Activists Rally Against Indonesian Gay Crackdown

Activists from Satu Pelangi and Rise and Resist gathered outside Indonesia’s Consulate General in Manhattan on June 5. | ANDY HUMM

BY ANDY HUMM | Stepped up official government attacks on gay men in Indonesia — including the arrest and public humiliation of 141 men at a gay spa in Jakarta on May 22 — were met by pickets at that country’s consulates in New York and San Francisco in the past week.

More than a dozen protesters, mostly from Rise and Resist, demonstrated outside the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia at 5 East 68th Street in Manhattan on the morning of June 5, timed to make the staff there aware of their concerns during business hours.

Luthfi Madjid of the New York-based Satu Pelangi (“One Rainbow”) organization for LGBTQ Indonesians, hand-delivered a group letter to President Joko Widodo calling on him to “disband the West Java anti-LGBT unit and devote police resources to protecting minorities from vigilante groups,” including in the Aceh province. There, Sharia law is being imposed on gay people and two gay men were caned brutally in public this past month.

Consulates in New York, San Francisco targeted over past week

The activists also drew attention to the recent forced HIV testing of 14 gay men arrested in Surabaya. The fact that anti-LGBTQ persecution has spread from the fundamentalist Aceh to the rest of the world’s largest Muslim nation has caused international alarm.

Luthfi Madjid (at right) after being admitted by a Consulate staff member (center), delivering a group letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, as Brendan Fay (back turned at left) looks in from outside. | ANDY HUMM

“You must end this unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral persecution by the Indonesian government and renew its stated commitment to human rights,” veteran gay activist Brendan Fay read from the letter, which was signed by Rise and Resist, GAYa NUSANTARA (the Indonesian group to “encourage people to be proud of their sexuality”) in Surabaya, Suara Kita, an LGBTQ news site in Jakarta, and the nation’s nonprofit Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICGR).

A consular official invited Madjid alone into the lobby and promised to deliver the letter to the president, but would not answer press questions.

In San Francisco’s North Beach district, Gays Without Borders, led by veteran activist Michael Petrelis, held a press conference outside the Indonesian Consulate at 1111 Columbus Avenue at noon on May 31 to “to deplore the many human rights violations in recent weeks.”

Petrelis posted on Facebook, “Four hostile and rude federal OFM [US Office of Foreign Missions] testosterone-driven agents in street clothes were present at the consulate entrance the entire time we engaged with Bernard Loesi, the diplomat for public affairs, and his security guard and assistant. SFPD officers remained across the street… Loesi promised on-camera to relay our concerns back to Jakarta, in writing, and we requested a copy of his report to the home office, which was denied.”

In 2016, President Widodo told the BBC in response to the crackdown on gay people, “Police must act, there should be no discrimination against anyone.” He added, however, “Indonesians have culture, have norms, and in Indonesia, the general belief does not allow it, Islam does not allow it.”

Madjid said the current wave of persecution of gay people is something “that everybody is aware of” in Indonesia and is being fueled by local governments opposed to the president’s rule. He said that for Widodo, the issue is a “very sensitive” one in view of elections coming up in 2019.

The persecution of LGBTQ people is “not new, it is getting worse,” Madjid explained, with the rise of fundamentalist groups.

Rise and Resist’s Ben Verschoor, who has an Indonesian grandmother, said that while Indonesia had a reputation as “relatively tolerant” among Muslim nations, homosexuality is increasingly being attacked as a product of “Western infiltration that’s trying to destroy traditional Indonesian culture.”

Jay W. Walker, also of Rise and Resist, said, “Many countries feel they are going to have a free pass with an administration that has abrogated the role that the US played on global rights.”

Indeed, both President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have publicly signaled they will not insist on respect for human rights from allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Philippines — though Trump did cite Cuba’s lack of respect for civil liberties in his efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s lifting of US sanctions on the island nation.

Elsewhere in the region, the Malaysian health ministry is offering a $1,000 cash prize for the best short video on “prevention, control and how to get help” for homosexuality. Sodomy there is a criminal offense punishable by prison, beatings, and fines.

In Singapore, the government this year cracked down on the Pink Dot LGBTQ gatherings — where “participants gather to form a giant pink dot to show support for the LGBT community” — held since 2009 by forbidding foreign sources of support. Participation in the gatherings by non-Singaporeans or those who are not permanent residents could lead to “a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both.” In response to the effort to diminish this year’s event, scheduled for July 1, 100 local companies contributed financially to support it.