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

RR. Sri Agustine: A happy lesbian advocate

Attraction comes early to some people. For RR. Sri Agustine, she had her first crush at the tender age of six, on a girl in her class.

What first started as a sweet feeling became the start of a struggle to find her place in the world. After grappling with depression in her teenage years over her sexuality, which was different from the mainstream social norms; a spiritual crisis; running away from home and escaping poverty, she has now found solace as an open lesbian activist, advocating for the rights of lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals.

The director of the LBT (Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trangender) organization Ardhanary Institute, a research and advocacy group that supports the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation said she knew her life would not be simple when she accepted that she was a lesbian.

“My sexual orientation is different to the mainstream norms. I’m here and they’re there and I know that they will reject me because of the difference. But I have to fight so that society will eventually accept me as I am,” she said recently in her office.

With a crew cut, T-shirt and pants, Agustine is a slim, soft-spoken, butch female. Sitting in
Ardhanary’s modest office, she requested that the address of the office not be published, for fear of violent attacks.

She was recently in Surabaya, where a hard-line religious group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), barged in a hotel and intimidated organizers of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) to cancel their planned conference.

Born into a strict Catholic family in Bandung, she said when she first started to feel sexually attracted
to girls in high school, she became depressed.

“My friends were able to talk about their crushes while I could only remain silent,” she said.

A friend of hers sensed that Agustine was a lesbian and advised her to talk to her psychologist aunt. The psychologist told her she should just let go of things that were burdening her. She said Agustine needed to be honest and open with herself and develop a high self-esteem by being a high achiever.

“She said Jesus himself was carrying one cross, while it was as if I was carrying a cross with the
addition of the guilt of being a lesbian. She said I should just let it go,” Agustine said.

When she started to accept herself, her grades went up again. She was intrigued to find out information about lesbianism and, in her quest, found an article on GAYa Nusantara, the first gay movement in Indonesia.

She wrote to the founder, Dede Oetomo, who replied by sending her the GAYa Nusantara magazine, the first publication in Indonesia intended for gay and lesbians. There were sections for correspondence, and she wrote to other lesbians in other cities.

“I finally found a community,” she said. Previously, Agustine said she had felt so isolated and alone.
She came out to her parents in her senior year in high school, bringing home her girlfriend. She said her parents had always sensed that she was a lesbian by the way she dressed and acted but were in denial. “They didn’t take it very well, and I was hit,” she said.

As she could not stand the pressure any longer, she ran away from home with a gay friend when she was in her first year at college. She started from scratch.

“We worked in factories,” Agustine said. She once sold teh botol drinks on trains.

While she uprooted herself from her home, one habit she kept from her father was his love for books. “My dad was very proud of being an intellectual. One sign of intellectuality, for him, was the collection of books one had,” she said.

Her father would make her choose between buying books or a motorcycle. “He would say, ‘If you buy a motorcycle, you won’t be able to buy books. But by buying books, you might be able to buy a motorcycle’,” she said.

So from the little money she could save, she would buy a book, thinking that by buying a book she would be able to pull herself out of poverty.

She attempted to study philosophy at the Driyarkara School of Theology but was not able to complete her studies due to having to work to support herself. In 2006, Agustine received a scholarship
to study sexuality and methodology in a sexuality research project in Amsterdam.

Through her astute ways, Agustine lifted herself out of poverty. She applied to a company for a graphic design job, saying she had mastered the graphic design software.

“I told them that I needed one week to relearn the software because it had been a while since I had used it. I had never used it in my life. I taught myself in that week. If I hadn’t done that, I would never have made it,” she said.

She joined the women’s movement in the early 1990s and eventually landed a job at the Indonesian Women’s Coalition (KPI) women’s group, to work for their in-house magazine Semai.

For Agustine, one way to make people accept her was to deconstruct people’s image of lesbian women.

When she first worked at KPI, most of her colleagues were scared of her. They were prejudiced and thought lesbians were sleazy, liked to poke their fingers, and were prone to harass her sexually.

Agustine said they were afraid she would fall in love with and pursue one of them.

She slowly changed the way her colleagues saw her by bringing her lesbian friends to her workplace and introducing them to her colleagues. After a while, her colleagues would come up to them and say, “Oh, lesbians are the same as other people”.

She is doing the same with her work at the Ardhanary Institute. She said people would not respond kindly to harsh or aggressive words such as to stop homophobia or the like. So at every event, we choose to use positive words for ourselves, for example: “Lesbians are happy because of their choice of sexual orientation”.

She gives interviews to morning talk shows on television. “We want to present a positive image of lesbians, that we can function well in society and achieve something,” she said.

Agustine said the struggle was still ongoing. While the LBT movement ally themselves with the women’s movement, she said within the movement there was some resistance to lesbians.

Agustine said she returned home after 10 years. Her father now has passed away, and her mother and siblings are more accepting. Her family’s openness is now being passed on to the younger generation, she said.

“One day, my nieces and nephew were sitting in the back of the car. My nieces were hugging each other and their brother said: ‘When two women love and care for each other that’s called lesbian’. The girls asked: ‘What about two men?’ and their brother said: ‘That’s called gay’. And what about hugging without [romantic] feelings the girls asked again, and the brother said ‘That’s called friendship’.”

For Agustine, one way to make people accept her was to deconstruct people’s image of lesbian women.

Courtesy of RR Sri Agustine
Courtesy of RR Sri Agustine

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