The leading psychiatric body in Indonesia is claiming that transgender people suffer from a mental health disorder and gay and bisexual people are at risk of mental health problems.
In the latest outburst in an increasingly divisive domestic debate on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, the Indonesian Psychiatric Association said transgender people “can be categorised as persons with mental disorders”, which it said “may cause suffering and obstacles in functioning as a human being”.
The IPA also said that homosexuals and bisexuals were in danger of developing a psychiatric disorder unless they “maintain their mental health by guarding their behaviour, habit, healthy lifestyle, and increasing their ability to adapt to their social environment”.
For almost half a century, the global medical profession’s consensus is that homosexuality is a healthy variation of sexual orientation. The medical community also rejects the idea that transgender people suffer from a mental health disorder.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia and the country is mostly tolerant of LGBT people. However, there has been a recent spate of inflammatory statements against LGBT people by officials
There has also been an outpouring of anger on social media by those wanting the government to ban gay content on smartphone messaging apps, namely emojis of two men or two women holding hands.
The government succumbed to the pressure and demanded that the messaging companies Line and WhatsApp remove them, sparking condemnation by human rights groups among others.
The IPA said it had found it necessary to issue its statement following growing discussions on “social media, mass media and the community” regarding LGBT issues.
“People with homosexuality and bisexuality can be categorised as people with mental problems,” the body said, adding that they suffer from “physical, mental and social problems, growth and development, and/or life-quality problems, thus giving them risks to experience mental disorders”.
It said not all gay and bisexual people would develop a mental health problem but claimed they faced a higher risk of doing so than heterosexuals. “Many factors contribute in the surfacing of mental disorder in someone. Among them are genetic, neurobiological, psychological, social, culture, and spiritual factors,” the IPA said.
It added it supported people with mental health problems and disorders by providing “promotional, preventive, curative, and rehabilitative” services and that it supported “research efforts on homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals based on Indonesia’s local wisdom, culture, religious and spiritual aspects”.
Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, ethis month to condemn a growing anti-LGBT sentiment in the country.
The letter said HRW had documented arbitrary arrests, harassment, threats, and violence against LGBT people in Indonesia this year.
“Human Rights Watch calls on your government to take a leadership position by stating publicly that the rights of all Indonesians need to be respected, including those of LGBT people, and by committing to reforms that protect instead of persecute this marginalised minority,” the New York-based group said.
It also pointed to several anti-LGBT comments this year by officials including the higher education minister, Muhammad Nasir, who banned LGBT groups at universities.
Indonesia’s vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, has also asked the United Nations Development Programme not to fund LGBT schemes in the country.
The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission fed hostility towards the LGBT community when it said this month that it discouraged television and radio stations from broadcasting programmes that portrayed LGBT behaviour as normal.
It had been pressured by the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (CPC), which said it was concerned that young boys were starting to cross-dress because they had been “brainwashed” by television programmes, the Jakarta Post reported.
“We reject any LGBT campaigns or propaganda because it goes against our regulations that promote child protection. The commission demands that the government protect our children from deviant sexual orientation,” a CPC spokeswoman was quoted as saying.
The Twitter hashtag #DaruratLGBT (LGBT emergency) has increasingly being used by homophobic users.
This month, the chief security minister, Luhut Panjaitan, said LGBT people were Indonesian citizens and had the right to be protected. But he added that he was grateful none of his family were part of the LGBT community.
This article first appeared on ‘The Guardian’ on 23 February 2016.