Debate in Indonesia on LGBT issue

JAKARTA • Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is in the grip of a debate on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The issue came into the spotlight late last month after Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir warned LGBT organisations to stay out of university campuses, accusing them of clashing with "standards of values and morals".

Recently, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla joined the fray, calling on the United Nations Development Programme to stop funding its LGBT campaign in Indonesia.

This has led human rights activists to warn that recent statements by public officials and religious leaders on the issue are ill-informed and may trigger discrimination in a country well known for its moderate form of Islam.

The Al Fatah Islamic boarding school in a Jogjakarta district houses transgender students. They had to be evacuated by police last week when members of the hardline Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) visited it.

"We just wanted to check whether they were conducting deviant acts. We wanted to straighten it out," FJI commander Abu Hamdan told journalists.

The boarding school is supported by Nahdlatul Ulama University, an arm of Indonesia's biggest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama.

Rights advocacy group Setara Institute has said it is concerned by a statement from the Indonesian Ulema Council calling for legal measures against LGBT community-related activities.

The spike in comments against the community is not helped by officials who say the orientation is a disease that can be cured, activists say. Mr Hartoyo, director of an NGO that protects LGBT rights, said government officials should be more careful in their comments so as not to further raise tensions.

THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Debate in Indonesia on LGBT issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe