LGBT groups fight for their rights

Come out: People wave gay movement flags (left and right) and the Brazilian flag during a march against homophobia in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 18. AP/Eraldo Peres
Come out: People wave gay movement flags (left and right) and the Brazilian flag during a march against homophobia in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 18. AP/Eraldo Peres

As people become more aware on LGBT issues, protests follow. Hartoyo, the secretary-general of LGBT rights organization OurVoice, said that was normal.

“As more [LGBT people] appear, rejection from certain groups will come too,” he said giving examples of groups such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and the Muslim Forum (FUI). These groups protested an international LGBT event in Surabaya last year, intimidating the organizers to the point they canceled the event.

Hartoyo said he believed that Indonesian society was tolerant. “Hatred toward the LGBT group is based more on lack of non-judgmental media communication,” he said.

That is why his organization uses the Internet platform through writings on their website and videos on Youtube. “Through our website we try to express what we feel is happing inside of us,” he said. “OurVoice can be a media form where everyone has the right to disagree but they also have to listen to what LGBT people are going through,” he said.

He said the LGBT rights movement in Indonesia developed from being composed of patron type organizations — such as the transgendered women’s group that holds dance events to organizations that focus on the rights of LGBT people. In its third decade the advocacy movement has progressed far from the days of the 1980s when homosexual men and women and transgenders networked exclusively through the first and — at that time — the only gay magazine GAYa Nusantara.

Hartoyo’s organization OurVoice, and Arus Pelangi, Ardhanary Institute, are working more on the human rights issues concerning LGBT.

“After the reform era, organizations based more on human rights issues emerged and they hugely contribute to Indonesia’s LGBT discourse,” he said.

Eventually, Hartoyo said that the group aimed to gain political power that could ensure the state provides policies on LGBT rights.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Sat, May 21 2011

Silver lining for gay and lesbians

Seek the light: Activists wearing masks hold up candles during a demonstration marking International Day Against Homophobia in La Paz, Bolivia, on May 17. According to LGBT leaders, 24 people from the LGBT community have been murdered in the last 18 months in Honduras because of their sexual orientation. AP/Juan Karita
Seek the light: Activists wearing masks hold up candles during a demonstration marking International Day Against Homophobia in La Paz, Bolivia, on May 17. According to LGBT leaders, 24 people from the LGBT community have been murdered in the last 18 months in Honduras because of their sexual orientation. AP/Juan Karita

Fady, 29, limits his imagination to the future of his relationship with his boyfriend.

A closet homosexual, except to a few very close friends, he keeps his sexual orientation a secret.

“I have a lot of things to consider if I come out to people outside my [circle] of close friends. I don’t have enough energy and time to go through that,” he said.

For him and his boyfriend, what they have is the present. He said he would be happy enough if he could be with his partner for the next year.

“We don’t think about how it would be when we’re old and etc,” he said.

In the country’s strong heterosexist culture, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people are either hidden or marginalized. Most LGBT people in Indonesia face rejection from families when they “come out” and are discriminated against by the system.

But, the country’s LGBT and liberal human rights groups are slowly working to fight the stigma of a lewd, mentally disordered lot attached to the LGBT community.

One of the country’s gay rights
organizations, OurVoice, is campaigning to fight homophobia in conjunction with the International Day of Anti-Homophobia that falls on May 17.

May 17 has been commemorated as the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) since 1996, after a conference on gay rights in Montreal, Canada.

The date, May 17, was chosen as the symbolic day, as it was on this date the World Health Organization scrapped homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. The American Psychiatric Association stated in 1975 that homosexuality was not a mental disorder.

In 2006, the Yogyakarta Principle, a guideline of International
human rights law in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation was signed.

Despite that, persecution against LGBT people still takes place around the world. According to OurVoice, there are more than 70 countries that criminalize a person based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Indonesia, regional bylaws in South and West Sumatra criminalize homosexuals and the 2008 pornography law states that homosexuality is a deviant behavior despite the Health Ministry’s declaration in 1993 that homosexuality is no longer a mental disorder/disease in their Diagnostic Classification on Mental Disorder Guidelines (PPDGJ).

Fady said he did not know that such a day commemorating the rights for LGBT people existed. He said it was a good thing that a group of people in the world was concerned for LGBT people, although it didn’t affect him much, he added, as he kept his relationship with his partner a secret.

But for Ramy, a 20-year-old lesbian, that day is very important. While Fady keeps his sexual orientation and relationship a secret, not daring to imagine the future, Ramy said she would make sure to follow her own life path. “For the next couple of years, I will make sure I will have a relationship, like it or not,” she said. “I will be true to myself and not undermine my true self to please society,” she said.

Strong unity: Youths take part in a rally near the presidential house in Tegucigalpa on International Day Against Homophobia on May 17. Reuters/Edgard Garrido
Strong unity: Youths take part in a rally near the presidential house in Tegucigalpa on International Day Against Homophobia on May 17. Reuters/Edgard Garrido

Ramy, who chose not to disclose her last name, said her family learned of her attraction to the same sex in mid-2009. “My brother suspected that I liked women. I’m a tomboy, and he started to be suspicious. He followed me and found me with my girlfriend and took me home,” she said.

Her family interrogated her, asking why she couldn’t be “normal”. “I just told them that I was just following my heart; that I desired a woman,” she said.

Ramy said her family took her to an Islamic boarding school that treats “drug addicts and stressed out youth”, where she had to bathe in water mixed with seven kinds of flowers in an attempt to “cure” her.

After two months at the boarding school, Ramy, who lives with her mother, never brought her partner to her parent’s house again.

“My wish in the future is that my family can have an open mind and not be as rigid as now,” she said.

Ramy said that, among her friends and colleagues, she does not hide her homosexuality. “The first time they found out they were surprised, but later they said, ‘It’s her life,’” she said. “While my friends at work, luckily they are people who mind their own business,” she added.

When her colleagues found out, Ramy said that usually the first thing they would say was, “How did that happen? Since when?”

“My friends were surprised at first but later got used to it, while my colleagues at work mind their own business,” she said.


In urban areas, public knowledge, awareness and acceptance of homosexuality have increased compared to 10 years ago, general secretary of OurVoice, Hartoyo, said. Films with themes of homosexuality have been well-accepted, such as Nia Dinata’s Arisan! (Savings Gathering). A gay-themed film festival, Q Film Festival, also has been successfully running for almost 10 years.

“I think people are more accepting. Not that I’m saying they 100 percent accept [LGBT people], but information about LGBT is more open, which enables communication to happen,” Hartoyo said.

Hartoyo himself has experienced discrimination and abuse due to his sexual orientation, when in 2007 policemen in Aceh abused and tortured him for having homosexual relations.

Hartoyo said LGBT people gathering at places such as gay bars and clubs in big cities also indicated people were accepting.

Another example of how society is accepting — to a certain extent — towards LGBT people can be seen in Dino’s (not his real name) experience. Dino, a straight guy, pretended to be gay so he could live with two girls in a shared house without arousing suspicion and rejection from surrounding neighbors.

Dino said that to live in the house in South Jakarta, his housemates suggested that he pretend to be a stereotypical gay man by acting effeminate.

“I’d heard that some people protested when a guy lived in the house before I moved in,” he said. “When he moved out and I was about to replace him, my friends told me to act gay,” he said.

“My neighbors feel that their space needs to be protected,” he said.

Dino said that this could be an indication that LGBT people were more accepted, but he doubted that if an “outed” gay couple lived in the neighborhood, people would be as accepting.

For Hartoyo, it comes down to society’s perception of sex and the lack of sex education. “Sex is seen as sacred and on the other hand dirty.

“What is sacred is heterosexual relations under lawful marriage according to religious laws. Outside of that, sex is considered dirty, which means homosexual and lesbian sexual relations and heterosexual relations outside of marriage,” he said.

He said that there was a lack of sex education in the country. “Sex is always a taboo and feared. Sex education is something that is feared, with the assumption that by giving sex education people will have sex,” he said. “That’s not the case, and the state should not have a phobia of sex,” he said.

“When talking about reproductive health, safety, equality and justice, relationships do not have anything to do with halal (allowed by religious law), but mutual respect and understanding,” he said.

He said if a sexual relationship was based on equality between partners, it should not be considered a public matter. “Unless there is discrimination and violence, then what’s private can be a public matter,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Sat, May 21 2011

The love life of transsexuals

Caring souls: (From left to right): Adel, Shanti and Nency sit in a waiting room at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, in Salemba, Jakarta, after fellow transsexual and AIDS activist Shakira was shot by unidentified assailants at Taman Lawang in Central Jakarta at dawn last month. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama
Caring souls: (From left to right): Adel, Shanti and Nency sit in a waiting room at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, in Salemba, Jakarta, after fellow transsexual and AIDS activist Shakira was shot by unidentified assailants at Taman Lawang in Central Jakarta at dawn last month. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama

For many transgendered women, loving a man means letting him go. Only few dare to wish for an everlasting romantic partnership.

Yuli Rettoblaut, Mariyani and Rully all share the same story: They were in long-term relationships where they eventually told their partners to leave them and marry a “real” woman.

“I feel I’m destined to not have a partner,” Rully said in Yogyakarta.

Rully said she had been in a 7-year relationship with a man. Being a devout Muslim, Rully encouraged him to find a wife. “Whenever we talked about children and other stuff, we came to a dead end. I suggested he end this [relationship] and marry [another woman],” she said.

In the beginning, her partner refused to leave her but eventually agreed to end the relationship.

“I’ve concluded that it’s enough to feel love in our hearts; we don’t need to have it written down because there is controversy [in the issue of same sex or transgendered marriages], and we might not have the courage to always be known as something that defies long-held rules in society’s norms,” she said.

Those who do marry often come to loggerheads with Indonesian law. Recently, Fransiska Anastasya Oktaviany, also known as Icha and Rahmat Sulistyo, 19, was arrested for alleged identity fraud. Icha had been married for six months to Muhammad Umar, 32. Umar said he did not know Icha was a transgendered woman.

Hartoyo, director of LGBT rights organization Ourvoice, said in a press statement that Icha’s gender identity and sexual orientation was Icha’s and Umar’s private concern. “However, Icha has a different gender role and sexual conduct so she had to forge her identity card. The problem of why Icha forged her identity should be highlighted by the State… Many transgendered people do the same thing, and some of them are permitted by local authorities to change their sex on their ID card,” Hartoyo said.

Despite the fact that the State, through the Ministry of Health in 1993, has stated that homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality are not diseases or mental illness, the 2006 Demographic Administration Law has not accommodated transgendered people as a separate identity and still designates gender identity according to physical anatomy, Hartoyo said.

Mariyani, who runs an Islamic School for transgendered women, once encouraged her partner to leave her and marry another woman. But, after that relationship, she found someone new and was married under religious law.

“A female religious leader married me off,” she said. Her husband apparently already had a wife and children, so Mariyani and her husband separated. Mariyani adopted a child and decided to live on her own with her daughter.

Lulukaszyura Surahman (Luluk), 28, said until a couple of years ago, she wouldn’t admit she was a transgendered woman. “I felt I was a woman and I was very against telling people that I’m a waria [transgendered],” she said.

Men would court her, and she would be responsive. Eventually, she would ask her friend to tell the man courting her that she was a transgendered woman. “They usually disappeared after that,” she said.

Now she tells people from the start that she is a transgendered woman.

“So, he would know from the start,” she said. Luluk added that she would not want to stay single the rest of her life.

“It doesn’t feel good to be alone all the time,” she said. “Every person wants to love and be loved,” she said.

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post | Feature | Mon, April 11 2011

Life as a (special) woman

Action time: Dozens of waria who are members of a solidarity network gather for a protest at Hotel Indonesia’s traffic circle. JP/Arief Suhardiman
Action time: Dozens of waria who are members of a solidarity network gather for a protest at Hotel Indonesia’s traffic circle. JP/Arief Suhardiman

What makes a woman a woman? What makes a man a man?

For Lulukazyura Surahman (Luluk), 28, being a woman is a question of identity. It is all in the mind and in the way one behaves. It has little to do with one’s sexual organs.

“I’m a woman even though I have a penis,” she said. “I’m a woman, but I’m special.”

And a beautiful one she is. With long black hair, curly lashes and a big easy smile, she said people often did not realize she was transgendered.

Luluk struggled with questions of identity while growing up, from forcing herself to act manly to questioning God. But, despite her struggles to accept herself, Luluk is one of the lucky ones. Her family, with a moderate Muslim Nahdlatul Ulama background, never rejected her for being transgendered and made sure she completed her education until university level. She got her undergraduate degree in sociology and worked as an activist at Srikandi Sejati, an organization that works with LGBT issues.

Other transgendered women have not been so lucky while undergoing the soul-searching process of accepting their gender identity. Often they embrace their identity at the expense of rejection from family and society.

Once they have established their gender identity and found peace with who they are, issues of societal acceptance like teasing and barriers in the workplace continue to haunt their lives.

Many transgendered women end up on the streets and disconnected from their families, while at the same time isolated from mainstream society. Living in exclusive transgendered communities, they busk on the street or solicit sex for money or to find sexual partners.

Vinolia Wakijo, 51, the founder and director of the Yogyakarta Transgendered Women’s Organization (Kebaya) said a lot of transgendered women lived a life steeped in violence.

“They lack social experience since they leave their families at a young age. Life on the street is harsh, especially in the [transgendered] community. Where do they learn ethics? They race to get the best in whatever way. In the end, they live a harsh life,” she told The Jakarta Post at Kebaya’s headquarters in Yogyakarta.

In Jakarta, the transgendered women’s community hangs out at Taman Lawang park. That is where Faizal “Shakira” Harahap was shot earlier this month. Shakira, a transgendered woman, was killed and two other transgendered women, Agus “Venus” Yuliaman and Tantang “Astrid” Stianugraha, were injured. The police are still investigating the case.

In Aceh, Cut Yanti Asmara, a transgendered woman who worked at a moving beauty salon, was killed last week. The suspect, Fuadi, is now in police custody. He allegedly called Cut Yanti “bencong” which loosely translates as “tranny”. Yanti became enraged and came at him with a knife and was reaching for a shovel when the latter allegedly hit her with a crowbar.

In 2008, the Central Jakarta Public Order Agency was accused of violence that led to the death of a transgendered woman in Taman Lawang. The transgendered woman died after leaping into the Ciliwung River while fleeing a hail of stones thrown by public order officers.

Transgendered women in Indonesia are prone to becoming victims of violence, starting from the rejection of their families to cheating customers and bigoted strangers.

For Lenny Sugiharto from Srikandi Sejati, transgendered women have to be emotionally stronger in dealing with mocking and teasing from people.

“When one has chosen to live their life as a waria they have to be ready for the consequences,” she said. She added, “don’t let the teasing get to you.”

Discrimination against transgendered women in the workplace is also a huge problem. Up to now, Indonesian society accepts transgendered women only in specific areas, such as beauty salons and the entertainment industry.

Rully, 50, had to give up being a teacher in a school in a remote area in West Sumba. Raised in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Rully, who has dressed as a woman since she was a child, defied the education system in the early 1980s and presented herself in class as a transgendered woman.

Rully explained to her students from the beginning that she was a transgendered woman. “So they don’t develop the wrong understanding about waria,” she said,

She taught third to sixth graders. “Almost all the students respected me. [There were] only one or two cases, for example a student once said ‘trannies like to suck d*cks’. They didn’t know that I am a devout Muslim. In the early struggle this really hit me hard,” she said.

In the end, Rully felt pressured by the education agency. The head of the provincial education agency called her in. “I was summoned because I’m a waria,” she said.

In the one year that Rully taught, she concluded that mentally she was not ready to “go public” as a transgendered woman. “Almost every day I waste my energy with conflicting thoughts,” she said.

She resigned from being a civil servant. Rully now works with Vinolia in Kebaya as coordinator for support for transgendered women.

While, Luluk and Rully are transgendered women who received family support early in their childhood and completed their higher education without having to run away from home, Vinolia experienced the “dark side” of being a transgendered woman — working as a sex worker.

Mariyani, the founder of an Islamic school for transgendered women in Yogyakarta, led a similar path, living the life of a sex worker before settling down and setting up a beauty salon and in 2006 an Islamic school.

From her work at night, Vinolia was exposed to the outreach activities of Yogyakarta PKBI (Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association) and became a volunteer herself.

Vinolia said many transgendered women are not confident interacting in the community. Constant rejection and mocking from society causes them to have low self-esteem. Vinolia said transgendered women should push themselves and talk to their neighbors and be social. Both Vinolia and Mariyani joined an arisan (savings gathering) with women in their respective neighborhoods in order to be social and accepted in the areas they live in.

But, even among transgendered women their gender identity can be different from one another. Luluk believes she is a woman, and is open to the possibility of a sex change. Meanwhile, Rully, Mariyani and Vinolia believe they are waria (transgendered women).

“We’re women at heart, male physically. These two things together build what is man and women,” she said.

“We are transgendered physically and mentally,” she said.

“I will not have an operation,” Mariyani said. “I don’t want to defy God’s laws.”

She said that as long as she still feels it is a sin, she will never undergo a sex-change operation.

“I’m satisfied like this, I feel pleasure like this, I’m comfortable like this,” she said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta/Jakarta | Life | Mon, April 11 2011

Mariyani: Religious differences not a problem for ‘waria’

P28-A2_0.main story

Amid the recent news of religious fundamentalism spurring violence against minority groups like Ahmadis and Christians, one Muslim transgendered woman is demonstrating the openness of Indonesian society by offering up her Islamic school to fellow transgendered Christians for masses and prayers.

Mariyani, 51, is built like a large matriarch. The transgendered woman has received local and international media attention since 2008 when she transformed her home in a small alley in Notoyudan hamlet, Yogyakarta, into a place for transgendered women to study Islam.

She began Pesantren Waria with Koran readings and prayers every Monday in order to provide a space for transgendered women who were also Muslims to feel comfortable in practicing their faith.

The term waria comes from wanita (woman) and pria (man), and is used to describe people who are born with male reproductive organs but with a female gender identity, i.e. transgendered. Waria decide on their own whether to wear sarong during Islamic prayers — as men do — or to cover their bodies with the mukena — as women do.

Mariyani’s home-turned-school has become a place for waria to seek spirituality and refuge. Recently, a 19-year-old transgendered woman who learned about the school from newspaper articles and the Internet left her hometown in Lombok, where her family was having problems accepting her gender identity, to stay at Mariyani’s place before finding a job at a department store.

Wearing a black hijab, Mariyani said she aspired to provide Christian (Catholic and Protestant) waria a place to congregate.

“Here, the waria who are Christians — they don’t have a place to gather to hold mass. I would like to provide a place here, as long as it does not coincide with the pesantren’s activities,” she said.

She plans to invite her Christian friends from Yogyakarta, Malang, Surakarta, Banyuwangi and Surabaya to come on March 15.

“I invite waria from any religion to worship here. If they don’t have a place, my place is open to them,” she said.

“We want to embrace every religion together in peace. Every religion is good. There are no religions that are bad. Humans are the ones who are bad.”

Mariyani, popularly called Bu Mar or Mbak Mar by friends and neighbors, recently registered the school through a notary – a move to give her school legal power if members of the public ever protest.

She plans to request permits from the local administration and the police in order to open up her home to Christian waria for worship.

“We don’t want what happened in Bekasi or Temanggung to happen here,” she said, referring to conflicts between radical Islamic groups protesting the presence of a Christian congregation in Bekasi and the recent attacks on churches in Temanggung. “If I don’t get the permits, I won’t be able to do this.

“My intentions are good. If people want to raid me, go ahead. But, thank God, in the three years the school has been open there have been no objections whatsoever,” she said, adding that the Yogyakarta Ulema Council even invites her to their events.  Mariyani said people in Yogyakarta were tolerant for accepting her school. Raised Catholic by adopted parents, she converted to Islam as an adult, and said that religion could be helpful in leading a person to a better life.

“It can help waria think in the long-term and help them make better decisions.”

She explained that being in touch with their spirituality helped transgendered women to make good life decisions. A lot of transgendered women live from one day to the next as sex workers, she explained.

Mariyani also once lived that lifestyle, working as a prostitute in Jakarta before returning to Yogyakarta and starting work at a beauty salon.

Mariyani said her Islamic school didn’t attempt to turn transgendered women into men.
“My intention is to worship God. I don’t care what people say.”

To people who say that being a transgendered woman is wrong, she says: “That’s a human trying to act like God. Whether God accepts acts of worship, that’s His concern. One’s sex does not determine whether one goes to heaven or not. Their faith in God does,” she said.

But, Mariyani does not just want to give Christian waria a place to worship.

Speaking in Yogyakarta’s alun-alun, she candidly said she also wanted to give transgendered women a chance to have a dignified burial when they pass away.

“I want to invite Christians to be able to practice their faith. When they pass away someday, the Catholic or Protestant churches can provide a coffin and burial.”

But, she wants to be able to provide more than just the simplest of burials for waria.

She is planning to speak to the Yogyakarta Interfaith Forum about her plan.

Many transgendered women, because of difficulties with their families, leave their homes when they are young and live on their own with fellow waria. Some end up living penniless on the streets, Mariyani said.

Transgendered individuals and transvestites are also among the high-risk groups for HIV and AIDS, together with injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

The idea to provide Christian transgendered women a place to congregate arose after she attended the funeral of a transgendered woman given by the city’s Social Affairs Agency.

“It was like burying a cat. The burial space was so narrow. They put the body in and covered the ground,” she said. “It was already very gracious of the Social Affairs Agency to provide the burial for a waria.”

However, Mariyani hopes transgendered women will be able to receive better burials.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta | People | Wed, February 16 2011

Paving the way for sexual rights

Sexual rights: Transsexuals join a rally to protest against the Pornography Law in Jakarta. JP/Arief Suhardiman
Sexual rights: Transsexuals join a rally to protest against the Pornography Law in Jakarta. JP/Arief Suhardiman

In a Semarang court in Central Java, a prosecutor groped a transgender woman charged with running away as well as having sex with a teenage girl, and said: “You have breasts, you’re a woman”.

Before the trial, the teenage girl’s family had beaten the transgender woman.

The court sentenced her to five years in prison. Soka Handinah Katjasungkana from the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (LBH APIK) Semarang, who advised her in her last trial, said that despite the transgender woman’s obvious violation of the children’s protection law, she had been discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.

In the country’s rural areas, parents continue to encourage their teenage daughters to marry young. But, because the charged person had defied cultural and religious norms by having same-sex relations, she was reported to the police by the girl’s parents. “Compare that to teenage girls being wed off to middle-aged men as their second or third wives,” Handinah said.

In Indonesia, where heterosexual relationships are considered the norm, discrimination and violence against people with different sexual orientations and gender identities is widespread.

However, a movement to bring equal rights irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity by researchers and activists in Asia is gaining ground.

Handinah presented the convicted transgender’s case study at an International Policy Dialogue on sexuality last week in Yogyakarta. The three-day workshop, held at Gadjah Mada University’s Center for Population and Policy Studies (CPPS), and attended by 45 researchers and activists from India, Brazil, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Syria, Egypt, and the Philippines, discussed issues under the theme “Bridging the gap between sexuality research and advocacy for sexual rights”.

Organized by an Asian research network for women/gender studies, Kartini Asia, and the Amsterdam-based SEPHIS (The South-South exchange program for research on the history of development), it was the first international meeting to discuss sexuality, including the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual (LGBT) individuals, after the failed International Gay and Lesbian Association conference held in March in Surabaya that was stopped by hard-line religious groups.

In the opening speech, Muhadjir Darwin, the head of CPPS, set the tone for the rest of the conference: “[Human] sexuality is not a dichotomy, either black or white, male or female. It’s created. God created diversity. It is against humanity, against human rights, and against god’s will to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Muhadjir’s statement was still a far cry from the mainstream view in Indonesian society, Asia and around the world. According to a 2010 ILGA study, it is a crime to be gay in 76 countries.

Last year, Indonesia’s westernmost province Aceh released a bylaw criminalizing homosexuality and stipulating adulterers should be stoned to death. The controversial pornography law also criminalizes homosexuality.

But while intimidation and discrimination against LGBT still exists in Indonesia, it is also the place where the first international principles on the application of International Human Rights Law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, the Yogyakarta principles, were signed.

Outlined in Yogyakarta, the principles were drawn up at a meeting between the International Commission of Jurists and human rights experts from around the world at Gadjah Mada University in November 2006. The first principle states: “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.”

In its third decade, Indonesia’s LGBT advocacy movement has come a long way since the 1980s when gay men, transgender and lesbian women networked exclusively through the first and — at that time — only gay magazine, GAYa Nusantara. Since then, more LGBT rights groups have emerged — such as Arus Pelangi and Ardhanary Institute — and fought for the right of sexual orientation to be acknowledged as part of Indonesia’s universal human rights.

But as the LGBT movement seeks more space in the public arena, hard-line minority groups are showing resistance through violence and intimidation, instilling public fear, said Soe Tjen Marching, the founder of two publications on sexuality.

Legal practitioners advocating sexual rights have warned that LGBT groups’ increasing advocacy work might end up being counterproductive for the LGBT movement, suggesting they should focus on winning people’s hearts first.

Ratna Batara Munti, who headed the Network of the Pro-Women’s National Legislation Program (JKP3) — an association of various NGOs, including the Women’s Health Foundation (YKP) and LBH Apik — explained that while the association was fighting for universal access to reproductive health care in the revised Health Law, a book titled Indahnya Perkawinan Sesama Jenis (The Beauty of Same Sex Marriage) was released.

Legislators shocked by the contents of the book felt compelled to push through Article 72 in the revised Health Law, stating that “Everyone has the right to a healthy and safe reproductive and sexual life, free from force and/or violence, with his or her lawful spouse”. In other words, the Health Law they passed only protects legally married couples, according to Ratna.

“Legal advocacy runs the risk of being counterproductive. There should be more advocacy work at the socio-cultural level. [Starting with] the space they [LGBT] have, in which they can work, socialize, and in some cases have relationships without being harassed — let these spaces be wider first,” Handinah said.

To address this gap at the socio-cultural level — and widen the public’s openness to different sexual orientations and gender identities, Soe Tjen runs two publications: Bhineka, a free magazine on pluralism issues and Jurnal Gandrung, a journal on critical sexuality studies.

Jurnal Gandrung, the first journal on sexuality in Indonesia, launched its first edition in June. The journal’s first essay, written by progressive Islam scholar Siti Musdah Mulia, focuses on Islam and homosexuality, calling for a reinterpretation of Islam’s understanding of homosexuality.

Kartini Asia coordinator and human rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana also pointed out that the issue of sexual rights was not limited to discrimination against LGBTs. The problems with violence against women stems from the issue of sexuality as well, she said.

There is a need to link research findings and activism, Nursyahbani went on. Many studies on sexuality can be used by advocacy groups, but the problems disseminating research findings to advocacy groups hamper the exchange.

For example, bringing together researchers from different countries could create an exchange and dialogue on sexual rights issues in their respective countries.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Wed, August 25 2010

Tesa Casal de Vela: A fine line

JP/Prodita Sabarini
JP/Prodita Sabarini

As Theresa “Tesa” Casal de Vela and her daughter joined a rally organized for Manila’s gay pride two years ago, they heard Christian fundamentalists shout at marchers that they were going to burn in hell and needed to repent.

Casal de Vela, a Filipino feminist scholar and activist, recalled her then five-year-old daughter asking: “Why are they shouting at us mama? Why are they angry with us?”

“I said ‘You know, because they think that God does not like us and that’s not true because God loves everybody’,” she went on. So when the fundamentalist groups yelled at them, her and her daughter shouted back: “God is Love”. Later on, her daughter started singing the Barney I love you song, which goes: “I love you / You love me / We’re a happy family.”

It wasn’t the last time Casal de Vela witnessed rejection from religious fundamentalist groups toward Lesbian Gay Transexual and Bisexual (LGBT) individuals. The former director of Isis International Manila — an organization that promotes women’s human rights by facilitating networking as well as information sharing between women’s movements — attended the International Lesbian and Gay Alliance (ILGA) conference in Surabaya earlier this year, which was cut short by radical groups’ disruptive behavior.

She joined ILGA in 2005 as part of Isis, one of the feminist organizations that became a member of ILGA. Her aim since 2005 has been to foster what she calls “intermovement” or collaboration between the feminist and LGBT movements. She was about to promote her message at the failed ILGA conference in March, themed “Moving Forward”. “But, in fact we weren’t allowed to move at all,” she said.

She was recently in Indonesia for an International Policy Dialogue on gender and sexuality in Yogyakarta, which ran from Aug. 9 to 11. Casal de Vela talked to The Jakarta Post about LGBT rights in the Philippines, discovering her sexuality, and the need for several levels of activism for sexual rights.

According to the 41-year-old senior lecturer at the International, Humanitarian, and Development Studies of Miriam College in the Philippines, one could argue her home country has a strong LGBT movement, with LGBTs in academia and prominent jobs in public office.

“This [state of affairs] — co-exists with a situation where we can’t get an antidiscrimination against LGBT bill passed. We have Christian fundamentalist groups protesting against a gay pride march,” she continued. There are incidences of police raiding gay bars to extort money from bail. “And if you don’t know your rights, you will let them arrest you.”

She recalled her journey in discovering her sexuality as “strange”. A heterosexual until college, Casal de Vela explored her sexuality after she became involved in feminist movements. After college, she was in a relationship with a woman and told her parents she was a lesbian. They were shocked by the news — but only for a couple of hours.

Once her family and community accepted her sexuality, she fell in love with … a man. “So I had to tell my family again. And they were like ‘Wait, we already accepted you as a lesbian’.”

So she explained to her family that she was in love with the man. “I still like women, but I fall in love with a person’s soul. You know whatever that outer part that person looks like is not my main concern.”

She eventually married the man and gave birth to her daughter. The marriage then dissolved. Casal de Vela said that she had been with her current female partner for seven years.

In the research she is currently carrying out on sexuality, preliminary findings show discrimination against Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LBT) women differs depending on the group or particular identity. A bisexual woman who looks “straight” or heterosexual, will experience less discrimination in the workplace compared to “butch” or “masculine-looking” lesbians and transgender women, she added.

“For instance, my partner and I are both feminine [looking] and teachers in a school. And we’re OK. I think it’s because we’re ‘feminine-looking’ lesbians, so people can also accept that easily,” she said.

“Two feminine women with a baby, [will stimulate this kind of thought:]‘ Isn’t that nice; that’s so sweet; that’s so cute’. But people have a problem when they see the butch [looking woman] and a femme.

“It’s worse for transgender individuals,” She explained, especially for those entering the workforce.

“It’s easier to get work if you can pass as a straight person,” she said. For her research, she interviewed transgender women with PhDs who could not find jobs. “Because the only work available is in entertainment, or hairdressing, you know that kind of thing. But, they have PhDs in psychology.”

When advocating the rights of women and LGBTs, she said there should be several levels of activism, campaigning for matters which may be seen as trivial, such as the use of female public toilets for all women, including “butch-looking” lesbians and transsexuals, to promoting the involvement of LGBT individuals in political organizations.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Thu, August 19 2010

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

Indonesia’s way of embracing sexuality

Ancient teaching: A relief at Sukuh Temple near Surakarta. The 15-century Hindu-Buddhist temple depicts reliefs on life before birth, having sexual education as its main theme. JP/Ani Suswantoro
Ancient teaching: A relief at Sukuh Temple near Surakarta. The 15-century Hindu-Buddhist temple depicts reliefs on life before birth, having sexual education as its main theme. JP/Ani Suswantoro

Sex is a big part of Indonesians’ daily lives. Everyday people laugh at dirty jokes. Open flirting is common, even between work colleagues, which some may view as verging on sexual harassment.

Watching pornographic films has long been an “educational” past time for school children curious about sex.

In the workplace, it’s not rare to see several people with their eyes glued to a computer screen playing pornographic movies. And sex workers never have quiet nights except maybe during fasting months.

However, Indonesians relaxed attitude toward sex is ambiguous. In a way, Indonesian society is permissive in laughing at the jokes, in its knowledge of the steamy stories in the two volumes of the book Jakarta Undercover, open flirting, of having mistresses in unregistered marriages, and living side by side with the many sex brothels across the country.

In another way, its sexuality is repressed, with society quick to condemn anyone who engages in sexual activities outside a heterosexual marriage.

So come the stories of raids on unmarried couples living under the same roof, of transvestites being chased by public order officers and of the hard-line religious groups intimidating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The recent love story of Alterina Hofman, who suffers from Klinefelter’s syndrome — a rare case where a male has an extra X chromosome — and Jane Hadipoespito, is another case of sexual repression.

Jane’s parents denounced the couple’s marriage and filed a lawsuit against Alterina for document
fraud because he previously declared he was a woman on his identity cards. Police then took Alterina to prison, ignoring the latest report from a doctor that confirmed he was a man.

People, of course, are still in tune with the sex-video scandal that befell pop band Peterpan vocalist, Nazril “Ariel” Ilham. The 28-year-old divorced father of one, famed for his guttural singing, is now in police custody, charged under the controversial 2008 Pornography Law for allegedly featuring in the sex video with his girlfriend actress Luna Maya and another video with presenter Cut Tari.

In short: You can joke about it. You can even do it. But, if you are not heterosexual and unmarried, do not get caught doing it.

An expert on gender and sexuality from the University of Indonesia, Irwan Martua Hidayana, said  the issue of sexuality in Indonesia was largely influenced by religious and cultural norms. “People see sex in the frame of marriage,” he said at his office on the Depok campus.

“So, when you’re not married, either men or women, ideally, normatively, should not have sex,” he said.

“When there are unmarried people who are sexually active, they will get a social sanction. They will be condemned from a moral point of view as deviant and decadent,” he said.

For Firliana Purwanti, a human rights and gender activist, and author of The “O” Project, a social sanction may be acceptable but criminalization by the state is not.

In light of Ariel’s case, Firli wrote an opinion piece in Koran Tempo daily, stating that instead of arresting Ariel, the police should arrest the person who uploaded the videos on the Internet and the people who were distributing DVDs.

“When I decided to write about Ariel’s case, I was fed up. I’m fed up with all the hypocrisy in this country,” she said.

“This is a matter of human rights. It can happen to any of us. The most relevant area that was touched in this case is the right to privacy,” she said.

“Your privacy is yours, although, the private domain can be political as well. The limitations to your freedom in your private space are three things — violence, discrimination and force,” she said.

Firli said that even the Pornography Law, a controversial piece of  “legislation due to a vague definition on pornography that polarized the nation between moralists and liberals, acknowledged the right to privacy.”

Ariel would be the first celebrity charged under the Pornography Law, passed in 2008 after years of heated debate on whether such a law was needed.

Police say he is also charged for violating another controversial law on electronic information and transactions, which punishes those who spread indecent images, and for violating the Criminal Code.

The pornography law stipulates anyone who produces, makes, copies, circulates, broadcasts, offers, trades, loans or provides porn content can face up to 12 years in prison.

National Police chief detective Comr. Gen. Ito Sumardi said detectives had collected enough evidence to charge him.

According to Irwan, the Pornography Law is a way for the state to control its citizens. “Any country will try to control its citizens. One way is by controlling their sexuality and bodies,” he said.

It is not the first time the state has attempted to control its citizens’ personal lives, Irwan said. “The family planning program for instance; that was an example of how the state controls the bodies of its citizens, especially female bodies,” he said.

Within the state, he says, lay ideologies. “Formally, we have the ideology of Pancasila. But for feminists, they may say a patriarchy ideology exists, which puts men before women,” he said.

As a secular country with millions of religious people, most adhering to Islam, moral standards of those religions feature as well, he said.

These moral standards, associated with sexuality, Irwan says, evolve with changes in society.

At the time Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in Java ruled, society had a more open attitude toward sexuality, evident in the reliefs at the Sukuh Temple near Surakarta that depict sexuality openly. Irwan also mentioned the Centini scripture that discusses sexuality openly.

“Changes always happen in culture. There used to be acceptance of different genders and sexual activities, such as homosexual acts between warok and gemblak in Ponorogo,” he said.

Warok is the leader in the Reog Ponorogo dance, who was prohibited from having sexual intercourse with women, making them have gemblak, or young boys as sexual partners.

The Bugis people in Makassar, Irwan said,  acknowledge five types of gender: female, male, calalai (masculine female), calabai (feminine male) and bissu (androgyny).

The entering of major world religions such as Islam and Christianity, and modern western views of monogamy, has slowly changed how Indonesians view sexuality. Now, he says, moral control becomes stronger and limited to heterosexuality. With moral control, sexuality becomes a taboo topic because it is viewed in a negative light, Irwan said.

This results in moral panic when cases of sexual activity outside the accepted norm surfaced, Irwan said,  such as Ariel’s case, with media sensationalizing and condemning it simultaneously, and two ministers rejecting the importance of sex education.

Irwan said the sex videos scandal could actually be momentum to develop a sex education program for students.

“Because people see sex in a negative light if it occurs outside the marriage framework, moral panic always results” he said.

“If people have knowledge about sexuality, they can be more responsible in protecting themselves.”

Idy Muzayyad, former Nahdlatul Ulama youth-wing activist and member of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), says in their activities people should take into account the norms in the society they live in.

“In France a minister can have a baby without being married, and people would be OK with that. Here, that’s not possible, because we have different values.”

He emphasizes, however, that while society can give social sanctions, the state should not inter-
fere in the private domain of its citizens.

“There’s a way to heaven and the way to hell, and even God gives humans the choice,” he said.

Firli said legislative processes in Indonesia were prone to bias. “We’re used to making policies that are heterosexist and patriarchal,” she said, giving the health law as an example as it regulates access to reproductive health for married couples.

“That’s unrealistic. Because our policies have always been religiously biased, it has never been effective in solving problems in the field. So many people don’t follow religion strictly anyway. And with a secular country, why [is the government] introducing religious values in policies.”

Many studies since the 1980s and 1990s show that the younger generation is sexually active, Irwan said.

“I think our politicians should accept that this is what’s happening in society. They should not be in denial.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Wed, July 07 2010

LGBT rights: A test for Indonesian democracy

Solidarity rules: Three transvestites, also members of the Transgender Solidarity Network, commemorate the International Transgender Day, on Nov. 20, 2009.JP/Arief Suhardiman
Solidarity rules: Three transvestites, also members of the Transgender Solidarity Network, commemorate the International Transgender Day, on Nov. 20, 2009.JP/Arief Suhardiman

In its third decade, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) advocacy movement has progressed far from the days of the 1980s when gay men, transgender and lesbian women networked exclusively through the first and – at that time – the only gay magazine GAYa Nusantara.

The movement is now, according to LGBT rights expert Baden Offord, facing one of the most critical periods in its development as it attempts to be more visible in the public sphere and seeks to engage more broadly with mainstream Indonesian society.

More LGBT rights groups have emerged and have been fighting for the right of sexual orientation to be acknowledged as part of Indonesia’s universal human rights.

In modern urban areas, gay men and lesbian women are becoming more visible in the workplace and within friendship circles. Increasing numbers of families are becoming more accepting of their gay sons and daughters’ sexual orientation.

Popular culture has also become an avenue in which the existence of homosexuality is being recognized, with breakthrough films such as Arisan (Savings Gathering) depicting scenes of gay love.

A festival of films with homosexual themes, Q Film Festival, has successfully been held in the last nine years, drawing larger crowds each year.

Offord, an associate professor at the Southern Cross University and author of Homosexual Rights as Human Rights: Activism in Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia, said the Indonesian LGBT rights movement was beginning to take their discussions to regional and international levels, not just keeping them in localities.

But as the LGBT movement seeks more space in the public sphere, hard-line minority religious groups are showing resistance through violence and intimidation, while the state apparatus does nothing to protect the movement’s right to freedom of expression.

Back in March, the police stood by and, according to the eyewitness-account of lesbian activist Rr. Sri Agustine, were even sharing rice boxes with a mob of hard-liners from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who had forced their way into a Surabaya hotel, demanding participants of a planned congress on sexual orientation in the East Java city to leave the country.

The hardliners told the conference organizers not to make a media statement, then vandalized GAYa Nusantara’s office, writing “ILGA = Terorist Moral” (ILGA = Moral Terrorists).

Organizers of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) Asia Conference eventually canceled the event, citing “security reasons”, after the police refused to grant them a permit, fearing protests from religious groups. Politicians and civil society organizations have quickly condemned the thuggery and police negligence as unconstitutional and violating human rights.

Tom Boellstorff, author of The Gay Archipelago and professor at the department of Anthropology, University of California, said that the critical issue was the failure of the police to protect the people at the conference.

“Will they be reprimanded?

Why did the police issue a permit but then take it away for no reason? Will new protocols be put
in place? Will those responsible for the intimidation, particularly the FPI, be arrested or otherwise reprimanded?

“If they can get away with these kinds of illegal activities, then that says something very negative and sad about the current state of democracy in Indonesia — not just for LGBT persons, but for everyone,” he said in an email interview.

The police responded saying that they had not issued a permit for the event, but were obliged to be present because they acknowledged that the “fierce” objections from dozens of mass organizations may have violated the security of East Java.

Offord said: “The problem faced by the LGBT movement is summed up in one phrase — ‘explicitness’. LGBT rights are now a central litmus test for Indonesian democratic society.”

Indonesia’s LGBT rights champion Dede Oetomo who founded GAYa Nusantara said that LGBT activists “believed that Indonesia — with all its problems — was a democratic country, in which such conferences could be held”.

He said that Surabaya, the home base of GAYa Nusantara, was chosen because there had never been any previous violent incidents like those of March, 26, when the FPI stormed the hotel.

Dede, who is also a lecturer at the social and political science department of Airlangga University in Surabaya, said that Indonesian activists also wanted to show a homegrown LGBT movement to the international world.

LGBT organization Arus Pelangi founder Ridho Triawan said that if local LGBT activists managed to host the fourth ILGA-Asia conference it would give bigger political power for the movement.

Offord said that in the short term the LGBT movement would be chastened by the conference cancellation. “It has tested the democratic pulse of the Indonesian nation and found that the pulse is weak,” he said.

In the long term, however, he thought that it will actually strengthen the LGBT movement to become a more cohesive and deliberative movement. “There will be a lot of reflection on how to negotiate the present political and social climate,” he said.

By contrast, Dede thinks that GAYa Nusantara is actually becoming more cautious and low-key, because of this recent intimidation. The head of the Women Rainbow Institute (IIP) Kamilia Manaf refused to be interviewed for precisely this reason.

“Activists will understand the need to ally themselves with other progressive civil society groups. They will need to understand and practice human rights, and have political awareness.”  He said that the new generation of LGBT movement activists were passionate, educated and braver, however, which he finds solace in.

Boellstorff said that the LGBT movement in Indonesia is flourishing but was facing many challenges, most of which have to do with the acceptance of LGBT persons in Indonesian society.

“If Indonesia is truly to live up to its motto of ‘unity in diversity’, then there needs to be a national conversation regarding who is going to be included in that diversity.

“Since LGBT Indonesians exist in great numbers and have always been a part of the archipelago, they are part of that diversity.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Tue, June 29 2010