a lesbian online magazine. Non-political lesbian movements have used the Internet as their media. JP/R. Berto Wedhatama
Lesbian world: A woman reads a lesbian online magazine. Non-political lesbian movements have used the Internet as their media. JP/R. Berto Wedhatama

Families can do twisted things on learning their daughter or sibling is a lesbian.

A brother would force his butch lesbian sister to perform oral sex in an attempt to “educate her”. A mother would hire a gigolo so that her daughter would know the “pleasure” of men.

The sexologist her mother brought her would grope her, asking whether she felt any excitement. Families would force femme lesbians into marriages the latter did not want.

These examples are the stories that came to the LBT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) advocacy and research organization, the Ardhanary Institute, from women who have been abused because of their sexual orientation.

The director of Ardhanary Institute, RR. Sri Agustine, said recently at her office that violence toward the LBT individuals that came to Ardhanary’s crisis center was mostly carried out within the private sphere of the family home.

“At times, the home that is supposed to be the safest place becomes the most dangerous place. The most common type of violence is sexual abuse, especially toward butch females, by brothers, uncles, fathers who suspect the sexual orientation and wanted to ‘set them straight’,” she said.

“Femme lesbians would be forced into marriages because of the stigma of becoming an old spinster attached to unmarried woman,” she added. “A lesbian, who had been married for 13 years after being forced into it by her family, said she felt she had been raped for 13 years,” Agustine said.

The problem is compounded, she said, with the discrimination against LBT people by the state. The police force is yet to be sensitive toward crimes carried out on the basis of sexual orientation discrimination. Agustine said a police office, upon hearing that a rape victim was a lesbian, said: “No wonder you’ve been raped, you’re a lesbian”.

Victims of violence or sexual abuse would prefer to settle the problem without the help of the police. Or if they did report it to the police, did not say that the crime was related to their sexual orientation, Agustine said.

In Indonesia, entering the third decade of the gay movement, discrimination and oppression against homosexuals is still rife. Recently, intimidation from a hard-line religious group forced organizers of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) Asia to cancel their conference in Surabaya, and the police did nothing to stop it.

For lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, their battle is twice that of their gay male counterparts. According to LGBT rights expert Baden Offord, Indonesian lesbians face double discrimination in terms of gender and sexual orientation.

“The Indonesian lesbian movement has a long way to go to bring about visibility and tolerance in the wider society,” he said through an email interview.

Compared to the transgender and gay movement, the lesbian movement in Indonesia is more discreet and less explicit. Agustine said this was due to the patriarchal culture in society.

“In the context of patriarchal culture, society teaches women to be passive and not active.

“There are more rules given to women. If a woman is yet to be married at a certain age, society labels her a spinster. This has made the LBT group more closed. If they came out, the family would be more ashamed,” she said.

“For gay men, society is more tolerant of them and of transvestites, because men have a place in public life. For lesbians, women have the traditional role of domestic life, to be a housewife and to be a ‘good woman’,” she said.

Agustine said she told lesbian women to claim their space.

“Be more educated, show society that we can contribute something,” she said.

Ardhanary works with different LBT groups across Indonesia, creating a vast network and support group.

In the Internet era, it is now easier for LBT individuals to find their community. Mailing lists, Internet forums and social networking sites such as Facebook have become an avenue for LBT people to meet and share stories.

Non-political lesbian movements have also used the Internet as their media. Online magazine sepocikopi.com is one example, in which the articles are written by and aimed at lesbians.

“SepociKopi is actually its own movement. We chose to ‘fight’ — not out — but in. How we view ourselves as humans and not conceptualize ourselves as marginalized,” Alex, SepociKopi editor-in-chief wrote in
an email.

“We believe in the power of words to light the path for lesbians when things seem dark and confusing. We’re not pushing lesbians to come out. We have a lot of articles that shows the pros and cons of coming out. But if they do want to, we push for them to do it in a positive way: to be a successful and high-achieving woman — who is coincidentally a lesbian,” she said.

Utari, a bisexual, said the sense of community did help her from being isolated and lonely. “No one around me that I know of is like me. It felt really lonely,” she said. Upon finding SepociKopi, Utari, 25, contributed to the website as well.

She has come out to her then boyfriend and later to a friend in the last year. “I think by coming out, I became more accepting of myself, because I could tell someone who accepted me as I am,” she said.

Agustine said the younger generation of lesbians was more open and educated. Sources of information are more readily available to them compared to the older generations of lesbians.

Since the reform era and the rise of the women’s movement in Indonesia, the lesbian movement in Indonesia, Agustine said, had become more inclusive, aligning themselves with the Indonesian women’s movement, such as Komnas Perempuan and Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia.

However, not all women’s groups were accepting of the lesbian movement, Agustine said.

Gay rights champion and founder of the first gay movement GAYa Nusantara Dede Oetomo said that, despite resistance, the incident of March 26, where the FPI harassed the ILGA organizers, showed that the LBT movement should join forces with any willing civil society elements

“Working with the women’s movement is clearly a logical choice even though there is resistance here and there. History in other countries and regions shows the same thing. However, the women’s movement is progressing, especially with the younger activists who are more open to sexual and reproductive rights discourses,” he said.

Lawmaker and human rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana said up to now there had been no breakthroughs in legislation on the protection of the rights of sexual minorities.

She said she had fought for the rights of sexual minorities to be included in the legislation with legislator Eva Sundari during the drafting of the anti-racial discrimination bill and the citizens’ administration bill.

Both of the bills eventually passed into law witout including the rights of sexual minorities.

The anti-pornography law, in its definition section, states that being lesbian and gay, and sodomy,
were sexual deviations. And in Aceh, a bylaw, regulates that homosexuality can be punishable by stoning to death.

Nusyahbani said the discourse for the rights of sexual minorities had been pushed forward, but recent developments such as the anti-pornography law and the bylaw in Aceh had brought setbacks.

“LGBT groups are our social reality. They cannot be eliminated in the name of anything. Aren’t they God’s creatures as well?” she said

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Sat, April 10 2010

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