Gay Community Wants More: Bali

Yustine (not her real name) says she feels more comfortable in the glittering Seminyak area near Kuta in Bali than in her hometown in Java. A member of Bali’s gay and transvestite community, she has been working as a singer and hairstylist on the island for the past two years.

“I came from Banyuwangi, East Java, a place where I could not live in a peaceful way,” she said at a recent group discussion on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here in Seminyak.

At home, her family and friends refused to accept that she was a transvestite, regarding her as a “mistake” and the “loser” of the family.

“People have the perception that we are criminals, sinners that should be dumped somewhere in garbage bins,” Yustine said.

The LGBT community says it has faced biased and negative media coverage over the years.

Danny Yatim, media advisor to the Indonesian HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project (IHPCP) told participants that he agreed that the media played a major role in shaping people’s perceptions of the community.

“The majority of mainstream media in Indonesia and in the world has so far built a perception that the world is divided into two sides — male and female only,” Danny said.

The media, he added, created stereotypes for each gender, portraying male as only masculine and women as only feminine.

“This stereotyping emerges almost everywhere in both print and electronic media. To give an example, I saw an ad for a famous instant noodle brand in which the mother cooks the noodles, while the father and sons wait to taste the meal,” Danny said.

Such domestic stereotyping of women and men has been shaped by society, “but the media has widely legitimized this communal effort,” Danny said.

He said there were a number of negative perceptions associated with the LGBT community.

“The gay community has always been associated with pedophiles, homosexual persons who always prey on (young) sex targets. They are often regarded as weird and comical (people who) deserve to be laughed at,” said Danny, who is a psychologist and university lecturer.

Danny said that the community also suffered from various types of social and professional discrimination.

“Such discrimination occurs in real life, media, films, and so on,” he added.

Didik Yudianto, director of Gaya Dewata Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides advocacy and support to the gay community in Bali, shared this opinion.

“We are still not accepted within traditional, religious and moral concepts. The media has taken a great part in shaping these values,” said Didik, a veterinarian.

“The media is more focused on the negative activities of members of our community. News coverage centers on drugs, sex and crime,” Didik said.

He added that many people in the community were working hard as lecturers, volunteers, experts, artists, doctors and many other professions and that they were excelling in their fields.

“It is very sad to hear the harsh words some people use when referring to us,” Didik said.

A journalist who took part in the discussion said that it was difficult to get proper information because many of the community members were too shy or too reluctant to open up.

“We have been trying to write balanced and fair coverage. But, many times they do not want to speak up,” she said.

Danny said it was true that many people in the gay community did not have the courage or support required to reveal their sexual identities.

“The term ‘out of the closet’ is still rare in Indonesia because of our cultural and moral values,” Danny said.

People in the West have begun to accept that the gay community is part of a dynamic society, he said.

“It really requires a lot of understanding, compassion and non-judgmental behavior in order to accept this community into our multi-cultural society,” Danny said.

Anton Muhajir