The Price Paid For Being Different In Indonesia

As posted (in Bahasa Indonesia) to Kompasiana: Berbeda dan Harga yang Harus Dibayar di Indonesia

By 2012 Bella (not her real name), a 22-year-old woman in Kebumen, had suffered years of physical and psychological abuse from her family. Then they forced her to marry and she received similar abuse from her husband, who often forced her to have sex (marital rape).

In Lampung, a man named Robin (not his real name) was forced by his family to join a religious institution in ​​West Java. In this religious institution, Robin who was 28-years-old at the time (2006) felt like he was in a prison with full 24-hour surveillance. Along with inhumane treatment, he received physical abuse on adaily basis.

In 2011 “AY”was shot in in Menteng, Jakarta. An autopsy showed that he was shot from only one meter away and was hit on the thorax. It was suspected that he was shot by a police officer or someone related to a police officer. The case was reported to the Menteng police but there has been no further information or follow-up to date.

Bella, Robin, and AY have something in common that led them to be treated inhumanely.  What is the common theme of these three cases?

The answer is Bella, Robin, and AY are “different.” They have sexual orientation, gender identity, and expressions that are different from mainstream Indonesian society. Bella is a lesbian. Robin is a gay man. And AY is a transgender (waria). What they all experienced were examples of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. This is the price they pay for being different; the price they pay for existence.

There are many other stories of discrimination experienced by individuals who are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) in Indonesia. By definition, a lesbian is a female who is attracted to other females. A gay is a male who is attracted to other males. A bisexual is a person who is attracted to persons of the same andopposite sex. A transgender is a person whose psychological self (gender identity) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex organs with which they were born.[1]

A summary of the discrimination situation has begun to be documented in the “Report of LGBTI Rights Situation in Indonesia 2012 – Abandonment of Rights Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” [2] The report was initiated by a number of pro-LGBT NGOs in Indonesia (such as GAYa Nusantara and ArusPelangi) in collaboration with the National Commission of Human Rights (Indonesia).

The discrimination and violence may come from family, public, orthe state system. Even in this modern era a large part of Indonesian society is still conservative and holds the view that LGBTs are deviant human beings, guilty, sinners, and the lowest of the low. This belief promotes the view that the practice of treating LGBTs in cruel, inhumane, and degrading human dignity ways is appropriate.

Many families force their lesbian and gay children to marry. Many are raped by members of their family, while others are banned from their homes. In some cases lesbians are “correctively” raped by family members in an effort to “cure” them and turn them heterosexual. Bella’s story is one such example.

As experienced by Robin, many families force their lesbian and gay children to visit traditional healers where they receive psychological and physical abuse andinhumane treatment from so-called “healers.”

Transgender may not easily obtain employment if their appearance does not match their true gender. A transgender often must change their appearance to be able to work, even in a place like a beauty salon (story of Dita in 2011, not herreal name). In another case, atransgender was forced to resign from a teaching position because the discrimination had become excruciating. [3]

Other cases include scolding, intimidation, public humiliation (like being stripped naked), or being expelled from their residence or village to being stoned by public (a case in early 2013 in Jakarta that was reported to National Commission of Human Rights).

Non-heterosexual orientation and gender variation are often labeled as deviant, products of Western culture that have stained the noble culture of Indonesia. But have they?

In reality, the history of Indonesian culture shows a diversity of sex and gender in Nusantara. This rich diversity was part of Indonesian culture before the entry of foreign influence. Bugis people acknowledge calalai (masculine women), calabai (feminine men), and bissu (their priest who holds trait of combination of four existing genders). In the traditional art of Reyog Ponorogo, the feminine gemblakan usually has an intimate relationship with Warok or warokan. Practice of same-sex relationships have even had the term in the Java language in the past, namely jinambu (passive) and anjambu (active). So is the indang art in West Sumatra, the dancers are feminine young men who usually sleep together with the group manager. The fact of this diversity and culture indicates that Indonesian society is indeed pluralistic.

But what about Indonesia’s legal position regarding this issue?

As mentioned before, discrimination against LGBT people may also come from state system. A number of institutional problems are found in the legal regulations that grant authority to carry out discrimination. These problems are causal to institutions to add contribution in perpetrating violations of LGBT human rights either by commission or by omission.

The Satpol PP is a regional level security unit which operates in all over Indonesia. Through Government Regulation No. 6 of 2010, the Satpol PP is authorized to keep public order and security in the region by regularly conducting raids.

Raids typically target prostitutes. Due to the limited life styles they face, many waria are left with no choice but to earn a living as a prostitute. This makes the waria who happen to be prostitutes become the target of raids. But often, non-prostitute warias become victims of the raids as well. Also, it is undeniable that there is stigma in Indonesian society that views waria as annoying and frightening. And it has been a duty of Satpol PP to maintain public order and security.

However, in performing raids, Satpol PP commits many human rights violations, especially when warias are raid victims. Those human rights violations include arrest, being taken away in a vehicle, forced to pay money, forciblysearched, and beaten. The waria are either thrown on the road or taken to the raiders’ office. Often, waria raid victims are scolded and ill-treated, raped, or forced to expose their genitals. They are then beaten again and ordered to clean the premises (a case in Batam, 2010).

One overzealous raid also caused the death of a transgender male-to-female who drowned during a Satpol PP raid in Taman Lawang, Jakarta, in 2007. After the fact, the Satpol PP deleted all records of the raid for that day. To date, police have failed to continue the investigation by usingthe excuse of insufficient witnesses. The National Commission for Human Rights is not in a position to urge the police to act professionally.[3]

The police are also one of the institutions that routinely perpetrate many human rights violations against LGBTs in practice by commission or by omission. In most cases, legal reports filed by LGBTs to the police seem to experience legal process stagnancy. Slowly the case is frozen and finally it disappears inside the administrative maze of law enforcement. The shooting case of AY is a particular example.

The Indonesian State, through Article 28 of 1945 Constitution and Law No.39, 1999 on Human Rights, has guaranteed freedom of expression and human rights. In 2005, Indonesia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as stipulated in Law No. 12, 2005 on Ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This law states that Indonesia, as part of the international community, should respect the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations and other international instruments on human rights.

However, rich stories of discrimination mentioned here show that practices or implementations of the law contradict the written law. An overzealous raid of Satpol PP (Jakarta, 2007) crossed the right to life of a transgender. Dita’s (mentioned above) right to equal access to employment was crossed. The execution of AY’s murder case is example of deprivation ofright to justice (equal recognition and protection in the eye of law). And the other stories written here reflect the violation of the right to safety (free from torture and treatment that is cruel, inhumane, and degrading human dignity).

Furthermore, a hole in Indonesia’s law exists in Penal Code Article 285 on rape which states, “Any person who with violence or threat of violence forces a woman who is not his wife to have sexual relations with him, will be punished, for the violation, with a sentence of imprisonment up to 12 years.”

This article on rape implies that protection of law only applies to a female rape victim, but does not apply to a male rape victim. It also seems to disregard the concept of marital rape.  Since deviant gender identity (such as transgender) is not officially recognized in Indonesia, transgender (usually male to female/waria) are often the target of discrimination and violence since they are excluded from protection under the law by this article definition.

The flaw in Indonesia’s institutions and laws hinders LGBT individuals’ability to obtain equal legal protection in Indonesia. Advocacy for legal cases affecting LGBTs so far try to utilize regulations specific to discrimination and violent acts received. However, neglect by the state system has often led Indonesian LGBT individuals to a precarious position.

This reality adds more pressure for many LGBT individuals to hide. Added with a lack of knowledge of sexuality and gender diversity in Indonesia and the concept of human rights, they solemnly swallow the negative stigma from society and turn it into self-stigma. This is a vicious cycle that makes the fulfillment of their human rights the furthest thing in mind.

A right is an entitlement you own. You do, I do, and everyone else does. Rights belong to every human being. Rights are universal: male and female, black and white, religious and non-religious, heterosexual and homosexual, transgender and non-transgender. Rights belong to everyone equally. A right is determined by human needs that make life fulfilling and is essential for keeping us alive. It is most valued when it is lost. It is a claim by you against another to the extent that by exercising your right, you do not stop someone else from exercising theirs. Indonesian society often prides itself as being a pluralist and tolerant nation. But with the tragic reality of discrimination experienced by so many LGBT people in Indonesia, has Indonesia lost its spirit of pluralism?



[2]Laporan Situasi HAM LGBTI di Indonesia 2012

[3]Alternative Report of Indonesia’s ICCPR State Report Concerning on the Rights of LGBTI

UU No. 39 Tahun 1999 tentang Hak Asasi Manusia

Undang-undang Nomor 44 Tahun 2008 tentang Pornografi, Sebuah Kemunduran! (Bagian Pertama)

What are human rights?

LGBTIQ Terminology and Definition

Interview with Budidarmo Widodo, General Secretary of Arus Pelangi

Interview with Robin (a pseudonym)

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