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Indonesian Church decries cancellation of US envoy visit

Jessica Stern’s trip to discuss LGBT rights was called off following objections from Islamic organizations

US special envoy Jessica Stern was originally scheduled to visit Indonesia from Dec. 7-9

US special envoy Jessica Stern was originally scheduled to visit Indonesia from Dec. 7-9. (Photo supplied)

Published: December 05, 2022 11:47 AM GMT

Updated: December 05, 2022 12:18 PM GMT

Indonesian Church activists lamented the cancellation of the visit of the US special envoy to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons following opposition from hardline Muslim groups.

The US embassy in Jakarta announced on Dec. 2 it was canceling a visit by Jessica Stern to the Muslim-majority country planned for Dec. 7-9.

The announcement came after some Islamic organizations, including the Indonesian Ulema Council, said her mission was not in line with the country’s prevailing norms.

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“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials, and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” US ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim said in a statement.

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, an activist from the legal and human rights desk at the Indonesia bishops’ conference, accused the Muslim groups of “making up" reasons.

“It's hard to understand how the visit could be considered out of step with norms. What norms will be violated? I don't see that such a visit would be harmful," he told UCA News.

He said such rejection would only exacerbate discrimination against LGBTQI+ people, which was triggered by strong religious-based views.

“By following the will of such groups, the state contributes to perpetuating discrimination. The state takes care of it," he said.

“Are LGBT people really not human? If we talk about human rights, they belong to all levels of society, regardless of their background, including their sexual orientation," he added.

Hendrika Mayora Victoria, a 35-year-old Catholic male-to-female transgender and LGBT activist based in Catholic majority island of Flores, said this was another form of homophobia and "overly negative perceptions of LGBT people."

"What I also regret is that the state has not taken a firm position not to bow down to certain groups,” she said.

“Supposedly, even though there are groups that oppose it, the government can take a position. What is the capacity of an institution like the Indonesian Ulema Council to ban the visit? Are they above the state?” she added.

She said there were indeed many concerns that LGBT groups would demand rights that had been recognized in a number of countries, such as same-sex marriage.

"We are very realistic. We can't possibly fight for it, while basic rights are still difficult, also to be able to access jobs," she said.

Initially, Stern was scheduled to hold meetings with a number of government officials and civil society representatives to discuss human rights, including efforts to advance the rights of LGBTGI+ people.

Anwar Abbas, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, said the visit "risks damaging and messing up Indonesia's religion and culture with the issues it brings to defend the human rights of LGBTQI+ people."

Meanwhile, Masyhuril Khamis from another Islamic group, Al Jam`iyatul said Stern's visit would “trap our children in movements that destroy morality.”

LGBT people are still vulnerable to discrimination in Indonesia.

In December last year, Bogor city in West Java province passed a regional regulation on the prevention and control of sexually deviant behavior.

Between 2006 and 2017, the LGBT rights group Arus Pelangi recorded 172 cases of persecution in Indonesia, including intimidation, physical and verbal abuse, and maltreatment. It's thought many other cases went unreported.

Ambassador Kim said in her statement that “knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist.”

“Countries like Indonesia and the US can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”

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