To Kill Two Birds with One Stone: Resourcefulness among Trans Women in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in the Time of Corona

Dédé Oetomo, Chairperson, APCOM

A young gay neighbor of mine, 20, has been out of work for a month. All members of his family are out of work. The other night he texted me saying he only has one meal a day, in order not to be a burden to his family. He’s too proud to accept my offer to share a meal with me. Now he can at least do odd jobs like washing neigbors’ cars.

Another young gay man from my neighborhood, 26, a construction worker, was asked not to come to work renovating a house, because the owner is too afraid of Coronavirus transmission if the worker comes into the house. At the moment he has work until the end of the week, but nothing is guaranteed after that.

These are just two of many similar stories everywhere in Indonesia. Many LGBTI organizations and other charities are raising funds to provide basic staples and a little money, but one does not know until when this can last.

Mami Tata Soelaiman & Bunda Rully Mallay ifo Eben-Ezer halfway house

Bunda Rully Mallay and Mami Tata Soelaiman, senior leaders of the waria (trans women) community in Yogyakarta came up with a more sustainable idea. They received an offer from a local Christian hospital to sew 2,500 facemasks a week. The hospital administrators knew them from their work with the urban poor, street children, the homeless and PLHIV. But they had no sewing machines. Space was not an issue. They had had a halfway house, Eben-Ezer, which was donated by a Christian charity.

Fortunately a friend of Yogyakarta’s waria community, American Bob Ostertag, scholar, writer, musician, film maker, heard about the group’s need, and how little was actually needed to buy used sewing machines. A quick donation of US$200 was made available to buy five sewing machines, and the group went to work at once.

Facemasks will still be needed after the pandemic subsides, so the small amount goes a really long way. What is admirable is that the waria shared the activity with poor gay men, retired male sex workers and other people who could join them.

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