29 December 2014

She Just Wants To Walk Home Night Without Watching Her Back

Even though I am happy to hear that an anti-sodomy law has been overturned, or some government or another has added language to its civil-rights laws to protect transgender or gender-variant people (or "gender identity and expression"), I long ago realized that laws and policies are not, by themselves, sufficient to protect us from physical harm, let alone bias.  And a country's laws and policies are no guarantee of a person's rights or safety in any particular part of that country.

Indonesia is a case in point.  Even though the nation, which is an archipelago straddling the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has no laws against homosexual acts--and its people are generally tolerant--there are parts of the country that are simply dangerous for LGBT people.  In a way, that's not surprising when you consider that Indonesia's population, the fourth largest in the world, includes more Muslims than anywhere else in the world, and among the Islamic community are conservative enclaves that live, in essence, under Sharia law.

One of those areas is the Aceh province, which was so devastated by the tsunami that struck exactly a decade ago this past weekend.  Less than a year later, the province gained autonomy in a special treaty that ended a three-decade old insurgency.  As a result, Aceh can create its own laws, including the one banning homosexual acts, which passed in September.

Authorities have said they'll wait until the end of 2015 to start enforcing it, ostensibly to allow people time to "prepare for it".  But haters don't need that time: Already there have been beatings and gay and trans people have stopped going out in public as couples.  Three years ago, a transgender makeup artist in Banda Aceh was stabbed to death after she held up a stick in response to a man's taunts.  And, Violet Gray, the area's main LGBT organization, began burning documents in October out of fear that they could be raided and put the area's close-knit LGBT community--estimated at about 1000--at risk.

Aceh is often said to be the most conservatively Muslim area of Indonesia:  That is no surprise when one considers that is where the Islamic faith first came to the area.  However, many fear that such restrictive laws and a dangerous climate will not be limited to that province, and that other conservative areas like South Sumatra and East Java could follow Aceh's lead.  Teguh Setyabudi, the Aceh Home Ministry's head of regional autonomy--and a Violet Gray member--expresses hope that the new Aceh law will be overturned (under newly-elected President Joko Widodo) and stop other provinces from enacting similar laws.  

All she wants, she says, is to be able to walk home without watching her back in fear.  "Being like this is a fate, not a choice," she says. "What makes people wearing a jihab and peci"--the woman's traditional veil and the traditional cap worn by Muslim men--" feel so righteous that they can condemn other people as sinful?"

What, indeed?

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