‘Discreet And Cautious’: What It’s Like Being LGBTIQ In Indonesia

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Indonesian law does not criminalise private, consenting adult same-sex acts. However, in the majority Muslim country, there is an element of societal disapproval.

Also, because of the need for social harmony in the diverse country, a citizen’s duties are the priority rather than their rights.

Adding even more complexity to the situation for the Indonesian LGBTIQ community, provincial governments can and do enact their own Islamic-based laws.

Both Aceh province and the city of Palembang criminalise consensual same-sex acts.

Gays and lesbians can be punished with up to 100 lashes and eight years imprisonment.

In July this year, two young gay Acehnese were caned 87 times each in front of a jeering crowd for private consensual sex.

Nine other people, including women, received up to 26 lashes on the same day for heterosexual adultery.

In the last year there seems to have been a crackdown on LGBTIQ people, using laws against promoting homosexuality or extrajudicial measures such as shaving the heads of transgender women or hosing them down with firehoses to ‘cleanse’ them.

QNews Magazine spoke to a modern gay family comprising two Australians and an Indonesian who regularly visit the country.

“It is an interesting country of huge diversity. In years gone by, there was a real history of inclusion,” they told us.

“In the area one of us comes from, the local hairdresser is trans as are most of her staff – and no one really cares.

“However, with the increasing emphasis on European and Islamic religious ideas, the previous culture of acceptance is changing.

“Bali is where most LGBTIQ people head. However, many gay men do stay in their home villages and conform to the expected lifestyle, getting married and having children, with male company on the side in secret.

“In some areas, especially Jakarta, LGBTIQ people live in safe group housing.

“In the far north, the province of Aceh, the law and local practices are very different to that of other provinces with strict Islamic law enforced by the provincial government.

“Interesting enough, the language does not have gender pronouns. He/She Her/His is all the same word. We find villages in East Java province okay.

“However, I would never feel comfortable flaunting being gay. It is just not spoken about and the locals seem to prefer it like that.

“There were two lesbians living together in the village one of us comes from. I believe they were just left alone. Not talked about.

“So, homosexuality as a subject is generally not discussed although known to be as prevalent throughout Indonesia as all other countries.

“Many local Indonesian men in tourist areas get paid for sexual favours as other work is not readily available. Prostituting their bodies, be they straight or gay, seems to be very common and accepted.

“Places like Jogja we found locals scared and secretive about their sexual preferences – others areas like Jember, extremely open, even flaunting in public.

“I guess you could say we are not openly gay in Indonesia, but nor are we closeted. We’re discreet and cautious.”

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