Anti-gay hostility threatens Indonesia’s AIDS battle, say activists

A man places a placard as he prepares a message during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign on the eve of World AIDS Day in Kolkata November 30, 2017. — Reuters pic
A man places a placard as he prepares a message during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign on the eve of World AIDS Day in Kolkata November 30, 2017. — Reuters pic

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JAKARTA, July 4 — Rising government and public hostility towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia is threatening the battle against AIDS in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, activists and an official said.

Homosexuality is not regulated by law in Indonesia, except in the conservative province of Aceh, but the country has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT people, which have forced many members of the community underground.

The group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week hostility was making it harder for the LGBT community to get access to public health programmes, putting people at greater risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

“The Indonesian government should recognise that its role in abuses against LGBT people is seriously compromising the country’s response to HIV,” said Kyle Knight, LGBT rights researcher at HRW and author of the report.

“One particularly troubling aspect of the anti-LGBT panic is that public health outreach to such populations has become far more difficult, making wider spread of the disease more likely,” the rights group said.

The prevalence rate of HIV among gay men in Indonesia has jumped from 8.5 per cent in 2011 to 25 per cent in 2015, it said.

Indonesia recorded 46,357 new HIV infections in 2017, with nearly a quarter of those among men who have sex with other men, according to government and UNAIDS data. Other groups included sex workers and intravenous drug users.

A senior health official said the increasing hostility to the LGBT community was disrupting the relations between health workers and people who need their help.

“For a long time, health workers were able to meet these groups in certain places,” Dr Windra Waworuntu, director general of infectious diseases at the health ministry, said on Wednesday.

“But with the anti-LGBT feeling now, health workers find it difficult to reach them. It’s similar to when red light districts are broken up and health workers have difficulty in reaching sex workers.”

A spokesman for President Joko Widodo declined to comment when asked about rising anti-LGBT sentiment among the government and public but senior government officials have called for gay rights advocacy to be restricted.

Indonesia’s parliament looks set to criminalise same-sex relations, something that Islamist groups have long pressed for, while police have stood by while vigilantes have stormed “gay sex parties”.

Police have also stepped up raids on gatherings at spas and hostels, charging some people with violating strict pornography laws.

In 2016, Vice President Jusuf Kalla asked the UN Development Programme to stop US$8 million of funding for LGBT-related programmes in Indonesia.

This year, a survey found that nearly 90 per cent of Indonesians who understand the term “LGBT” felt threatened by the community, while the Indonesian Psychiatric Association and the Health Ministry stated in internal documents seen by Reuters that being LGBT was a mental illness. — Reuters

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