End bias against LGBT people, say Indonesian bishops

Comments made by top state officials are provocative, say prelates
End bias against LGBT people, say Indonesian bishops

Anti-LGBT Muslim group members march to block pro-LGBT protesters in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 23. The gay community in conservative, Muslim-majority Indonesia is facing a sudden and unexpected backlash, with ministers and religious leaders denouncing same-sex relations. (Photo by AFP)

The Indonesian bishops' conference has called on the government to end discriminative practices against LGBT people following a string of campaigns condemning the community across the country.

On Jan. 23, higher education minister Muhammad Nasir said LGBT people could destroy the country's moral values. A month later, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said that the community was part of a proxy war that had the ultimate goal of controlling the nation.

"Remarks saying that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a threat must be stopped. They can provoke many people to act on their own," Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, secretary of the bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, told ucanews.com on March 2.

"Government officials must serve as wise role models," he said.

The priest said that the Catholic Church never welcomed same-sex relations but added that LGBT people's rights need to be respected.

"The government has an obligation to protect them. We cannot run away from them. Instead, we must embrace them," said Father Siswantoko.

Ma'ruf Amin, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, was less conciliatory saying that the government should offer rehabilitation programs for LGBT people since "we see them as violating the nature of human beings."

He said the council strongly condemns any activities of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"Therefore, we call on the government to monitor or to ban foreign stakeholders from funding any activities done by LGBT people in this country," he added.

An Islamic boarding school for transgender students in Yogyakarta was affected by such campaigns. On Feb. 24, authorities temporarily shut down the Islamic Al-Fatah School and banned any activities from taking place on its premises following pressure from local hard-liners.

Teguh Iman, of the Jakarta-based Suara Kita (Our Voice), an LGBT advocacy organization, said the current atmosphere has made him fearful.

"We feel very sad. Many see gays as criminals just like pedophiles. This is totally wrong. We feel worried that such statements can lead to violent acts against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," he said.

Iman said he hoped people will stay calm and that Indonesia can be a place where LGBT people can feel safe. "No matter what, we are citizens who also pay taxes," he added.

During a March 2 discussion in Jakarta, Rocky Gerung, a lecturer of philosophy at the state-run University of Indonesia, said campaigns condemning LGBT people violated principles of individual freedom.

"I'm afraid that Indonesia will go backward in terms of civilization if everything is ruled by the state," he said.

Gerung said that the state should instead uphold the constitution. "Opinions from certain groups or religious organizations cannot be put into practice just like that. It can spark persecutions," he said.

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin has maintained that the state guarantees the rights of LGBT people, but rejects their behavior based on religious understandings.

"In general, religious teachings are in line with universal values. Thus, all religions can't tolerate any behavior or practice of LGBT people. Since Indonesia is a religious society, the constitution doesn't accommodate or give space to such behavior," he said at a Feb. 18 meeting, as quoted by his ministry's website.

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