Letter from Indonesia: I'm gay, I'm not a product of the West, and I'm not alone

Published: March 9, 2013

On Monday March 4, law professor Arief Hidayat, stood before members of the House of Representatives and answered questions to determine his fitness for Indonesia’s constitutional court.

In a series of answers delivered to the commission of elected officials, Hidayat declared that all Indonesians ought to believe in God, and that the country, an emerging economic power with a population of 237 million, should implement only those human rights standards that are “compatible with the local context.”

Then he was posed a more specific question: should the country recognize same-sex marriages?

The answer was no.

“The idea can be accepted in the United States but not here because, theologically, Indonesia defines marriages as being between a man and a woman,” the Jakarta Post reported him saying.

Later that day, 42 of the 48 commission members elected him to a five-year term on the powerful court.

The statements, and their affirmation by the vote, drew the ire of Indonesian LGBT rights activists.

“It seems the portrayal of same-sex marriage as a Western product was not only appreciated by some parliamentarians, but also by the leadership of influential Islamic organizations here,” Hartoyo, a prominent LGBT rights activist in Jakarta, told 429Magazine, referring to media reports following the vote.

He was especially disappointed because Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, two of the Islamic organizations, “receive money from international donors for HIV programs in which they work with gay and transgender populations.”

In 2007, Hartoyo’s plight became infamous after it was made public that he was tortured by police and civilians who caught him living with his male partner in Acheh, the province in northern Indonesia ruled by repressive Sharia (Islamic) law since 2003.

“The perpetrators dragged me, beat me, verbally abused me, then called the police on us,” he said.

According to testimony given to the Asian Center for Human Rights, the men were further harassed in custody and sexually abused by police officers. Denied access to a bathroom for many hours, Hartoyo’s partner was then forced at gun point to urinate on his head.

“This all happened in Indonesia, to Indonesians. Gay Indonesians,” said Hartoyo.

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