They had gathered to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but last weekend a group of transgender women in Indonesia found themselves hounded by extremist vigilantes.
According to Human Rights Watch, the gang spied on the party, which took place in Aceh, and then tipped off police. Authorities detained seven of the women for 24 hours and chastised them for “bad morals.”
Aceh adopted sharia law in 2005, criminalizing same-sex relations with jail time and up to 100 lashes. Hundreds turned out earlier this year when two men were publicly caned after being caught in a compromising position.
Local officials aggressively stoked homophobia: In 2013 Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin declared “homosexuals are encroaching on our city” and vowed to purge the region of LGBT people. Three years later, she announced the creation of a special committee to boost public awareness of the LGBT “threat” and to train LGBT people to “return to a normal life.”
While Aceh is the only province to adopt sharia, homophobia and transphobia are on the rise throughout the country: In September an apartment where a dozen women lived was raided after neighbors accused them of being lesbians.
Media reports focused on the fact that six of the twelve, all of whom worked in a local garment factory, had short haircuts and dressed “as men.”
In October, police arrested more than 50 men at a sauna in Jakarta for alleged homosexuality. The suspects were forced to take HIV tests and the results were released to the public.
An attempt to criminalize homosexuality by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court failed by a narrow 5-4 decision.