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Indonesia’s Unrelenting Anti-LGBT Campaign

Government Silence on Hate-Mongering Fuels Discrimination

The Indonesian government has done it again.

Continuing a campaign of anti-LGBT vitriol that began in January, the Youth and Sports Ministry has banned lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from entering the selection process for the “Creative Youth Ambassador” – a nation-wide effort to select a group of young people to promote creativity and competitiveness.

“We require someone physically and mentally healthy, not involved in promiscuity and sexually deviant behavior, including LGBT, which should be proven through a doctor’s certificate,” reads the ministry’s notice.

The ministry’s willingness to blend gratuitously discriminatory anti-LGBT rhetoric into an initiative ostensibly designed to boost youth employment is reprehensible. The characterization of LGBT people as “deviant” flies in the face of international consensus on health standards regarding sexual orientation and gender identity – including LGBT non-discrimination pledges by psychologists in countries such as Turkey, Brazil, and the Philippines. What is more, discriminating against an already marginalized minority flouts the government’s human rights obligations and undermines Indonesia’s international reputation as a place to do business – hardly a contribution that will boost the economy.

But discriminatory statements from government officials and agencies do more than just reflect poorly on the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Anti-LGBT statements by politicians and officials in 2016 ranging from the absurd to the apocalyptic have been accompanied by increased threats and violent attacks on LGBT activists and individuals – even a Muslim house of worship – primarily by militant Islamists. In some cases, the threats and violence occurred in the presence, and with the tacit consent, of government officials or security forces. Government commissions and ministries proposed discriminatory and regressive anti-LGBT laws, and officials testified in a court case attempting to criminalize consensual adult same-sex behavior.

The Youth Ministry’s announcement this week also echoes another menacing development allegedly aimed at tackling youth unemployment – a defense ministry and military-run training program called “Bela Negara,” which surfaced in 2016, and seeks to train citizens to defend the nation against “proxy wars” and “perceived threats such as communism, drugs and homosexuality.”

As more elements of the government bureaucracy join the noxious anti-LGBT chorus, the Jokowi administration’s rhetoric about its commitment to diversity and pluralism is becoming a tired and hollow refrain.

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