Opinion

Viewpoint: Gays are us:
LGBT rights are human rights

Have you ever felt different, awkward, embarrassed and alone? Have you wanted to be someone else, perhaps even harbored thoughts of suicide because you were different and not accepted for who you are?

Let’s face it, it’s hard enough at times to be a human being, but if you happen to be gay, these feelings may dog you throughout your entire life.

We all know that LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer) people in many countries are targets of discrimination, persecution, violence and even murder.

This is despite scientific research showing that homosexuality is a natural variation in human sexuality, occurring in about 10 percent of the population, and not an abnormality or perversion, let alone
a disease.

Nonetheless, in at least 76 countries (out of 196, almost 40 percent), consensual, adult, same-sex relations are criminal offenses that can result in imprisonment — and even a death sentence.

This is not the case in Indonesia, where homosexuality is technically not illegal (except according to bizarre South Sumatra and Palembang regional ordinances), but that doesn’t mean LGBTIQ people aren’t subject to discrimination.

In fact, they routinely suffer all kinds of harassment — verbal, physical, sexual — and face challenges in finding work. It’s an uphill battle, with a recent survey revealing that intolerance of sexual minorities is increasing (see “Homophobia on the rise, survey says”, The Jakarta Post, Oct. 22).

How do you fight ignorance and intolerance? Through education, of course. But what do you do if the Education and Culture Ministry rejects comprehensive sexuality education? Ah well, what can you expect from Mohammad Nuh, the minister of culture and education (sic!), the same guy who callously suggested a 14-year-old Depok girl who had been abducted and systematically raped for days had simply been engaging in consensual sex?

So when Dede Oetomo, Indonesia’s leading gay rights activist (see “Dede Oetomo: Starting something”, The Jakarta Post, April 18), was rejected as a candidate commissioner for the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) it was, in a way, to be expected. He was experiencing the common fate of so many other members of the LGBTIQ community. Jeered at by the House of Representatives members, he didn’t lose his cool. Sadly, gays are used to cruelty and abuse.

It was pretty ironic, however, for Dede, with his academic credibility and international standing, his reputation for personal integrity and his 30-year track record as a pioneer of gay rights, to be rejected by the House, with its reputation as the most corrupt institution in the nation. Maybe its image would be a bit better had Dede succeeded in his efforts to run for the House in 1999 and the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) in 2004?

In any case, Dede was under no illusions about why the House members knocked him back. As he said to Gay Star News, “The lawmakers did not see SO [sexual orientation] and GI [gender identity] rights as a priority, while others [my guess, the Islamists] rejected me outright, and still others probably wanted to play it safe.”

My guess is that the lawmakers’ homophobic attitude reflects their ignorance of the fact that gay rights are human rights. As a feminist, I am very familiar with this. The notion that “women’s rights are human rights” has had to be constantly drummed in since it was adopted by the fourth United Nations World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China, in 1995. Even now, it meets plenty of resistance — including from religious leaders.

In fact, religion is often used as the justification for the persecution of gays in the same way that it’s often used against other minority groups — including religious ones. Remember pastor Martin Niemöller’s (1892-1984) famous statement about the indifference of German intellectuals to the Nazis purging of various groups upon their rise to power?

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

The Indonesian version would be “First they came for the Ahmadis, then they came for the Shiites, then the Christians, then the gays and transgender persons, and then …”

The point was made a different way by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her historic LGBT speech in Geneva on Human Rights Day last year. She said, “Being gay is not a Western invention, it is a human reality.” Her speech has been heralded as a modern-day equivalent to Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech, calling for racial equality and an end to discrimination.

It followed US President Barack Obama’s announcement that his administration was instructing federal agencies to protect and promote LGBT rights internationally. Gay rights as foreign policy — cool!

In October 2011, UK Prime Minister David Cameron even suggested that aid could be cut to countries that don’t recognize gay rights. Homophobic African countries including Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe were not happy with this suggestion, but I wonder where Indonesia stands? I’ve heard nothing but the usual deafening silence from our government.

So, like it or not, gays are us, folks. Next time you feel despondent and alone, maybe it’s a good time to remember that defending LGBTIQ rights is just another way of defending everyone’s human and civil rights.

So next time, vote for Dede, everyone!

The writer (www.juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of State Ibuism.

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