The news was horrifying. Eleven bodies had been found in the backyard of suspect Verry “Ryan” Idham Henryansyah’s house. But for Fadli (not his real name), it was not only the horror of the crime that bothered him; the media stereotyping of homosexuals as violent and obsessed with sex — Verry is homosexual — made him uneasy as well.
“I don’t understand how people can be so stupid. The journalists are stupid and also the experts quoted in their articles are stupid,” he said.
A closet gay, Fadli said he was hurt by the reports and now was even more afraid of being stigmatized and discriminated against if anyone discovered his sexual orientation.
Recent reports on the horrific crime show how prejudiced Indonesian media are against sexual minorities.
A local newspaper flashed the headline, “Gay Case, The Butcher” above their reports. A detective was quoted as saying crimes by homosexuals were more violent.
“Gays won’t let go of the man they love,” a criminologist was quoted as saying. “If they can’t have the guy then no one can.”
These reports prompted Arus Pelangi, the Indonesian NGO that defends the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, to protest against the media bias that puts homosexuality in a negative light.
“It’s an assassination of our character,” was posted at www.boyzforum.com,
Discrimination against homosexuality in Indonesia is pervasive.
Tom Boellstorff, author of The Gay Archipelago and an associate professor at the department of anthropology, University of California, said via email: “The fact that so many people are jumping from this horrible case to make claims about all gay and lesbian people shows that discrimination against gay and lesbian Indonesians was still very strong.”
In Indonesia, minority groups have tended to be stigmatized and discriminated against.
The ethnic Chinese in the New Order regime, the family and former members of the Indonesia Communist Party, minority religious groups and people living with HIV/AIDS are some of the groups that have been and still are discriminated against.
Arus Pelangi founder King Oey said discrimination against the LGBT community was in the form of taboo.
Arus Pelangi head Ridho Triawan said discrimination in Indonesia was mostly caused by a rigid interpretation of religious teaching that condemns homosexuality.
“Discrimination occurs everywhere. If someone is known to be homosexual, taunts and gossip will follow, as well as harassment and loss of employment,” King said.
Since the reform era, violence by radical groups and criminalization of homosexuals by local administrations have occurred. In 2000 fundamentalist group Gerakan Pemuda Ka’bah (The Ka’bah Youth Movement) attacked some 350 gays and transvestites in Kaliurang.
In 2002, the South Sulawesi administration passed an anti-prostitution bylaw that criminalizes homosexuals. Two years later, the Palembang administration passed a similar bylaw.
“Indonesia is not a country based on religious law; however the rigid interpretations of religious teachings are sometimes fused into the legal system,” King said.
Modern psychiatry has eliminated homosexuality as a mental disorder. Research in the 1940s by American doctor Alfred Charles Kinsey resulted in a sexuality scale from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual). His research concluded that 37 percent of American males have had homosexual relations and 10 percent of them are homosexuals.
In 1956 psychologist Evelyn Hooker found that there was no psychopathological difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals.
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association eliminated homosexuality as a mental disorder. In Indonesia the Health Ministry has also eliminated homosexuality as a mental disorder — twice — in 1985 and again in 1993.
Despite the claims from modern science, people still find homosexuality difficult to accept.
“I think psychiatrists and psychologists are the crazy ones when they declare homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured. They just say that so people will feel comfortable with homosexuals around them,” Anton (not his real name) said.
Homophobia from the wider population has caused the gay population to stay underground. This discourages homosexuals from seeking information about sex education and being tested for diseases. UNAIDS said that HIV infection rates in many parts of Asia are as high as those that devastated the U.S. homosexual community in the late 1980s. Jakarta is mentioned as one of the cities with high infection rates among its gay population.
This can pose a threat to the general Indonesian population, as homosexuals often live dual lives with many marrying and having children while still continuing homosexual relationships outside of marriage.
Baden Offord, associate professor of cultural studies at the Southern Cross University, Australia, and author of Homosexual Rights as Human Rights: Activism in Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia, said through email: “Indonesia is paradoxical when it comes to homosexuality. Indonesia can appear to be tolerant towards homosexuals, particularly if they are regarded in stereotypical jobs or in stereotypical ways. At its core, though, Indonesia is a homophobic society when it comes to the recognition of homosexuality as something normal”.
This can be seen in the medical profession.
Gaya Nusantara Dede Utomo, founder of the first gay movement in Indonesia, said, “The medical community saddened me. They could not make up their minds whether to become doctors or moralists.”
This is acknowledged by Irmansyah from the University of Indonesia’s psychiatry department. “Doctors are part of society and hold the same values and norms. In the end, some doctors think it is their duty to cure homosexuals,” Irmansyah said from his office at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital.
Dede, who is also a lecturer at the social and political science department of Airlangga University, Surabaya, said the wider population’s homophobia stemmed from their fear of the unknown.
“People are afraid of the ghosts around them,” he said.
“I think the gay community has something to do with this as well. If they just `come out’, then people will see that we are no different than others,” he said.
“It will take sacrifice; even in Western countries it takes time and sacrifice. In Indonesia, however, people seem to be more reluctant (to ‘come out’),” he said.
King said there were reasons why people were afraid.
“Discrimination is rife. Some gays and lesbians are in a low income bracket and because they are financially dependent upon their families, they have to follow what the family wants. Meanwhile the successful ones are afraid of losing their jobs.”
Ridho said that Arus Pelangi, founded two years ago, had been working within the gay community.
“However, our next step is to try to work with heterosexuals to form a ‘heterosexuals against homophobia’ movement. We also want to embrace families.”
Boellstorff said that in Indonesia religion and the need to protect the family makes it difficult for gay men and lesbian women to “come out”.
“In Indonesia, as in many other parts of the world, appearance matters. Respect and status are important to many people, and to be openly gay, lesbian, or waria can be seen as damaging to respect and status,” he said.
Dede’s advice is families should accept their gay or lesbian family members just as they are.
Features – August 10, 2008
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta