LGBT In Indonesia Targeted By Islamists And Government

After the Indonesian defense minister compared LGBT people to a nuclear threat, Islamists targeted a gay community that used to be widely tolerated.

Police take down a demonstrator at a gay rights rally in Yogyakarta in February
Police take down a demonstrator at a gay rights rally in Yogyakarta in February
Nicole Curby

YOGYAKARTA â€" A Beyoncé impersonator in a silver sequined leotard takes the stage at the packed Oyot Godhong Café in this Indonesian city. One audience member is pulled onto the stage and fake breasts are wobbled in his face. The crowd goes wild.

Backstage, one of the performers introduces herself. "My name is Miss Sarita Karma Sutra," she says. A regular performer at the Reminton Cabaret Show, she is proud of her versality. "Sometimes I dress like Lady Gaga. Sometimes like Rihanna, Jessie J, Shakira."

After the show, the audience rushes to take photographs of themselves with the singers. But transgender women â€" or waria â€" as they're known here in Indonesia, aren't always greeted with such enthusiasm. In February, hardline Islamist groups threatened a longstanding Islamic boarding school for waria, forcing it to close down.

Kyle Knight, a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW), produced an in-depth report on the surge in anti-LGBT vitriol that has swept through Indonesia this past year.

"We saw the police failing to protect LGBT people when they were attacked by militant Islamist groups," he says. "We saw activists who had to burn their files and shut down their offices."

Even more "heartbreaking," says Knight, is that people who'd never experienced abuse or harassment from neighbors and family members suddenly found themselves under attack. "Because the media coverage was so negative and because this social sanction for abuse was coming from the highest levels of government, people who had previously been allies or at least accepted their LGBT friends and neighbors and family members, all of a sudden were turning on them," he explains.

The HRW report said LGBT groups faced local harassment, institutional discrimination and random violence in recent months and called it a "crisis'.

Until recently, LGBT Indonesians have largely been received with a mix of tolerance and quiet stigma, according to Dédé Oetomo, an academic who has been an LGBT activist in Indonesia since 1987.

"I'm not going to deny there's violence, especially for trans women â€" in the streets, in the parks, in the neighborhoods," he says. "But once you're past that, once you've actually proved useful, you're accepted, albeit begrudgingly. As it's been said over the years, it is possible to live as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, whatever. But you may not want to tell too many people…"

But as their visibility has grown over time, LGBT groups have also faced greater dangers. In many parts of Indonesia, LGBT people no longer able to gather in groups for fear of being attacked.

Activists and those providing support services, including HIV/AIDS assistance, have been among the most affected, says Knight. "They're scared. They've taken measures to protect themselves, by destroying files, for example, or not holding events, being extremely skeptical of new people they meet," he explains. “And this is where it’s scary."

Under Indonesian law, gay sex is not criminalized. And yet, some local governments have enforced laws that target and impinge on the fundamental rights of LGBT people, according to the advocacy group Arus Pelangi.

Now there is an attempt to outlaw gay sex at a national level, with a hearing currently underway at the Constitutional Court.

But Oetomo says that LGBT people show resilience despite the attacks leveled at them, adding that volunteers keep joining the Surabaya-based organization Gaya Nusantara. "It’s amazing how in the increasingly homophobic and trans-phobic environment, people keep coming out," the activist says.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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