It’s not illegal to be gay in the Indonesian city of Padang, but in the past six weeks as many as 18 LGBT couples have been apprehended for “psychological support and rehabilitation”. That was the term employed by the Civil Services Police. According to the BBC Indonesia, though, “support and rehabilitation” ultimately means an exorcism, utilised as gay conversion therapy.
In Indonesia, exorcisms are performed as a component of Islamic faith known as ruqyah, which is used to treat all kinds of maladies: be they arthritis, asthma, business failure, or insomnia. In the context of conversion therapy, it's believed that LGBT individuals can be cured of their “social sickness” by weeding out malevolent spirits and demons known as djinn. It is the view of many people in Padang—including the city’s mayor, Mahyeldi Ansharullah—that gay and transgender people are suffering from a kind of mental illness. The only way to cure them, they say, is through ruqyah.
Mayor Ansharullah is now working with Civil Service Police (Satpol PP) to eradicate what he sees as “immoral” LGBT behaviour in Padang. Satpol PP can seize whomever they suspect of being gay or transgender—and in the past few weeks they’ve detained more than a dozen individuals in anti-LGBT raids around the city. According to South East Asian news publisher Coconuts, the government has further agreed to work with certain civil society organisations to perform ruqya on the individuals in question.
"Here we have prepared ruqyah experts for them [the Social Services Agency],” said Lucky Abdul Hayyi, a member of one of those organisations, as reported by Covesia. “Usually men are possessed by female genies, this is what many of us encounter with LGBT actors. In addition, the transvestites will also be fostered by the TNI [Indonesian National Armed Forces].”
The presence of the so-called disorder was acknowledged by Aris Fathoni, an Islamic cleric who has been practicing ruqyah for the past 15 years. Speaking to the ABC, Aris explained that his method is to read religious verses to his patients and strike them on their back with a broomstick. He believes this practice can "cure" members of the LGBT community.
"There's been a number of cases who have reacted [to the procedure] meaning they're not pure and that there's a supernatural interference inside their bodies pushing them to commit [homosexuality]," he said. Speaking to the BBC, he elaborated further.
"If the ruqyah [patient] reacts, it means that it has something to do with the genie,” he said. “The reaction is sometimes dizzy, sometimes nauseous, and sometimes it may act like a bencong [Indonesian slang for a male homosexual or transgender woman], like a man but graceful, that's the term." After that, said Aris, "the genie comes out of the patient's body.”
While these kinds of homophobic attitudes are not prevalent throughout Indonesia, thousands of residents in Padang have recently rallied in favour of the initiatives that the local government is pushing—to “fight immorality in the city”, as Mayor Ansharullah recently put it.
The Indonesia Psychiatric Association still classifies homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism as mental disorders.