Very few people talk about them. To most, it’s a subject best left alone. To some they are an embarrassment, to others an oddity and to many of the faithful, they are there to be condemned.
They are Indonesia’s homosexuals.
At 5.7 million people from around this very large archipelago, they are a community bigger than some of Indonesia’s neighboring countries. In Singapore and New Zealand, for example, legions of marketing professionals are busy building local brands, segmenting the marketplace to grow global businesses.
How much time and effort has been spent to market products and services to Indonesia’s gay population? They should not and cannot be ignored.
Of the people who agree with the statement, “I consider myself a homosexual”, 2 million are single and another 3.7 million people are either married or in de facto relationships.
The total adds up to 4.1 percent of Indonesia’s population above the age of 14. That’s double the 2 percent that is usually assumed to be the homosexual population of any country.
In Indonesia, as in every country around the world, sections of the community say that an entire section of our society is immoral, failing to accept the simple reality that they are wired differently from the rest of us heterosexuals.
Which god, creator, prophet or messiah would condemn his own children, different or even deformed though they may be? Whatever happened to live and let live?
These observations are based on Roy Morgan Single Source, the country’s largest syndicated survey with over 27,000 Indonesian respondents annually, projected to reflect 90 percent of the population over the age of 14. The results are updated every 90 days.
What will come as a surprise to many is the fact that 69 percent of the gay community resides in rural, not urban, Indonesia. And most of that rural-based population is from the island of Java, with East Java and Central Java attracting a much larger than average share of the community.
Any attempt to understand the phenomenon requires an appreciation of Indonesia’s ancient cultures, in particular, the fertility rituals practiced even to this day in the surroundings of Gunung Gangsir and Gunung Kemukus.
Perhaps among the oldest institutional forms of swapping and free sex, the minds of most people boggle at the thought of sexual freedom being expressed with ritualistic abandon, including gay abandon, in paddy fields by moonlight.
Though difficult for many to accept, sexual liberation is and has been a part of Indonesia’s ancient cultures for as long as history can remember.
Yet, self-proclaimed men of God preaching middle-class morality continue to interpret holy scriptures to suit their ideologies, preaching against what humanity needs most of all: tolerance and acceptance of the most fundamental of rights, the freedom of choice.
Do marketers have a role in influencing society or do they just bend with the winds of change? Leaders and followers among us will, of course, respond to the question differently.
Similar in demographics to the rest of society, gays in Indonesia are much more individualistic in comparison to the rest of the population. They are twice as likely to agree with the statement,
“My rights are more important than society’s rights.”
They are also twice as likely to believe that “computers and technology give me more control over my life.”
Busy, hardworking people, there are “Not enough hours in a day,” and “I seldom have time for breakfast.” A sign of the times, homosexuals feel “less safe” today then they used to.
They are financially better off in relative terms, making them more likely to travel or go away for weekends. When they do, they prefer “the bright lights and the big cities.”
In category after category, their choice of brands can be markedly different from the national norm. Their media habits and attitudes are also noticeably different.
They are twice as likely to listen to the radio in the car, buy magazines, read the business section of their newspaper or be annoyed by almost all television advertisements.
They are also more likely to agree with the statement “I was born to shop” or choose “a car mainly on its looks.” Three out of four of them believe that “it is important to look fashionable.”
Yet, the influence of religious teachings prey heavily on the minds of the less educated, the less confident. Seventy-two percent of the population believes that “homosexuality is immoral.”
Not surprising, in a country where three out of four people visit their place of worship regularly. Painful is the reality that 57 percent of homosexuals themselves also agree with that statement.
Tortured souls, in or out of the closet, apparently the children of a lesser god.
More than anything else, they deserve your understanding, not your sympathy. From a business perspective, “pink Indonesia” could represent an opportunity bigger than all of Singapore.
Could that be a good enough reason to actively engage with them?
The writer can be contacted at Debnath.Guharoy@roymorgan.com
Debnath Guharoy, Consultant