Lawmakers in Indonesia are currently considering a law criminalizing homosexuality and any sex outside of marriage, the latest effort to shore up rural, fundamentalist support for regional elections later this year and the presidential election in 2019. (Attempts to use Chinese migration as a wedge issue failed to gain traction.)
Conservative extremism has fueled an overall anti-Western sentiment in Indonesia lately, and a surge in persecution of LGBT people, especially in the sharia-governed province of Aceh. Last month, a dozen transgender women were arrested, publicly humiliated, and had their heads shaved.
In 2017, anti-pornography laws were used to raid gay saunas in Jakarta and arrest attendees at sex parties around the country. Just last week, Indonesia's Health Ministry declared homosexuality a "mental disorder."
These efforts fly in the face of Indonesia's few progressive elements, like free HIV treatment and LGBT acceptance by families in larger cities like Jakarta.
While the ban was predicted to go into effect by Valentine's Day, it could take longer—for an alarming reason: an Islamist political party wants to see the punishment for gay sex increased to life imprisonment or execution.
But what is life like on the ground for LGBT Indonesians? Are police crackdowns and anti-gay rhetoric from politicians affecting their everyday lives? Below, we spoke candidly with several gay Indonesians about the reality of queer life in the country. (Names have been changed to protect privacy and security.)
Putri, 37 (Jakarta)
“There have been talks of arresting LGBT activists once this law is implemented. To be honest, I don’t know what to do. Some friends and I are thinking about making a shelter and training center for LGBT youth. The gay bars and clubs are still open, but there aren’t that many compared to ten years ago. I don’t know how the law will affect the existence of these places.
I think [this new code] feeds into the anti-Western rhetoric that is gaining momentum in Indonesia. The law also forbids extramarital sex for heterosexuals, and that means any campaign for birth control and condoms will be considered a crime. Young Indonesian teenagers are also encouraged to get married early to avoid zinah (sin).
Also, not just LGBTs but all kinds of minorities, including religious ones, are being politicized and turned into public enemies. And it's working.”
Agus, 30 (Bandung)
“I feel disgusted and not safe anymore. There isn’t much of a gay scene in Bandung, but there are a couple of gay spas. One got raided and closed earlier this month. Photos of the naked men were taken and shared everywhere, with their faces uncensored.
If this law passes, not only will LGBTs face punishment, but also pregnant women who are abandoned by their men, rape victims, and even sexually exploited children—since they all had sex outside marriage. Not many straight people that I know get alarmed by this except LGBT allies, because most straight people think this won't affect their lives. But the reality is, this will.
What will I do for now? I will continue to spread news about this reality and encourage others to do what they can to reject RHUKP.”
Rafe, 29 (Jakarta)
“Gay clubs, bars, and saunas are no longer really advertised and people are scared to go, especially after the raids. [Antigay] violence isn’t as much of a threat here in Jakarta—what people are more scared of now is ‘revenge reporting’ by other gays. A year or so back, a Kalibata City gay party raid was attributed to gays who had been rejected. And jilted lovers will also have a weapon.
LGBT issues are easiest to score points with Indonesians: It is considered largely foreign, nobody knows people around them who are gay, and social acceptance is still low. The explosive 2016 comment from minister Muhamma Nasir, who stated that gays should be barred from universities, revealed that saying anything anti-LGBT can create a media uproar nationally and internationally and increase one's social media traffic. My personal plans are getting out from Indonesia as soon as possible."