Why being gay in Indonesia is the worst thing you can be

LGBT in the archipelago

Mish Khan

Society and culture | Southeast Asia

2 March 2016

Mish Khan reflects upon the emergence of a shouting match around LGBT issues in Indonesia and why being gay in Indonesia is the worst thing to be. 

Pancasila and preferences

Indonesia’s long and quiet taboo on being LGBT has descended into a shouting match – with the minority group very much so at the receiving end of all the abuse.

Over several weeks, a rush of anti-LGBT hostilities have surged in the moderate Muslim-majority state where being gay is not illegal (excluding the Sharia-governed Aceh province). The furore started after an LGBT student support service at the University of Indonesia was banned, leading to fiery debate about the place of LGBT communities in Indonesian society.

The consensus is clear: they are not welcome. Discrimination has reared its ugly head as politicians, psychiatrists, activists and religious figures weigh in on a ‘deviant’ behaviour that has been described as a “modern kind of warfare” against the nation.

The hard-line stance against LGBT groups stems from the argument that Pancasila as the philosophical foundation of Indonesia includes “faith in one God”, thus leaving no space for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Indonesian society. Never mind that being LGBT isn’t necessarily incompatible with being religious, Pancasila’s other core values of unity, justice, and civilised humanity are sorely compromised by such alienation of a minority group. It also opens wide, dangerous doors for discrimination far more sinister and systemised.

In the past several weeks, Indonesian authorities have attacked social media platforms for hosting LGBT material such as emoticon packages, demanding that LGBT content be censored at the threat of bans, and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission has prohibited television shows which “promote” an “LGBT lifestyle”.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has requested that the United Nations Development Programme not fund LGBT programs, and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu described LGBT groups as a “proxy war” threatening state sovereignty. The Indonesia Ulema Council has declared being LGBT forbidden and has called for legislation to criminalise LGBT activities, while psychiatrists have labelled it a “mental disorder” curable through treatment. The hashtag “#TolakLGBT” (reject LGBT) went viral.

Indonesia 🙁s on “gay emojis”

In the past few weeks Indonesia temporarily banned popular blogging platform Tumblr, and ordered social media platforms LINE, WhatsApp and Facebook to remove all emoticons containing LGBT references.

indonesia LGBT image 2

The ban on Tumblr was quickly reversed, but Indonesian authorities stated they will still contact Tumblr and “447 other websites” to request they forbid access to LGBT and pornographic content in Indonesia. The Information Ministry insisted they drop LGBT themed stickers, adding there was a concern that the colourful emojis might “appeal to children” and send messages of support.

LINE Indonesia has already bowed to the pressure and removed gay themed emojis from its online stores, issuing an apology.

Disunity in diversity

The official national motto of Indonesia is “Bhinekka Tunggal Ika”, an old Javanese phrase that translates to “unity in diversity”. If Indonesia’s proud tradition of embracing difference is so easily unglued by one pro-LGBT student group, it leaves one wondering how conditional this “diversity” really is.

In 2016’s Indonesia, it seems that being gay is the worst thing you can be.

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