#UninstallGojek, the latest glimpse to the LGBTQ situation in Indonesia

A rainbow flag at the 2018 Women’s March in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo by Sheany)

Some of you probably don’t think I have a place to even begin saying all that I’m about to say. Some would think this isn’t a fight I need to sign myself up for. To be honest, I’ve been going over this in my head for a few days now, wondering what exactly is it that I want to say to the world. Whether I could say anything that hasn’t already been said, if I could evoke enough change and how, exactly. My closest knows where I stand, but is that enough?

I’d say this though — the universe works in mysterious ways, and I find myself guided along when I most need it, even when I didn’t realize my hand was held this entire time.

So I’ll start with this: a few weeks ago, a conversation with someone I recently met led to a discussion about the LGBTQ situation in Indonesia; it was short enough to lack significance, but carried enough weight to leave me thinking even after we parted ways.

Maybe the best way to describe this person’s stance on the issue is that he’s “neutral.” An old friend, who told me that his response was quite typical, summarizes it best: “I’m okay with them but I don’t go about preaching about them.”

It took me a minute to understand what that could possibly meant, because it sounds like a paradox to me.

My really-good-at-summarizing friend also explained her understanding very well, that for these neutral folks it’s something along the lines of: “I’m not giving out hate to those type of people so I’m not part of the problem.”

These bits of discussions I’m sharing with you happened on different occasions, but they were running on the same thread.

It led me to wonder why I felt like I needed to speak up for sexual rights, why I feel like I had to stand for the LGBTQ community, though it never occurred to me to question this inclination before because it had felt like the most natural thing to do.

It pointed me to yet another crevice in the movement, that amid a sea of conservative people who couldn’t bother to see what was on the other side and vehemently opposes sexual orientation beyond the hetero, there’s also this substantial group of people who may not necessarily be “against” in the purest definition of the word, yet refuses to say it’s a problem when those previous group tries to dictate how people should love and live their lives.

“Don’t oppress minorities! Protect gender and sexual minorities!” (Photo by Sheany)

These thoughts, they become even more centered when #UninstallGojek became viral in Indonesia, garnering tens and thousands (perhaps even more) of posts on Twitter alone.

It all started on Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), when an employee at popular ride-hailing service Go-Jek shared over social media how the company has launched an internal campaign in support of diversity and inclusion and adopted a non-discrimination policy toward underrepresented minority. In the post, said employee especially highlighted the LGBT community.

According to this employee, the campaign showcased more than 30 LGBT employees and allies, who shared their perspectives on self-acceptance, freedom and equality, among others.

The post quickly gained attention after screenshots of it are shared across multiple platforms, which eventually led to #UninstallGojek, where many made calls for the deletion of the app because Go-jek appears to be supportive of sexual minorities.

Go-jek issued an official statement following the backlash, in which it began by saying how it upholds diversity.

“In regards to the post that’s going around on social media, we need to clarify that the post is a personal interpretation and opinion of a Go-jek employee on an internal, diversity-themed event,” Go-Jek said.

The short statement ends with Go-jek reaffirming its Indonesian-ness, including by mentioningthe country’s ever-nationalistic motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

Of course, that didn’t exactly simmer down what was already brewing so wildly, and people just kept uploading screenshots of their respective screens, showing how they are about to delete the Go-jek app.

Thankfully, some users were quick enough to point the idiosyncrasy of doing such a thing, for many popular brands and services today have publicly declared their support for the LGBTQ community, including Google, Apple, and Twitter.

Perhaps this is a good indication on how Indonesians aren’t exactly the brightest when it comes to making sound arguments.

While many have expressed disappointment at Go-jek’s non-committal statement that is obviously intended to calm down the conservative members of the public, the issue at hand is unfortunately much bigger than that.

This recent event is yet another pitiful example of what has been deemed as an “LGBT moral panic” in Indonesia, which gained grounds in 2016.

It’s been further stoked by government officials issuing various statement that has never quite sided with the minority group, which then becomes an added ammunition for conservative groups to spread fear and hatred about the LGBTQ community.

Then last week, Minister for Religious Affairs Lukman Saifuddin uploaded a two-minute video “clarifying” his stance on the LGBTQ issue, and declared that he, along with all religions, are against it.

“LGBT attitudes and actions are deviation from religious teachings, which all religions are against, and therefore I, too, am against it,” Mr. Saifuddin said.

He goes on to say that religious leaders and community should take part in stopping the spread of LGBT, and provide guidance for those who deviated.

Granted, Mr. Saifuddin does suggest that all this is done with empathy and that people should refrain from ostracizing the LGBTQ community, but then this supposedly nice gesture becomes a mute point because, sir, you’re already impinging on the privacy and identities of so many people.

Sure, big and influential companies like Go-jek could use this momentum and lead the way for more LGBTQ-friendly attitudes in society, but as gender and sexual rights activist Tunggal Pawestri pointed out in an interview with Coconuts, such a move “would be like suicide.”

In Indonesia, this discussion is going on amid allegations against Go-jek’s rival Grab, in which people have begun to share their experiences of dealing with flirty and inappropriate drivers from the service, and Grab’s initial response to one of these sexual harassment cases have been called out as victim-blaming. Sure, this on its own spiralled into a call to boycott Grab, but it doesn’t seem to have been nearly on that same ferocity with the calls made against Go-jek. Though maybe that’s just me.

(Photo by Sheany)

When I first sat down to write about these recent happenings, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I was frustrated and angry, and I needed to channel that somehow, but I was simultaneously very, very numb.

I understand where we are as a country, that we’ve still got ways to go before we can be at the level of Canada and Sweden, and that we haven’t ever really had any productive national discussion on this issue (and let’s be frank, about many other issues that needs to be put front and center). But the hatred toward the LGBTQ community feels unnecessary, ignorant and extremely one-sided, that it boggles my mind. We haven’t come really far as human beings, have we?

Funny, how this nation supposedly stands in unity for “diversity” like it’s the air we breathe, yet we are so far from embodying it in our daily lives. We take this value for granted, never really sitting down to ponder upon what it really means.

2018 Women’s March in Jakarta. (Photo by Sheany)

I think of my LGBTQ friends and I feel like there’s so little I can do — because what happens when ignorance is equipped with a loudspeaker and you’re just a single person trying to break the waves of a crowd of opposers?

Maybe this is why some people decided neutrality is the best they can do, because evoking change is helluva task and responsibility.

But I can’t stand the idea of sitting idly by, knowing that there IS something we could do, even just a little.

And here’s the thing — I’m not even a loud activist. I do what I can, given the space, but I’m still far from taking the extra mile to advocate for the rights of my LGBTQ friends. Maybe a hundred meters or half a kilometer, but not a mile just yet. I’m working on it.

You may wonder why. And I’m asking you — why the hell not?

I have a gay friend who feels like he needs to change and “be straight” because he knows his parents can’t accept him for who he is.

Another feels like he needs to move to a whole other country because there’s no way he could survive and be himself in Indonesia.

One other, coming from a small town, says he’ll never reveal his sexuality to his parents while longing for a marriage with his partner.

I’ve heard of a friend of a friend who’s decided to stay single because being the devout he is, he believes it’s a sin to love another man.

I listen to these stories, and many others, and think to myself — this is why they need our support.

This is where solidarity matters, why we need to speak up for sexual rights. These examples are just a few that should give you a clue as to why no one should ever have a say on the sexual orientation of another. Very simply put, who you love and how you love is part of all of our basic human rights.

But that human right (and frankly many others) is not being fulfilled here (and also other parts of the world). Worse, a report published by Human Rights Watch in July found that crackdowns against the LGBT community in Indonesia are fuelling an HIV epidemic in the country.

The same report also details a sharp rise in anti-LGBT attacks and rhetoric in Indonesia since 2016, and we know this because we’ve all seen the headlines of so-called “police raids” on private parties supposedly held by people belonging to the LGBTQ community.

Maybe this doesn’t impact you directly. Maybe this is some far-off thing that will never truly touch your life. But try to look at it this way — when you deny a group of people, no matter how small, of their basic human right, what makes you think the same won’t happen to you for some other absurd reason?

As Mark Twain once said:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

And contrary to what you may think, I am not asking you to preach something you don’t believe in. That would be besides the point.

But I am here, laying out my perspectives any way, in the hopes of at least starting a conversation. We don’t need to all be on the same page, but it’s better to start a discussion than to stay put within the limited space of a single narrative.

And at the end of the day, even if all the arguments for the rights of LGBTQ people still can’t get into your head, I hope you’ll at least be kind and give it room to breathe.

If you’re one of the neutral ones, I certainly hope you’ll make space to educate yourself and others. You don’t have to march down the streets with a banner and a rainbow flag, but I hope you won’t take refuge in ignorance, even if it feels blissful.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Indonesian journalist, currently based in Bali.