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Kamilia Manaf
Lesbian life in Indonesia “My parents thought I was a lesbian, because I was a feminist and thus hating men”

in INDONESIA, 10/05/2012

Interview with Kamilia Manaf (30) , founder and coordinator of Institute Pelangi Perempuan (IPP), the Indonesian young lesbian, bisexual and transgender group, based in Jakarta. Interview by Marjan Braspenning, coordinator of Brussels' Rainbow House

Interview by Marjan Braspenning

Can you tell us about your personal experience? How is it for you to be a lesbian in Indonesia?
I was born in a small province in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. I grew up in a very small city. When I was young, I felt I was different from my friends. And I couldn’t find a lesbian community or support group in my home town. So I felt alone. But then I met my lecturer in my university.
He really supported me and he suggested to get involved as a volunteer in a feminist organization called Damar Lampung in my home town. For me it was the first place where I felt safe as a lesbian. The members are not lesbians, they are feminists, but their activism was a support. I involved myself in different kinds of activism, like women’s rights, gender, feminism, sexuality, leadership, counseling…
It was important for me to have the possibility to build my organization for young lesbians. I got support from the organization but I didn’t get acceptance from my own family. It’s a conservative Islamic family, they believe in conservative Islamic teaching and Islamic religion. They raised me as a good Muslim; so when they found out that I am a lesbian, they concluded that being a lesbian is the result of me being active in feminist organizations. They further concluded that I hate men. They thought it was part of juvenile delinquency, because of my age at that time. I felt pressure and also I felt isolated by my own family. It is not that I wanted to get out, but it was not safe, so I left home and I moved to Jakarta. In a bigger city like Jakarta I could have access to a lesbian life and LGBT organizations. In that time those organizations already existed, they being founded in 1998. They supported me to create IPP in 2005.

Can you tell more about your organization?
IPP is an Indonesian young LBT (lesbian, bisexual, trans women) organization. In the very beginning we considered ourselves only as an Indonesian young lesbian organization but in our journey we found out that we not only exclusively attracted young lesbians. The young bisexual women and young transgenders also participated in our activities. In 2010 we reinvented ourselves as LBT-organization.
Our aim is to organize things according to the principle of edufuntainment. When the organization was founded, I was not alone, I got support from feminists, artists and human rights activists. Even now we get a lot of support from human rights activists even if they are not gay or lesbian.

Can you explain the need for a specific organization focused on LGBT youth?
When I found this organization with several activists, it was based on my personal experience from when I was a teenager. It was difficult to survive as a lesbian in my school, in my university and so on.
I knew there was another LGBT organization in Jakarta, but I did feel the LGBT youth has specific needs. I think the younger and the older LGBT people have different issues; of course homophobia and discrimination exists for both but I think being young also means that you have a very limited access and you have not a lot of economic power, because of your dependency on your parents. I think it’s also important to create groups to support young people, who are after all the people of the future of the movement, the leadership of the future.
Moreover, young people have their own characteristics, lifestyle and culture. Young people might feel more comfortable to share their experience with friends of their own age. Maybe older LGBT people have a different experience because of the dynamics of their social and political situation.

What is your motivation to do activism? What is driving you?
Like I said, the creation of IPP is based on my personal experience. I know it is not easy to survive as a young lesbian, especially in small provinces. Also I think I am lucky among my other friends, because when I was teenager, I met some people who accepted me and supported me to be more active, confident and powerful.
Not all lesbians have had access to the resources that brought me where I am right now. Maybe they come from a very conservative Muslim family, they suffered violence and they don’t know where to go. I think it is about access and opportunity, about building confidence, and self-esteem as a young lesbian-survivor.

In Belgium the comic strip on the Yogyakarta Principles will be published soon in French and in Dutch. Can you explain the Yogyakarta Principles?
Yogyakarta Principles are principles related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In Yogyakarta in 2006, human rights experts gathered in the University of Gaya Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. They created the principles to respond to the current situation of violation and discrimination of LGBT rights. These principles are a recommendation for the United Nations and their countries to imply in their law or in their policy the protection for LGBT rights. It is not a formal document but at least it starts to be related to the UN-level and daily activism of LGBT groups.

Can you tell more about the creation of the comic strip?
Basically, the idea of why we wanted to make the comic is because of the experience in our own community. The principles have been translated in many languages, but they are not easy literature. They are not that easy to connect to our own lives. Within our organization, we thought about how to make the principles more accessible. For this, we worked with human right activists and also with academics from the gender faculty of the University of Indonesia. And that’s how we came up with the idea of turning the principles into a comic, because this will make sure that young people have access to the Yogyakarta Principles.
As for the content of the comic: we wanted it to be as close to real life as possible, so we collected stories form local LGBT people in Jakarta but also in several other cities in Indonesia. Stories about them facing discrimination, homophobia, violence in the family, coming out, … Of course, this was all in the Indonesian language. Then, in 2011, we were invited by the United Nations, at a women’s meeting in New York, to present the project. We did the presentation in English and got a lot of feedback from LGBT groups in several countries: They wanted to use the comic. So it was translated into English. And now, in Belgium it will be translated in Dutch and French (by the Brussels’ Rainbowhouse and Tels Quels Jeunes).
The comic is one of our strategies, using popular media or using a fun medium as an approach for human rights education. The comic strip was distributed in several cities. For instance, we got a response from Bayt Al Hikmah, a progressive young Muslim group in Cirebon, West Java. When they found out about our comic, they invited IPP to discuss it among their community, which came as a surprise for us, since their daily lessons is about Islamic teaching, about normativity and religion. But they were very open, progressive and supportive. So the comic works in many ways. And we find that it really helps activists as a tool to convey the message of basic human rights.

You will be in Belgium in May, for a public talk in the town hall and the book launch of the comic strip. You will also be there for the Belgian Pride. What do you think of this initiative?
The Pride…somehow I consider pride is ironic (laughs). Because at the other side of the world LGBT people celebrate their own identity in front of the public. It is a huge and big event, as a symbol of different identity and diversity. Why do I call it ironic? Because in other parts of the world many people suffer because of their choice or their identity as LGBT. They get killed, they suffer from violence and discrimination. I think the Pride is really important to celebrate because it also functions as a supportive space for LGBT people that can show others parts of the world how LGBT people can be themselves.
But you have to keep in mind that the Pride is the result of a long battle, in Europe as well. It has been a process of struggles. So I hope that people who are still suffering discrimination and homophobia get to live and see a Pride, or at least know it’s there, so that they can build up their confidence. That they know a life in freedom is possible, that living as an LGBT person is a basic human right. I see this even within my own friends: they sometimes believe it’s impossible. I know it IS possible.
I participated in one pride in the Netherlands. The thing that really touched me at that time was that among all this glamour, costumes, colourful celebration and happy smiles, there still were several groups wanting to show the participants of the pride that even if in Holland they have all their rights, you still have to look at other countries. You should show solidarity and support for LGBT people in other parts of the world.

Is there anything you want to say to the Belgian LGBTQI-public?
(thinking) For me it is a great opportunity to have contact with international organizations who can give support. I am so honored and it is such a priceless experience to get this support because I feel like I don’t get support from my own government and I don’t have that much space to express myself in my own country. In Belgium I will talk about the situation of LGBT people in Indonesia. This can be a way to gather solidarity or support from the Belgian government or LGBT organizations.
Thank you for this interview, Kamilia.


Click here to read an interview to Kamilia Manaf by Patricia Curzi on the Yogyakarta Principles comic.

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