Homophobia in religiously totalitarian society — Sebastian Partogi
JULY 24 — Although the WHO (World Health Organisation) dropped homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses more than 22 years ago after a previous move by the American Psychiatric Association, the phenomenon of homophobia remains in place all over the world, including in Indonesia.
Simply put, homophobia is the fear of homosexuals due to the somewhat flawed but persistent belief that homosexuality is an illness and correlates with mental decadence. This fear can escalate into violence against homosexual people, which may take shape in various acts ranging from verbal bullying to hate crimes, such as murder or assault.
Although data on the number of cases relating to homophobia in Indonesia remain unavailable, violence against homosexuals is undeniably present in the country, as noted by sociologist and gay activist, Dede Oetomo.
Unfortunately, not all those working in the fields of psychiatry and psychology can help to clarify the exclusion of homosexuality from mental illnesses in order to reduce a society’s homophobic attitudes. Some psychologists even maintain that homosexuality is a deviance resulting from gender familiarisation that is not consistent with one’s assigned sex.
While those people in the fields of mental health studies have subscribed to the conviction about homosexual people’s mental illness, religious figures call homosexuals sinners. Recently, Hartoyo, the secretary-general of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) empowerment organisation, Our Voice Indonesia, protested against a statement issued by Nahdhatul Ulama’s (NU) women’s wing leader, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, who said homosexuality is a sin.
That statement is seen as problematic since it can reinforce homophobia in society, leading to dehumanisation and violence against homosexuals.
The protest was quickly met by a backlash from hard-line religious mass organisation, the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), which threatened Hartoyo to stop advocating LGBT rights, saying homosexuality was haram (forbidden in Islam).
This sort of situation poses a real threat for homosexuals in Indonesia. While some practitioners of psychiatry and psychology have tried to introduce the idea that homosexuality is not an illness but is instead an inherent sexual preference that is beyond the control of a person, people seem to see what they want to see and opt to ignore scientific research and deliberation. That’s why homophobia is still very prevalent in Indonesia.
The consequence of homophobia is by no means small. According to Williams et al. (2005), homosexuals are more likely to suffer from depression due to the prejudice they experience in society. A research by McDaniels et al. (2001) has shown that homosexuals have suicidal tendencies seven times higher than heterosexual people. This, again, has something to do with public rejection and humiliation.
Unfortunately, in light of Indonesia’s move toward becoming a religiously totalitarian nation that despises diversity, homophobia is just growing stronger. This time, the homophobia shields itself in the shroud of religious piety.
This tendency is dangerous because once people use religion as their justification for violence, they no longer see the victim of violence as a human being. Rather, the victim is viewed as a defective object that deserves to be destroyed because he is sinful, dirty and, therefore, provoking the wrath of God. Unfortunately, nobody can turn back the clock in response to the Islamic totalitarian trends that pervade Indonesia today. On the one hand, superficial religious symbols are being injected into people’s consciousness and Islamic hard-line organisations have become moral police of sorts with the authority to punish those who don’t fit in with their version of morality.
On the other hand, oppression and intolerance are growing stronger: Homophobia, anti-liberalism (which seem to go hand-in-hand with homophobia, since hard-line Islamists attribute homosexuality as being a product of decadent Western liberal ideology) and fascism are all gaining ground.
The right-wing religious groups spread fear in order to control diversity and minority groups. They exploit the status as the “majority” in order to act against minorities and call it democracy.
They don’t subscribe to the idea of pluralistic democracy in which justice is for all, including minority groups. On the contrary, they hate pluralism and classify it as an undesirable ideology, along with secularism and liberalism.
Homosexual people — as well as other minority groups — are coming under threat in this increasingly religiously totalitarian society. Homosexuals, however, need to fight not only homophobia but also intolerance, which lies at the root of homophobic attitudes.
They only have to create a counter-narrative and counter-discourse to battle the hard-line groups’ claims of “morality” and “truth”. This can take the form of an essay, fictional short story, movie or discussion.
I am very happy to see some movies on homosexuality produced this year, like “Sanubari Jakarta” (The Heart of Jakarta), which was produced in fictional short-story format, and “Parts of the Heart” and “Children of Srikandi”. Recently, pluralism’s champion, the organisation Bhinneka, organised a fictional short-story competition with the theme of LGBT lives.
Hopefully, by creating these counter-narratives, homosexual people can act as an “antibody” against the fundamentalist, totalitarian “virus” in our midst and demonstrate that everyone has equal rights to just treatment. — The Jakarta Post
* The writer is a psychology teacher and school counsellor at the Gandhi Memorial International School.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.