Last week in Jakarta, I met leaders of the Support Group and Resource Center on Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Indonesia, who were brimming with confidence about their work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
What a difference a week makes.
On January 24, the minister of research, technology, and higher education, Mohammad Nasir, denounced the group for not being “in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia.” Even worse, Nasir said he “forbids” the existence of LGBT-oriented academic groups. Although he later backtracked, the LGBT community interpreted his statement as a broader government assault on their rights.
Nasir’s comments are the just latest in a surge of public pronouncements from prominent figures attacking LGBT Indonesians over the past year. And rather than defending those rights, Indonesian government officials are in some cases leading the charge in undermining them.
In March 2015, the Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s most influential Muslim clerical organization, issued a fatwa, calling for same-sex behavior to be punished by caning. In October 2015, Sharia (Islamic law) police in Aceh province arrested a pair of young women for “hugging in public.” In November, Brawijaya University authorities cancelled an LGBT event claiming they received threats. And last month the rector of the University of Lampung threatened to expel any students or lecturers involved in LGBT work.
The government’s failure to protect the rights of LGBT people – to non-discrimination, privacy, and education, among others – runs counter to its obligations under international human rights and Indonesian law. The complicity of educators in denying LGBT rights is also deeply troubling.
The government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should publicly condemn Minister Nasir’s comments and ensure he demonstrates his ministry’s commitment to equality by encouraging all Indonesian universities to provide safe space and accurate information to LGBT students.
If Jokowi needs support, 12 United Nations agencies – many operating in Indonesia – recently signed a pledge to help governments end violence and discrimination toward LGBT people. He should also ensure that Indonesian authorities thoroughly investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of rights violations against LGBT people, including violent attacks, forced evictions, and harassment by law enforcement.