In 2002 the Indonesian Government granted legal autonomy to Aceh, allowing the province to institute Islamic Sharia law, a framework that explicitly punishes homosexual acts.
It was subsequently reported that 52 regions across the islands of Sumatra and Java adopted laws prohibiting homosexuality, including the city of Palembang in South Sumatra where punishment includes jail and fines.
Indonesian lobby group Arus Pelangi launched a campaign against these regional statutes in October 2006.
Many LGBT people are arrested and detained, often without charges or clear reason, only to be released after a few days, Arus Pelangi spokesman Widodo Budi said.
Traditionally, there have been no laws pertaining to homosexuality in Indonesia, a fact made more astonishing because it is the world’s most populous Muslim nation. In terms of gay equality, Indonesia’s decision to institute Sharia law regionally was a step backwards.
Robbie, from North Sumatra, and Andrew, from West Java, both categorically rule out this regional precedent sweeping the country.
Aceh is a very strict Muslim area. I think the Government allowed it to happen because the culture is there already. Jakarta is more accepting of diversity, Robbie said.
Indonesia has matured over the past 10 years, the country has become more progressive. People in Aceh represent a minority view on the subject as well as on the nation’s constitutional aspiration, said Andrew.
In 2003 the justice minister attempted to introduce nationwide legislation punishing those convicted of homosexual acts with a prison sentence of up to 12 years. The bill never passed.
The national government doesn’t care about criminalising homosexuality or gay rights. Homosexuality in Indonesia is between you and your family, not you and the government. It’s all about whether your parents accept you. Not how the government accepts you, Andrew said.
I think it’s really important to have laws protecting the rights of gay people, but you can still get around the laws and customs. It’s not as important when you know how to work the system.
In public people behave, dress appropriately. In the career ladder it can be difficult because if you’re high up in companies you may be forced to marry and have a false wife. People do get married, but they have boyfriends. It is all about appearances in my country.
For the sake of appearances there are no explicitly signposted gay bars in Indonesia.
There’s no such thing as a gay bar. The bar manager also acts as a PR person and recognises the huge potential for a gay clientele. So he will spread the word around that there’s a -˜special’ party on a dedicated night. Everyone else thinks it’s just a club, said Andrew.
Both Robbie and Andrew agree that corruption is rife throughout the country, a practice that has implications for gay harassment.
Homosexuality is not illegal, however, if you’re caught holding your same-sex partner’s hand, you could be harassed by the general public and possibly the police, which can lead to an arrest on a trumped-up charge purely for money, Andrew said.
Gay is ultimately seen as a meaningless or less purposeful life in Indonesia. It’s not considered a true life. The solution to making homosexuality culturally more acceptable is a lot of education, Robbie said.

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