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How Indonesia's election affects the queer community

February 12, 2024
topic:LGBT Rights
tags:#Indonesia, #election, #LGBTQ+ rights
by:Leo Galuh, Syahdinar, Randy Mulyanto
As politicians in the country leverage deep-rooted homophobia to secure votes, queer activists make their voices heard.

Their name is Chris Derek. They are a 26-year-old non-binary design graduate who lives in Tangerang, near Indonesia’s capital Jakarta. With the country’s general elections approaching on Wednesday, Derek said certain politicians have historically leveraged anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric as a campaign strategy in several past elections.

They said such politicians raise the issue to garner support from anti-LGBTQ+ factions and secure votes. "For the past three elections, which were in 2014, 2019, and now in 2024, they have been using the same tactic over and over again," Derek said, not naming any specific candidates.

They added that many politicians seem to overlook the adverse effects this has on Indonesian queer people, who suffer from escalating anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. At times, Derek said, such sentiments end up in violent attacks against members of the community.

The country of over 270 million is set to vote on 14 February to elect its next president, vice president and parliamentary representatives.

Pramono Ubaid Tanthowi, commissioner at Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said in a May 2023 press conference that LGBTQ+ individuals in the country were prone to "politicisation," citing how some legislative candidates vowed to "combat" the community to win more votes.

The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation does not outlaw same-sex relations and gay sex, except in the Sharia-abiding westernmost Aceh province. But LGBTQ+ rights remains a taboo subject in Indonesia, and the country did not legalise same-sex marriage.

In 2017, the UN urged Indonesia to recognize the rights of queer people and fully integrate them into society. But the Indonesian government refused, arguing that such demands conflicted with the nation's values, culture, spirituality and legal framework.

Hostile polticians

According to a 2019 release by the Indonesian House of Representatives, any activities pertaining to LGBTQ+ issues are considered inappropriate. There are numerous instances of actions taken against the queer community.

In early 2023, Medan's City Mayor, Bobby Nasution, who is also the son-in-law of President Joko Widodo, declared his city "LGBT-free," as reported by Fulcrum.

In July 2023, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil stated that an anti-LGBT+ regulation in Garut, a part of his province, was still under review by the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs.

Additionally, in November 2023, anti-LGBTQ+ groups in Indonesia protested against the rock band Coldplay's concert in Jakarta, citing the band's support of queer people. Nevertheless, the concert proceeded as scheduled in Jakarta.

In the run-up to Indonesia's 2024 presidential election, several candidates have made their positions on LGBTQ+ issues known, with the exception of Prabowo Subianto and his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is President Joko Widodo's eldest son.

During a public discussion in Jakarta on 12 December, 2023, Indonesian presidential candidate Anies Rasyid Baswedan stated, "Personally, I disagree with LGBT. In my opinion, we believe that it is not in line with our religious principles."

Nonetheless, Baswedan acknowledges the significance of respecting the decisions of LGBTQ+ individuals and advocates against discrimination. Muhaimin Iskandar, Baswedan’s running mate, has never publicly commented on LGBTQ+ issues.

Indonesian presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo has also refrained from expressing his views of the queer community. However, his running mate, Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin, frequently advocates for criminal penalties against LGBTQ+ people. In a 2022 report by Voice of America Indonesia, he was noted for advocating criminalisation through the Draft of Criminal Code.

This year, BBC Indonesia reported that Aiman Witjaksono, a spokesperson for Ganjar and Mahfud, said, "There should be no bullying towards anyone, and everyone must adhere to the law."

From sentiments to laws

Human Dignity Trust, a human rights group, found that "there have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence" against Indonesia’s LGBTQ+ community, "including harassment, extortion, denial of basic rights and services, and familial pressure."

The majority of the Indonesian public reportedly has an unfavourable view of marriage equality. According to Pew Research Center’s findings published in November 2023, 88 per cent of respondents in the country "strongly opposed" same-sex marriage - the highest objection rate in Asia.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian parliament passed a new criminal code in December 2022 set to be implemented in 2026, which made "consensual sex or cohabitation outside of marriage a criminal offence."

"It will disproportionately impact women and LGBT people who are more likely to be reported by husbands for adultery or by families for relationships they disapprove of," Human Rights Watch stated.

‘Life goes on, election or no election’

Dédé Oetomo, founder and trustee of GAYa NUSANTARA Foundation, a group advocating for Indonesia’s gender and sexual minorities, said that persecution and online hate speech targeting the community remain prevalent in the country whether there is an upcoming election or not.

He further noted that neither politicians nor members of the LGBTQ+ community had any contact with him on election-related matters as the voting day nears.

"People like me will ask: is there an anti-[LGBTQ+] discrimination guarantee? We know the central government cannot control everything," Oetomo told FairPlanet.

"The [ideal] future still has a long way to go, but it has started," he added. "Life goes on, election or no election."

He pointed out, however, that Indonesia’s regional movements were still working on "helping locals without access to asylum" instead of aiming for more drastic reforms at a national level.

Meanwhile, queer activist Nurdiyansah Dalidjo said that while elections ought to serve as a time to celebrate and engage in the democratic process, it appears that the atmosphere during several recent election cycles "has not been pleasant," particularly for members of the country's queer community.

"That's something we need to anticipate and respond to together," Dalidjo told FairPlanet. "But it's also important for both the queer community and other supporters, as well as other pro-democracy groups, to work to prevent its recurrence."

"Atlas," a non-binary Jakarta-based content creator, expressed regret over how certain politicians have portrayed the LGBTQ+ community in a "divisive" manner, rather than adopting "a more humanistic approach."

Atlas said that some candidates encourage people to "beware" of the queer community.

"As far as I remembered, and what I understood then, things like [LGBTQ+ issues] were not used as […] 'campaign material.' They did not sell this issue," Atlas said.

The 26-year-old, who identifies as bisexual, said the politicians' actions against the community worsened around this election compared to previous polls in 2019 and 2014.

‘We demand equal justice’

"What we demand is equal justice, the fulfilment of our socio-economic rights, and the protection of our rights as citizens," Echa Waode, a trans rights activist in Indonesia, said.

She pointed out a significant degree of discrimination in the employment sector, based purely on individuals' sexual orientation or their association with certain communities, which often leads to their dismissal from the workplace, she added.

"Economically, the country should provide opportunities or workspaces that are friendly, free from discrimination and open up job opportunities widely for our community members," Waode said.

She also emphasised her hope for an end to discrimination, stigma and violence against specific groups or gender minorities, regardless of who is elected as the president of Indonesia.

Ideally, Waode said, the next leader of Indonesia should ensure the full rights of all Indonesian citizens, irrespective of gender identity and sexual orientation.

"I believe that human rights should recognise us as individuals, without judging us based on gender identity or sexual orientation."

Image by Elyssa Fahndrich.

Article written by:
Leo Galuh
20200504_084348 (1)
Randy Mulyanto
Chris Derek
© Syahdinar
Chris Derek
Dédé Oetomo of GAYa NUSANTARA.
© Dedy-Andrianto
Dédé Oetomo of GAYa NUSANTARA.
Nurdiyansah Dalidjo
© Syahdinar
Nurdiyansah Dalidjo
Echa Waode
© Echa Waode
Echa Waode