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Indonesian Religion Minister’s Contradictory LGBT ‘Embrace’

Bigoted Remarks Make Tolerance Plea Ring Hollow

Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin has a mixed messaging problem.

Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin.

On Monday, he called for Indonesia’s beleaguered lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population to be, “nurtured, not shunned.” That would appear to mark a reprieve from the onslaught of anti-LGBT harassment, intimidation, arrests, and violence – fueled by hateful rhetoric from other government officials – that has besieged Indonesian sexual and gender minorities for the past two years.

But not so fast. Saifuddin also set strict limits on his tolerance for LGBT people. He called for “religious adherents” to “embrace and nurture” LGBT people by reacquainting them with religious teaching, while in the same breath asserting that, “there is no religion that tolerates LGBT action.”

This is not Saifuddin’s first foray into doublespeak. In February 2016, as Indonesian government officials embarked on a feeding frenzy of anti-LGBT rhetoric, he said: “We cannot be hostile [toward] nor hate [LGBT people] as they are also citizens of the state. This doesn't mean that we condone or allow for the LGBT movement to shift the religious values and the identity of the nation.” That same month he urged nonviolence toward LGBT people while suggesting they were “mentally ill” and in need of, “treatment – either psychological or religious.”

That March he reiterated his conditional and contradictory approach to tolerance by calling for Indonesians, “to embrace [LGBT people] so they will be conscious that they live in a religious society which can't accept homosexuality.” And although Saifuddin attended an awards ceremony in August 2016 for the Alliance of Independent Journalists, which bestowed a prestigious freedom of expression award on two LGBT rights defenders, a week later he took pains to explain that he had no prior knowledge of the award winners’ identities.

Such dissembling makes many LGBT Indonesians – including religious leaders like Shinta Ratri, who runs an Islamic boarding school for transgender women – skeptical of Saifuddin’s embrace. Saifuddin’s flip-flops on tolerance for LGBT people are likewise no surprise to the country’s imperiled religious minorities. Saifuddin’s ministry is pushing a “Religious Rights Protection” draft law that in fact enshrines both Indonesia’s abusive blasphemy law along with decrees that restrict religious minorities from constructing houses of worship.

Saifuddin should publicly recognize and defend the rights of LGBT Indonesians, not subject them to cowardly and contradictory platitudes on “tolerance.”

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