The Jakarta Post
What do you do when you are scared? One option is to scream, right? That is what I did the other night when a rat scurried past me. I shouted and shooed to make it hide back in the gutter where it came from. Disgusting disease-spreading vermin that they are. Yech!
In the past five weeks there has been a lot of panicky shrieking and shouting against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Indonesia. It seems these homo- and transphobes regard their fellow human beings like rats that scare and disgust them just because they are different. Hey guys, it is in their DNA! But unlike rats, LGBT people do not really harm anyone. LGBT people go peacefully about their private lives ' or they would very much like to, if only they did not have prejudice and bigotry constantly hurled at them.
For the first time ever, the LGBT community in Indonesia has been hit by a sudden onslaught of inflammatory hate-filled statements that seem to have risen from hysterical fear and panic.
The source? It started with none other than our leaders, among others, Jusuf Kalla, our esteemed vice president; Technology, Research, and Higher Education Minister M. Nasir, People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Zulkifli Hasan; House of Representatives member Reni Marliawati and Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil. Even Culture and Education Minister Anies Baswedan said parents of small children needed to watch out for LGBT deviants preying on their kids. Wow, even the great young hope turned out to be a gay basher!
Then at an institutional level, the government ' instigated by lawmakers ' called on the UN Development Program (UNDP) to stop funding its LGBT programs; the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) enacted a discriminatory rule against LGBT people; the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) wants to ban 'programs that encourage children and teenagers to adopt indecent behavior', and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) wants LGBT sites to be blocked, together with terrorist sites.
Are LGBT people really so dangerous that they are put on par with that of crazy bomb-exploding radicals? It would be hilarious if it weren't so tragically pathetic.
But surely the height of the display of insecurity and fear was when the government asked the Japanese app LINE, then also iPhone, Whats-App and Facebook to remove LGBT emojis. Imagine being threatened by cute emojis!
Why this sudden wave of homophobia in Indonesia, which does not outlaw homosexuality, and where one of the country's most popular talk-show hosts and entertainers, Dorce Gamalama, is a transgender woman? Why, last December even President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo cozied up to her, calling her mbak (sister) when they dined in pomp and style at the State Palace with a bunch of other entertainers. Surely being invited to the palace is more than a sign of acceptance and recognition, but also of respect? So why has Jokowi not rapped the knuckles of his ministerial staff, who out of the blue consider Dorce and her ilk a moral hazard?
As Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja 'Ahok' Purnama said, homosexuality has been around since the time of prophets Abraham and Lot. LGBTs have also been an accepted part of traditional and modern Indonesian culture and society, so suddenly why the big brouhaha?
The times they are a changin', and human beings have a deep-seated fear of change and of the unknown. LGBT is an indicator of these changing times.
The moral panic is a reaction to significant successes the LGBT community has made globally and in Indonesia. But Indonesia's younger generation feels that these narrow-minded old dinosaurs are giving pronouncements from a dying era.
If LGBT people were marginalized and cowering in the shadows, these figures never have to utter a single word. Everything is in line with their bigotry. But younger people are embracing change, which causes sudden alarm bells to ring for people who used to be silently content. The fact that they are speaking up now signals they are losing control. The more they howl and protest, the more panicked they are. They have already lost. These are the desperate screams of defeat.
Interestingly, homophobic attitudes say a lot about the person who holds them. According to a new study of university students in Italy, people with strongly negative views of gay people also have higher levels of psychoticism, i.e. hostility, anger and aggression toward others and inappropriate coping mechanisms than those who are accepting of homosexuality. Overall, the more mature and better someone's mental health is, the less likely they are to be homophobic.
And guess what? Studies have also found that people who are homophobic often harbor same-sex desires themselves. For example, Ricky Martin, who is now openly gay, used to make homophobic statements to cover up his sexual orientation. Quick, someone send a copy of this study to all those homophobes in the government and other institutions! Maybe that is one way to make them shut up.
The fact is, in any given population, 10 percent are gay. In Indonesia that would mean about 25 million people. That's a lot of people to 'cure', and since the WHO has stated that homosexuality is not a disease, what's to cure? Better to give them equal rights and protection instead, which is the state's duty anyhow. Around the world it has been proven that doing this does not have any significant effect on the rest of society.
Have LGBT become Indonesia's new communists? In the same way that virtually all of us knew someone from the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), all of us know an LGBT person. They could be our co-worker, friend, nephew, the daughter of a friend, entertainers, public figures, and even our politicians and leaders.
The views of friends, family, co-workers change when they are forced to consider their negative ideas toward the nameless, faceless group of 'LGBT' against their very personal relationships with actual LGBT people they know, like, admire, and love. It is easy to hate groups of 'others,' but it is almost impossible to hate people we know personally.
Indonesia has a lot of catching up to do with regard to our record on LGBT if we do not want our reputation as a tolerant country going down the drain. However, I suspect things will get worse before they get better. It may take us a while, but surely the first step is to 'out' our fearful, panicky leaders!
The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation.