Some might fear persecution being gay in the
country that has the largest Muslim population in the world. But in Indonesia a
huge gay film festival is held every year. What does is really mean to be gay in
Badalu has been organizing the Q! Film Festival for the past 10 years. It is the
biggest gay film festival in Asia and the only one of its kind in a country with
a majority of Muslim inhabitants. The 38-year-old says it is possible to live a
pretty free life as a homosexual in Indonesia's big cities but the challenges
Last year, the Q! Film Festival
was attacked by the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which accused Badalu
and his team of showing pornographic films. They threatened to burn down the
venues if the festival was not stopped.
Convinced that his organization was on firm ground, Badalu and
his team refused and the festival was held in five big cities. A few months
before, an international gay conference that was supposed to be held in Surabaya
in East Java had been cancelled after coming under attack from the same radical
Badalu is not overly concerned. He says it is not just gay
people that FPI is targeting, but also other minorities such as members of the
Islamic movement Ahmadiyya.
anything is against Islam in their interpretation, they will go against it, they
will go and bash them," explained Badalu further. However, according to Badalu,
there has never been gay bashing in Indonesia.
No special treatment from the government
also adds that Indonesia cannot be compared to other Muslim countries such as
Iran where people have been executed because of their sexual orientation. In
Indonesia, there is no law to do with homosexuality.
see this as an advantage but Hartoyo from "Our Voice," an NGO that fights for
the rights of homosexuals and bisexuals in Indonesia, is of another opinion.
"The government does not give special protection to the Lesbian
Gay Bisexual Transgender community," he complained. He added that they needed
special treatment so they can finally access their civil rights, in the areas of
politics, economics, social and culture.
Hartoyo was himself beaten up in public a few years ago when he
was living with his partner in Aceh. When he went to the police station, he was
"treated like an animal."
After waiting for more than 18 months, four of his seven
tormentors were given probation and a 10-cent fine. Hartoyo says he is still
traumatized by the incident, which he says is a clear example of the state not
guaranteeing his rights as a citizen.
Big pressure to get married
The challenges are often from society. There are
certain fields where gays are openly accepted, especially television and
advertising but there have been cases of people being fired because of their
sexual orientation in other sectors.
transsexuals do not have ID cards because they are reluctant to go through the
bureaucratic procedures as they are often made fun of by civil servants. This
means that many do not have access to free health insurance.
Oetomo, the co-founder of the first homosexual organization in Indonesia, says
that in the past 20 years societal pressure to marry generally has become
stronger, and especially for gay people. Many families think that their
children's sexual orientation might change if they get married.
"It's actually the family that is the scariest to many gay men
and lesbians in Indonesia," Oetomo says. "Telling your mum and dad ' I'm not
getting married, I'm not giving you children.'"
Because of this kind of pressure, there are mainly two
alternatives - either gays and lesbians decide to get married just to please the
family or they run away from them.
Strong feeling of shame
Laura Coppens, a film producer from Berlin who is making a film
about lesbian women in Indonesia called the "Children of Srikandi," thinks most
Indonesian people are generally tolerant towards homosexuals but prefer not to
talk about it because of the strong culture of shame or malu in
says that one woman in the film said that she was not accepted by her family
anymore because she was a lesbian and the family felt ashamed.
strong feeling of malu is very important in the Indonesian society, says
Coppens who is also writing a thesis at the University of Zürich on lesbian
women in Indonesia.
is funny though, because if you don't talk about stuff in Indonesia, then it
doesn't bother anyone. There are cases of lesbian couples who live happily in
their neighborhood and nobody cares about them."
becomes a problem only if you talk about it," she says.
Oetomo agrees on this point, mentioning the example of
transsexuals who are popular as entertainers, but not if they are your
is why many Indonesian transsexuals run away from home, without any educational
background or skills, says Hartoyo.
Ironically, he adds, the place that is supposed to be the safest
sometimes turns out to be a very dangerous one for transsexuals.
Like in many other countries,
life for homosexuals is not easy in Indonesia. Experts also see the need for the
Indonesian government to improve conditions by fostering a culture of discussion
or providing more sexual education.
But for film festival organizer
John Badalu, it is also the duty of each homosexual to fight for his or her own
freedom and to say - I have the same right to live as any other citizen.
Author: Anggatira Gollmer
Editor: Ziphora Robina