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Dispatches: The Courage to Combat Indonesia’s Homophobia

Draconian new by-laws came into effect in Indonesia’s Aceh province last week, mandating harsh punishments for gambling and adultery, and the option of 100 lashes for gay people “caught” having sex.

Aceh’s strict Sharia (Islamic) laws violate many basic rights, yet LGBT people are particularly affected. Having long suffered violence and discrimination from society, Aceh’s LGBT population needs increased protection – not state-sanctioned persecution.

In response to a homophobic diatribe by a government official, an Acehnese LGBT activist (who fled the province in 2007 after his neighbors physically mistreated him) explained: “I’m gay, I’m not a product of the West, and I’m not alone.”

The horrors in Aceh haven’t abated. Only last month, Sharia police arrested two young “suspected lesbians” in Aceh’s capital for hugging in public. And Acehnese Sharia police and Islamist vigilante groups have been harassing and detaining transgender women in recent months with impunity.

Indonesia’s government has a long way to go to tackle pervasive homophobic discrimination elsewhere in the country.

Earlier this year, the country’s most influential Muslim clerical group issued a fatwa calling for same-sex behavior to be punished by caning up to the death penalty. The websites of Indonesian and international LGBT rights organizations have been blocked. And violent attacks on gatherings of activists and forced evictions of LGBT people remain uninvestigated.

In the face of such blatantly regressive laws in Aceh, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – should start to stand up for LGBT Indonesians. He’ll have the chance to do so this week during his official visit to the United States, when Jokowi will meet a political leader and a business leader who have made similar moves in recent years: President Barack Obama and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Obama has supported same-sex marriage and other rights improvements for LGBT Americans and has shown a commitment to LGBT issues in foreign policy.

Cook called being gay “among the greatest gifts God has given me” and has strongly and publicly supported LGBT rights in the US, vehemently opposing so-called “religious freedom” laws in the US, which can allow people to discriminate against LGBT people. “Opposing discrimination takes courage,” says Cook. “With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.”

Obama and Cook should urge Jokowi to better protect LGBT Indonesians when they meet this week. And Jokowi should have the courage to act.
 

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