UNTIL a year ago, Mama Yuli could count on a steady stream of reporters and television crews to make their way to her small orange house in Jakarta’s suburbs for a peek at what is thought to be Indonesia’s only shelter for transgender women. Yulianus Rettoblaut—Mama Yuli’s full name—had made a splash as the first openly transgender woman to obtain a master’s degree in Indonesia. She had also tried twice to become a member of the Human Rights Commission.
But the coverage came to an abrupt halt last year. That is unfortunate, as Mama Yuli needs the donations that came with it. The shelter is home to six transgender women, though many more come and go. On a recent day there were nine. It is far from luxurious: a leaky roof had forced several of them to sleep on the floor, and a broken toilet added to their indignities. “We often invite television to come and now they say ‘No’,” Mama Yuli laments.
In early 2016 the Indonesia Broadcasting Commission banned television stations from screening images of “effeminate men” or of anyone campaigning for rights for gay or transgender people, to protect children from “deviant” influences. The pressure on gay and transgender Indonesians has only increased since. In May in Aceh province, which has used its special, semi-autonomous status to adopt some elements of sharia (Islamic law), the authorities publicly caned two men caught having sex with one another. Indonesia does not have a national law against sodomy, but around the same time the police in Jakarta rounded up 140 or so men at a gay sauna, saying they may have broken the law on pornography. The police chief of the province of West Java, Anton Charliyan, has pledged to set up an anti-gay task force, charged with trawling through social media posts to detect gay events to raid.
Indonesia has a long-standing, indigenous transgender tradition. Men who identify as women are labelled waria, a fusion of the words for men and women. During the 1960s the governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin, founded an advocacy group for waria. Waria dancers were among the attractions at the annual Jakarta Fair. Until recently gay venues and gay activism were grudgingly tolerated in big cities.
A wave of anti-gay hysteria is now testing this tolerance. In July Map Boga Adiperkasa, a company that runs the local branches of Starbucks, disavowed the brand’s support for gay rights after a huge Muslim group called for a boycott. Several politicians have proposed criminalising homosexuality. There is much talk of the insidious threat to the fabric of the nation. Read more via the Economist