Indonesia, my home country, is formerly known as a beautiful tropical country. Indonesians are known as friendly and polite citizens. However, there have been changes in the way people perceive Indonesia nowadays. Today, Indonesia with the largest number of Moslems, has been frequently reported as the country which is facing many aggressive and violent actions, especially religious-based violence. For sure I feel sorry and hurt to realize it. However, based on my personal experiences as a young lesbian, I cannot deny the fact that my LGBT friends and I have experienced so much violence by some religious groups, and unfortunately the State never makes clear actions to overcome these crimes!

The latest violence happened on May 9, 2012 in Yogyakarta where I’ve been living which also involved a lesbian Muslim refusenik: Irshad Manji. First, the discussion of her book “Allah, Liberty, and Love” which was going to be held at the Universitas Gadjah Mada/UGM (the oldest and second largest university in Indonesia) was then cancelled by the university. The main reason of this cancelling was people strongly rejected the presence of a lesbian Manji and her thoughts about renewal of Islam. Therefore, the academic forum had been cancelled in the sake of public safety. Strong resistance actually comes from conservative Moslem student organizations that have already dominated mostly campus organizations. Many Indonesians had no idea of who is Irshad Manji. They had just known her after the cancellation of the book discussion reported by media. At the same night, a “silent” discussion with Irshad Manji held at LKiS (Center of Islamic Studies and Social Transformation) was attacked by Mujahiddin, a group of Moslem fundamentalists and extremists in Indonesia. There had been 17 people got injured. The violent attack became a public and State’s attentions. The Chief of Indonesia Police even had promised to resolve this case. However, up to now (194 days after the incident) the investigation has not been completed even processed. Prior to Yogyakarta incidents, a similar discussion in Jakarta was attacked by Islamic Defender Front (FPI).

In 2010, Q! Film Festival as the only LGBT film festival in Indonesia was attacked by FPI in Jakarta and by Forum Ukhuwah Islamiyah (Yogyakarta). In Yogyakarta, Moslem student organizations were also involved in the attacking. At the same year, ILGA-Asia Conference (International Lesbian and Gay Association – Asia) in Surabaya was also attacked by FPI. A similar assault had occurred in 2000, still in the same city, Yogyakarta. Seventeen people were injured. However, none of these cases were successfully prosecuted in the court.

It has been indeed a long list of violence against LGBT in Indonesia. It is reported that every year, there have been one to three transvestites killed by hate-crime. LGBT youth are also vulnerable to experience abusive actions from the family circle such as being forced to leave the house, forced to marry and beaten. In the larger society circle, they experience cases such as being expelled from school and office, raped, harassed, and etc.

Therefore, in this writing I raise two big questions; How does the genuine culture of Indonesia consider sexuality? How the future of the LGBT movements will be in Indonesia?

Indonesian’s culture in fact recognizes the diversity in sexuality. For example, in Ponorogo, East Java, the people have specific tradition known as warog and gemblak in Reog Ponorogo. To be a warog or a reog leader, a man is required to have a lover–a younger man who is then called gemblak. Without the presence of gemblak, there will be no warog.

Another example is Bugis society in Sulawesi island. They even recognize five genders: Male, Female, Calabai (transgender male to female), Calalai (transgender female to male), and Bissu (gender transcendent which represents the entire gender). A Bissu is considered to achieve the inner perfection therefore only Bissu could play their role as the highest priests in Bugis.

In the Javanese literature, Indonesia has possessed Serat Centhini written by Pakubuwono V (the fifth Sultan of Surakarta kingdom in Java). He wrote the spiritual journey of the male character including the inner experience of sexual intercourse and his special relation to other fellow men. In the end, the whole experiences of his life had brought him to the inner perfection.

Indonesia, especially Java, also has its traditional dance in which its characters can be played by a different gender. For example, the Mask Dance from Malang and Cirebon. The later has Pandji as the male character depicted as a very masculine knight which is played by a woman. It is very common that every Javanese dancer must be skillful to play both types of dances mentioned as the masculine and the feminine ones.

Moving into a more modern era, the Java community has a special name for waria (transgender male to female), mentioned as Wandu abbreviated from wanita dudu which means not genuine female. This term is not meant to harass, instead it shows appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation which is very unique.


When an embryo of Indonesia was still in domination of Hindu and Buddha, collision between religion and issues of sexuality was not found. Conflicts began to come up after the coming of Islam in Indonesia in the 13th century. Not too far, in the 16th century, aristocratic society and kingdom of Bugis which had recognized five kinds of gender, had converted to Moslems. Since then, the existence of five genders, especially Bissu as the supreme spiritual leader of Bugis has become problematic because it is not in line with syari’a (Islamic Laws). Bissu is therefore no longer recognized as the supreme spiritual leaders and their existence are put in danger. At present, there has been only five senior Bissu in Bugis.

After the spread of Islam by Walisongo (one of the main religious leaders) in the land of Java, Ponorogo as the origin place of Reog Ponorogo had turned itself into one of the Moslem city in East Java. As the consequence, for the sake of obeying the Syari’a, Warog is now no longer allowed to have a sexual affair with his gemblak although in practice there are still some who keep this relationship secretly.

Along with the development of Islam in Indonesia, the history of sexuality in the realm of culture fades from awareness. It is no longer taught in schools. The curriculum design at schools must be in line with Syari’a. The elimination of this history of sexuality has certainly brought bad impacts. Indonesian society is no longer known with its natural diversity of sexuality which is in fact Indonesia’s cultural roots. Diversity in sexuality has been perceived as an alien or even a virus from the west countries which should be strongly rejected and removed by violent ways.


The development of science and technology has played its role in supporting people. One of them is the groups who fight for the recognition and protection of LGBT rights in Indonesia. Starting from the presence of Lambda Indonesia in 1982 (the first gay organization); today, there have been dozens of LGBT organizations both in local and national level, such as People Like Us-One Heart, Ardhanary Institute, Gaya Nusantara, Arus Pelangi, Our Voice, etc. These organizations consistently make campaigns for the rights of the LGBT community, seek support from other individuals and organizations including religious leaders, provide protections for LGBT, escort cases of violence against LGBT people, and try to create policies and government which are LGBT friendly.

However, the long history of violence against the LBGT and the absence of the State in recognition, fulfillment, and protection of LGBT rights have remained big trauma to the LGBT youth in Indonesia. Mostly LGBT youth do not dare to speak out or let alone join the LGBT movements. For example, the presence of the a secret LGBT student association, it is noted that there has been only about 20 out of 153 students who joined in the LGBT movement, either passive or active. The rest remains silent and “stay in comfort zone” only. In fact, the city of Yogyakarta and the UGM is known as a base of social movement in Indonesia. Therefore, it can be said Indonesia LGBT organizations are facing stagnant regeneration at present.


As an Indonesian young lesbian, I do expect that LGBT youth think again about their choices. In fact, we have prominent figures in Indonesia who have managed to survive and now they become public figures. We have Dede Oetomo, a Doctor in linguistic from Airlangga University. He is the founder of Lambda Indonesia and Gaya Nusantara. We have Didik nini Thowok, a cross-dresser dancer who is very popular and becomes an outstanding model for both traditional and contemporary dancers in Indonesia. We have Dorce Gamalama, a transvestite presenter who is adorable by many Indonesians, even she gain a special address: Bunda (mother). We have Iwan Tirta, an openly gay man, the expert of batik who had introduced batik to the world. We have Mr. Hamzah, a successful entrepreneur for Yogyakarta who gives live to thousands of employees. Indonesia has me, you, you, and You.

Let us see them who are never afraid of society and the state’s pressures. If you do not want to get involved directly in LGBT movements, at least you are brave to be yourself and be experts in your own field. You can become a good student, an honest lawyer, an inspiring teacher, a successful entrepreneur who care and contribute much on society. Be the best on your own field, well informed, open-minded and smart! Then you can come out of the closet smartly. Join challenging trainings held by LGBT organizations to strengthen yourself and communities. Let people know that you, who are successful and beneficial to the society and country, is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person!

Some of us, LGBT youth age 18-25 years old, have come out and proudly shown potentials in their respective fields. Among us are a young lesbian who has established a small advertising company and hired mostly young LGBT employees; a group of young LBT women has established a theater group and managed to include sexuality issues in their works; some lesbian writers who founded a lesbian online magazine; a young gay whose novel has been published and many of his short stories were published in national newspapers. Now, he is working for his own queer adventurous online magazine. There are also a young lesbian who founded sexuality and interfaith organization and another young lesbian who has established an English Education institution and design the curriculum which includes sexuality issues in its learning material. Young LGBTs also spread in several social organizations working on of gender justice, migrant workers, domestic workers, sexual and reproductive health, corruption and good governance issues, and so on.

What about me? Where am I on this map? I choose to join the peace-building movement among the youth. Currently I am active in Peace Generation whose members come from diverse identities, sexual orientations, beliefs, hobbies, universities, economic capacity, and so on. Before, I did not dare to be open about my sexual orientation to them. I am afraid to be rejected and isolated. In 2008, when I finally came out, only about 10% of them rejected me and no longer wanted to build friendship. One third of them respected my choice and decision and they openly expressed their supports to me, while the rest was still timid and kept a little distant, but the ice soon melted when we had closer interaction in various activities and daily routines.

The whole interaction process with peer friends in Peace Generation makes me realize that most people are resistant to LGBT precisely because they have never known people like me. The teaching of hetero-normativity notion as the only truth, massive religious teachings which corner LGBT groups as sinful people, and misleading news and the lack of trustworthy information about LGBT given by the media then raises suspicions, judgements and prejudices towards LGBT. However, once they are given the opportunity to get to know me personally (or other LGBT people), prejudice and suspicion might fade away.

From the same process, I learn to be brave to continue creating spaces of dialogue across identities among the youth. The activities can be varied such as from simply having coffee time and hanging out together, holding scientific discussions, to conducting public campaign on peace issues. Dialogue is a space where we have a good chance to both listen and be heard. We have a balanced opportunity to know others and be known. The courage needed to speak up is as big as to hear. Balance and equality are very important for the development of the youth mindset.

When my friends chose me to be Peace Generation’s Person in Charge, my space for introducing LGBT and sexuality issues have become more widespread. In our last two Peace Camp (2009 and 2011), I invited my homosexual and transgender friends to speak up as the discussion partners. As the follow-up, we also held some visits to various LGBT organizations in Yogyakarta and further we did several projects together. On the last International Day of Peace (21 September 2012), I initiated a new program called the Rainbow for Peace which gathered 350 youth from diverse identities –including LGBT– to show up and declare the pledge of peace by forming a human rainbow circle. This activity was supported by the Peace Generation itself and various other social organizations, as well as several small companies led by youth. This program now becomes our annual program.

All the positive responses that I gain during working together with Peace Generation have convinced me that the religious fundamentals will never be able to stop our voice. The supports for LGBT movement are in fact bigger than the threat we receive. What we, LGBT youth, need to do is gathering the courage and manage appropriate strategies to speak up.

Mr. Dede Oetomo once said, fundamental religious people who tend to attack us are just 10% of the Indonesian citizens, another 10% is us, the other 10% are the people who have already decided to support us, and the rest of it (70%) remains out there, still remains silent and think which idea should be supported. He has opened a big path for us, now it’s our turn to win the trust and support from the 70% of Indonesians.

Youth is in the heart of development. How the country respond to LGBT will depend on us, the youth. Therefore lift your chin up, and make a decision. Start from now on.