Unending Discrimination for Transwomen under COVID-19 Period in Indonesia

By July 10, 2020 Learning, Newsroom, Regional

ferdian vs transwomen

Fanny Syariful Alam
Regional Coordinator-Program Director, Bandung School of Peace, Indonesia
[email protected]


On 4 May 2020, a local vlogger in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Ferdian Palekka[1] and his team produced and released a video with the content of a prank for transwomen in Kiaracondong, Bandung, West Java Indonesia. He was giving some boxes of food, however, they contained decayed food and trashes as well as some bricks[2]. In this content, he mentioned what he did was to assist the local government for monitoring the number of transwomen on the street because he thought it was inappropriate[3] for them to wander around during the holy month, Ramadan when most Muslims are fasting.

As known that transwomen[4] in Indonesia are impacted from the COVID-19 pandemic, through list of income as well as to access food and even places to live. Soon after, the video drew mostly negative reactions due to his insensitivity and humiliation towards transwomen. Eventually, the video was taken down officially by YouTube and Ferdian and his team were arrested by the police from public complaints. They were released around the end of May 2020.

What seems imperative to consider is the difficulty to see transwomen in Indonesia as having the same basic rights as other Indonesians. Despite diversity principles in Indonesia towards backgrounds of social and culture, most public and even public officials show various objections and hatred to accept the existence of transwomen and other LGB societies openly. Sometimes, it becomes a reason why most of public might accept the prank for the transwomen on YouTube channel.

The Basis of Stigma Against Transwomen (and other LGB Societies): Government and Religion

The vlogger at least mentioned the basis of his prank video ‘to assist the local government’. The local government of West Java categorized transwomen as a human deviation[5] against social and religion norms so as to coordinate with the provincial police to monitor them for being “public disturbance”. In 2012, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ Regulation No 12/2012 about the Guidance of Data and Data Management of People with Social Welfare Issues and Potential of Social Welfare Resources[6] was released and ratified by the local government of West Java through the West Java’s Regional Law no 10/2012[7] about Implementation of Social Welfare, underlining that one of the beneficiaries was minority group who referred to LGBT. It is inevitable to see some of them work on the street as sex workers since hardly any formal work accepts them as their employees, as a solution, most of them work in informal sectors, such as waitress, massage parlor, hairdresser, and stylist.

The negativity against transwomen as well as other LGB societies was almost formalized in the law of order by the local government and city municipality based on the recommendation of West Java’s Regional Ministry of Religion Affairs[8]  in 2016. In the same year, the allegation towards lesbians and gay men was spread by Islamic Defender Front[9] just because they lived in the boarding house together. The front raided their boarding house, displaying a banner written “NO LGBT are allowed in this area”. In the same city, another case occurred to some gay men who collaborated in Facebook as a community when some of police officers who undercovered as the community members found out that some members’ communication explicitly was considered out of norms or immoral to same-sex prostitution[10]. Two of the group moderators were apprehended by the police on 18 October 2018 along with some evidence, such as sex tools and contraception. this action inferred LGBT with false sexual orientation as the ones who should be fought openly. This action triggered some junior and high schools in West Java Province to settle their commitment to raid as well to eliminate LGBT students in their schools. Immediately, many local governments from the province encouraged the law of order which would restrict their existence by possible criminalization based on the State Crime Law.

Furthermore, the legalization of criminalization against LGBT through the applicable law as well as prank towards transwomen refers to the Islamic law conducts which forbid their existence and any of their practice. The religion basis tends to provide the justification for the societies as well as the government to discriminate and to hate them, and becomes a standard to settle the regulation or law to restrict their existence openly.

Reflections to Remember: We are All Human with No Exceptions.
What should we do?

The objection to admit LGBT societies’ rights, particularly transwomen’s, conjuncts with their sexual orientation conditions, which are condemned by existing religion, in Indonesia Islam due to the consideration of their deviation against God’s rules and nature. This ‘religiously legalized’ claim unfortunately becomes a fundamental in the establishment of existing applicable laws, mostly the ones of order for public. Therefore, it is socially justified when they encounter some raids and persecutions, meanwhile the government apparatus ignores their function to comply with the protection for all with no exceptions based on human rights perspectives.

Indonesia has ratified International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) through Law of Republic of Indonesia no 12/2005 about the Legalization of ICCPR which basically secures Indonesians to be respected for their civil and political rights. Three highlighted rights as the dignity of public with no exceptions based on religions, culture, languages, sexual orientations are the rights of life, free from persecution and inhuman actions, and personal freedom and security.  Despite the State Constitution and Ratified ICCPR legalization, the fact of intolerant and discriminative actions against LGBT all over shows a clear disconnection between the laws and their implementation. A reluctance occurs when some government apparatus with human rights perspectives face their colleagues backed up by religious groups with strong objections against LGBT. The latter mentioned is believed to have profound capacity to influence policy makers to show the condemn against LGBT societies.

The impact from the early elaboration could be seen under COVID-19 pandemic, when transwomen, in particular, encounter some severities, such as the income loss, loss of livelihood, and the loss of adequate places of living. Furthermore, as their gender identity is not legally accepted formal employment sector do not accept them, instead, they find informal jobs which meant financial loss during the pandemic period. In Indonesia, for example, this circumstance is underlined by Kanzha Vina, the head of Sanggar Swara [11], mentioning that more than 640 transgender people, mostly transwomen, in greater Jakarta, Indonesia have already lost their jobs, putting some hardships to support themselves. They face some upcoming problems for accessing social aids distribution, such as basic food staples, due to not having their identity cards and their gender identity. Fortunately, according to the news of UNAIDS, they set up a coalition for crisis response management, and it works well through inter-communities and partners as well as public’s fundraising and other food aids initiatives with positive response. It shows the evidence that humanity is still in people’s mind to share their help and to impose social affirmation as a part of Indonesian culture.

In general, will the leaders in this country direct their people to a shared sense of humanity?

Or should all of us finally stand for ourselves without their support?

Bandung School of Peace Indonesia is a youth organization working to empower youth in the city of Bandung, West Java, to improve tolerance, empathy and collaborative engagement to accomplish peace and social justice

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