The LGBT+ community is growing; all over the world, people of all genders and sexualities are increasingly feeling safer to come out. It’s a beautiful sight to see, as opening our arms to more expressions of human can only be a good thing. However, in so many parts of the world being an out and proud member of the LGBT+ community is more difficult than ever. On January 27th, several beauty salons in Aceh province, Indonesia, were raided. During the raid, 12 transgender women working at the salons were taken to the local police station, where they were detained. Whilst detained, they had their hair cut off, and were forced to wear “men’s” clothing in an attempt to make them less womanly. “We are holding them for three days to give them counselling and coaching. It’s going well and now they are all acting like real men” said local police chief Ahmad Untung Surianata, in a report for the BBC.
Such a drastic approach to these women was taken simply because they are transgender. They committed no crime (and even if they had done, having your hair chopped off and being trained how to be a “real man” is no just punishment), yet still, they were detained. The images of the operation dubbed “Operation Anti Moral Illness” are haunting, to say the least.
Not only were these women publicly violated and humiliated, they had their main source of income taken away; the salons that were shut down in the raid. The Indonesian National Commission of Human Rights has condemned the actions of the police, but how much is this worth if ultimately nothing is done to protect these women before the fact? How useful is it to only condemn the behaviour after it happens rather than trying to prevent it?
The aftermath of the detainment of these women has been interesting, to say the least; fear surrounding the LGBT+ community has been growing not just in Indonesia, but globally, and it reaches its peak at raids like the one in Aceh. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia using Sharia law as it’s main law system, and this has been blamed for the rise in homophobic and transphobic attacks all over Indonesia, not just in Aceh (just last year, 2 men were publicly caned 80 times for homosexuality). Awkwardly enough, Sharia law doesn’t actually outlaw transgender people. It seems that such transphobia has been hidden under the veil of Sharia law, as once again, a mostly peaceful religion has been used to justify horrifying actions. There’s a difference between culture and faith, and the culture of homophobia and transphobia exists everywhere and is not unique to Islamic areas of the world. In other parts of Indonesia, transgender people are not only accepted, but deified. In America, the term “two-spirit” is attached to transgender Native Americans and signifies a balance of both genders within one person. So, transphobia, like every other form of discrimination, just does not need to happen.
Yet, in a world where concentration-like camps are in full swing in Chechnya, and where the life expectancy for black trans women in the US (the richest country in the world, by the way) is 35, the prevailing message to the LGBT+ community is that they’re simply not safe. So, to the women in Indonesia who set up their own salons and lived in their transition regardless, your bravery doesn’t go unnoticed.
Written by Rochelle Asquith