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Jakarta Post

View Point: Leaders come and go; gays are here to stay

  • Julia Suryakusuma

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, June 25, 2014   /  10:03 am

In the midst of the heat, tension and, sometimes nasty, mudslinging of the presidential elections, there was one heartwarming moment during the second presidential debate on June 15.

When Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo mentioned the development of creative industries as part of his economic program, Prabowo Subianto expressed his support of his opponent'€™s ideas.

In a choked voice, the former general said, '€œMy only son is working in that industry: he is a globally-known designer'€, and walked over to hug the startled Jokowi. Well, maybe it was more comedic than heartwarming actually, or both!

Indeed, Didit Hediprasetyo, Prabowo'€™s only child who resides in Paris, is an internationally recognized designer, albeit relatively unknown in Indonesia.

Design is one of the 14 sectors of the creative industries that contribute almost 5 percent to the gross national income. So it'€™s really a no brainer that both presidential candidates support it.

What about human rights, which are fundamental to democracy? Is this something both candidates enthusiastically support the way they support creative industries?

No, no, Pak Prabowo, don'€™t worry, I'€™m not referring to the fresh accusations leveled at you of human rights violations that led to your dismissal from the armed forces and which are still dogging you now!

I'€™m talking about sexual rights! Yup folks, especially for members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. Are their rights being upheld? Check out these stories:

Firman, a 23-year-old gay student at an Islamic teachers college was humiliated in front of his class for being effeminate. '€œIf he'€™s still feminine, let'€™s beat him up until he becomes sane,'€ his lecturer told the class.

Kiki, 32, is a lesbian activist from Bandar Lampung, who after being outed in the media, was dragged to a Muslim cleric and a shaman to be '€œcured of the deviant disease'€.

These were two of the many case studies presented in a National Report on the LGBT Community Dialogue launched recently on June 17. While presenting the report, prominent gay rights activist Dede Oetomo, said. '€œFor some of us, family is hell,'€ citing the story of '€œa father who tells your uncle to rape you because you'€™re a lesbian'€.

The report was a product of a dialogue held in June 2013 in Bali, part of a regional initiative entitled '€œBeing LGBT in Asia'€, which covers eight participating countries: Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Nepal and Mongolia.

The report is the most comprehensive to date, covering the history of LGBT in Indonesia, LGBT advocacy, an overview of LGBT human rights (laws, policies, religion, decentralization, rule of law and corruption) and protection of LGBT rights (in employment and housing; education and young people; family affairs and social and cultural attitudes; media and ICT; law, human rights and politics; and the special case of Aceh, which implements sharia).

The report states that the capacity of LGBT organizations has developed significantly, certainly since Dede founded Lambda, the first gay rights organization in Indonesia, in 1982. At the end of 2013 there are two national networks of LGBT organizations, and 119 organizations in 28 of the 34 provinces in Indonesia. Wow!

Proliferation of LGBT organizations notwithstanding, the report says that LGBT people still face discrimination in many areas. This is especially true for the lower classes.

Obviously, it is a class thing, which the report does not address at all. There are literally dozens of very prominent figures in Indonesia, some of them major politicians or celebrities, who are either gay or lesbian, or who have gay or lesbian family members.

Money and power buy privacy for these individuals that is not enjoyed by the middle- and lower-classes '€” who constantly live in fear of being found out and rejected, or worse.   

One of my friends, a gay, rich businessman, remarked while flicking his hair and rolling his eyes, '€œDuh-link, you would not believe the number of A-list gay people in this country! Boggles the mind!'€  

What is amazing is that more of this does not burst into the open.  Indonesians are remarkably reliable when it comes to keeping secrets of this kind.  

Don'€™t ask, don'€™t tell!

Especially in the context of the current elections, it is very relevant to connect sexual identity with national identity.

It is not farfetched to say that LGBT rights depend on how Indonesia as a nation resolves its multifarious dilemmas in figuring out its nationhood. We are still in identity crisis mode and this is acutely reflected in the current presidential elections and what each candidate personifies.

Prabowo is the personification of the past, of military rule and human rights abuses. He is '€œnew'€ yes,
'€œNew Order'€ that is, which engaged in the selective but effective repression of opposition '€” including political Islam.

There was no decentralization in the New Order, and none of the current perda (local ordinances) sharia mess, which often contradicts national laws, and in terms of human rights, the Constitution. It'€™s pretty ironic that now Prabowo'€™s coalition includes three Islamic parties: Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), United Development Party (PPP) and National Mandate Party (PAN). That'€™s politics for you!

Jokowi personifies the new and the future. He has been in power only during the Reform era, rising from the ranks of the people, so, populist and pluralist.

But he has also had to prove his Islamic credentials, especially in the face of the smear campaign accusing him of being Chinese and Christian (and so what if he is?).

Say, if a leader had a gay offspring, they would have to face a stark choice: the human right of their child, or succumb to the dictates of political Islam, to remain in power? Not an easy choice, huh?

So, in the context of this huge ideological and political battle, the recommendations presented in the report may seem a bit naïve.

But naïve or not, LGBT people and human rights are here to stay.

La luta continua.

The writer is the author of Julia'€™s Jihad.