Debunking myths about LGBT persons in Indonesia

As members of the LGBT club, where we are all card-carrying registered members, we are often subjected to attacks, threats, religious condemnation, named as threats to national security or even blamed for climate change. Typically, much of these claims stem from the following reasons: their own insecurities of losing their hetero-cis privileges, a need to maintain a conservative environment that upholds the status quo, or a politically-motivated distraction from corruption. While this can be tough, annoying and ultimately a toll on our self love, these attacks have made us resilient and pretty much experts on gender and sexuality. So, let’s debunk the myths and examine the attacks against the LGBT community in Indonesia.

LGBT not welcome at university: Minister

#1. LGBT persons are very much part of the ancestry and values of Indonesia

Firstly, sexual and gender fluidity and diversity have always existed in many parts of South East Asia, including Indonesia. In Sulawesi, the Bugis community defined gender according to these categories:

  • Bissu (a meta-gender identity; a combination of all genders)

  • Calabai (present-day trans man)

  • Calalai (present-day trans women)

  • Man

  • Woman

#2. Discrimination is not part of our moral values

Secondly, the school is a place for education for all irrespective of sex, gender, class, race, disability, etc. Let us spell this out for everyone - discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characterics, is no different from discrimination on the grounds of someone’s religion or gender. Denying or restricting people’s access to education has a long-lasting impact on people’s lives, and on accessing other fundamental rights, such as the right to employment and housing.

Globally, many LGBT young people and students experience bullying in educational institutions among other places. A recent study in 2014 by University of British Columbia that the researchers published in the International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies examined the relationship between school policies and programs, discrimination due to perceived sexual orientation, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. In schools where anti-homophobic policies and gay-straight alliances had been implemented, the odds of suicidal thoughts for LGBTQI youths were reduced by over 50%. These schools also had significantly lower odds of sexual orientation discrimination for heterosexual youths.

Saipul Jamil’s action can be considered as situational pedophillia

#3. LGBT persons and pedophilia

Pedophilia, or now known as pedophilic disorder has been established by the mental health community and the DSM as an intense and recurrent sexual interest in prepubescent children, and a disorder if it causes a person “marked distress or interpersonal difficulty” or if the person acts on his interests.

It is a common and dangerous misconception that all people who experience pedophilia are child sexual abusers. It is important to note that not everyone who experience pedophilia act on their desires, and some are against sexual violence against children. However, the taboo, stigma, criminalization and misconceptions of pedophilia further create barriers for people to seek assistance, speak out and develop effective strategies to assist people who experience pedophilia.

In addition, not everyone who has sexually violated a child experiences pedophilia. Sexual violence towards children is compounded by many factors. Ageism continues to justify the lack of information regarding sexual violence, and access to legal redress for children. This further removes agency of children and young people to articulate their experiences and seek assistance and redress, and prolongs the trauma even into adulthood.

It also important for LGBT persons to not victimize pedohilia in our attempt to distance ourselves from the misconceptions. While this is difficult, we must dispel myths and correct misinformation, so that people do not have to suffer because of stigma.

The leading Indonesian psychiatric body has classified homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism as mental disorders, which it says can be cured through proper treatment.

Indonesian Psychiatrists Association (PDSKJI) member Suzy Yusna Dewi said that most of the time, the aforementioned sexual tendencies were triggered by external factors, such as the influence of a person's social environment, and therefore they could be healed through psychiatric treatment.

Referring to Law No.18/2014 on Mental Health and the association’s Mental Health and Mental Disorder Diagnostic Guidelines, the PDSKJI categorizes homosexuals and bisexuals as “people with psychiatric problems”, while transgender people have “mental disorders”.

She stressed the importance of upholding national values and norms. “We must respect Indonesian traditions, which culturally do not accept same-sex marriage, and we should not bow to the influence of foreign values that may not fit in with our values,” said Suzy.

Indonesian psychiatrists label LGBT as mental disorders February 24 2016

#4. Being LGBT is not a mental disorder

In 1973, homosexuality was officially removed from the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) by the American Psychiatric Association.  

Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence explains that sexual orientation is not a mental disorder, but LGBT persons face more prejudice, and discrimination than non-LGBT persons. Prejudice and discrimination create a hostile and stressful social environment, resulting in “minority stress” that makes LGBT persons more vulnerable to  some mental health problems (such as depression) than non-LGBT persons. However, these extra mental health problems would not occur in a society that fully accepts LGBT people.

In May 2012, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer publicly apologized for publishing badly designed research that was then used to promote the use of corrective or reparative therapy to ‘cure’ gay and lesbian persons. In May 2014, three members of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) questioned the US regarding the use of conversion therapy in a majority of its states. In 2013, Exodus International, a US based group that promoted conversion therapy for LGBT persons shut down and apologized for promoting a hurtful and ignorant practice.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario, young LGBT people face 14 times higher at risk for  suicide and substance  abuse than their heterosexual peers. Conversion therapy further increases the risk of depression and suicide in a population that is already vulnerable.

The British Psychological Society has specifically denounced the attempt to pathologize homosexuality and other LGBT identities in Indonesia.

#5. Gender is a spectrum     

Gender dysphoria is currently still classified as a disorder in the DSM 5 (the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual). However, the name and description of gender dysphoria, which was previously known as gender identity disorder, has been revised to reduce stigma towards transgender persons. It is also important to note that gender dysphoria is not a transgender-exclusive experience. Anyone can experience gender dysphoria. The current classification provides mental health professionals a way to provide care and support services to people who experience gender dysphoria. It also provides transgender persons and allies a legitimate and scientific yet problematic argument to explain trans identities, and counter unsubstantiated claims that gender is binary and transgender persons can be corrected. On the other hand, being included in the DSM carries much stigma, as mental health issues in general are heavily stigmatized. More importantly, access and full recognition of our rights should not be contingent upon having a pathology. Gender is not a mental health issue or a disorder.

In March 2015, Medical University of Vienna announced in a media release that "the very personal gender identity of every human being is reflected and verifiable in the cross-links between brain regions," with distinctions specifically in what's known as brain "white matter." The early findings further affirm that gender is a spectrum.

Gender identity exists on a scale, rather than in narrow dichotomized groups. In essence, trans people had brain chemistry approaching the middle of the gender spectrum -- inherently different from their biological sex and closer to their identified gender. For example, a trans woman has significantly different brain movement than a cis man, despite having the same biological sex. Moreover, trans men and trans women were different from each other, implying that the brain shows a wide range of gender based differences, rather than simply male or female.

Tangerang Mayor: Instant noodles can make your baby gay

No findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors

The Annual Report National Commission on Violence Against Women in 2015 reported 37 cases of violence towards LGBT in 2014. The commission also identified that violence towards LBT mostly came from the family institution, followed by society. Types of violence include rape, being forced to get married, and being forced to wear specific attires that reflect a person's gender assigned at birth. Arus Pelangi’s research between 2010 - 2013 in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Makassar also found that LGBT persons experience multiple forms of violence from family members.

While there is no evidence-based information to support these claims, the references to instant noodles and baby formula underscore a few issues - poverty, maternity leave, and promotion of baby formula to encourage mothers to get back to the workforce, and yes, general sexism and policing of bodies and choices made by cisgender women and parents. The statements also show that state actors are disconnected from reality, and do not offer meaningful solutions to address inequality.

What can you do?

  1. Stop the fear mongering. Write evidence-based materials to counter unsubstantiated claims, share stories, data and other materials to educate people.

  2. Talk to your friends, family members and others in your circle about gender and sexuality (but don’t put your safety at risk by doing so).

  3. Volunteer at human rights organizations to help them respond to the attacks. Don’t know which organisations are in your city? Use our navigator request!

  4. Share and retweet important announcements by Arus Pelangi and other groups.