Unending Stigma for Trans Women under Covid Period

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  • By: Fanny Syariful Alam | A regional coordinator and program director of Bandung School of Peace Indonesia, a youth organization working to empower youth in the city of Bandung, West Java.


    A local vlogger in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Ferdian Palekka, is on the rise of media publication everywhere in Indonesia. On 4 May 2020, he and his team produced and released a video with the content of a prank for trans women in Kiaracondong, Bandung, West Java Indonesia. As known that trans women in Indonesia are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, making them uneasy to look for work and leading to income loss potential as well as to access food and even places to live. Ferdian pranked them by giving some boxes of food. Instead, they contained decayed food and trashes as well as some bricks. In this context, he mentioned what he did was to assist the local government in monitoring the number of trans women on the street because he thought it was inappropriate for them to wander around during the holy month of Ramadan when most Muslims are fasting.

    Soon, the video drew the most negative reactions due to his insensitivity to see the current condition towards the impacted ones. Most people, activists, reacted that this was a humiliation for transwomen, and it gathered a great amount of criticism. Eventually, the video was taken down officially by Youtube due to the reason for inappropriateness, while currently based on the public’s reports to the police, Ferdian and his team had been arrested. It was unfortunate that around the end of May 2020, they were released due to the victims and some transwomen’s report revoke, and ironically a week after that the local official, the deputy of Bandung Regent welcomed him in his office, saying that it was better for him to apologize to the public while adding that he was one of the talented boys, encouraging him to see better future after the arrestment.

    What seems imperative to consider is the difficulty to see transwomen generally, in Indonesia, as same as other humans with their basic rights. Despite diversity principles in Indonesia towards backgrounds of social and culture, most public and even public officials show various objections and hatred to accept the existence of trans women and other LGB societies openly. Sometimes, it becomes a reason why most of the public might accept the prank for trans women on Youtube channel.

    The Basis of Stigma Against Transwomen (and other LGB Societies): Government and Religion

    The vlogger at least mentioned the basis of his video: to assist the local government. The local government of West Java categorized them as a human deviation against social and religious norms so as to coordinate with the provincial police to monitor them for being “public disturbance”. In 2012, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ Regulation No 12/2012 about the Guidance of Data and Data Management of People with Social Welfare Issues and  Potential of Social Welfare Resources was released and ratified by the local government of West Java through the West Java’s Regional Law no 10/2012 about the Implementation of Social Welfare, underlining that one of the beneficiaries was minority group who referred to LGBT. It is inevitable to see some of them work on the street as prostitutes since hardly any formal work accepts them as their employees, as a solution, most of them work in informal sectors, such as waitress, massage parlor, hairdresser, stylist. The ones with unfortunate positions with those jobs end as street prostitutes. It is what the vlogger targeted in his prank.

    The negativity against transwomen as well as other LGB societies was almost formalized in the law of order by the local government and city municipality based on the recommendation of West Java’s Regional Ministry of Religion Affairs in 2016. In the same year, the allegation towards lesbians and gay men was spread by Islamic Defender Front just because they lived in the boarding house together. The front raided their boarding house, displaying a banner written “NO LGBT are allowed in this area”. In the same city, another case occurred to some gay men who collaborated on Facebook as a community when some of the police officers who undercovered as the community members found out that some members’ communication explicitly was considered out of norms or immoral to same-sex prostitution. Two of the group moderators were apprehended by the police on 18 October 2018 along with some evidence, such as sex tools and contraception. This action inferred LGBT with false sexual orientation as the ones who should be fought openly. This action triggered some junior and high schools in West Java Province to settle their commitment to raiding as well to eliminate LGBT students in their schools. Immediately, many local governments from the province encouraged the law of order which would restrict their existence by possible criminalization based on the State Crime Law.

    Furthermore, the legalization of criminalization against LGBT through the applicable law as well as prank towards transwomen refers to the Islamic law conducts which forbid their existence and any of their practice. The religion basis tends to provide the justification for the societies as well as the government to discriminate and to hate them, and becomes a standard to settle the regulation or law to restrict their existence openly.

    Reflections to Remember: We are All Human with No Exceptions. What should we do? Bandung as The City of Human Rights, an Anomaly?

    The objection to admit LGBT societies’ rights, particularly transwomen’s, conjuncts with their sexual orientation conditions, which are condemned by existing religion, in Indonesia Islam due to the consideration of their deviation against God’s rules and nature. This ‘religiously legalized’ claim, unfortunately, becomes fundamental in the establishment of existing applicable laws, mostly the ones of order for the public. Therefore, it is socially justified when they encounter some raids and persecutions, meanwhile, the government apparatus ignores their function to comply with the protection for all with no exceptions based on human rights perspectives.

    Indonesia has ratified International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) through Law of Republic of Indonesia no 12/2005 about the Legalization of ICCPR which basically secures Indonesians to be respected for their civil and political rights. Three highlighted rights as the dignity of the public with no exceptions based on religions, culture, languages, sexual orientations are the rights of life, free from persecution and inhuman actions, and personal freedom and security.  Despite the State Constitution and Ratified ICCPR legalization, the fact of intolerant and discriminative actions against LGBT all over shows a clear disconnection between the laws and their implementation. A reluctance occurs when some government apparatus with human rights perspectives face their colleagues backed up by religious groups with strong objections against LGBT. The latter mentioned is believed to have a profound capacity to influence policymakers to show the condemn against LGBT societies.

    The impact from the early elaboration could be seen under the Covid-19 pandemic, when transwomen, in particular, encounter some severities, such as the income loss potential, famine, and the loss of adequate places of living. Furthermore, their condition with rights to get formal jobs meets some difficulties due to their legally accepted gender identity, find informal jobs which eventually stumble them financially particularly in this pandemic period. In Indonesia, for example, this circumstance is underlined by Kanzha Vina, the head of Sanggar Swara, mentioning that more than 640 transgender people, mostly transwomen, in greater Jakarta, Indonesia have already lost their jobs, putting some hardships to support themselves. They face some upcoming problems for accessing social aid distribution, such as basic food staples, due to not having their identity cards and their gender identity. Fortunately, according to the news of UNAIDS, they set up a coalition for crisis response management, and it works well through inter-communities and partners as well as the public’s fundraising and other food aid initiatives with a positive response. It shows the evidence that humanity is still in people’s minds to share their help and to impose social affirmation as a part of Indonesian culture.

    Remembering a flashback, Bandung used to be claimed “the city of Human Rights” in December 2015 by the initiation of the past City Mayor, now West Java governor, Ridwan Kamil. He underlined the establishment of Bandung as the city of Human Rights accorded with the city’s partiality towards minorities, a statistic number of human rights violations. He added that Bandung’s standard of Human Rights would refer to the United Nations’ Human Rights Principles. In 2018 before the period of his pre governor campaign, in contrast, he mentioned his plan of strict persecutions against all LGBT societies despite his incapability to conduct them legally due to unavailable current law products. Moreover, it is concluded that what he mentioned to promote the city’s human rights commitment relied on the harmony amid the different religious groups through open dialogues. Unfortunately, he did not underline LGBT’s positions in Bandung as the City of Human Rights. An anomaly that disrespects the human rights principle in conjunction with the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights as well as other relevant international covenants ratified through one of the state’s national laws.

    In general, where will all the leaders in this country direct their people in the sense of humanity? Or should all of us finally stand for ourselves without their support?



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