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Indonesian University Tries to Weed Out LGBTQ Applicants

An Indonesian university has come under fire for requiring prospective students to declare on a form that they are not LGBTQ.
Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia
Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra, IndonesiaGoogle

A state university in Indonesia has come under fire from international human-rights advocates for requiring prospective students to declare on a form that they are not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender before applying and enrolling at the institution.

Andalas University in West Sumatra has since removed the digital form from its website, but school administrators stand by the requirement, according to a local new source.

"If a student doesn’t want to sign the form, there’s no need to register," Tafdil Husni, a University of Andalas official, told local news site last week. The report also noted the form was taken down to be revised, not permanently removed.

Andalas University did not respond to NBC Out's multiple requests for comment.

Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia
Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra, IndonesiaGoogle

The controversy surrounding the university form, which was ignited at the end of April, is just one of many involving LGBTQ rights in the Southeast Asian nation, the world’s fourth-largest country by population and the largest Muslim-majority country.

Kyle Knight, an LGBTQ researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ statements started in January 2016, when Indonesia's Minister of Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, said he did not want lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student groups on university campuses.

“For over a year now, Indonesia’s LGBT community has been besieged by a government-driven campaign of bigoted and discriminatory vitriol,” Knight said in an email to NBC Out.

The comment by the Minister of Higher Education was reportedly in response to the Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC), which started on the campus of the University of Indonesia in April 2014. The organization was founded to offer support and resources to students pertaining to their gender and sexuality, according to co-founder Arief, who asked that his last name not be published.

“We develop a close relationship between members, we learn together, we bond together and even share secrets among each other," Arief told NBC Out. "Since gender and sexuality is considered a taboo here in Indonesia, SGRC acts like an oasis in the middle of the desert.”

Following Minister Nasir's controversial statements last January, which he later backtracked on via Twitter, anti-LGBTQ statements began popping up from government officials, religious groups and non-governmental organizations, according to a Human Rights Watch report about the threats facing Indonesia's LGBTQ community.

“Psychiatrists proclaimed same-sex sexual orientation and transgender identities as ‘mental illnesses,’” according to the report, which was published in August, and "the country’s largest Muslim organization called for criminalization of LGBT behaviors and activism, and forced ‘rehabilitation’ for LGBT people."

Within three months of the Minister's comments, "the cacophony had died down, and the moral panic subsided, but the repercussions continue to be felt by LGBT people in Indonesia," the report stated.

As for the controversy involving Andalas University, Arief said the increase in intolerance, especially toward LGBTQ people, is based on moral and religion beliefs, with a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about the issue.

“In Indonesia, LGBT is still considered as a mental disorder, which is pretty backward since the [American Psychiatric Association] declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1974,” Arief said. "The student council of Andalas University released a statement [in late April], in which they said that LGBT is a ‘disease, worse than prostitution, rape and even murder.’ There are a few LGBT friends from Andalas University that are currently in touch with us, updating with new information, while expressing their concern and fear of the LGBT hunting.”

Knight said university administrators are bowing to pressure from conservative groups and militant Islamists. They use LGBTQ issues to increase support for their political causes and distract from the real issues in the country, he said.

“The fact that so many government officials and politicians entered the fray and insulted LGBT people publicly in 2016 continues to be compounded by the president’s inaction,” Knight added. “The government has — time and time again — failed to stand between minorities and those who attack them. That education institutions are perpetuating these stigmatizing and hateful ideas is particularly disturbing.”

In another recent instance of reported anti-LGBTQ activity in the country, Human Rights Watch said Indonesian police conducted a raid targeting gay men, ordering 14 of them at a hotel in the country’s second-largest city, Surabaya, to undergo HIV testing. The organization said eight of the men were then arrested on charges of violating anti-pornography laws. The World Health Organization’s guidelines say mandatory, compulsory or coercive HIV testing is not appropriate.

“Indonesian police are again violating the basic rights of LGBT people by invading their privacy,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The Surabaya raid subjected these gay men to traumatic humiliation ... and threatens the privacy rights of all Indonesians.”

Editor's Note: This story was edited on May 31, 2017. NBC Out removed the last name of Arief at his request, citing fears for his safety due to the increasingly anti-LGBTQ environment in Indonesia.

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