Indonesia’s Attorney General’s Office announced this week that it had rescinded a job notice that not only barred lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) applicants, but suggested homosexuality was a “mental illness.”
Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission had urged the attorney general to withdraw the job notice. Its commissioner, Muhammad Nurkhoiron, denounced the “mental illness” argument, saying that, “Such a policy should not be used by any state institutions, including the Attorney General’s Office.”
This shift in tone was an important reversal for a government that for the past year and a half has taken virtually no action to stand up for Indonesia’s beleaguered LGBT community.
Beginning in January 2016, public officials fueled a flurry of anti-LGBT incidents across Indonesia with noxious and hateful rhetoric. This has included police raids on suspected gatherings of LGBT people, the restriction of international groups providing aid to LGBT-related nongovernmental organizations, and the closure of public transgender events. Authorities forcibly evicted LGBT people from their homes, and Islamist militants attacked LGBT activists.
There were also subtle bureaucratic shifts – with Indonesian government agencies and health professional associations joining the anti-LGBT chorus. For example, the National Children’s Protection Commission issued a decree against “gay propaganda” and called for censorship of LGBT-related information. The national professional association for psychiatrists proclaimed same-sex sexual orientation and transgender identities “mental illnesses.” And the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, called for criminalization of LGBT behavior and activism as well as forced “rehabilitation” for LGBT people. Several universities also banned LGBT applicants from enrolling as students.
In October 2016, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community. He declared that “the police must act” against actions by groups or individuals to harm LGBT people or deny them their rights, and that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.”
But until the attorney general corrected its job ad this week, no government agency had taken action to dial back the anti-LGBT bigotry compromising the safety and freedoms of many Indonesians.
The attorney general’s move should stand as an example of leadership for the rest of the government.