Indonesian police force 'manly makeover' on transgender beauticians in Aceh

 Protesters marching in an anti-LGBT demonstration in Banda Aceh on Dec 27, 2017.
Protesters marching in an anti-LGBT demonstration in Banda Aceh on Dec 27, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA (AFP) - Indonesian police forcibly cut the hair of a group of transgender women and made them wear male clothing, the authorities said on Monday (Jan 29), amid a crackdown on the LGBT community in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

The incident happened after police on Sunday raided several beauty salons in conservative Aceh province and rounded up a dozen transgender employees over claims they had teased a group of boys.

Police accused the employees of violating the province's religious laws.

Dozens of locals tried to attack the group of beauticians as they were hauled off to the police station, but they were pushed back by the authorities, they said. Police then lopped off some members' long hair with scissors as well as forcing the group to wear male clothing and speak in a masculine voice.

"We have reports from mothers that their sons were teased by the transgender women," local police chief Ahmad Untung Surianata told AFP on Monday. "Their numbers are growing here - I don't want that," he added.

Aceh on Sumatra island has been ruled by Islamic law since it was granted special autonomy in 2001 - an attempt by the central government to quell a long-running separatist insurgency.

This month, a Christian was publicly flogged for selling alcohol in the conservative region, making him only the third non-Muslim in Indonesia to suffer a public whipping.

Flogging is a common punishment under Aceh's religious law and local police are also known to shave the heads of those accused of anti-social behaviour.

The transgender women would be detained for several days followed by a five-day "training" regimen including efforts to make them walk and speak in a more "manly" way, as well as "morals teaching" by local clerics, police said.

"We want to change their mentality so they can be better people," Surianata said.

Homosexuality and gay sex are legal everywhere in Indonesia except in Aceh.

But police have often used the country's tough anti-pornography legislation to criminalise members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, and there has been a recent string of arrests.

Prejudice against transgender people has long been widespread in Indonesia but the discrimination is particularly acute in Aceh where Islamic law rules.

"It's very strange that officers (in Sunday's incident) would arrest innocent people and cut off their hair," said gay rights activist Hartoyo, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. "It's barbaric."