The Jakarta Post
Members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual ( LGBT ) groups in Indonesia are facing discrimination and stereotyping in media coverage, say activists who are calling on journalists to uphold their rights.
Concerned over the poor quality of media coverage on the LGBT, the Alliance of Independent Journalists ( AJI ) Indonesia held a series of intensive workshops over the weekend.
'There was also a tendency for journalists to stigmatize the group,' the head of Women and Marginalized Groups of AJI Indonesia, Yekthi Hesthi Murthi, told thejakartpost.com.
Research indicates violations of ethics often occur when Indonesian journalists are covering controversial issues concerning the LGBT in this, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, she asserted.
She added the press could be in a position to give a voice to those who are voiceless and allow them to stand up for their rights as citizens of this country.
Citing research conducted by the alliance in 2015, local media had a predilection to write news stories in a sensationalized and bombastic manner, Hesthi explained.
Hesthi expressed disappointment on finding that news stories stating facts of the group's marginalization and neglected rights were seldom reported. She also said that there were instances of symbolic violence depicted by the choice of diction used within the written articles.
According to the research, LGBT issues received only a very minor portion among the wide array of news coverage across the majority of local and national media.
Hesthi believed such issues should receive more special attention because of the conditions that the group faces on a daily basis in which their existence tends to be ignored by the government and their rights are neglected.
She cited the example of a case in which students at the University of Lampung ( Unila ) who had gained confidence about revealing their sexual orientations subsequently became social pariahs while getting a stern warning from university officials that homosexuals were not welcomed at the university.
'The right to an education is a basic human right,' Hesthi said.
On a wider scope, the government's objection to dealing with LGBT issues is not uncommon.
Most recently, Technology, Research and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir said that LGBT people should be barred from university campuses, pointing to the educational institution as a moral safeguard while branding the community members as degenerates who risk corrupting the nation's moral values.
The minister was responding to information that an organization at the University of Indonesia ( UI ) named the Support Group and Research Center on Sexuality Studies ( SGRC ) offered counseling to LGBT students through their Peer Support Network program.
The controversy of the SGRC's activities at UI exploded into public attention after the group came into the media spotlight, which highlighted the group's support for the LGBT community.
The SGRC in turn received heavy criticism from the public and fellow students because of being depicted as being an established university entity that supported a growing LGBT population.
The fact that the LGBT community existed quite comfortably and openly on campus was not met well by several students who in turn voiced their disdain through the media.
SGRC co-founder Firmansyah published a statement on the group's official website, www.sgrcui.wordpress.com, that reiterated their mission statement as an organization that moves in the scope of the study of sexuality, reproduction and sexual orientation.
The Peer Support Network was only one of the wide ranging issues of concern within the group's organization.
Via its website, Firmansyah also said the reason to provide counselling for LGBT people was to respond to a study that found the LGBT group to be more susceptible to violence, while teens were more prone to suicide as a result of the rejection and discrimination they received from society.
'Vulnerable groups in this country still do not have a place,' Press Council ( Dewan Pers ) member Yosep Stanley Adi Prasetyo said during the workshop.
Stanley, who is also a former commissioner at the National Commission on Human Rights ( KomnasHAM ), observed the government's tendency to avoid the acknowledgement of the LGBT community despite its responsibility to uphold citizens' rights.
Stanley pointed to the lack of an official government census of LGBT people as an example of their ignorance. However, he said such refusal does not make them go away.
The government has not put enough importance on the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of international human rights principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, he added.
On further comments, Stanley argued that the identity card ( KTP ) could also be viewed as a 'tool of discrimination' in situations where transsexuals do not have access to an ID of their own and therefore cannot vote nor benefit from the national health insurance provided by the Social Security Management Agency ( BPJS ).
From the public side, Stanley said there is a growing new perspective pointing toward progress on viewing LGBT, which has begun to understand sexual and gender identification through a more scientific pair of lenses.
RR Sri Agustine, director of the lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization called the Ardhanary Institute, a research and and advocacy group, said Indonesia is still very much behind in recognizing the 'highly complex and broad definitions of sexuality'.
Additionally, she found the media's lack of research and use of the wrong terminologies as disconcerting and as potentially fueling the narrow-mindedness that could develop among memebers of the public, which in turn shapes widespread misconceptions and discrimination.
Aside from the rising number of countries legalizing same-sex marriage, Agustine pointed out that there are also seven countries who have legally recognized a third gender, including Australia, Bangladesh, India, New Zealand and Pakistan. In Cuba, the government will even facilitate qualifying citizens to have free sex reassignment surgery, she added.
The reality is, Agustine continued, the landscape of marriage, and thus the formations of family units, are diversifying along with the explorations of sexuality and gender identities.
A heterosexual family could be a marriage between a transgender man and a cis female or a trans man and a trans woman. Meanwhile, a gay couple could encompass a relationship between two transsexual men, Agustine said.
She urged journalists and the media in general to pay close attention to societal developments and report in truth to objectively bring up the issues to the public's awareness. ( dan )( + )