Indonesia: LGBT youth bears brunt of hostility towards gay and lesbian community

Indonesian social media was flooded with images of the 141 men, many shirtless and faces turned away from the cameras, who were detained in a raid on the men-only Atlantis sauna in Jakarta. The incident was slammed by human rights activists worldwide in May, before it quickly faded from the news. Yet it remains one of the most public examples of Indonesia’s growing intolerance of its LGBT community.

Unlike in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, there are no laws against homosexuality in Indonesia. So, like everyone else in Indonesia, the LGBT community should be afforded protection under human rights and equality laws.

In recent years, however, regional governments, such as in Aceh province, which practises sharia law, have introduced regulations that target perceived homosexual “behaviours” and prosecute suspected LGBT individuals under existing laws. That includes the pornography law, which was used to threaten the men in the Atlantis sauna case. 

Activists have long claimed these attitudes lead to discrimination, criminalisation, systemic violence and social isolation. King Oey, who leads Indonesia’s largest LGBTI rights group, Arus Pelangi, says the situation makes it difficult to reach out to the young and at risk.

“So many LGBT people live in isolation and have hidden lives. It is hard to reach all of them,” he says. But largely, it’s not the government nor religious zealots the community fears, rather the primary concern is rejection from support networks, such as friends and family, says Oey.

Cornelius Hanung from the Asean Sogie Caucus, a regional organisation standing up for sexual and gender minorities’ rights, agrees.“The role of family and the closest circle [of friends] for LGBT people is very important in helping them achieve self-acceptance and social acceptance,” Hanung says. He adds that for younger gay Indonesians, a lack of exposure to education about sexuality from these networks can lead to the belief that it is wrong or a sin to not be straight.

“The prospect of being disowned by your parents is the most frightening thing that makes many young people depressed in Indonesia.”

Bullying by peers is also a near daily occurrence for Indonesia’s young and gay community, says Hanung. Read more via South China Morning Post