Often-tolerant Indonesia turns against LGBTI people

Dr. Muhammad Nasir, Indonesia's minister of research, technology and higher education. (Photo courtesy of Universitas Ubudiyah Indonesia)
LGBTI people are entitled to equality before the law, “but that does not mean that the state legitimizes the LGBT status,” said Dr. Muhammad Nasir, Indonesia’s minister of research, technology and higher education. (Photo courtesy of Universitas Ubudiyah Indonesia)

Indonesia is hot and bothered about sex in general and LGBTI issues in particular.

The country’s highest court is deliberating whether all sex outside marriage should be made illegal — the latest push by conservative Islamist organizations seeking religiously based changes in the country’s largely secular legal code.

As the Washington Post reported, if the Constitutional Court revises the law to forbid casual sex, gay sexual relations would become illegal for the first time in Indonesian history, and straight unmarried couples could face prosecution. The Post stated:

Over the past 1½ years, gays have become a particular target …, with state officials and Islamic scholars repeatedly declaring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people represent an unprecedented danger to the health of Indonesian society. Over the past few weeks, expert witnesses have given emotion-laded testimony on the danger gays pose to Indonesia.

When the Indonesian Youth and Sports Ministry began recruiting applicants for the role of Creative Youth Ambassador, the ministry said it is seeking someone “physically and mentally healthy” and specifically “not involved in promiscuity and sexually deviant behavior, including LGBT.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Photo courtesy abc.net.au)
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Photo courtesy abc.net.au)

As this blog reported recently,  President Joko Widodo responded to rising anti-LGBT sentiment by stating that “the police must act” to protect LGBT Indonesians even though “Islam does not allow” the LGBT lifestyle.

Indonesia’s National AIDS Commission warned that the recent wave of anti-LGBT sentiment might prevent the country from reaching AIDS targets by 2030.

Journalist Yenni Kwok reflected in Time magazine about how the country’s treatment of LGBT citizens threatens to undermine the quest for democracy.

Indonesia prides itself not only for being a country with the world’s biggest Muslim population, but also for its tolerant brand of Islam. Its two largest Muslim organizations, the traditional Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the modernist Muhammadiyah, which have a combined membership of some 80 million, are touted as examples of moderate Islam. …

Photo of 2007 protest by trans Indonesians seeking recognition of their human rights. (Photo courtesy of Rappler)
In 2007, trans Indonesians staged this protest seeking recognition of their human rights. (Photo courtesy of Rappler)

Vice President Jusuf Kalla told the U.N. Development Program not to carry out LGBT community programs in the country. Defend the Nation, a paramilitary training program that claims some 1.8 million participants, declared homosexuality as one of the nation’s enemies, along with communism and illegal drugs. There were controversies over gay emojis. A transgender Islamic boarding school in the city of Yogyakarta was forced to close down in February after years of existence, following intimidation from hard-line Muslims. And the mainstream Muslim organizations (the NU and Muhammadiyah) issued statements saying that LGBT “lifestyle” is “incompatible with human nature.” …

When it comes to the treatment of its LGBT community, … the country faces two options: uphold its democratic credentials or pander to the intolerant voices. The biggest Southeast Asian country — with its national motto of Unity in Diversity — can be a true pioneering model of democracy if it embraces and is inclusive to its minority groups, including sexual minorities. Otherwise, Indonesia’s — and Jokowi’s — impressive claims simply ring hollow.

This article includes information from UNAIDS’s Equal Eyes recap of the world’s LGBTI news.




Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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