Cane Away the Gay: Inside Indonesia’s Anti-LGBT+ Endemic

This month officially marks ‘LGBT Pride Month’. The event was created to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots, as well as recognising the impact that members of the LGBT community have had on history.

As a community, we have made great progress towards equality throughout the years. We’re far from finished, but we’re live in a different world to what our peers had to go through. However, not all countries are making such progress.

One country in particular is still struggling to create an environment which is safe and accepting for members of the LGBT+ community. This country is Indonesia, and has been making headlines recently for its questionable human rights and treatment of its LGBT+ people.

Indonesia and its LGBT treatment

In May 2017, two gay men in Aceh, Indonesia were sentenced to 85 lashes. This sentence was handed over to them by a Sharia court for having gay sex. As the men, both aged in their early 20’s, were lashed, the 2,000-strong crowd of spectators were reported to have cheered with each strike.

Aceh happens to be the only province in Indonesia that practices Shariah law. This code allowed authorities to sentence these two men to lashes as punishment for “morality” offences. Alongside gay sex, this code can also be used to punish women who wear tight clothes, men who skip Friday prayers, and anyone found drinking alcohol.

The canings were declared by Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as being “an act of utmost cruelty”:

In 2015, two teenage girls were arrested in Aceh on suspicion of being lesbians after hugging one another in public. Whilst the women weren’t charged with a criminal offence, they were forced to undergo rehabilitation for their actions.

Just last month, 141 men were detained in a raid on a gay sauna in North Jakarta. Police authorities detained the men under anti-pornography laws, with ten men being charged and facing up to ten years in prison.

Amnesty went on to denounce the arrests, describing them as “further evidence of the increasingly hostile environment faced by the LGBT+ community in Indonesia.”

Whilst homosexuality and consensual same-sex relations aren’t illegal by law in Indonesia, there are currently no strict laws in place regarding discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity. Meanwhile, a survey by Pew Research Centre found that 93% of Indonesians believed LGBT+ people should not be accepted.

Ichwan Syamn, a Muslim cleric member at the Indonesian Ulema Council, told The Guardian in 2012 that if LGBT+ people “are not willing to cure themselves medically and religiously” then they will need “to accept their fate to be ridiculed and harassed.”

All of these issues pose the question as to who exactly is looking to help and support the rights of LGBT+ people in the country of Indonesia.

Indonesia and its LGBT support network

There are a few organisations that have set out to make progress and help the LGBT community in Indonesia, but they come few and far between – with many struggling to score funding.

We spoke to Hartoyo, who is the Director of Our Voice, an organisation based in Indonesia which supports the rights of LGBT people. Hartoyo spoke about how the Indonesian government has no strategies or polices in place to help protect members of LGBT+ communities.

Hartoyo believes that the Indonesian government, under Joko Widodo’s control, don’t necessarily outright hate the LGBT+ community. He instead suggested they might actually be “very scared and careful to protect LGBT people”. Islamic groups in the country have been known to use the issues in the LGBT+ community as ways to demonstrate authority and power.

Putting LGBT+ lives back together

One of the gay men to be caned in Aceh is currently receiving support and psychological care from Hartoyo and Our Voice, who hope they can help put the man’s life back together so he can return to education.

Hartoyo told HISKIND that the man is, understandably, still very traumatized by the events and “he is very afraid of the community and cannot go back to school”.

The team are helping him deal with the aftermath of the caning – which may take a while as he is, understandably, still very traumatized by the events. Hartoyo said that “he is very afraid of the community and cannot go back to school.”

A survivor of caning in Indonesia

Hartoyo hasn’t been able to get in touch with the other man, but hopes that he is receiving the similar care and support so that he can become healthy again and get back to school too.

Life is also difficult for those volunteering their time and efforts to help support the LGBT community in the country. Hartoyo says that his organisation struggles with funding and support, and has problems themselves:

“We are still struggling to help the LGBT community. As activists, we are stigmatized and attacked by fundamentalist Islamic groups in Aceh. We do not get much support from other activists as not many people are ready to assist the LGBT community in Aceh.”

The events that occurred in Aceh and Jakarta have resulted in attention and public outcry from press all around the world. Despite this, Indonesian police recently were reported to have still set up a task force designed to investigate the activity of members of the LGBT+ community.

This eagle-eyed threat from officials is no doubt set to cause more distress and anxiety amongst an already-vulnerable community. West Java police Chief Anton Charliyan told reporters that gay people “will not be accepted in society” and that anyone who is found to be part of the community will “face the law and heavy social sanctions”.

It’s time to stand up for Indonesia and others

For those of us in the United Kingdom or the United States, we may still face discrimination or violence for being LGBT+ but at least we have some form of human rights to support us.

More so than ever, we are able to have a voice and stand up towards the fight for equality. It’s unbelievable to believe that, especially in 2017, this isn’t the case for every country.

Asking Hartoyo what people outside of Indonesia could do to help support, he said that mobilizing resources and donations would always be welcomed. Even just ideas on how the community can work towards equality and having some form of rights would be beneficial to Hartoyo and his organisation right now.

Canings are often publicised

Amnesty International’s Josef Benedict believes that “the international community must put pressure on Indonesia to create a safer environment for the LGBT community before the situation deteriorates further”.

Starting this LGBT Pride Month, we ask that you think about the smaller countries around the world that are still struggling to recognise the LGBT community. Consider what you can do to help their situation, whether it’s donating to charities such as Our Voice or just raising awareness of the issues faced around the world.

You can sign up to Amnesty International’s LGBTI network online to be part of the change, and follow them on Twitter for more updates.

Be sure to follow Hartoyo’s Our Voice organisation to find out more information on Indonesia and its LGBT+ rights.
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