BY ED SIKOV | Fear and horror among Indonesia’s LGBT community as gay sex ban looms” is the disturbing headline of a piece by Ben Westcott on cnn.com. Westcott begins his reporting with the story of a young gay man whose life could be drastically upended if the bigots have their way.
“When Ael left home to go to school in Jakarta, his parents warned him to be careful in the big city. ‘Be a kind person,’ his mother told him. He worked hard and found a good job as a teacher in the sprawling Indonesian capital, but seven years later the 23-year-old is fearful for his future as a young gay man in a country which increasingly views homosexuality as a sin and, potentially soon, a crime. ‘Many people don’t like us... they don’t like us being more visible, so they are preparing laws that can criminalize us,’ Ael, who asked for his surname to not be used, told CNN. Within weeks, lawmakers could vote on a new law that looks set to criminalize sex outside of marriage and homosexual sex in Indonesia, as part of wide-reaching changes to the country’s criminal code. ‘If the penal code is approved, I don’t know our future in Indonesia,’ Ael said.”
The American press has been largely silent — or, at best, muted — on Indonesia’s anti-gay crackdown. Just before Christmas, the New York Times ran an article by Jeffrey Hutton on the subject: “Steven Handoko admits it wasn’t his most dignified moment. Naked as the day he was born, the bookish 25-year-old had been invited on stage by one of the strippers hired for a party at the Atlantis Gym. That hardly qualified as outrageous behavior in the red-light district of Kelapa Gading in North Jakarta, where the Atlantis was located. Nearby were plenty of venues with suggestive names like the Playboy Sensation, massage parlors for straight men. The Atlantis was a gay sauna in a conservative country, but given the generally live-and-let-live milieu of the Indonesian capital’s night life, Mr. Handoko felt safe, if a little embarrassed.
“But he wasn’t. Soon after he took the stage, the police stormed the premises. Officers herded naked, cowering men into the middle of the room and began taking photos, some of which — including one of Mr. Handoko — appeared on Indonesian social media within hours. He and 140 other men were taken away.
“‘When a future employer Googles me, this is what they will see,’ Mr. Handoko, an aspiring journalist, said last week in an interview at Cipinang prison in Jakarta, where he has been held since the raid in May.”
The week the Times article ran, Handoko was sentenced to two years and three months in jail.
CNN’s Westcott points out that “despite its widely held Muslim beliefs, Indonesia’s population didn’t always openly discriminate against LGBT people.
“‘Indonesia has a long history of tolerance towards queer communities. It’s always been described as one of the most tolerant countries in Southeast Asia to its queer population,’ Tim Lindsey, director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the University of Melbourne, told CNN.
“But a recent poll by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting released in January found 87.6 percent of Indonesians believed LGBT people were a threat to Indonesia while a 2013 Pew Research poll found 93 percent of Indonesians thought homosexuality was ‘morally unacceptable.’”
In late January, Westcott, together with Mochamad Andri, wrote a terrifying piece on the vicious harassment of transgender women in the province of Aceh: “Police in a conservative province of Indonesia forcibly shaved the hair of a group of transgender women and made them wear men’s clothing, state media reported, in a crackdown on the LGBT community that has horrified human rights activists.
“A group of 12 women were taken into custody during raids on five beauty salons early Sunday morning, North Aceh Police Chief Ahmad Untung Surianata told [Indonesian news agency] Antara.
“The police chief said his men had shaved the women’s hair off and given them men’s clothes to wear, as part of their ‘coaching’ to ‘become men.’
“‘In addition, the officers also nurtured them by way of having them run for some time and telling them to chant loudly until their male voices came out,’ he said.
“Surianata said the operation had been part of a campaign to prevent LGBT people from ‘adversely affecting’ Indonesia’s next generation. The women were taken to a police station for ‘further guidance,’ Antara said. One can only imagine what kind of ‘guidance’ they were offered.
“The police chief later told CNN that the operation began as a response to complaints that women in the salons had been offering free services at their salons to high school boys, as well as reports of drug use in the area. He denied that it was specifically an anti-LGBT operation.”
Thanks to Media Circus reader and commentator JTT for pushing me to write about this issue.
It didn’t take long.
“Less than one day after his appointment was announced,” Cindy Watts and Dave Paulson write in the USA Today Network affiliate The Tennessean, “former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has resigned from the Country Music Association (CMA) Foundation board of directors, following criticism from multiple members of the country music industry.
“‘The CMA Foundation has accepted former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s resignation from its board of directors, effective immediately,’ said Amber Williams, CMA vice president of communications and talent relations. The announcement follows criticism from members of the country music industry, as well as country music fans.
“Jason Owen, co-president of Monument Records and owner at Sandbox Entertainment, called the appointment a ‘grossly offensive decision’ in an email to the association’s CEO Sarah Trahern and CMA Foundation executive Tiffany Kerns. Owen wrote that due to Huckabee’s election to the CMA Foundation’s board, neither his companies nor anyone they represent would continue to support the foundation. Owen and his husband Sam are fathers to a young son and are expecting twins. Owen said that Huckabee’s stance on the LGBTQ community ‘made it clear my family is not welcome in his America...’
“Sugarland’s Kristian Bush visited Dodson Elementary School in Hermitage last week with the CMA Foundation. His manager Whitney Pastorek, who is a CMA member, penned an email to CMA executives questioning how many children in the school’s diverse population Huckabee would choose to welcome.
“‘What a terrible disappointment to see [the CMA Foundation’s] mission clouded by the decision to align with someone who so frequently engages in the language of racism, sexism, and bigotry,’ Pastorek wrote. ‘While Gov. Huckabee’s tenure in Arkansas may have resulted in valuable education reform over a decade ago, I find his choice to spend the past 10 years profiting off messages of exclusion and hatred (not to mention the gun lobby) to be disqualifying.’”
Huckabee — or Hucksterbee, as I like to call him — is the publicity hound who showed up in faux triumph at the farcical 2015 liberation of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to abide by the law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a ludicrous spectacle set to the tune of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” (he was sued for using the song and settled by paying the songwriter $25,000). He is also currently one of the chief arguments against heterosexual procreation, having spawned the ever-constipated-looking Rump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders.