Being Gay in Indonesia Isn’t Illegal, but It Isn’t Accepted Either

Recent bans against same-sex-couple emojis are just a few small signs of a growing anti-LGBT movement in the country.

A transsexual holds a placard that reads, ‘Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual, Indonesian citizen also’ during an International Day Against Homophobia demonstration in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo: Dadang Tri/Reuters)

Feb 17, 2016· 2 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

A growing anti-LGBT movement is spreading across Indonesia—and across social media.

In recent days, the Indonesian government has enacted a series of anti-LGBT measures that spurred like-minded citizens to take to Twitter and the streets to lash out against the gay community.

Using the hashtag #tolakLGBT (the Malay word "tolak" means "reject"), Indonesians have been tweeting out a number of sentiments against same-sex couples, along with cartoon depictions of nuts and bolts—to represent the perspective that sex is made for a man and woman—and photos of a sign that reiterates the cliché phrase “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

The most recent anti-LGBT statements come after vice president Jusuf Kalla requested on Monday that the United Nations Development Programme not fund the nation’s LGBT community programs. The UNDP had allocated about $8 million for LGBT campaigns in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.

Last week, the national broadcasting commission, known as KPI, announced a ban on TV and radio programs that made “LGBT behaviors” seem normal because they could adversely influence children. (Russia similarly bans “propagating homosexuality” to kids.) The Indonesian government also asked popular social-sharing apps Facebook and WhatsApp to get rid of LGBT-related emojis and stickers, such as the male couple holding hands, in its nationwide products and outlets. The push came amid concern that emojis and stickers could attract children.

Indonesia is one of the least accepting countries for LGBT people, according to a 2013 Pew Research study on global views of homosexuality. More than 37,000 people in 39 countries were interviewed. A majority of Indonesians—93 percent, to be exact—believe that homosexuality should be rejected.

The Pew Research Center has also found that LGBT acceptance is less prevalent in countries where religion is central to its citizens’ lives. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, with 250 million Muslims making up 88 percent of the population. Considering the anti-LGBT stances of many conservative Muslim clerics, it’s not hard to understand why the number of those opposed to same-sex relationships vastly outweighs those in support.

Traditionally, Muslim texts uphold heterosexuality as the norm, yet transgender men and women are more likely to be accepted than those with same-sex attractions. While it remains taboo and problematic, there is a growing belief in Muslim countries that transgender people are born that way yet homosexuals choose to engage in same-sex relations, according to Human Rights Campaign.

With this in mind, experts and activists say that Indonesia is far from achieving the same LGBT acceptance rates as the United States and Europe, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the nation.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a human rights activist and lawyer, told Indonesia-based news source Jakarta Globe that changing the existing anti-LGBT perspective is possible if influential leaders are seen supporting the gay community and can sway people to move away from traditional views of same-sex relationships.

“A long history of opposition to this group has been embedded in our minds, and it will take a long time to change our mindset,” he said. “There has always been deep antipathy toward these groups, and rejection. There is an understanding, but it’s not yet openly expressed.”

In the meantime, the utmost concern is for the safety of LGBT Indonesians and visitors as they continue to face increased discrimination—not just by other citizens but also by their own governing body.