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YouTube star fights anti-LGBT+ bias in Indonesia

A gay Muslim YouTube star whose videos about being gay and living with HIV have been viewed by millions hopes his popular channel will help fight moves by lawmakers in Indonesia to clamp down on the country’s LGBT+ community.

Acep Gates (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Prejudice towards LGBT+ people spurred Acep Gates, a gay Muslim, to take to YouTube two years ago and openly fight misinformation – including on the latest proposed law.

“Homosexuality is not sexual deviation,” the 24-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from his hometown in Indonesia’s West Java province.

In recent years, anti-LGBT+ sentiment has increased in the Southeast Asian nation, where homosexuality is not a crime — except in Aceh province and some cities — but remains taboo.

Under a new law proposed by Indonesian legislators, homosexuality would be defined as “sexual deviation” and LGBT+ people would be required to be treated at rehabilitation centers.

Acep Gates on YouTube (Photo courtesy of YouTube)

“This law will cause more stigma, bullying and persecution against LGBT+ people,” said Gates, whose real name is Acep Saepudin. “I’m worried that more LGBT+ people will be forced to undergo conversion therapy and depression will go up.”

Conversion therapy, now widely discredited, is rooted in the belief that LGBT+ people have a mental illness which can be cured through psychological, spiritual, or in extreme cases physical means.

Gates, who has more than 100,000 Instagram followers and subscribers to his YouTube channel, called the move by lawmakers “puzzling” in a recent video and vowed to keep up the pressure until the bill is scrapped.

In 2018, he defied public hostility to became one of the first gay Indonesians to campaign on LGBT+ and HIV issues using YouTube — two weeks after he was diagnosed with the virus. His most-viewed video has been seen 3.5 million times.

Supporters of the “family resilience bill”, which would also see incest and sadomasochism labeled “sexual deviations”, have said it aims to foster family values.

The bill has appeared on Indonesian parliament’s priority list for the 2020-2024 period, prompting criticism from human rights campaigners.

The LGBT+ community have long been largely tolerated in Indonesia, but they have faced a growing backlash since a wave of anti-gay rhetoric in 2016, with a rise in laws and raids targeting the community.

Gates said he chose to use YouTube because he can reach a wider audience and it was “real” to show who he was.

This article includes information and shared text from Thomson Reuters and Alturi.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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