Sexual minorities on the defensive in Indonesia

A barrage of actions and rhetoric targeting the gay community in Indonesia has left sexual minorities on the defensive.

The Indonesian government said last week it was seeking to block gay-friendly mobile applications in Google and Apple app stores that it says promote “sexual deviance.”

The move came after police said last month they had uncovered a prostitution ring connecting minors with gay clients using mobile applications.

“Over the past year, the crackdown against our community has been massive and this is very worrying,” said Yuli Rustinawati, the leader of Arus Pelangi, a group that advocates for lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transgender people, who are also known as LGBT.

The group has recorded 150 incidents of discrimination, harassment and attacks against LGBT people since early this year, Yuli said.

“Members of our community have been subjected to abuse, hate speech and even expelled from their lodgings,” she said.

“There’s a phobia among people for those whose sexual expressions are different,” she said.

Homosexuality is not a crime in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. Gay and transgender people, among them the country’s most famous TV stars, are generally tolerated.

But anti-gay sentiment began rising earlier this year after Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir warned of pro-LGBT activities on university campuses and banned such groups.

Since then, officials and conservative religious groups have made statements denouncing pro-LGBT activities.

In February, the Ministry of Communications and Information requested social networking services such as Line and Twitter to remove emoticons depicting same sex couples for the Indonesian market.

The head of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, the country’s semi-official Islamic authority, said homosexuality was a big sin.

“LGBT activities are haram (forbidden) in Islam and other religions, and so is advocating for them,” council chairman Maruf Amin said.

A former defence minister suggested that the government open a special clinic to rehabilitate LGBT people.

The Constitutional Court is considering a case filed by a group of conservative academics that seeks to criminalize consensual gay sex among adults, with penalties of up to five years in prison. No verdict on the petition had been passed.

“We need to take action to stop the growing LGBT movement and propaganda on the internet and in conventional media,” said Jazuli Juwaini, a legislator from the Muslim-oriented Prosperous Justice Party.

“This movement has the potential to destroy religious and family values,” he said, adding that his party was ready to initiate a bill on “deviant sexual behaviours.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in an August report that attacks against sexual minorities in Indonesia were “unprecedented.”

“The discriminatory actions of Indonesian officials and institutions have laid bare the depth and breadth of the government’s prejudice,” the group said.

President Joko Widodo, who has pledged to promote tolerance and diversity, has remained mostly silent on the issue.

His spokesman Johan Budi said in August that “all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

“But if LGBT people seek to influence other people to follow their lifestyles, that is not right and there’s no room for such activity,” he said.

Yuli, of the Arus Pelangi LGBT organization, said the group has not been deterred by the relentless vitriol.

“We’re not promoting LGBT lifestyles but we will continue to speak out against discrimination and injustices,” she said.

She also said her group supported the government’s crackdown on sexual crimes.

“Does banning gay dating apps solve the problem? I don’t think so,” she said.

“A crime is crime, whether it’s committed by a homosexual or heterosexual person,” she added.

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