How one podcast triggered a(nother) wave of homophobia in Indonesia

When the hashtag #UnsubscribePodcastCorbuzier trended on Twitter earlier this month, I thought Indonesians were finally coming to their senses. I was blissfully unaware of the context behind that trending topic at first, but it didn’t take long to learn what was really going on.

To my horror and disappointment, people weren’t unsubscribing from the guy because he’s an idiot — but rather because homophobia had once again been unleashed in Indonesia, and DC was the homophobes’ Public Enemy №1 at the time.

If you didn’t know what happened, let me catch you up to speed: popular Indonesian podcaster Deddy Corbuzier published an episode ignorantly titled “Tutorial on being gay in Indonesia” on May 7, where he had married gay couple Ragil Mahardika and his German partner Frederik Vollert sit down for an interview for his Joe Rogan-esque podcast Close the Door (borrowing that description from my former colleagues at Coconuts, whose coverage of the latest happenings is, as always, top notch).

As a rule, I do not engage with DC’s podcast. I find it extremely bizarre that he has so many listeners, especially when most, if not all, of the things he does is sensationalist. I have zero respect for people with such big platforms, who do things just because they can and without a second’s thought on whether they should — and sadly, in Indonesia, there’s just way too many of them; freely, irresponsibly, ignorantly “influencing” our impressionable minds.

The episode wasn’t really a “tutorial,” by the way. The guests were mostly discussing their life in Germany, where they got married in 2018, and not in Indonesia. But what happened next was inevitable, as the episode provoked intense backlash from Indonesian conservatives and the calls for boycott began ramping up.

I say inevitable because despite this country’s over bragging on “tolerance” as a national value, we have so much work to do when it comes to treating marginalized groups with the respect they deserve. Tolerance, sadly, does not equate acceptance. And too often, it’s the queer community who faces the brunt whenever the conservatives are triggered.

But was it really, truly inevitable? The answer is no, because had a certain podcast host possess the decency to actually consider the repercussions of his actions and the ripple effect it could have on a community already under threat, then maybe we wouldn’t be here, and so many of my peers and friends wouldn’t have to face so much hate and vitriol from the homophobes.

Instead, this podcast host decided that the views were all that matters.

Alright, things did backfire a little for the guy as he reportedly lost nine million followers on Instagram after the controversial episode and faced condemnations from the country’s top religious authorities. DC then took the episode down from YouTube (which already had six million views at that point) and posted a fresh interview with a popular cleric, who schooled him on how homosexuality is wrong in the eyes of Islam.

The way things unfolded, I think it’s clear that the idiot can’t stand the heat and despite his power and influence didn’t have the balls to stand up to the country’s conservatives; which should paint a decent picture of what this sack is made of, as well as the kind of hostility that Indonesian queers have to face in the country they have to call home.

To be perfectly candid, I’d forgotten just how homophobic Indonesia is. It’s easy for me because I’m straight and the pandemic + all this quarantining means that I have largely been shielded from the animosity. I was isolated and lucky enough to have open-minded people around me, and that shaped my reality in the last two years; yet the same can’t be said for the country’s LGBT+ community.

And DC’s provocatively mindless episode only made things worse.

The controversy was enough for the homophobes to extoll their hatred once more, using the same old narrative: gay people are a threat to our national harmony and values. Deeply ignorant threads found their place in the timeline, as homophobes argued that LGBT is against religion (Indonesia may be officially secular, but religious values play an important role in everyday lives). It became so vile and toxic, that I see so many in the community deciding not to engage simply because it was like preaching against white noise.

In the days that followed, I could see and sense hurt and legitimate fears in the community; most of us know it takes so little to embolden the bigots in our fickle society. Then came a comment from one of Indonesia’s top ministers.

Chief security minister Mahfud MD said plans to criminalize LGBT people are being discussed at the House of Representatives (DPR), where lawmakers are deliberating the contents of the revised criminal code (RKUHP).

Though at this point we don’t know if such a hateful policy will actually get through, it is more than enough to cement our fears because the mere possibility of such a law and the numbing uncertainty that comes with it bear too much weight to ignore. It is also yet another reminder that the country’s politicians will ride the wave of homophobia as long as it’s popular, because they are counting on the mainstream votes, nevermind human rights.

And in case you didn’t know — with the exception of sharia law-enforcing Aceh, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia.

Of course this isn’t the first time we’re seeing anti-LGBT views at this scale. We saw it in 2016, when government officials made hateful comments against the community and it grew into a cascade of threats and hostility against LGBT Indonesians. There had even been a similar call for boycott in October 2018, #UninstallGojek, which had led me to write this little thing with faith that things are going to change for the better.

I’d be lying if I said my optimism had not waver by now, so I truly can’t imagine what it’s like for those at the heart of these attacks.

You would think that the pandemic could’ve, would’ve taught us a thing or two; faced with the fragility of all of our lives, shouldn’t we focus on bigger things rather than debating over someone else’s identity and sexual orientation? Having endured so much loss amid so many uncertainties, can’t we just be nice to one another? But of course not, most of us don’t really learn.

It’s truly disturbing that the reckless action of one public figure is going to be so costly, with the rights of an entire community at stake. And it says a lot, doesn’t it, about the bizarre way things work in Indonesia? Apparently, hatred will come out victorious at the expense of human rights, as long as enough people are shouting it over and over again.

But little acts of defiance persist even in this hateful climate, and I want to believe that we have more friendship and solidarity even when all the noise seems to indicate otherwise.

Earlier this week, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, the British Embassy in Jakarta raised the LGBT+ flag on its premises. Look, I’m not one to shout praises for the United Kingdom (and we can certainly have a long conversation on that), but I’m not going to dismiss the fact that this gesture means a whole lot.

“Sometimes it is important to take a stand for what you think is right, even if disagreement between friends can be uncomfortable,” the embassy said in their Instagram caption.

It’s been days since the post went up, and the embassy has faced backlash from different facets of Indonesian society. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs even accused them of being “very insensitive” and fueling “a polemic” among Indonesians. People in this country never quite run out of things to be angry about, so only time will tell whether this will just pass right over or trigger yet another controversy.

But for what it’s worth… The British Embassy’s decision to raise the LGBT+ flag during an unsettling wave of homophobia in Indonesia serves as a reminder — at least for me — that love will (hopefully) always find a way.

Though we can’t exactly silence the bigots, we sure as hell ain’t going to stop preaching that love is love, are we?

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