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Jakarta Post

Rejecting homophobic pseudoscience

  • Dede Oetomo, Hendri Yulius and Sharyn Davies


-   /   Thu, January 30, 2020   /   05:37 pm
Rejecting homophobic pseudoscience Love wins: A passerby hugs an activist campaigning for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community during Car Free Day in Jakarta on June 16, 2019. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Sensational headlines, clickbait articles and pseudoscience cannot be tolerated when they promote fear and hatred.

Many in the media, including writers and editors, use these techniques to inflame prejudice against homosexuality and LGBT communities.

Another technique used is to cite outdated research – or cherry-pick parts of research – to make it seem like the author has based their opinion in fact.

At a time when homophobic claims are becoming a mainstay of Indonesian media, we must take time to think through what is being said and assess if it is scientifically accurate.

There are many examples of opinion presented as fact. One of the most heinous can be found in an article published by Republika on Jan.10.

In the article, Ihshan makes blatantly untrue statements, uses discredited and outdated studies and misinterprets others to support his opinion. He dresses up opinion as fact.

Ihshan uses the idea of "neuroplasticity" to argue that LGBT is a lifestyle and a product of external influence. Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change. Neuro means brain and plasticity means changeable. While the brain can change, there is no evidence to support his claim that sexual preferences can be easily changed.

There are many other problems with using the idea of neuroplasticity to say that LGBT people can simply stop being LGBT.

Firstly, this argument assumes that our brains are always heterosexual. Even if that were true, Ihshan's argument falls down. If sexuality is located in the brain and can be easily changed due to external influences, all heterosexuals are also a product of external influences. It makes one wonder if people who put forth this opinion are just scared that if they are around LGBT people they themselves might become gay.

Secondly, this argument deliberately discounts the complexity of sexuality. Sexuality is an interplay between physical aspects (including the brain, hormones, etc) and social aspects.

Thirdly, this argument is one that people were having in the 1950s. It was then a debate of nature versus nurture, gender versus sexuality. Key figures in this debate were Milton Young, John Money and Robert Spitzer. But most of this work has been discredited. To not keep pace with changes in sexuality theory shows a lack of intellectual rigor. Articles such as the one written by Ihshan show none of the dynamics of scientific advances in the study of sexuality.

Another erroneous assumption Ihshan makes is that LGBT-people commit rape because of their sexual orientation. As evidence, Ihshan cites the case of Reynhard Sinaga, who was convicted of rape in the UK.

Rape is used to assert power, as evinced by the May 1998 rapes of Chinese-Indonesian women and girls.

While Sinaga drugged and raped men, media in the UK have largely refrained from linking Sinaga to being gay because his sexual orientation is irrelevant.

Indonesian media has reported the case differently. Sinaga’s case has been sensationalized and used to justify homophobia.

Ihshan is guilty of pseudoscience when he claims that Sinaga’s behavior is a result of his sexual orientation.

If we extend Ihshan's logic, we would have to conclude that all heterosexual men are evil because heterosexual men commit the majority of rapes.

No one claims that straight men rape because of their sexual orientation. Therefore, it is ludicrous to suggest that Sinaga’s sexual orientation caused him to commit rape.

The University of Auckland, where Ihshan is currently studying, was so appalled at Ihshan's claims that they have requested that Republika remove any mention of the University’s name.

Further, in response to protests in both New Zealand and Indonesia over what Ihshan had fabricated, the University issued a restatement of their values.

The University has now explicitly said that its position is unequivocal: “we are committed to being safe, inclusive and equitable for all our staff and students.”

Now more than ever Indonesian media must stop giving a voice to homophobic people who dress their opinions up as facts.

As Taylor Swift sings, the haters are gonna hate. Indeed renowned scholar Martha Nussbaum says that people have always been afraid of or even disgusted by differences in other people. Those in power often make this attitude legitimate to secure their own privilege (e.g. hatred of Dutch colonialists). But we shouldn’t accept hate.

Shame on newspapers who publish inflammatory, homophobic stories. These stories have real-life consequences. While for Ihshan and others like him, homophobic statements might just be words on a page, the consequences for LGBT people can be devastating.

The LGBT community consists of people who fall in love, who are religious, who are productive and who support their community. LGBT people love their country, but it is often hard to love a country that does not love you back.

Indonesian media has a responsibility to support its LGBT community. Indonesia must honor its words of unity in diversity.


Dede Oetomo has a PhD from Cornell University, US. Hendri Yulius completed his Master’s degree at the University of Sydney, Australia. Sharyn Davies has a PhD from the University of Western Australia.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.