Indonesian queer community party celebrates Mardi Gras


Selamat Datang members in colourful costumes in Hyde Park
Members of Selamat Datang prepare to march in the Mardi Gras Parade. Photo: supplied.

Since 2016 Selamat Datang has fostered safe environments for LGBTQIA+ Indonesians to meet in Sydney as well as providing them visibility through its entries in the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade.

One of the most enticing aspects of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is the bridges that it builds within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Sydney offers an extremely diverse queer scene and a testament to this is Indonesian Queer and That Unicorn, a performance and fundraising event celebrating the queer Indonesian identity during Mardi Gras.

What makes the festival so important in 2024 is that not only does it celebrate all the different aspects of the queer community in Australia, but also that helps build and maintain the strong connections within each wonderfully diverse part of our community.

Indonesian Queer and That Unicorn
will showcase entertainers from Indonesia, including musicians, drag artists, storytellers, and burlesque performers.

Importantly, it will also encourage discourse around the struggles and hardships faced by the Indonesian queer community, and in doing so, embrace authentic identities and challenge stereotypes.

The event is being held at Stonewall Hotel, right in the heart of Oxford Street and focuses on recognising the strong links that Australia already has with Indonesia through travel and culture exchange and celebrates the queer Indonesian community not only here in Sydney but across Australia.

The event will also raise funds for the Selamat Datang Indonesian Community (SDIC) float in this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras Parade.

Selamat Datang was created with the goal of showing support for the queer Indonesian community through participation in Mardi Gras and through organising events where its members can socialise, network, form new friendships and feel supported.

Selamat Datang also runs fundraisers for organisations within Indonesia itself to support the LGBTQIA+ community.

This includes assisting and supporting those living with HIV/AIDS in Indonesia, and being a major sponsor for Indonesian LGBTQIA+ youth.

I had the honour of interviewing Arozak Salam, the organiser behind this event to get a better understanding of the inspiration behind it.

Arozak is most well known as the author of the 2023 book I Am That Unicorn: Memoir of an Indonesian Queer, which, in his own words, explores finding his own colour in between religion, race, and sexual orientation labels.

Arozak is a champion of the queer Indonesian community within Sydney and around Australia, with the publication of his book acting as a testament to living unapologetically and in celebration of his own queerness.

His story is a fascinating one, and one that he has been very open in sharing publicly, which has its own power to it.

What is the aim of Indonesian Queer and That Unicorn?

This event was created as part of fundraising efforts for the Selamat Datang Community Float, who will be marching in the 2024 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

We are an Indonesian LGBTQIA+ community group based in Sydney, Australia.

We are grateful that Stonewall Hotel supports our cause by providing us with a safe space for our event.

Selamat Datang Community is also open to allies who share interests in Indonesian cultures and support LGBTQIA+ rights.

More than a million Australians visit Indonesia, especially Bali, every year.

We build links between two countries and challenge stereotypes.

However, there are still stories to unpack to open up greater understanding. Through this event, we will share a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the Indonesian queer community.

For example, just a couple of days ago, an Indonesian male designer and presenter recently received written administrative sanctions from the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, regarding his feminine body language and appearance, wearing clothes, makeup, and accessories on the TV program.

Why is it important to you that this be showcased during the Sydney Mardi Gras festival?

Apart from the ongoing oppression that happens in Indonesia, the Indonesian LGBTQIA+ community in Australia is also often unwelcome by the Indonesian migrant community itself.

The majority of them still carry the same prejudice from their homeland towards LGBTQIA+ people.

As a result, it is common for some Indonesian queer people to be discreet even if they already live in Australia.

They fly across the ocean hoping to find their freedom in Australia to be themselves, only to be treated the same way they used to, which is unfair.

Our event is a queer safe space, hoping the Indonesian queer migrant can exercise the freedom of self-expression whilst inspiring and being inspired by each other.

For marginal communities like us, Sydney Mardi Gras is still an oasis and a healing space.

Who and what has inspired the event?

I gained so much leadership skills throughout my time at the Royal Australian Navy.

Yes, from a camp unicorn burlesque performer full of glitter, I then enlisted myself to be a Navy Officer. That would be another bedtime story!

When I left the Navy last year, I wanted to use my leadership experiences to give back to my community.

As a queer person, I knew from my life experience that if I did not have a space, then I should create one. So, after I recently self-published my memoir, I Am That Unicorn, I thought, why not create an event to gather all the unicorns?

For me, unicorns symbolise queer identity: freedom, playful and magical.

Do you have any future plans for Selamat Datang?

In the near future, we would like to turn our community into a non-profit organisation to organise more creative events, not limited to the Sydney Mardi Gras calendar, and collaborate with more stakeholders in the art scenes.

I am a burlesque performer, and for the majority of the Indonesian community, burlesque can be perceived as pornographic.

I also met an Indonesian visual artist in Sydney who has been told to tone down his queerness when he creates art for the Indonesian migrant community.

Art, for me, is non-linear exploration, colouring outside the line.

The good news is that our queerness is already a form of art.

Hopefully, the Selamat Datang Community can be an alternative hub of the Indonesian creative movement beyond taboos and what is perceived to be sins.

Traditionally, Bugis people from South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia, recognise five genders.

We have an Indonesian maestro dancer, Didik Thowok, who has been performing cross-dress traditional dance for decades nationally and worldwide.

And look at this now: some Indonesians back home complained about a male presenter wearing allegedly feminine outfits. Gimme that red lipstick! It looks good on my lips.

-I Am That Unicorn: Memoir of an Indonesian Queer is available at www.thatunicorn.com

-Indonesian Queer and That Unicorn is on Thursday, February 29 at 6pm at Stonewall Hotel. Tickets are available through Eventbrite

Harry Hadley

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *