Bangkok, 1 March 2016 – On this Zero Discrimination Day, APCOM stands with the international community in expressing its strong concern over the recent unprecedented, sustained attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Indonesia. This comes at a time of growing discrimination towards LGBT communities in several other countries – a trend that APCOM, along with partners across civil society, strongly deplores.
The unparalleled collective derision towards sexual minorities across Indonesia began when the Higher Education Minister, Muhammad Nasir, called for a ban on LGBT individuals from attending universities because they clashed, in his words, with the country’s “standards of values and morals”. The Indonesian Ulema Council, the nation’s highest Muslim clerical body, then called for legislation banning “LGBT activities” nationwide. Zulkifli Hasan, chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly, stated that being LGBT was “at odds with Indonesian culture”. Most recently, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has likened the LGBT movement to “modern warfare” that formed a threat to national sovereignty.
Such stigmatising speech goes beyond merely rhetoric – it is being reinforced by restrictive government policies. Government agencies have sought to stop mobile instant messaging services from providing LGBT themed emoji (or icons), and, in some cases, have moved to prevent LGBT activists from exercising their right to freedom of assembly. The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) is the latest agency to enact a discriminatory rule against LGBT individuals by drafting a regulation to make TV programming “LGBT-free”.
Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has also called on the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to not finance any LGBT activities in Indonesia, including those that seek to empower a long vulnerable and stigmatized population. APCOM, in partnership with other organisations under UNDP’s regional programme Being LGBTI in Asia, has supported and contributed to activities that promote the equal rights and protection of LGBTI individuals and communities, such as the historic Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights and Health in Asia-Pacific and the Workshop on the Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Promoting and Protecting the Rights, including Health, of LGBTI People in Asia and the Pacific. Any moves to end funding directed to LGBT rights will leave a significant programming gap in the region, and contribute to further stigma and discrimination against these populations.
Discriminatory headlines have been displayed in newspapers nationwide, and social media hash tags #TolakLGBT (which means “reject LGBT”) and #DaruratLGBT (“LGBT emergency”) are being shared at an alarming rate.
“We are gravely concerned that growing anti-LGBT sentiment in Indonesia and elsewhere represents a significant threat to our quest for freedom and equality,” said Midnight Poonkasetwattana, APCOM Executive Director. “These words and actions unacceptably legitimise discrimination towards LGBT in society, and undermine Indonesia and other countries’ previously stated commitment to regional and global human rights and civil society empowerment protocols.”
Indonesia has adopted the United Nations Economic and Social Commission of the Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Resolutions 66/10 (in 2009) and 67/9 (in 2011). Each resolution calls on UN country members in Asia and the Pacific to ensure access to sexual health such as HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for gay men.
“We would like to remind everyone of what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in 2013: I respect culture, tradition and religion – but they can never justify the denial of basic rights,” said APCOM’s Chairperson, Dédé Oetomo, an LGBT rights pioneer and highly respected scholar of linguistics and sexuality studies from Indonesia.
Global and regional research studies conducted by UN agencies and other organisations and institutions have clearly shown that homophobia and transphobia hurt LGBT individuals’ ability to participate fully as citizens free from fear of harm. Such an environment harms their mental and physical health and sexual wellbeing, increases their risk of depression, and exacerbates the lack of access to HIV testing and treatment. By attacking social spaces in university and other academic settings, media representation and online platforms, these recent attacks particularly affect the health, safety and development of young LGBT individuals. A recent study commissioned by UNESCO found that, in Indonesia, LGBT individuals who were bullied or otherwise harassed in school said that affected their ability to learn and caused many to drop out; 17% of respondents in this study said they had attempted suicide.
To achieve zero discrimination against LGBT individuals, APCOM is urging everyone to stand up against discrimination whenever it arises, especially if it comes from the highest offices in a country. Actions that can be taken individually and collectively include:
- Reporting social media pages that promote abusive and hateful speech based on an individual’s sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity that are in breach of online protocols, such as Facebook’s community standards guidelines or Twitter’s abusive content policy (instructions on how to report abusive content are here for Facebook and Twitter); other local or regional social platforms usually have similar guidelines and regulations as well
- Signing petitions that call for swift action in addressing discriminatory speech against LGBT individuals
- Volunteering time and/or donating to support the work of LGBT advocates and community organizations, including APCOM and its community network partners in Indonesia such as Jaringan GWL-INA and other supportive institutions such as the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission and the country’s human rights lawyers coalition, Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia.
“It is all the more ironic and shocking that Indonesia – where the ground-breaking Yogyakarta Principles were established in 2006 – should witness such dangerous and regressive homophobia and transphobia,” concluded Poonkasetwattana.
These landmark principles, under the guidance of the United Nations and human rights partners, responded to well-documented patterns of abuse, to outline a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Yogyakarta Principles are a universal guide to human rights which affirm binding international legal standards with which all States must comply. They promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfil their precious birth right. APCOM and our partners urge the Government of Indonesia, which is a secular democracy, to heed these Principles and help lead the Asia-Pacific region to shape a future of safety, equality and freedom for one and all.