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Silver lining for gay and lesbians

in INDONESIA, 24/05/2011

In the country’s strong heterosexist culture, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people are either hidden or marginalized. Most LGBT people in Indonesia face rejection from families when they “come out” and are discriminated against by the system. But, the country’s LGBT and liberal human rights groups are slowly working to fight the stigma of a lewd, mentally disordered lot attached to the LGBT community.

Fady, 29, limits his imagination to the future of his relationship with his boyfriend.

A closet homosexual, except to a few very close friends, he keeps his sexual orientation a secret.

“I have a lot of things to consider if I come out to people outside my [circle] of close friends. I don’t have enough energy and time to go through that,” he said.

For him and his boyfriend, what they have is the present. He said he would be happy enough if he could be with his partner for the next year.

“We don’t think about how it would be when we’re old and etc,” he said.

In the country’s strong heterosexist culture, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people are either hidden or marginalized. Most LGBT people in Indonesia face rejection from families when they “come out” and are discriminated against by the system.

But, the country’s LGBT and liberal human rights groups are slowly working to fight the stigma of a lewd, mentally disordered lot attached to the LGBT community.

One of the country’s gay rights
organizations, OurVoice, is campaigning to fight homophobia in conjunction with the International Day of Anti-Homophobia that falls on May 17.

May 17 has been commemorated as the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) since 1996, after a conference on gay rights in Montreal, Canada.

The date, May 17, was chosen as the symbolic day, as it was on this date the World Health Organization scrapped homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. The American Psychiatric Association stated in 1975 that homosexuality was not a mental disorder.

In 2006, the Yogyakarta Principle, a guideline of International human rights law in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation was signed.

Despite that, persecution against LGBT people still takes place around the world. According to OurVoice, there are more than 70 countries that criminalize a person based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Indonesia, regional bylaws in South and West Sumatra criminalize homosexuals and the 2008 pornography law states that homosexuality is a deviant behavior despite the Health Ministry’s declaration in 1993 that homosexuality is no longer a mental disorder/disease in their Diagnostic Classification on Mental Disorder Guidelines (PPDGJ).

Fady said he did not know that such a day commemorating the rights for LGBT people existed. He said it was a good thing that a group of people in the world was concerned for LGBT people, although it didn’t affect him much, he added, as he kept his relationship with his partner a secret.

But for Ramy, a 20-year-old lesbian, that day is very important. While Fady keeps his sexual orientation and relationship a secret, not daring to imagine the future, Ramy said she would make sure to follow her own life path. “For the next couple of years, I will make sure I will have a relationship, like it or not,” she said. “I will be true to myself and not undermine my true self to please society,” she said.

Ramy, who chose not to disclose her last name, said her family learned of her attraction to the same sex in mid-2009. “My brother suspected that I liked women. I’m a tomboy, and he started to be suspicious. He followed me and found me with my girlfriend and took me home,” she said.

Her family interrogated her, asking why she couldn’t be “normal”. “I just told them that I was just following my heart; that I desired a woman,” she said.

Ramy said her family took her to an Islamic boarding school that treats “drug addicts and stressed out youth”, where she had to bathe in water mixed with seven kinds of flowers in an attempt to “cure” her.

After two months at the boarding school, Ramy, who lives with her mother, never brought her partner to her parent’s house again.

“My wish in the future is that my family can have an open mind and not be as rigid as now,” she said.

Ramy said that, among her friends and colleagues, she does not hide her homosexuality. “The first time they found out they were surprised, but later they said, ‘It’s her life,’” she said. “While my friends at work, luckily they are people who mind their own business,” she added.

When her colleagues found out, Ramy said that usually the first thing they would say was, “How did that happen? Since when?”

“My friends were surprised at first but later got used to it, while my colleagues at work mind their own business,” she said.

In urban areas, public knowledge, awareness and acceptance of homosexuality have increased compared to 10 years ago, general secretary of OurVoice, Hartoyo, said. Films with themes of homosexuality have been well-accepted, such as Nia Dinata’s Arisan! (Savings Gathering). A gay-themed film festival, Q Film Festival, also has been successfully running for almost 10 years.

“I think people are more accepting. Not that I’m saying they 100 percent accept [LGBT people], but information about LGBT is more open, which enables communication to happen,” Hartoyo said.

Hartoyo himself has experienced discrimination and abuse due to his sexual orientation, when in 2007 policemen in Aceh abused and tortured him for having homosexual relations.

Hartoyo said LGBT people gathering at places such as gay bars and clubs in big cities also indicated people were accepting.

Another example of how society is accepting — to a certain extent — towards LGBT people can be seen in Dino’s (not his real name) experience. Dino, a straight guy, pretended to be gay so he could live with two girls in a shared house without arousing suspicion and rejection from surrounding neighbors.

Dino said that to live in the house in South Jakarta, his housemates suggested that he pretend to be a stereotypical gay man by acting effeminate.

“I’d heard that some people protested when a guy lived in the house before I moved in,” he said. “When he moved out and I was about to replace him, my friends told me to act gay,” he said.

“My neighbors feel that their space needs to be protected,” he said.

Dino said that this could be an indication that LGBT people were more accepted, but he doubted that if an “outed” gay couple lived in the neighborhood, people would be as accepting.

For Hartoyo, it comes down to society’s perception of sex and the lack of sex education. “Sex is seen as sacred and on the other hand dirty.

“What is sacred is heterosexual relations under lawful marriage according to religious laws. Outside of that, sex is considered dirty, which means homosexual and lesbian sexual relations and heterosexual relations outside of marriage,” he said.

He said that there was a lack of sex education in the country. “Sex is always a taboo and feared. Sex education is something that is feared, with the assumption that by giving sex education people will have sex,” he said. “That’s not the case, and the state should not have a phobia of sex,” he said.

“When talking about reproductive health, safety, equality and justice, relationships do not have anything to do with halal (allowed by religious law), but mutual respect and understanding,” he said.

He said if a sexual relationship was based on equality between partners, it should not be considered a public matter. “Unless there is discrimination and violence, then what’s private can be a public matter,” he said.

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