Hartoyo remembers the first time someone accused him of being "deviant," because of his sexual orientation. He realized he was gay way back in primary school, but it never seemed like an issue here until much later, during a trip to Indonesia's conservative Aceh province to help with the tsunami recovery efforts. He was walking with his boyfriend, holding his hand, when a local police officer approached the couple and told them they were displaying "inappropriate behavior." Confused, Hartoyo said he asked the office what behavior he was talking about. He never got an answer, but from that day on the two men were routinely harassed by local police.
“Homosexuality is not a crime, but we were treated like criminals,” Hartoyo told VICE.
The whole situation stuck with Hartyono, which is part of the reason why today he fights for the rights of the LGBTQ community with his non-profit Suara Kita. It's also the reason why Hartyono isn't exactly surprised when he hears news of yet another police crackdown on a gay nightlife spot or a private party.
In the eleven years since Hartoyo's run-in wth police in Aceh, the situation has only gotten worse for Indonesia's LGBTQ community. They're now being treated as a threat to the nation's moral fabric. Their sexuality is seen as a sickness to be cured.
Late last week, authorities in Cipanas, West Java, stormed a private villa to bust what they called a "sex party," between four men and one teenage boy. The head of the local criminal investigations unit with the Cianjur Police told local media that they had set up the party over some messaging app. He admitted that the police hadn't yet figured out what, exactly, to charge the men with, but it's likely the police will use the child protection law considering that one of them was only 16 years old, or two years shy of the age of consent for boys.
The raid was the latest to target the LGBTQ community in Indonesia. Last year, police and local vigilantes busted a hotel in Surabaya, a private residence in a West Java village, and an underground gay nightclub in Jakarta. In the last raid, police rounded up nearly 150 men. Today, a handful face more than two years behind bars for violating the anti-pornography law by attending a strip show at a North Jakarta nightclub.
And all of this is happening in a country where, today, it isn't illegal to be gay. There are no laws banning homosexual acts, outside of Aceh, where the local government is allowed to enforce its own version of Shariah law. But nationwide, there is no reason on the books for this kind of sweeping crackdown.
Not that it has stopped the raids from happening. The country's anti-pornography law is so vague that it allows authorities wide latitude when it comes to enforcing moral issues. We wrote a whole article examining how this happened, so if you're interested click here to learn more.
VICE recently caught up with Hartoyo to figure out why now, more than ever, it's important to really understand how Indonesian law works.
VICE: The authorities in Indonesia keep using this ambiguous anti-pornography law when targeting the country's LGBTQ community in raids. What do you think of this tactic?
Hartoyo: Those raids are an act of terror. A lot of these victims end up stripped naked, humiliated, and have their rights taken away. This is a form of shock therapy, a way to send a message to the LGBTQ community. It's an act of criminalization. Yes, a lot of them were let go once it was established that no criminal offense had occurred, but it's also an effective way to spread hate.
In the most-recent raid of an invite-only party in a private villa, the police said this 'sex party' was planned over messaging apps. Aren't these apps considered a private space?
Repression against the LGBTQ community has definitely increased in the last few years. It has also become a big issue at the international level, thanks to developments in technology. With technology comes privacy. Everyone is now connected organically. This makes us all feel less alone. The internet has made us more confident when facing reality, and given us a much better understanding and awareness of the LGBTQ community. How is this a crime? Starting a group on social media or a messaging app doesn't break any laws. Straight people do exactly the same thing, don't they?
With these stories we often see civilians acting like they too are the police, you know? These vigilante groups keep going out and searching for gay men to catch and shame. Where is this all coming from?
In my opinion, this is a moral panic, caused by stigma and discrimination. Those who don’t know much about an issue tend to act presumptuously.
So what does the LGBTQ community need to know to protect themselves?
The most important thing to remember is that any act of persecution against a community is a violation of the law. Any type of persecution or raid is against the law. Any allegation of a pornographic act can only be evidence when there's a video or another piece of evidence. The state can't control this. I constantly encourage people to learn about the law, about what is allowed and what is not allowed. If there's sexual intercourse involving an underage person then it’s clearly against the law. I also disapprove this kind of behavior.
Do you think one day this will all be over? That the LGBTQ community can exist free of discrimination?
We have a long way to go. The raid in Cipanas is part of this process we have to go through. The challenge here is to face the violence and persecution head on. It’s a social issue, so we need to educate our people. As long as the state and people keep trying to stop, arrest, or 'cure' homosexuality, then nothing will get solved. It just won’t work.
This interview has been translated into English and edited for content and clarity.