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I'm a Gay Man and I'm Not Voting in Indonesia's 2019 Election

This time, I refuse to choose the lesser of two evils.
Indonesian election gay vote
Illustration by Dian Permatasari

President Joko Widodo's choice for his running mate in 2019, the controversial Islamic scholar Ma’ruf Amin, confirms one thing: minority groups, including the LGBT community, have no place in Indonesian politics.

As a gay man who lives abroad and is well informed on the discrimination of my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends in Indonesia, I'm disappointed with Jokowi. Ma'ruf, as a leader of the country's biggest mass organization Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI), has always been vocal about his anti-LGBT views. There's no true friend in politics, indeed, as the only thing eternal is personal interest. However, I think this time Jokowi has pushed it too far to secure his victory.


I remember when Jokowi announced his decision to run for president with Jusuf Kalla as his VP in the 2014 election. Some of my friends and I questioned that decision. During their campaign, they promised to solve past violations of human rights, including the 1965 murders. To date, they have done little but sweep it all under the rug. What's even more ironic is that you can see the vice president in Joshua Oppenheimer's 2012 documentary The Act of Killing showing his support for one of the groups allegedly responsible for such human rights violations.

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I thought sometimes everyone have to choose the lesser of the two evils. So I cast my vote for Jokowi and Kalla. At least, I thought at the time, I was voting for people who didn't have a questionable past. This time around, I can't have the same mindset. With a heavy heart, I have decided not to vote at all.

Some of my friends said that my decision to abstain from the election is a wrong one. I understand where they’re coming from. For some people, those who don’t vote are a part of the problem. But those people forget that historically, abstaining is a form of protest toward injustices that took place during the New Order.

“If you don’t cast your vote, are you ready if Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno win?" a friend asked me. "What’s going to happen to our country?"

It’s as if my friend was saying that as a gay man, I should just accept the fact that the wellbeing of the LGBT community is not a priority. This friend also implied that even if I’m not a priority, I still have to vote.


I understand my friend's point of view, but they’re forgetting one thing: I’m an openly gay man. I can’t vote for Ma’ruf to become the vice president in 2019 because doing so means I'm complicit in making someone, who clearly believes that people like me have no rights to live, a leader.

And this is not even entirely about the LGBT community. Ma'ruf has a track record of violating the human rights of other minority groups, such as the Ahmadis.

For me, this is a matter of principle. Perhaps not all of my friends, who are not a part of the LGBT community, can understand how serious this is.

For example, I was born in Aceh in 1987. Today, I can't even go back to my birthplace because I could be caned 86 times for being gay. When I told my friends about this, they only said, "Well don't go on dating apps while you're there. Don't sleep with a man. Don't commit adultery."

They said it so lightly.

Even without an explicit anti-LGBT law, the existing and vague anti-pornography law is already being used to persecute the LGBT community. Now imagine what Ma'ruf would do as vice president. He's already said that the LGBT community should be criminalized. For him, the LGBT people are "haram," and that we're nothing more than “adulterers” and “the cause of HIV/AIDS." In the same interview he implied that government should "guide" the LGBT community—only God knows what he meant by that. In other words, he left no room for discussion.

Since Jokowi's VP announcement, all I've been thinking about is the TV series The Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name. In the series the United States has been replaced by the Republic of Gilead, where people in the LGBT community are executed for being "gender traitors." Considering what's happening in Indonesia, it feels like we're heading in that direction.

People in the LGBT community are used to living among those who refuse to see us as their equals. We grew up facing one bully after another, from our schoolmates to our own family members. It took me years to regain my self-worth. I will never jeopardize that by voting for someone who clearly doesn’t want people like me to live in Indonesia.

If you can’t treat us like we’re a part of this nation, you can count us out in this election.

Amahl S. Azwar is a gay writer and lives in Shanghai with his partner.