Indonesia Wants to Ban LGBTQ Characters From Television

Goodbye Sailor Neptune. So long Sailor Uranus.

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01 October 2017, 5:30am

Image courtesy Toei Animation

Indonesia's lawmakers are taking their homophobia to the small screen. The House of Representatives commission on broadcasting regulations is currently discussing a proposed bill that would ban LGBTQ characters—and any males deemed "effeminate"—from national television.

"We don't discriminate against the LGBTQ people," Evita Nursanty, a member of the commission, said of the proposed LGBTQ ban. "But if the program showcases these kinds of behaviors to the public, then it will be banned."

The proposal is the latest in a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ legislation to make its way before House lawmakers. The conservative Family Love Alliance (AILA) has been pushing for Indonesia to outlaw any premarital sex—a decision that would effectively ban all LGBTQ sex since same-sex marriages are not legal or recognized in Indonesia.

The country's existing anti-pornography laws are so vague that they are being used to raid underground gay parties to charge men with violating pornaksi—a term that can mean almost anything deemed "vulgar"—behind closed doors.

And a top military official has been telling the press that the LGBTQ community is a weapon in a "proxy war" staged by the West to hurt Indonesia. Queer men and women, he said, are more dangerous than a "nuclear war."

"It's dangerous as we can't see who our foes are, but out of the blue everyone is brainwashed—now the [LGBTQ] community is demanding more freedom, it really is a threat," Ryamizard Ryacudu, the minister of defense, told local media.

Now, lawmakers are turning their attentions to the country's increasingly censored television. Indonesia has long made space for trans women to appear on television—where some trans women have attained widespread popularity, while others are reduced to little more than cheap comic relief.

But television shows that feature same-sex relationships are still rare—at least on locally made series. Yet, that doesn't mean gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans characters have never been on Indonesian television before. Just look at Sailor Moon.

The hit anime series was everywhere in the mid-90s. I remember waking up early every Sunday morning to make sure I never missed an episode. In the show's later episodes two female characters—Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus—were clearly in love. I knew it. My sister knew it. Hell, even kids in the United States knew it—despite the fact that US broadcasters tried to censor the relationship out of the show.

The Indonesian version of Sailor Moon kept their relationship intact. That's right, this was one of the few instances where a television show was more censored in the US than here. Well, this new bill would change everything. So long loving anime representations of same-sex relationships. So long childhood memories.

Now wait, would Indonesian broadcasters really censor a cartoon? Yes. Remember, this is the same country where television stations censored female characters' bathing suits in Doraemon and Spongebob Squarepants in recent years. That's right, the censors blurred a cartoon squirrel and a little girl because they were dressed to swim, so imagine what would happen to Sailor Moon 's lesbian characters if the show was back on television.

But one lawmaker told VICE that the proposed bill was still just that—a proposal.

"It's a process," explained Hanafi Rais Wiryosudarmo. "We have a long way to go. We don't know when the bill will pass. The draft is still being discussed. It's got a long way to go to be approved. Let's just see."

Still, rights groups and legal experts are already mounting a defense against the bill to try to stop the deliberations before the ban moves any farther in the process. The proposed ban is discriminatory and dangerous, explained Surpiyadi Widodo Eddyono, the executive director of Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR).

"The policy is obviously rooted in homophobia," Surpiyadi told VICE. "If content containing violence is censored fine. It's normal. But LGBTQ characters aren't a form of violence."

And this kind of censorship has an effect on society's treatment of its LGBTQ members. Already today, queer men and women need to live in fear of protests by Islamist hardliners, vigilante gangs searching out "gay parties" in hotels and private residences, and the police publicly shaming whoever they find during one of their anti-LGBTQ raids.

Passing a bill that requires all television stations to censor LGBTQ characters would only further this stigma and make life even more difficult for a lot of people, Supriyadi explained.

"From stigma comes hatred," he said. "It should not be regulated."