Proud in silence: LGBTQIA+ Indonesians in Bali solemnly celebrate Pride Month amid growing backlash

June is Pride Month. While it started in the US, LGBT Pride Month celebrations now take place all over the world, including in Asia. In nearby Thailand, there are two major events in the nation’s capital scheduled for this month. The country is also discussing a bill that would legalize same-sex unions, making it the first Southeast Asian nation to do so (fingers crossed!).

In Indonesia?

Being able to celebrate Pride Month is understandably not a priority for LGBTQIA+ Indonesians, not when their basic freedoms are still at stake. The country, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, has seen a growing backlash and persecution against gay citizens, particularly in recent years.

The idea of ​​celebrating Pride Month in Indonesia is, perhaps, a difficult task. Openly, at least.

Not wanting to let the rising tide of homophobia and transphobia bring them down even further, some two dozen LGBTQIA+ Indonesians residing in Bali went ahead and solemnly celebrated Pride Month, but were careful not to draw any negative attention to themselves in the meantime. Same time.

Together in Bali

A gathering event was held in Bali on June 5 organized by Pelangi Nusantara, an NGO that focuses on LGBTQIA+ rights.

It was the first Pride-related event in the country since the start of the pandemic. Among the three-hour event were members of other NGOs from across Bali, including Gaya Dewata Foundation, Gaya Nusantara Foundation, QLC Bali, GSHR Udayana, Kwiir, Kabar Sejuk, Komunitas Teman Baik, Queer Archive, Lokahita Yogyakarta, LBH Apik and Trans Union of Women.

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“Despite recent news about the persecution and criminalization of LGBTQ people, Pelangi Nusantara believes that Indonesia is not ruled by bigotry. There is no place for discrimination and persecution based on religious beliefs. Love is love,” said Pelangi Nusantara founder Ketut. bali coconuts.

Fresh in their minds were several recent events that had sparked renewed hatred for their community in Indonesia. In the past few weeks alone, a married gay couple featured on a popular podcast sparked new calls for the criminalization of same-sex relationships in Indonesia, as well as sparking homophobic sentiments among the general public. Then, a harmless video of gay men fondling each other in a Jakarta coffee shop went viral, leading to their arrest and the temporary closure of the establishment.

The homophobia of Indonesians has even spread beyond the borders. Last year, a gay couple in Thailand was harassed online by Indonesian netizens just because they put their wedding photos on Facebook.

But the meeting was a day of celebration, and it was intimate. The event began with attendees coming together to wave a huge rainbow flag to symbolize their proud hopes for the future.

Proud in silence: LGBTQIA+ Indonesians in Bali solemnly celebrate Pride Month amid growing backlash
Courtesy: Pelangi Nusantara.

Then followed performances by drag queens to lip sync anthems like Todrick Hall’s. Nails, Hair, Hips, HeelsLady Gaga Born this wayY This is me, by Keala Settle & The Greatest Showman Ensemble. LGBTQIA+ singer-songwriter Kai Mata also performed at the event.

The weekend gathering also includes a screening of Ballad of the heroine (Srikandi’s Tale), a short documentary from QLC Bali that highlights the struggles and hopes of the trans women community in Bali, especially during the pandemic.

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Venon Sa’id Ali, 28, one of the QLC Bali coordinators who also produced the documentary, said he hoped it could shed light on the plight of trans women and how they urgently need help.

“Many trans women in Indonesia do not have access to education or work as many of them left their families at such a young age due to stigma and discrimination,” they said.

Venon said the June 5 event was a limited gathering known only to those invited, ensuring their safety.

“We made it as safe and comfortable as possible,” they added.

Alena Pérez, 31, a trans woman who appeared in the documentary and also performed at Pelangi Nusantara’s Pride event, hoped many people would see LGBTQIA+ Indonesians as equals.

“We are all human,” he said.

Why Bali?

When asked why they held the event in Bali, Ketut said, “Because we happen to be living in Bali. If we lived in Jakarta, we would have celebrated it in Jakarta.”

Venon, on the other hand, expressed that they personally felt Bali was “a little safer” as there are more open-minded people choosing to appreciate the LGBTQIA+ community rather than discriminate against them.

“Bali also has a lot of places where the owners accept anyone, so any event is safer,” said Venon. Alena agreed, chiming in: “While not all Balinese accept [us]most welcome the rainbow community around them.”

While Balinese locals have a reputation for being more indifferent to minority groups (including LGBTQIA+ people), members of that community are understandably careful about putting labels on the island.

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In January 2021, an American woman was deported from the country after a series of tweets that included her citing Bali as “gay friendly.” Indonesian gays quickly took to Twitter to express concern that the controversy would incite further backlash against them, including in Bali.

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Taking lessons from that controversy, LGBTQIA+ citizens in Bali are understandably reluctant to commit to making the island the bastion of positive representation for the maligned community. When we asked the organizers if they hoped to host Bali Pride Month in the next few years, Ketut simply replied, “We hope so.”

Venon was more optimistic. “Of course [we’re hopeful]. I’m sure we can hold even bigger [Pride Month] celebrations in the future.”