New Outbreak of State Homophobia in Indonesia

Randy Berry, the United States Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons meets with the Indonesian government, civil society groups, and the business community as part of a six-country Asia tour that began at the end of January. He is in Jakarta on February 9 and 10.

Berry's visit comes on the heels of numerous inflammatory statements by highly placed government representatives that called for banning LGBT Indonesians from entering campus grounds of colleges and universities, warning parents and teachers to watch out for gay and lesbian behaviors, and accusing LGBT people of destroying Indonesian culture and society. These statements were reported widely by Indonesian media and have been condemned by LGBT people in the country and a broad coalition of human rights activists and organizations.

On January 25th Indonesia's Minister of Technology, Research and High Education, Mr. Muhammad Nasir publicly called for LGBT persons to be barred from universities because they "corrupted the morals of the nation." A day earlier, the Minister of Culture and Education Anies Baswedan warned parents and teachers that LGBT were deviant and a danger to adolescents. On January 23rd a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives and the Prosperous Justice Party, Mr. Nasir Djamil publicly stated that LGBT activities on campuses should be stopped and LGBT people should be barred from holding campus discussions because they spread danger to society. Mr. Djamil was especially opposed to students presenting positive information "from scientific studies" about LGBT.

The next day, on January 24th, the Chair of the People's Consultative Assembly, Zulkifli Hasan, said that same sex relationships were against Indonesian culture and should be banned. Another politician, Reni Marlinawati said that same sex relationships should be unequivocally rejected and opposed.

It makes me wonder: Is this spate of condemnatory statements by government representatives a deliberate effort to send a message to and rebuff Special Envoy Berry and his mandate to defend and support LGBTI rights globally?

Open aggression towards LGBT people in Indonesia has usually been limited to Islamic conservatives and fundamentalists--for instance, the organized attacks by members of Islamic fundamentalist groups, specifically Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front) that have repeatedly disrupted human rights workshops and peaceful gatherings of LGBT groups, physically attacking participants, and causing property damage and human suffering. Some Indonesian cities where LGBT group activities have been violently disrupted include Surabaya in East Java, Yogyakarta, Makassar in South Sulawesi, Depok and Bandung in West Java, and in the capital city of Jakarta.

As recently as February 2016, an LGBT human rights training was disrupted and the hotel was heavily pressured to evict activists. The police at the site did nothing to protect LGBT persons and instead pressured them to cancel their events. In addition, in some parts of the country, notably Aceh, a particular interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) has codified severe penalties including prison and caning up to 100 lashes for anyone in an intimate relationship outside marriage, including same sex couples.

Indonesian President, Jokowi Widodo promised to enforce human rights and protect the rights of minorities during his presidential campaign in 2014. It is his responsibility to rein in his ministers for causing panic among LGBTI students, inciting blatant discrimination, and increasing their vulnerability to discrimination and violence on campuses, in schools, and by their families. The declarations of his ministers would deny LGBTI people the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to education, and the right to personal safety and security.

When government officials make derisive public statements about people with non-conforming sexual orientation and gender, and do not experience any consequences, hostilities against LGBTI persons not only increase but also become more severe. A coalition of human rights activists in Indonesia who are LGBTI and non-LGBTI, including the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission have issued public statements, challenging the homophobic actions of the government ministers and demanding accountability.

It is critical for government leaders, religious leaders and community leaders to do the same.

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