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My Jakarta: Nicky and Paramita, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Activists

in INDONESIA, 10/12/2011

Nicky Nurman and Paramita Mohamad know that it can be tough being a gay teenager in Indonesia, and they wanted to do something to help.

They found inspiration when they heard about a YouTube project called ‘It Gets Better,’ created by an American advice columnist last year to help prevent suicides among gay youth. In the project, gay adults post videos for gay youth to assure them that life will get better.

In a similar way, Nicky and Mita are using Twitter and Tumblr to help Indonesians accept their sexuality and find solace in the digital world. Through their ‘You Are Not Alone’ movement, they encourage people to ask questions and find support.

They tell My Jakarta why they started their online project, how it works, and how they hope it will grow.

How did you get the idea for your @NickynMita Twitter account?

Mita: It started when I saw the ‘It Gets Better’ video project on YouTube when I was in France, and realized that many people aren’t as lucky as I am in being gay and living out and about in Indonesia. I started thinking about helping people come to terms with their sexuality. Then I contacted Nicky, because he had been talking about being openly gay, and I said, ‘If you care about this issue, let’s doing something about it.’ So now we discuss the issue on Twitter.

Nicky: My part is talking about my personal experience of being openly gay, coming out to my parents and my family, being a drag queen and doing drag shows. Mita then complements my experiences with links that give people more information.

Is @NickynMita for a particular audience?

Mita: I think [gay] people outside Jakarta or in smaller cities lack role models. They think [if you’re gay] you’ll end up being the laughing stock of the of the village or that you’ll have to come to Jakarta and become a shampoo boy or something. A lot of them are placed in hair salons by Myrna, also known as Bambang, who founded Himpunan Wadam Djakarta (Jakarta Transgender Association) in 1978 to help boys who fled their kampung [village] and had nowhere to go. He would place them in salons or teach them basic skills, or maybe they would become drag queens. [On Twitter] we get responses from all over the country, like people asking where to find a gay-friendly kost-kostan [residence] in Jakarta. And we help. We throw it out there and people respond.

What’s on the ‘Kamu Nggak Sendirian’ [‘You Are Not Alone’] Tumblr account?

Nicky: It started from ‘It Gets Better,’ and we wanted to do something similar. Then Mita suggested a ‘coming out’ Web site where people can share their stories. So taking both ideas into consideration, we thought, why not have a Web site that reaches out to young LGBT Indonesians so they know they’re not alone?

Mita: So far, it’s been encouraging. The idea is to create a YouTube channel where LGBT people from all walks of life can serve as mentors for confused and repressed LGBT children in Indonesia, by uploading videos and saying, ‘Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We’ll help you get through this.’ It’s really a support group.

You said that one of the first people to upload a photo and words of encouragement was a girl wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf).

Mita: It was really touching. She said something like, ‘Please show who you are. Please show your true colors so it’s easier for people to love you just the way you are.’ I think that’s awesome. It would also be great if we could have celebrities sharing their support and uploading videos.

Nicky: Right now we’re getting more messages because I’ve advertised the Tumblr account on @NickynMita and my own @KokohNicky. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Hopefully this all leads to a YouTube channel. Anyone can access the Tumblr or Twitter accounts. In fact, it’s great if someone is straight and says, ‘It’s OK, you’re not alone and I don’t have a problem with that [your sexuality].’ It shows they’re not afraid of us, and it dismisses three false messages: that we’re contagious, that we have a disgusting disease, and that we’re sinful. It’s even better when parents come out and say that, like PFLAG [Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays].

In what ways have you seen more support for LGBT people in Indonesia?

Nicky: I was in Yogyakarta during the 2010 Q! Film Festival. I helped organize two events there: the International Day Against Homophobia and the Q! Film Festival. While we were there, fundamentalists with steel bars crashed the festival, trying to hurt and even kill us. But the most amazing part was that the people who came to support us weren’t gay — they were straight. The people who kept me hidden from the fundamentalists were also devout Muslims. For me, that was much more encouraging than if they had been gay. My straight friends are more than happy to say, ‘You come any closer to this guy and I’m gonna beat you to a pulp.’

Are there any celebrities you’d like to see support ‘Kamu Nggak Sendirian’?

I have the utmost respect for the Lawalata family, Oscar the designer, his brother, Mario, and their very supportive mother, Reggie. I saw Reggie and Oscar on a TV talk show about him [Oscar] being out of the closet, and I could clearly see Reggie’s genuine support and love. That family should be the icon of @NickynMita. I also wish the cast and crew of ‘Arisan!’ and ‘Arisan! 2’ could say a few encouraging words.

For more information visit nickynmita.tumblr.com

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