The Jakarta Post
Amid a recent controversy surrounding a counselling group at the University of Indonesia (UI) named the Support Group and Research Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC-UI), Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir said lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people should be banned from entering universities. The SGRC, a movement comprising UI lecturers, students and alumni and aiming to develop critical perspectives on sexuality discourses, is accused of promoting homosexuality on campus.
On the grounds of 'morality and decency', the minister argued universities should not allow any space for LGBT-related activities, including academic and critical discussions. 'LGBT goes to campus' [LGBT masuk kampus] suddenly became a trending topic on social media.
At the end of last year, the Brawijaya International Youth Forum, organized by the students of Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java, was canceled at the behest of the rector himself. Similarly, the rector of the University of Lampung has also threatened lecturers with dismissal and students with expulsion for the crime of involvement in LGBT-related activities.
The US Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in mid-2015 has had a tremendous impact, including in Indonesia.
The debate here tends to center on the old issues: whether homosexuality is 'natural', and whether it contravenes religious values. At the same time, Indonesian LGBT activists have attracted greater attention, and with it accusations that they are attempting to introduce same-sex marriage here.
The attitude of Nasir and university authorities reveal they are not ready to tackle and discuss this issue rationally. The topic remains clouded by hysteria and moral panic.
What makes it more problematic is that these figures of authority appear ignorant of the 1945 Constitution and the 2003 Education Law, which guarantees the right of all citizens to education and the right to develop themselves through the fulfillment of their basic needs. LGBT students do exist in schools and in universities.
Many stay in the closet because of the rampant stigma and prejudice to which they are subjected by peers and teachers. Does the minister really mean to bar them from universities, just because of their sexual orientation and gender identity? If their access to higher education is denied, that constitutes a direct and deliberate breach of their rights by the state.
The National Education Law stipulates that education is conducted democratically, equally and non-discriminatively based on human rights, religious values, cultural values and national pluralism.
Yet Indonesia's plurality covers cultural values as well as faiths; one set of values can conflict sharply with another. One cannot rule over the others, since Indonesia is a democratic and pluralist country. Hence, everyone is assured the right to education regardless of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and religion or faith.
The prohibition on both lecturers and students discussing LGBT issues also violates Article 28 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to associate, organize and express written and oral opinions.
Under the New Order, it was the regime that breached this right; now, sadly, universities are instead engaging in self-censorship, muzzling the voices and stamping on the rights of their students and staff.
In many universities overseas, critical sexuality studies are now a mainstream academic discipline examining the complexities of human sexuality, desires, identities and practices from various perspectives, including historical, sociological, anthropological, legal and political, as well as biological. LGBT as an entity makes up only one part of sexuality studies.
Similarly, what the SGRC and other student initiatives have been doing is not propagating homosexuality, but critically analyzing sexuality ' how politics, history, power and social-cultural constructions shape our understanding of sexuality.
Third, history shows that closed-mindedness takes its toll on scientific and academic progress. The astronomer Galileo Galilee was sentenced to life imprisonment after stating, contrary to church doctrine, that the Earth orbits the Sun, and not vice versa.
Giordano Bruno, meanwhile, was burned to death for sharing Galileo's beliefs. It was only in 2000 that the Catholic Church formally apologized for its mistreatment of Galileo.
Clearly, academic freedom is needed to support and sustain scientific progress in academia, through critical research, discussions and lectures.
I do not know whether Nasir has ever heard of Alan Turing. In the 1940s, Turing invented the concept of the universal machine, which would become the first design for a digital computer.
Despite his genius, he was prosecuted for his homosexuality, then illegal in the UK, and subjected to inhumane psychological treatment. He took his own life in 1954.
Perhaps Nasir should watch The Imitation Game, which tells Turing's story. Once the minister realizes that the computer he's watching the film on was invented by a gay man, perhaps he'll regret and retract his discriminatory and ignorant comments.
The writer, who earned his Master's in public policy from the National University of Singapore, is the author of Coming Out and a guest lecturer on gender and sexuality studies.
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