Saturday, April 17, 2010

Longing for Acceptance, Homosexuals in Indonesia Find Hatred and Discrimination

The fourth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) Asia Regional Conference that should have taken place in Surabaya in late March had to be canceled following intense pressure from hard-liners grouped under the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). This took place despite the fact that the conference had already obtained approval from the South Surabaya Police.

This certainly indicates a failure of the police in protecting the rights of citizens to gather and express themselves. Our rights as citizens, as guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution, have been trampled by hard-line groups. Their actions, enforcing their will on others with the use of violence, clearly runs counter to the law. It is difficult to understand how the police, as a state apparatus, hold no authority or power over groups that use violence to achieve their ends. Even the minister for religious affairs, Suryadharma Ali, came forward to say conference organizers could face criminal charges of contempt on religious and decency grounds.

This is not the first case of banning a gathering in the country. Fresh in our mind is the case this past February when transexuals held a social charity night in Banda Aceh and incurred criticism from local ulema. Teungku Faisal Ali, secretary general of the Aceh Ulema Association (HUDA), said that “this activity has sullied the implementation of Islamic Shariah law in Aceh.” In the West Java town of Tasikmalaya, the chairman of the local chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), Achef Noor Mubarok, said his organization would conduct “a guidance course” for 900 of the town’s homosexual residents in cooperation with the religious office and the town’s police. He argued that being gay was a mental disorder as well as a hardship.

The general misconception of homosexuality in Indonesia is still very strong even though assertions that homosexuality is a mental disorder have long been rebutted. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off its list of mental disorders. The World Health Organization, on May 17, 1990, officially removed homosexuality from its list of diseases, leading to the adoption of May 17 as the International Day Against Homophobia.

In Indonesia, a Manual for the Classification and Diagnoses for Mental Disorders, issued by the Ministry of Health in 1983 and again in 1993, states that sexual orientation (homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual) should not be seen as a disorder. The Health Ministry has made the manual a reference for mental health practitioners and academics across the country.

Therefore, accusations by individuals or groups that homosexuality is linked to mental disorder or disease are merely assumptions and unfounded.

I myself am a homosexual who continues to obediently practice Islam. I was raised in a Muhammadiyah family and environment. I am a Muslim who believes in the teachings of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, including the obligation of praying five times a day, fasting and also doing good deeds unto others. There are no differences between my religious rituals and those of Muslims in general. My Islamic conviction is not like those branded by ulema as “devious,” such as those from the Ahmadiyah or Lia Eden sects, or even Shiites.

The question that always disturbs me is why is there such hatred against homosexuals among ulema, especially the hard-liners among them. And this hatred is not only limited to ulema, but also is shown by the government. Almost all regional regulations on prostitution and vice put homosexuality in the same basket as prostitution.

Case in point is a 2004 Palembang city ordinance on the eradication of prostitution, which states that “prostitution is an action that is engaged by anyone or any group that is consciously aimed at obtaining sexual satisfaction outside the binds of legal marriage, with or without involving material or monetary compensation.” Included in this definition of prostitution are similar actions by a) homosexuals and b) lesbians.

This regulation and hateful religious views remind me of when I was learning religion as a small child and was told that Allah promised heaven for Muslims. The Prophet, speaking through Abu Dza, said Archangel “Gabriel told me that ‘Whoever dies in a condition where he or she does not tie Allah to anything else, then they will enter heaven and not hell.” (HR Bukhari)

In the Koran itself, it is written: “And those who disbelieve and deny our signs — those will be the companions of the fire; they will abide therein eternally.” (QS Al Baqarah: 39)

“Infidels,” in my understanding, are people who do not believe in the teachings of Allah and Muhammad. If analyzed further, this simply means that even though I am gay, as long as I believe, I can have the good expectation that Allah will put me among those who are promised heaven. Never mind that the image of heaven as depicted in the doctrine — full of beautiful and eternally young female angels — does not really interest me. I do not have any attraction to women. My heaven would be one full of mature and handsome good men.

It would be very difficult, maybe even impossible, for me to shed my love for and attraction to men. Equally difficult would be for me to shed my strong belief in Islam. Those two things cannot be taken away from me, even by force, violence and loss of life. In such a situation, would I then blame Allah for creating me as I am, as a gay person?

Why is it that non-Muslims, who are labeled as “infidels,” are seen as being much better by ulema and the Muslim community in Indonesia than homosexuals who have faith? Even though I am fully aware that my non-Muslim friends are not granted the same status, at least they are far better off than me as a gay person. My non-Muslim friends still have clear legal protection, politically and economically.

Numerous are the national and international polices that respect and protect differences due to religious beliefs, but this is not yet the case for us homosexuals. We are not even talking of having our rights met and protected. Homosexuals are criminalized, just like prostitutes, seen as sufferers of mental disorders and have other scary accusations made against them.

Why is it that curses, contempt and insults are thrown at us, seeing us as sinners and the harbingers of disaster for human life? Are all Muslims not brothers? Isn’t the respect for others the essence of the teachings of Islam? These questions continue to fill and occupy my conscience, but I do believe that only Allah holds the right to determine whether being homosexual is a sin or not. By Hartoyo general secretary of Ourvoice, a Jakarta-based gay rights group .

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