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More hard times for Indonesian LGBT people

Jakarta | Mon, August 22, 2016 | 11:15 am
More hard times for Indonesian LGBT people It’s not an illness -- Members of the Indonesian LGBT community display a banner stating that homosexuality is not a mental illness. Rights groups have said recent comments from public figures condemning LGBT people are ill-informed and risk triggering discrimination. (Tempo/-)

The hysteria surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in Indonesia continues. The newest development is a petition taken to the Constitutional Court by the anti-LGBT group Love Family Alliance, which seeks to criminalize consensual sex between people of the same gender — and between unmarried people — through an amendment of the Criminal Code (KUHP). The petition requests the amendment of articles 284 (adultery), 285 (rape) and 292 (sex between adults and minors of the same gender). 

According to court documents, the alliance argues that the current articles “threaten family and national resilience”, and the proposed changes are necessary to “protect religious values”.

The court has already held five hearings on the matter, despite attracting barely any attention. Another hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 23. Fortunately, the court’s website provides documentation on all court hearings. A review of these documents shows that the government team from the Law and Human Rights Ministry, which was charged with reviewing the petition, rejected it on the grounds that the petitioners did not themselves suffer as a result of the existing articles. 

However, the team suggested the petitioners submit their views directly to the House of Representatives, which is currently deliberating the amendment of the Criminal Code.

During the court’s last two hearings, six experts from the petitioners’ side spoke in support of the proposed changes. No less than three experts, sworn under the Holy Quran, claimed that the LGBT movement was a proxy war. Another so-called expert claimed that the LGBT movement was historically initiated by Jewish people in the US, and furthermore that the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) were both promoting same-sex marriage.

The first claim is not worth responding to, but on the issue of same-sex marriage I would like to quote academic and LGBT activist Hendri Yulius: “Since the [early days] of the gay movement, marriage equality has never been the goal […] How [can] Indonesian LGBT persons strive for marriage equality, while many [are] still beaten up, harassed and fired from their jobs, just because of their sexual orientation and gender identity?” (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 19, 2016)

Health issues are also a key component of the petitioners’ arguments. One of the experts, dermatologist Dewi Inong Irana, gave a graphically illustrated presentation on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), arguing that gay sex leads to STIs and HIV/AIDS. 

My eyebrows rose when she concluded with a rhetorical question to the judges about whether anal sex was in line with the principles of Pancasila. Too bad the judges didn’t answer. 

Regarding the technical content: especially for someone trained as a medical doctor, her misunderstanding of the relationship between gay sex and risk of STI transmission is unfortunate. There are actually only five recognized factors that put individuals at greater risk of contracting HIV (World Health Organization, July 2016). Guess what? None of them are gay sex. The primary risk is unsafe sex, particularly with a partner who is already infected (Comparative Quantification of Health Risks, WHO, 2004). STIs and HIV are not limited to gay sex, but are also transmitted through heterosexual sex.

A number of actions have been taken to prevent HIV transmission in Indonesia. The Health Ministry has been taking the Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms, No Drugs, Education (ABCDE) approach, and in addition has a special agency to tackle HIV/AIDS. The ministry’s guidelines have been carefully developed on the basis of in-depth research, and they make no mention of any evidential link between (safe) gay sex and STIs and HIV transmission.

Another health issue raised by the petitioners regards mental health. Dadang Hawari, a psychiatrist, presented the view that LGBT people suffer from a contagious mental illness. He argued that LGBT people can be cured by restorative therapy designed to target biological, psychological and social elements. However, a full cure can only be achieved if LGBT people bertaubat (fully surrender to God).

The professor refuted the guidelines of the American Psychological Association that do not classify LGBT orientations as a mental illness. It’s my guess that he would also refute a 2014 consensus statement of the UK’s psychological professions, including the British Psychological Society, denouncing “conversion therapy” and its claims to change sexual orientation and reduce same-sex attraction.

It is hardly rocket science to find the flaws in these arguments. However, the public is easily misled, never believing that an expert might dare fabricate facts in front of the Constitutional Court. Furthermore, this is a high-alert situation for people working on HIV issues. Much more must be done to raise public awareness, and to break the stigma on LGBT and HIV-related issues. 

Nevertheless, the hearings in the Constitutional Court will continue. Let’s hope that common sense and scientific evidence will not be defeated by ignorance and hatred.

 

***

Feminist and women’s rights activist. She can be found @TunggalP on Twitter.

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