Live and let die: A new strategy for criminalizing LGBTs in Indonesia

Hendri Yulius

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Live and let die: A new strategy for criminalizing LGBTs in Indonesia
A closer look at the Family Love Alliance's (AILA) strategy clearly shows a new strategy of anti-LGBT, which uses ‘neoliberal’ logic despite its morality and religious covers

Over the past couple of weeks, LGBT Indonesians have been the target of a new moral crusade perpetrated by a group of academics and activists calling themselves the Family Love Alliance (Aliansi Cinta Keluarga, AILA).

Since the present Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP) only sanctions same-sex intercourse with minors, they have urged the Constitutional Court to amend articles to criminalize same-sex intercourse between consenting adults. The Court has held 5 hearings, which offered opportunities for the protesters to give their arguments – urging the policing of homosexuality.

The last hearing took place on August 1, with Rita Hendrawati Soebagio, the general secretary of AILA, presenting the opinions of genital and dermatology specialist Dewi Inong Irana and University of Indonesia law expert Neng Djubaedah.

Questionable arguments

While it is hardly surprising that the alliance condemned LGBT Indonesians using religious-based arguments, they offered a new line of reasoning based on public health. Ignoring recent scientific findings tracing the origin of the  HIV epidemic in humans to 1920s Kinshasa, now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dewi claimed that HIV originated from men having sex with men in the US in 1981.

Further, she claimed that since the United States legalized same-sex marriage, doctors there are now facing outbreaks of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a form of cancer that is common in AIDS patients).

Despite the fact that data shows that over the past 5 years, the largest number of new HIV infections have been recorded in heterosexual couples, the anti-LGBT advocates insisted that criminalizing same-sex intercourse was important to reduce infections, which otherwise would become a burden for State budget.

Specifically, Dewi elaborated her sentiments by asking questions such as “How many trillions should be paid to support people with HIV (PLHIV)?” and “How would it affect the development of the country, productivity of the people and lost working hours, since ‘PLHIV tend to be sickly’?”

These economic considerations and arguments elaborated in the hearing on August 1, 2016 are unfortunately not mentioned in media coverage.

Governing bodies

In this modern era, drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower, as a population, human bodies become new targets to be regulated, governed, and disciplined. Consequently, biological processes, such as birth rates, mortality, health, and life expectancy, provide platforms of control over populations.

It is hardly surprising that sexuality becomes not just merely biological, but also something for State and other institutions to govern under various discourses such as public health, productivity, morality, and even State future development.

These new modes of regulation then instill and emphasize the role of individuals to follow suit. In a neoliberal regime where social welfare support from State is diminished and State operates like an enterprise, this strategy helps to shift State’s responsibility and transfer ‘risks’ to individuals—hence, blame the individuals if they are unproductive or not disciplined enough to avoid the risk.

The key words here are productivity, self-responsibility and mastery, and risk-transfer.

Situating the AILA’s public health and economic reasoning within this understanding uncovers the new strategy of anti-LGBT advocates, which skilfully exploits and taps on the current socio-political circumstances.

Under the administration of Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, economic advancement has become Indonesia’s main priority. Aside from inviting the influx of foreign investments, in his speech to celebrate 71th Independence Day of Indonesia, Jokowi further reiterated the importance of economic progress, which could be achieved through infrastructure development, enhancement of productivity and human resources productivity, not to mention, deregulation and debureaucratization.

Productivity, as parts of economic development, is underscored and prioritized over human rights protection.


AILA’s proposal to protect national budget from supporting sick and ‘unproductive’ people conflates LGBT bodies with sickness and non-productivity. Criminalizing LGBT, they believe, will automatically reduce State burden.

Nevertheless, this argument embodies dangerous aspects, since it clearly supports the responsibility shifts from State to individuals deemed unproductive. By deploying market calculation into the national budget, State’s diminishing responsibility in providing health care to citizen is encouraged, neglecting State’s responsibility to take care of its citizens regardless of their productivity.

This way, unproductive citizens have consequently been constructed and perpetuated as State’s burdens. Corresponding beautifully with neoliberalism logic, the value of the citizens and their citizenship rely upon their productivity (and consumption).

If now the target is LGBT and PLHIV, this precarious argument can also easily be applied and extended to different ‘unproductive’ marginalized groups, like people with disabilities or people with certain diseases that might impair their productive capacity according to ‘neoliberal’ logics.

Also, by perpetuating ‘false imageries’ about PLHIV people who are sickly and hence unproductive, these anti-LGBT protesters do not only stigmatize LGBT individuals, but also PLHIV and other marginalized people. It is surprising that with her medical qualification, Dewi does not seem to understand that many PLHIV can have a healthy life through proper medication and care.

A closer look at AILA’s strategy clearly shows a new strategy of anti-LGBT, which uses ‘neoliberal’ logic despite its morality and religious covers.

In this vein, James Bond’s 1973 film title, Live and Let Die might still be relevant to sum up the AILA economic reasonings.

If certain groups leading unproductive lives become State burdens, just incarcerate and perhaps rehabilitate them to be productive citizens, according to State principle. But if it still does not work, maybe better just to let them die. State does not have to support the unproductive ones who in turn are not able to ‘contribute’ to State—because citizenship is now measured through productivity. –

The author, who obtained his Master’s in public policy from the National University of Singapore, is the writer of Coming Out and a lecturer of gender and sexuality studies. He is currently pursuing his Masters by Research in Gender and Cultural Studies in The University of Sydney.

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