Since the start of the year, several Indonesian ministers have made discriminating comments over the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members. Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, suggested banning the existence of LGBT student groups on university campuses. Furthermore, he pushed for the removal of counselling services for LGBT students at higher education institutions. According to Nasir
“LGBT culture is not in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia”.
The minister later backtracked his comments by stating that laws should not discriminate against such individuals, he also acknowledged his lack of power to authorize the charges. He further clarified that he’s not against the people per se, but disapproves of their activities and exposure of their sexuality. According to LGBT advocates and civil rights activists, the interpretation of Nasir’s comments suggest the eradication of LGBT students from universities. This campaign has surprisingly been accompanied by the Catholic higher education system. They are calling for the church to “defend the community” as the LGBT community is facing discrimination–an issue under human rights, not sexual ethics.
Nasir’s outburst were later followed by a request from the Ministry of Information and Communication to remove LGBT emoticons and stickers from instant messaging apps. As a result, the messaging app Line removed its lesbian and gay themed emoticons on February 9. The spokesperson for the Ministry, Ismail Cawidu, now calls for all social media and messaging platforms to delete any emoticons supporting LGBT people operating in Indonesia. According to Cawidu the apps in Indonesia needs to reflect the country’s culture and respect the local wisdom.
While homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, it’s still considered a sensitive issue, especially according to official positions. Indonesia’s population, which mainly follows a moderate form of Islam, is more acceptable, as LGBT people often appear in the entertainment industry. The last few months Indonesia has seen an upheaval of anti-gay and lesbian events. In October 2015, two young women were arrested by the Sharia police in the Muslim-rich province of Aceh for hugging in public. This was followed after the Aceh province passed a legislation of public caning as punishment of gay sex. The following month, the Brawijaya University was forced to cancel an LGBT event on campus after threats of an attack. Only two weeks ago the militant Islamist organization, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), agitated participants of an informative seminar on access to justice for LGBT people in Jakarta.
Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, calling on the government to publicly condemn officials discriminating against LGBT people. According to Graeme Reid, LGBT Rights Director at the HRW, “such rhetoric opens the door to more abuses”. According to a HRW report, President Widodo, who has advocated community diversity and pluralism, should take this opportunity to publicly condemn the discriminatory influences. It’s part of Indonesian’s human rights commitments to defend and protect the LGBT community from violence and discrimination, said Reid. The President is yet to comment on the letter.
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