Indonesia Wants to Ban Gay Dating Apps, Again
The country has been trying to block LGBTQ-friendly social networking apps for years. Now, with the help of Google, it may succeed.
Illustration by Dini Lestari
In Indonesia, the LGBTQ crackdown has moved from clubs and karaoke bars, to private residences, and now, the internet. The communications ministry has banned 79 applications on Google Play store and 169 websites it said were related to the LGBTQ community since 2016. And it's just getting started.
Rudiantara, the country's communications minister, said that the bans were necessary to protect young generations from "LGBT influences" and "immoral content."
“There should be no content that encourages people to follow such lifestyle," Rudiantara told local media. "From the points of view of lifestyle and religion, it’s a deviance. And in terms of of immoral content, obviously it violates [the law]."
The bans are just the latest step in the country's sweeping anti-LGBTQ hysteria that's only grown in recent years. But unlike other efforts to persecute the LGBTQ community in Indonesia, this one had the help of an unlikely ally: Google.
Blued, a social media networking app for gay men has been on the ministry's watch list since 2016. But every time the ministry tried to block the app, the developers behind Blued just changed the DNS server, completing an end-run around the block.
The Google stepped in at the behest of the ministry, blocking the app in the Indonesian Play store late last week. Other apps, like Hornet, Grindr, 9monsters, Romeo, and Digsso, were still online as of the time we wrote this story. We reached out to a spokesperson at Google's Indonesia office, but they declined to comment for this story.
Indonesia routinely blocks access to websites and apps it deems as a threat, banning more than 787,000 sites as of the time we wrote this article—most of them porn sites. But last July, the ministry turned its attention away from blocking porn sites to temporarily ban the secure messaging app Telegram amid accusations that it was a hotbed for ISIS supporters.
Telegram's founder later visited Jakarta to get the block reversed, promising to do keep an eye on terrorist activity on the app. Then, last November, the ministry threatened to ban WhatsApp over "pornographic GIFs" someone found in the app's search option. WhatsApp removed the GIFs and the whole ordeal ended without the country's 39 million WhatsApp users loosing access to the service.
The bans, especially of "LGTBQ-related" websites and apps, will likely continue, explained Noor Iza, a spokesperson to the ministry. Noor told VICE that the ministry had already secured the support of all national telecom providers to block any "negative" content the ministry finds.
“This is a part of our effort to provide ‘healthy’ internet services that are compatible with our social and cultural norms," Noor told VICE. "We have set deadlines for providers to block all negative content. In terms of apps, we will follow up with Google.”
While homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, it's no secret that the country has become a hostile place for the LGBTQ community. In January, Nasrul Abit, a deputy governor of West Sumatra, told local media that he is preparing actions to eradicate the LGBTQ community, or whom he called “HIV/ AIDS disseminators.” Last week, police officers in North Aceh arrested trans women in a series of raids, shaving their heads in the process. The chief of the North Aceh Police even put together a program called "Bikin Macho Waria," or "turning trans women into macho men" as a way to “guide" the women "back to the right path.”
Usman Hamid, the executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said that the banning of LGBTQ-friendly apps and websites indicates deep-rooted homophobia in the Indonesian government. He said that the ban violates the law, since such a ban should have been decided by the court.
“It’s the same old song, that the minority is turned into the black sheep,” Usman told VICE. “When societal groups have various social issues, it is very easy to point fingers to a minority ‘deviant’ group as the root of the problem.”
Conservative groups learned back in the 2014 presidential election that there was political ground to be won by focusing on sensitive issues like race and religion, Usman told VICE. In the years that followed, these same groups continued to push the narrative to win votes.
“It’s easy for politicians to exploit minority groups," Usman said. "They do it so they can mobilize political support in the upcoming election. It’s easy to pull the religion card, and now they’re using LGBTQ issues. It’s just the same old rhetoric of ‘us versus them' again.
“It’s politically demonizing people, using hate speech and fear to break up social cohesion. We have to be aware of how politicians use conservative waves and intolerance.”
Usman isn’t exaggerating. At the moment, the House of Representatives are still discussing the revision of an article in the Criminal Code that could potentially further restrict the freedom and rights of the LGBTQ community. Out of the ten parties in the revision committee, seven of them agree to criminalize the LGBTQ.
LGBTQ activist Hartoyo from Suara Kita said he's not surprised by the government’s efforts to block LGBTQ-friendly apps. But he's disappointed by the government’s failure to see the big picture. Banning those apps and websites is pointless, since the LGBTQ community will just find other ways to communicate.
“This is the consequence of this era of transparency,” Hartoyo told VICE. “It’s normal that there’s resistance from the people and the government. This is a process we all have go through. We not going to get paranoid. We believe that rational thinking will win eventually."