by Asti Widihastuti (The writer is a medical doctor and researcher at Atma Jaya HIV Research Center. Views expressed are her own)
Pros and cons regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people have existed in Indonesia for quite some time, however, recent comments expressed by Indonesian leaders, such as ministers, majors, governors, religious leaders, community leaders, professionals and the Indonesian vice president have led to heated debates in the media and to a certain extent society at large. A statement by the Minister for Research, Technology and Higher Education M. Nasir, that LGBT communities should be banned from campuses due to their alleged threat to Indonesian values and morality, which came in response to pamphlets distributed by an organization at the University of Indonesia (UI) called Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC), set the ball rolling.
Shortly after, upon the Indonesian government’s demand that all instant messaging apps remove same-sex emoticons, LINE Indonesia has already dropped its same sex emoticons. Moreover, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) through their ‘broadcasting code of conduct’ and ‘broadcasting program standard’ has started banning any LGBT content from television, radio stations and other broadcasting channels. Furthermore, a closed workshop by a LGBT group in Jakarta was shut down by the police in response to a report by the hardliner group Islam Defenders Front (FPI). Following this, the Indonesian Vise President, Jusuf Kalla, instructed UNDP not to fund LGBT programs in Indonesia, as they ‘are not in accordance with the current social values of the nation’ (Jakarta Post, 15 February 2016). In a TV show at a national TV channel, the director of the directorate of mental health and drug abuse, a psychiatrist, stated that LGBT people suffer from mental health disorders. Recently, Minister of Social Affairs, Khofifah Indar Parawansa stated that LGBT people can be cured through Emotional, Spiritual, and Quotient (ESQ) training.
Meanwhile, diverse reports in the mass media, both printed and online, have dealt with LGBT issues in a sensationalist, panic-fueling and one-sided way. Headlines such as “Rejection of LGBT”; “Number of LGBT community is rising”; “LGBT are a curse”; “LGBT are animals”; and, “Indonesia facing LGBT emergency state”. The framing of these news reports and debates caused a moral panic within larger society, which had never been equipped with adequate knowledge of gender and sexuality. For instance, many Indonesians still confuse and or associate homosexuality, which is a sexual orientation, with pedophilia, which is a sexual/psychiatric disorder (paraphilia), in which an adult is sexually attracted to prepubescent children. LGBT issues were also sensationalized in connection with a number of widely featured criminal cases, allegedly committed by LGBT. Furthermore, the Indonesian Psychiatrists Association stated that homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexualism are mental disorders and can and should be cured.
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual are terms referring to the sexual orientation of a person: heterosexual referring to the sexual and emotional attraction toward the opposite sex; homosexual referring to the sexual and emotional attraction toward the same sex; and bisexual referring to the sexual and emotional attraction toward both sexes. A transgender is an individual with a different gender identity or expression than the sex assigned at birth. A cisgender is an individual who identifies herself/himself with the sex they were assigned at birth. The Indonesian expressions for transgender are priawan (a biological female identifying as man) and waria (a biological male identifying as woman).
So what is the medical view on LGBT persons? Within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V (DSM-V) and Guidelines and Classification of Mental Disorder Diagnostics III (Pedoman dan Penggolongan Diagnosis Gangguan Jiwa/PPDGJ III, a reference of classification of mental disorders in Indonesia) sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual) are neither classified as disease nor mental disorder. This is in line with the World Health Organization (WHO). However, what is classified as a mental disorder is “ego-dystonic” sexual orientation, a condition when an individual experiences strong rejection toward his/her own sexual orientation.
(The DSM V is now using the term ‘gender disforia’ (referring to stress that accompanies the discrepancy between one’s assigned gender and one’s identified and expressed gender). This term is more descriptive and in the DSM 5 it is used to replace the previously used term ‘gender identity disorder (in DSM 4), in an effort to emphasize the clinical context rather than the gender identity).
LGBT communities have been part of human communities all over the world since ancient times. For instance in South Asia, there have been records of Hijra, male to female transgender individuals, dating back more than 4000 years. Today, the hijras are officially recognized as third gender in Pakistan and Bangladesh. LGBT people have also been part of many Indonesian traditional cultures. But in recent times, amidst raising conservatism, LGBTs are increasingly portrayed (by the media) and perceived (by society) as a new and foreign phenomena, an import from the West. But, the gender system of the Bugis ethnic group in South Sulawesi, which recognizes five genders, clearly contradicts this view. The Bugis gender system divides society into the following five genders: cisgender female (makkunrai); cisgender male (oroane), and three other alternative gender identities called Bissu, Calalai and Calabai. Bissu are generally considered male to female transgender, but also include intersexed individuals (who were born with both biological sexes) and rarely female to male transgender. Calabai are individuals born as biological males, who have taken on the role of heterosexual female with a feminine gender expression. A Calalai, on the other hand, is an individual born as biological female, but who has taken on masculine gender expressions and is living as a heterosexual male. The Bissu, Calalai and Calabai occupy important roles within the Bugis’ traditional society, especially on a cultural and spiritual level.
The recent hysteria and moral panic over sexuality and gender in Indonesia testified to widespread negative and discriminatory attitudes toward LGBT within society. The dominant discourse did not allow for neutral and fair positions, and little attention had been paid to the real focus of the Indonesian LGBT movement, which is to end widespread discrimination against LGBTs, change negative attitudes within society, and promote more self-acceptance, and not marriage equality, as had been claimed by some media. Throughout the debate many government officials and community leaders took a public stance against homosexuality, further marginalizing LGBT communities.
Public announcements and statements about LGBT issues by state officials, professionals, and community leaders have been crucial in shaping public opinion. But rather than taking a neutral and fact-based stance and promoting tolerance, the overwhelming majority of them chose to denounce LGBTs based on religious and moral grounds. The recent controversy has thus highlighted the overwhelmingly negative attitudes toward LGBTs among government officials, professionals and community leaders, which is at odds with the official national motto “Bhineka Tunggal Ika” (unity in diversity).
Professionals are supposed to adhere to a code of ethical and professional conduct, which requires them to be objective, independent and professional. Personal views, values and interests must not interfere with their professional functions. Furthermore, government officials are duty bearers of human rights, who should respect and protect the basic rights of all citizens of Indonesia, to be able to access accurate information, to be free from discrimination, to express their opinion freely, to form groups and or organizations, as well as other basic human rights.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan (Jakarta Post, 16 February 2016) expressed that LGBT communities are also Indonesian citizens, who have human rights and need to be protected. But while he also stated that LGBT people suffer from a mental disorder and therefore needed to undergo therapy, his position at least complies with a basic human rights approach. Ignorance and misconceptions about LGBT communities should be stopped, and it is the responsibility of the government to provide protection of all citizen, including LGBT communities.
The government should ensure that state officials act professionally and in accordance with their roles and functions and adhere to their ethical and professional code of conduct. Officials who do otherwise should be warned and reprehended. Similar mechanisms are also needed for professional associations, through their ethical boards, to make sure that members of their professional groups provide statements and expert opinions in line with the profession’s ethical and professional code of conduct and expertise, rather than personal views based on morality and religion.