The Jakarta Post
Recently, Research and Technology and Higher Education Minister, Mohamad Nasir stated that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people should be banned from campuses. He was responding to the 'policy' of the University of Indonesia (UI) that stipulated the Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies based at UI had no permit.
Yet such attitudes and policies lead to an absence of freedom of thought and academic tradition even in the nation's top universities. If knowledge cannot develop, there is no education.
Minister Nasir argued that the LGBT community contravened the moral norms of Indonesian society. This argument is seriously problematic.
First, was he referring to individuals, sexual orientation, knowledge, related information and academic activities, the LGBT movement, their sexual activities or what?
Second, what did he mean by 'immorality'? Criminalization and stigmatizing of the LGBT community are embedded in the history of gender and sexuality politics, where a regime upholding norms of heterosexuality victimizes social groups outside these norms.
Criminalization and stigmatizing of the LGBT community are embedded in the history of gender and sexuality politics.
Of course, the concepts of morality and decency are not singular or static and are open to debate.
Our views on gender and sexuality in general and LGBT issues are based on outdated knowledge produced and circulated in a specific historical and political period by a specific regime of gender and sexuality.
Homophobia, discrimination and violence against the LGBT in Indonesia are largely attributable to Dutch colonial policy that criminalized gays and stigmatized them as pedophiles and as people violating the morality of Christianity.
The New Order's politics imposed uniformity, including that of 'traditional' gender and sexuality norms ' among other methods was the creation of the image of the sexual evils of members of the women's organization Gerwani, said to be affiliated with the persecuted communists.
Thus non-conforming groups and individuals were further stigmatized and criminalized. So it is common within our society to dismiss LGBT people as abnormal, subversive, sinners, state enemies, etc.
Conservative religious ways of thinking and the power of a patriarchal regime have overwhelmed our academic and religious institutions. Our knowledge and perspectives in looking at LGBT cannot be separated from these political agendas.
Many new studies point out the heterogeneity of gender and sexuality but show our social acceptance and tolerance of gender and sexual diversity, even of things considered marginal and unpopular.
For instance, Graham Davies shows how calalai (individuals born as female but identifying as neither women nor men), calabai (those born as male yet identifying as neither men nor women) and bissu (traditional or spiritual healers who embody female and male elements) live peacefully with others in Bugis society in Sulawesi.
Other studies explore specific political agendas and regimes to show the historical and political contexts leading to our homophobic and discriminatory views of sexual minorities.
As Saskia Wieringa writes, the New Order's propaganda portraying Gerwani as a women's group promoting lesbianism significantly contributed to Indonesians' communism-phobia and homophobia.
The academic projects that help to 'renew' our knowledge on gender, sexuality and LGBT matters are possible only in an academic environment that firmly supports freedom of thought, without fear of being attacked or threatened.
Our higher education institutions must become actively engaged in issues of gender and sexuality. Our society is still overwhelmed by a lack of knowledge of the issues, which increases discrimination, stigmatization, criminalization and violence against sexual minorities.
Most importantly, our universities have a social and political responsibility to transform our perspectives and attitudes on gender and sexual diversity. The more study and research centering on these issues in our universities, the wider access we will have to knowledge of the issues.
Minister Nasir should encourage universities to be more active in studying gender and sexuality, instead of restricting them. This would be a great contribution to our higher education and make Indonesia a better place, where gender and sexual diversity are fully respected.
The writer is a doctoral student at the Department of Anthropology, State University of New York (SUNY),
Binghamton, New York, the US. He is preparing research on the politics of gender and sexuality among Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia
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