March 07, 2016
The LGBT Scare and Indonesia's Culture War

The current LGBT scare shows that a culture war has restarted in Indonesia.

by Mario Rustan, Columnist
Issues // Politics and Society
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Last month I pitched an article about the origins of and reasons behind the LGBT scare in Indonesia to a couple of newspapers to no avail. Either the newspapers got too many submissions on the topic, or they were not interested in publishing an unknown writer commenting on a sensitive issue.

You, the readers and writers, often find yourself at the epicentre of the crisis that has headlined our media and public conversation for more than a month. You are members of SGRC-UI who had to make clear that you are not part of an “LGBT group”. You are a gay activist and writer who wrote opinion pieces for newspapers in Indonesia and for Australian universities’ Indonesian Studies blogs. You are a student or a foreigner feeling despaired on how the Jokowi administration could contains so many idiots.

And outside your circles of feminists, progressives, liberals, LGBT people and allies, you can feel that all your knowledge and argument are irrelevant. At first it seems that the “LGBT phenomena” was just made up by Republika. But as more high-ranked figures gave their opinions, as the television picked up the trend and talked about LGBT, everyone began to talk about these “outsiders”. Worse, more officials made statements that don’t make sense but carried weight and authorities in the public.

You might have felt upset knowing that your family and old friends have similar opinions and beliefs – that “LGBT” is a secret group that can turn heterosexuals into homosexuals; that “LGBT” evangelization targets children through visual media, toys, and snacks; and that the acronym is a fashionable and polite synonym to refer to gay men.

Besides the obvious points, the most infuriating bit of the LGBT scare is the persistent habit of many Indonesians in talking about the whole group while omitting everyone except the “G-men”. Nothing was said on lesbian women or bisexual people, and also on transgender people. Actually while everyone was scared of the gay men, trans people got the worst treatment, from the closure of the transgender pesantren to the infamous Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) instruction against “ladylike” men on television (which is more designed against presumably gay hosts and performers).
 

The LGBT scare is a good indicator that the culture war has restarted in Indonesia. 




Why all the hate? The simplest explanation is the rise of radical Islam ideology in Indonesia. Anyone who engaged in the blood sport of debating Indonesian homophobes online can see that their opponents put Islam as their primary identity and share posts from conservative Islamic figures. Any scientific and historical argument against homophobia is often countered boringly with the Lot story.

From memory alone, I could put five beliefs held by the majority of homophobes in Indonesia:
  1. As the story of Lot shows, God will inflict terror on Indonesia if we tolerate the queers, whether through epidemic or famine, or earthquake and tsunami.
  2. Since LGBT people cannot procreate, we could be out of Indonesian babies.
  3. LGBT men (try not to dwell on the fact that a lesbian or a trans woman is not a man) are paedophiles.
  4. LGBT is a foreign (i.e. American and even Chinese, among the Sinophobes) campaign to destroy Indonesia. Indonesia must follow the examples of Russia in defending itself against the LGBT weaponry.
  5. Heterosexual LGBT allies are in for trouble if their children grow up being gay or if LGBT people they support are dying from AIDS. And also when they are dead and facing the judgment of the afterlife. 
Certainly these beliefs are not unique to Muslims and to Indonesians. The Australian government has launched an investigation into Safe Schools Coalition, an anti-bullying initiative to minimize the impact of homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism in primary and secondary school. Like in Indonesia, conservatives claim that the program will influence children to become gay. Senator Cory Bernardi who leads the charge against Safe Schools Coalition claims that program is a “Marxist agenda of cultural relativism”.

The LGBT scare is a good indicator that the culture war has restarted in Indonesia. Perhaps it had happened in past decades, like the tug-of-war between students and the government in 1970s, between Islamists and pro-globalization capitalists in early 1990s, and as Muslims and Christians demonstrated their faiths publicly in early 2000s.

Perhaps now the war is waged by progressives who read tweets from English-speaking feminists, arranging gatherings with LGBT activists through WhatsApp, and study the latest perspective and debate on feminism and LGBT issues. And facing them are the conservatives (mostly Muslims, with the Christian ones less vocal on social media) who read tweets from their favourite religious leaders and politicians, exchange the horror stories of LGBT infiltration through WhatsApp, and read dubious blogs and newspapers on what the liberals are up to today.

This year has been scary enough for activists, LGBT people, and we the readers of Magdalene in general. But the conservatives are as scared as we are. Republika lamented that it felt alone as no other media joined its fight. Conservatives seriously believe that they are cornered by a world gone mad, in which major corporations support LGBT people, supposedly Muslims (e.g. women in hijab or religious scholars) and minorities dare to talk back at them, and foreigners can know all about Indonesia in a minute.

Certainly the Islamists are not all to blame. Thailand is not a Muslim country, but has more severe television censorship policy than Indonesia. The public faces of KPI and the equally controversial Children Protection Commission (KPAI) are two Chinese Christian women.  Rudiantara, the Communication and Information Minister disliked by Indonesian netizens, does not express his religiosity publicly. They are conservative people who are not motivated by radical Islam.

We are yet to understand their political views, but I am pretty sure that they fear us, the multitudes.

Read Mario’s quest on joining the Chinese community in Indonesia.
Mario Rustan writes opinion pieces for The Jakarta Post and is working on some other online projects and was featured in Guardian Football and SBS Radio. His dream job is still teaching High School History by day and writing for feminism by night.