IDAHOTB Series: Indonesia

By May 14, 2021 Advocacy, Newsroom, Regional

Contributor :
Marcellinus Jerry Winata (Jerry)
Head of Bawah Anambas Foundation

In his current position, Jerry is spearheading the work of Bawah Anambas Foundation, an independent Indonesian foundation focusing on improving the ecosystem in the Anambas archipelago of Indonesia both underwater and terrestrial while ensuring to lift the welfare of the community.


Bawah island, Riau island, Indonesia,Thursday, April 8, 2021.

Jerry spent a big part of his professional career in development work, ranging from lifting people out of poverty with the World Bank, to improving the nutrition of impoverished children and pregnant mothers with the United Nation’s World Food Programme.

Before joining Bawah Anambas Foundation, Jerry consulted major corporations in Indonesia to strengthen their sustainability strategy and make their practices safer for the environment, in line with the government of Indonesia’s ambition to reduce its carbon emission. Jerry also helps the company to establish a foundation focusing on forest and peatland conservation and restoration.

Jerry is also a self-claimed culinary enthusiast and an adventurous eater, unfortunately not blessed with a high metabolism. Therefore, he compensates for this by taking part in a lot of outdoor activities such as tracking, running, swimming, and scuba diving. You will never catch him travelling without his running shoes.

“The Obama Foundation honours, appreciate and celebrates the leaders for their authenticity regardless of how different they are from society’s expectations.”

Marcellinus Jerry Winata (Jerry)
Head of Bawah Anambas Foundation

Growing up as a non-Muslim, gay man from a Chinese family in the largest Muslim population in the world back in the ’80s was not a walk in the park, to say the least. I hit the trifecta of discrimination. Back then, being Chinese was more “dangerous” than being gay. Though back then, the general public is less familiar with the concept of homosexuality, to them, “homosexuals” are limited to cross-dressers and transgender people.

I am truly privileged never to have to hide my true self, not with my family and not at work. This is because I was fortunate enough to get a good education that led me to secure employment in non-discriminatory institutions that protect the rights of LGBTQI.

In my current position as the Head of Anambas Foundation – an Indonesian non-profit organisation focusing on Environmental Conservation and Community Development – I made sure we have a non-negotiable anti-discriminatory policy against gender, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

The downwards trend for LGBTQI rights Indonesia started in 2016. The University of Indonesia – arguably the best university in the country – wanted to create a Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC) on campus that would provide counselling services for the LGBTQI community. This seemingly harmless initiative started a chain of events that led to a massive witch-hunt against the LGBTQI community across the country that continues to date.

The Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education stated in a national media that there is no place for LGBTQI in the education institution because it was “not in line with the nation’s moral values” and asked the University of Indonesia to disband the SGRC.

After the statement from the former Minister, there was a tsunami of discrimination against the LGBTQI community. Law enforcement officers unlawfully raided private residences and prosecuted two [sure, sometimes even more] consenting adult men performing consensual sex. The Indonesian Psychiatrists Association (PDSKJI) has even re-classified homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexualism as mental disorders. Businesses and residential landlords were forced to let go of their employees and tenants who are transgender people, forced them to be out on the streets, and many became sex workers to survive.

As Indonesia and the world still swept by the COVID-19 Pandemic, close to 10 million people lost their jobs in Indonesia by February 2021. Coupled with the ongoing discrimination against the LGBTQI communities, the challenge to get formal employments even post-pandemic is insurmountable. What choice do they have other than to repress who they are? That could cost them their mental health and increase the risks of sexual infections due to fear of getting proper education and preventative measures.

A 2019 survey about homosexuality by United States-based Pew Research Institute found that 9 percent of Indonesians agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, an increase from only 3 percent in 2013. Frankly, this number does not mean much to me. Recently, 15 people in the armed force and police received a dishonourable discharge because they were gay and “threatened the values and discipline of the armed forces”. This has triggered right-wing academics to classify LGBTQI as a massive threat to the nation’s social fabric and should be criminalised.

Being part of the inaugural cohort of Asia Pacific Obama Foundation Leaders has shown me that there is no one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter leadership style. Still, one value that is very important for leaders to have and is authenticity. The Obama Foundation honours, appreciate and celebrates the leaders for their authenticity regardless of how different they are from society’s expectations. I decided a long time ago never to let hatred dictate who I love while fully aware of the risks of being an openly gay man in Indonesia. This has allowed me to live my life as my authentic self, and I carry this to my professional life. Often, I come across young adults with tremendous potential but still find a hard time accepting themselves and being confined to society’s expectations. When I meet these individuals, I try to empower them to be free from these shackles of “expectations”. Few of them are now working with me in the Foundation. I feel we owe it to our gay brothers and sisters who do not have the same privilege as some of us do to show them what’s possible. Because representation matters.