Amid Indonesia’s ongoing crackdown on LGBTQ citizens, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the country’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown has worsened Indonesian HIV rates. HIV rates among the country’s gay men has increased five-fold: from 5% in 2007 to 25% in 2017. Andreas Harsono, a longtime Asia-based journalist with HRW, has said that the anti-LGBTQ policies “might bring Indonesia 20 to 30 years back to the 1980s when the HIV/AIDS virus was still new.”
HRW’s findings came after interviewing 48 Indonesian witnesses, health workers and activists. Since 2017, Indonesian authorities have raided at least seven LGBTQ spaces where people hoped to safely “discuss health issues, make friends and build community.” Vague laws and overzealous police fueled these raids amid an atmosphere of heightened anti-LGBTQ hate speech, the HRW writes.
Anti-LGBTQ hate is primarily being used as a political tool to rile up conservative sentiment against the despised minority, and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has not opposed any anti-LGBTQ political statements and policy proposals. Even though a 2017 Indonesian poll found wide disapproval of LGBTQ people, few respondents could say what LGBTQ even stood for.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) only make up one-third of the country’s overall HIV cases. Nevertheless, HRW says that the increase of HIV rates among MSM is undoubtedly linked to the country’s oppressive policies that force “vulnerable people into the shadows, effectively derailing public health outreach and safe-sex education efforts,” according to abc.net.au.
A brief rundown of anti-LGBTQ policies that worsened Indonesian HIV rates
After publicly humiliating 141 men arrested in a gay sauna, the capitol city founded an anti-LGBTQ police force, the government proposed a law to ban all LGBTQ TV content, the Air Force called LGBTQ identity “a mental disorder,” the country tried to shut down an international gay sporting event and one region in particular recently arrested 12 transgender women and shaved their heads to “make them men.”
Earlier this year, the Indonesian government started to ban gay social apps and banned Tumblr, the popular microblogging social network, because of its porn content. The country also reportedly destroyed hundreds of LGBT comics at a major Jakarta post office after being shipped in from China and is currently considering a law criminalizing all “indecent sex” that would worsen attacks against queer and non-married straight people having consensual sex.
Economists estimate that Indonesia’s anti-LGBTQ policies have cost the country anywhere from $900 million to $12 billion in lost revenue per year.
Feature image by Heri Juanda via Associated Press