Health / How Indonesia’s fight against HIV and AIDS is undermined by LGBT ‘panic’

By: Tom O'Connell - Posted on: December 4, 2018 | Current Affairs

In May 2017, Jakarta cops raided the Atlantis gay gym and sauna, which was also a public health outreach centre, arresting 141 men, some of whom were prosecuted under Indonesia’s pornography law. Since 2016, officials in the Muslim-majority nation have wielded the four-letter “LGBT” as an epithet and warning as anti-gay persecution amped up. Southeast Asia Globe spoke with Aditya Wardhana of the Indonesia AIDS Coalition ahead of World AIDS Day, observed every 1 December since 1988 and dedicated to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS

gay sauna_Jakarta_Indonesia_detainees_press conferences_LBGT_Southeast Asia Globe 2018
Men hide their faces at a press conference in 2017 after being caught in a police raid on a gay sauna in Jakarta that netted 58 detainees

How does the Indonesia AIDS Coalition engage with the LGBT community and the issues it faces?
The Indonesia AIDS Coalition (IAC) has a vision of a country without stigma and discrimination, where rights of the key affected populations (KAPs) of HIV infection – such as LGBT persons, sex workers and those who inject drugs – are being recognised and fulfilled, especially the rights of access to health services. Our mission is to create a secure environment where KAPs can access health services. The LGBT community has been a significant member of KAP due to their sexual activities that are at high risk for HIV infection. We have many LGBT people on staff and we are close to the LGBT community and organisations. IAC’s three-year work plan includes programmes that support LGBT organisations by helping them organise and advocate for an LGBT-friendly environment.

The July 2018 Human Rights Report on anti-LGBT matters in Indonesia stated that “public health outreach to such populations has become far more difficult, making wider spread of the disease more likely.”
This issue has been raised in numerous national HIV response programmes, and although the number of new HIV infections is not significantly increased, the fact that outreaching is becoming more difficult is putting the country at a very high risk.

The report says Indonesian anti-LGBT rhetoric began in 2016 and included a mayor warning mothers that instant noodles and formula make babies gay. Why did this “moral” panic begin when it did, and how do you educate people about the dangers of this rhetoric?
LGBT issues have been here for a long time, but just recently became extremely visible. In addition to family pressures and bullying, LGBT in Indonesia now are facing persecution and criminalisation. I believe this was triggered by some power-hungry politicians who recognise the LGBT issue as a tool or easy target to increase their popularity, just as they use the religious issues. We have identified the power of media in spreading the rumours, so we are trying to use it to get the opposite result. We also keep doing advocacy works towards related stakeholders, all the while building a response mechanism to avert LGBT-related incidents.

Are HIV and AIDS organisations in Indonesia hindered in their efforts by this anti-LGBT movement? Do you have any allies in power?
Very much so. Many LGBT activists and organisations started to work underground because of threats. These took us a few steps back because a well-built community is not as strong without the LGBT organisations. We have partnerships with the government and other international partners, but most of them are fully supportive on health-related issues only, while human rights violations are more complicated for them to intervene in, mainly because they are bound by their own laws and regulations.

What advice would you give LGBT Indonesians and gay-friendly establishments in navigating this hateful environment? How can people protect themselves?
Be alert all the time, especially in conducting events and travelling. Keep in contact with a lawyer, and inform at least one friend before travelling anywhere. Be careful on social media and meeting strangers, especially social media acquaintances. Avoid holding or attending LGBT parties. Get educated on laws and regulations.

Aditya Wardhana_Jakarta_Indonesia_Indonesia AIDS Coalition_Southeast Asia Globe 2018Author: Aditya Wardhana

Aditya Wardhana is the executive director of the Indonesia AIDS Coalition


This article was published in the December 2018 edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. To subscribe to our newsletter, click here