Indonesia: Turning the rising tide of anti-LGBT sentiment

Sharyn Graham Davies is Associate Professor at the School of Social Sciences and Public Policy, Auckland University of Technology.

Sharyn wishes to thank Saskia Wieringa, Hendri Yulius and especially Ben Hegarty for insightful comments.

In her commentary, Davies lays out seven points she argues have lead to anti-LGBT sentiment and four specific examples of steps to combat it. 

 How should this growing visibility of anti-LGBT sentiment in Indonesia best be understood?

The answer is not clear-cut and involves a number of interacting factors.


Fifth, globalisation is impacting anti-LGBT sentiment. Media coverage of marriage equality in Indonesia’s near neighbours such as Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand is creating panic among conservatives in Indonesia. Even countries such as Singapore are subtly increasing tolerance of LGBTs. In a slightly different vein, media coverage of rising homophobia in South Korea is giving ammunition to the voices of hatred in Indonesia.

Sixth is the role and influence of domestic media. Media outlets in Indonesia do not just represent events but in some cases recreate them in misleading and potentially damaging ways. The LGBT ‘threat’ in Indonesia is being created in part by media coverage that frames being LGBT as a disease. Social media can also crystallise an angry mob with GPS accuracy via thousands of camera lenses, conjuring mass violence and hatred against LGBTs.

Seventh is the issue of space. There is a shrinking of public spaces in favour of private spaces in Indonesia. Locations where LGBTs could find a space to gather are now rare and overtly surveilled, and are seen as spaces in need of rehabilitation and modernisation.

What is needed in Indonesia is strong leadership that is willing to say more than simply ‘LGBT should be accepted’ (as Indonesian President Joko Widodo did) and to give weight to these words by taking action to end the persecution of LGBT.

There are several tools available to fight anti-LGBT sentiment.

The Indonesian government must ensure that the voices of Islam that promote anti-LGBT sentiment are being counterbalanced by those that stress the benevolence of Islam. This requires giving an equal platform to the voices that expound the view that God created humans just as they are meant to be and espoused love for all, and, as such, LGBT people should be accepted.

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