Loading

AIDS & Queers in Indonesia A history of HIV/AIDS and the queer community response based on materials from Queer Indonesia Archive

By the time the first known AIDS-related death in Indonesia was reported in 1987, the spectre of the virus had already been cast across the archipelago. Responding to the lack of government concern about their communities, LGBTQ+ community leaders took it upon themselves to communicate the risks and repercussions of HIV.

This exhibition showcases the story of HIV in Indonesia throughout the first two decades of the epidemic with a focus on the response from queer communities. Far from comprehensive, this exhibition showcases just some of the stories that make up the incredible response to HIV across the archipelago. We hope that the materials shown here illustrate that although the story of HIV is one full of death, violence and struggle - it is also one of resilience, joy and ultimately hope.

‘AIDS, Welcome to Indonesia’ article, Tempo, 29 October 1983

This Tempo Magazine article 'AIDS, Welcome to Indonesia' published on 29th October 1983, marks some of the first mainstream press coverage of HIV in Indonesia. Referring to AIDS as a homosexual disease, the article chronicles the first HIV research conducted in Indonesia by Dr. Zubairi Djoerban.

Dr. Djoerban studied the health of 30 waria* living in a community around in the Pasar Rumput area in Jakarta.

*Waria is an Indonesian term that may be (perhaps inadequately) translated as transgender woman. Contemporarily the term transpuan is increasingly preferred. This exhibition utilises waria to reflect the preferred term of the community during this time period.

Image: Tempo, 29th October 1993

Members of the waria community were initially chosen by Dr. Djoerban due to the assumption that the virus was only affecting those known for “homosexual behaviour”.

Since the first HIV antibody test would not become available until 2 years later, Djoerban’s study utilised a series of syndromic indicators to reach his diagnosis that 2 of the 30 waria in the study were HIV positive. Sadly, blood samples were not kept from this study so his diagnosis could not be conclusively confirmed.

The announcement of his research reinforced the public perception that there was a correlation between queerness and HIV.

Tempo’s article covering the first HIV-related death in Indonesia, 5th April 1986

In the above article Tempo reports on what is possibly the first HIV related death in Indonesia - the death of a 25-year-old woman who had contracted HIV from blood transfusions due to her haemophilia. However, contrary to media reporting on HIV in relation to gay and waria communities, the case was underplayed and the death was never formally confirmed as HIV related by the Indonesian Health Department.

‘An Attack Caused by Homo Sex Workers’ article, Tempo, 5th April, 1986

In the mainstream Indonesian media, gay men and waria were presumed to be responsible for any spread of HIV. Sensationalist and scandal focused reporting in major newspapers and magazines stoked the conflation of HIV with sexual and gender deviance.

By the late 80s, queer communities had started to organise against the conflation of their communities with HIV.

Image: Tempo, 12th April, 1986

Weeks after reports on planned bans on waria blood donation a waria led protest took place at the Indonesian red cross offices. Mami Myrna Saud, a long-standing waria community leader and activist, led the protest against the assumption that waria were somehow the bearers of disease. She also highlighted their growing social ostracization and stigmatisation due to HIV.

‘The Victims of AIDS and Waria’s Protest’ article, Tempo, 12th April 1986

In parallel to the conflation of HIV with homosexuality and waria, the growing HIV pandemic was also presented as a threat brought into Indonesia through tourism.

Various illustration about HIV/AIDS and Tourism (1985-1987)

As a key tourist destination, Bali became the focal point for sensationalist articles conflating gay bars, sex workers and (white gay) tourism with HIV. The tone set up HIV as a distant, foreign or “white” disease. Something the public did not need to fear ‘unless you are homosexual.’

Tempo’s article about AIDS and tourism in Bali, 12 April 1986

By the late 80s, the growing fear and uncertainty around HIV in Indonesia began to expand out of the newspapers into the entertainment industry.

AIDS Phobia VCD Cover, 1986

Made in 1986, AIDS Phobia was a feature-length film that was loosely based on popular reporting on HIV. Despite being a story of a hetero cis woman dealing with becoming HIV positive after a blood transfusion, the film ends with conflation of homosexuality and HIV through a hard cut from a sensationalist HIV headline and an intimate moment between an older Indonesian man and a white tourist.

These media narratives would be exacerbated when in 1987, the Indonesian Health Department announced the first official AIDS related death in Indonesia - a gay Dutch national based in Bali.

Media coverage of the death reinforced the image of HIV/AIDS as foreign and homosexual disease, and a possible punishment for a sinful life.

Image: Tempo, 25th April 1987

Article about the death of Edward G. Hop, Tempo, 25th April 1987

Due to the slow action of the Indonesian Health Department and the Government, the media remained one of the few sources of information about HIV for the general public. This inevitably led to sensationalist and tabloid-style reporting to dominate the public narrative on HIV. These stories often drew from homophobic and transphobic reporting coming out of the USA, bringing with them a whole new layer of stigma and discrimination aimed at the gay men and waria communities.

With community focused HIV information either absent or outright homophobic/transphobic, gay community groups begun to produce and distribute their own media.

Image: Jaka editions (1985-1989)

GAYa NUSANTARA and Jaka were two of the first community magazines to provide community focused HIV/AIDS news and information. These magazines provided a sorely needed alternative source of information, outside of a discourse all too ready to blame gay men and waria for the oncoming pandemic.

Cover of First Jaka Edition, 1985

Created by the gay men’s group Persaudaraan Gay Yogyakarta (PGY), Jaka published its first edition in 1985. This first edition featured the article “Sebaiknya Anda Tahu” (For Your Information) an explainer on HIV/AIDS. The article acknowledges the growing fears within the community in response to the spread of homophobic AIDS messaging in the media.

Sebaiknya Anda Tahu (For Your Information), Jaka #1 and #5, 1985

As the growing panic and fear within the community continued to grow some community members begun to believe that homosexuality brought about HIV and started to question their sexual orientation. Jaka responded directly to these concerns, spreading information to counter the ongoing misinformation and conflation in the media. These articles highlighted that HIV is not a homosexual disease, and gave suggestions on how to protect yourself from the virus.

In their first edition, published in 1987, GAYa NUSANTARA focused on preventative strategies for HIV - including some of the first community targeted condom use and HIV testing messaging. GAYa NUSANTARA was published by Kelompok Kerja Lesbian dan Gay Nusantara (KKLGN) based out of Surabaya.

‘Berita dan Ulasannya’ section talked about HIV/AIDS, GAYa NUSANTARA #1, 1987

Towards the end of the 80s, concerned community members worked with GAYa NUSANTARA to produce the first community brochure on HIV/AIDS. These would be distributed with the help of the Persekutuan dan Pelayanan Injil Metropolitan (a gay-friendly church based in Jakarta).

The brochure was adapted from materials made by the AIDS Committee Toronto (Canada), Victorian AIDS Council (Australia) and Gay Men Health’s Centre (US). Importantly the adaptation utilised informal language and bahasa cong (gay/waria language) to speak directly to the community. Unfortunately we have not yet been able to locate a copy of this important piece of Indonesian history - if you have a copy please let us know!

The adapted brochure, GAYa Nusantara #12, 1990

The brochure was distributed to gay men and waria who worked and socialised around Lapangan Banteng, Jakarta. An adaptation for the GAYa NUSANTARA magazine was later made to spread the messaging even further.

The number of LGBTQ+ organisations continued to grow, and by the early 90s a network of community organisations, social clubs, salons and safe spaces had set up both to support pro-LGBTQ+ activism and spread HIV and sexual health information.

The growth of the communication networks and magazines was vital in growing the community response to HIV.

Image: collage of illustrated posters from the 90’s editions of GAYa NUSANTARA, Buku Seri IPOOS and K-79

As the magazines grew in popularity, their letters section offered the first community forums for questions around sexual health and HIV. In these letters readers could seek advice, or share their views on HIV issues in a public community spare. It also allowed for community groups to share the successes of their HIV and sexual health programs.

Letters to The Editors from Jaka, GAYa NUSANTARA, 1985-1989

Paraikatte, a Makassar based magazine first published in 1994, created a letters based HIV hotline called ‘AIDS Line’. This section allowed readers to send in any questions or comments they have about HIV and sexual health with the newly formed GAYa Celebes responding to the communities questions and concerns.

AIDS Line, Paraikatte #2 dan #1, 1994

Responding to a growing need for counselling and support, the Yayasan Hotline Service Surya was formed in 1992. The founding members had been running a written counselling since 1989 through Harian Surya, a daily newspaper based in Surabaya.

After their founding, KKLGN worked closely with Hotline Surya to ensure that the needs of the gay and waria communities were met in their service. The collaboration provided peer counsellors twice a week, and KKLGN promoted the hotline through the GAYa NUSANTARA magazine.

Posters of Hotline Surya, GAYa NUSANTARA #20, 1993

Community collaborations with HIV services were vitally important in the early 90s. LGBTIQ+ perspectives were needed to create a safe counselling environment that wasn’t promoting heterosexuality or cisgender identities as a solution for the growing HIV epidemic.

Hotline Mitra Indonesia Ads, Buku Seri IPOOS #12 dan #14, 1994-1995

Founded in December 1993, Yayasan Mitra Indonesia was another telephone HIV counselling service. Some of the founding members were the long standing activists from Ikatan Persaudaraan Orang-orang Sehati or IPOOS - the first gay organisation in Jakarta.

Hotline Lentera and GAYa Celebes, Jaka-Jaka #6 (1994) & Media KIE GAYa Celebes #12 (1999)

Other community run or community friendly hotlines were Lentera in Yogyakarta, Yayasan Sidikara in Bandung, GAYa Celebes in Makassar and Unit Pelatihan dan Latihan Epidemiologi Komunitas (UPLEK) Udayana University in Bali.

Other Hotlines, Buku Seri IPOOS Juli 97 & K-79 #2, 1993

These hotlines either made sure to hire community volunteers, or worked in collaboration with some of the community run organisations in their area. They also worked with community organisations to spread their numbers through community channels, including the community magazines.

In the 90s, the approach to communicating about HIV to the community was a site of continuous trial and error. Information about the virus was still changing, as well as the understanding of the state of the epidemic in Indonesia. In the early 90s, Antiretroviral (ARV) medication was not yet freely available, so community groups offered support for those living with HIV and placed their energy into promoting prevention.

Media KIE GAYa Celebes #4, 95

Safer sex campaign posters became a popular medium during this time.

Image: a volunteer of Yayasan Citra Usadha Indonesia, Bali on front of posters wall, 1998 est.

Adaptation of campaign by the Victorian AIDS Council, 1990 to a poster in Buku Seri IPOOS #7, 1993

Initially, community groups focused on adapting existing materials from Australia, Canada and the USA. However as time went on, the need for Indonesian specific materials became clear.

Safer Sex Posters, Buku Seri Ipoos #12 & #13, 1994

As visual depictions of sex, especially non cis-het sexualities, were still taboo within Indonesia, communities groups tried to find ways to get their message across without compromising their standing in the community. K79, a zine initiated by Gaya Pandanaran in Semarang, and Media KIE magazine utilised drawn visuals and comic style to bring both intriguing visuals HIV information together.

Posters to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS

GAYa NUSANTARA took a more fun-focused and casual tonel in their sexual health campaigning. They used illustrations alongside provocative slogans, often utilising slang or bahasa cong.

Safer Sex Ad, GAYa NUSANTARA #17 & #15, 1991-1992

They also attempted to normalise and make fun condom use, using ongoing personified condoms and penis’ throughout their magazine.

In broader Indonesia, the condom was still an ongoing site of contention. Initially introduced in Indonesia as a birth control tool, the condom was restricted to married couples.

Image: collage of various illustrated condom ads in GAYa Nusantara, 1990-1996

Initially, condoms were only available through the government Keluarga Berencana or KB (birth control) program. Even in the early 90s, condoms stocks were still limited and the government did not actively encourage people to purchase condoms outside of marriage. Up until 1994, government programs avoided sexual health focused condom campaigns in an attempt to avoid compromising the image of the KB program.

With the lack of publicly available information and the general lack of access, many community members were unsure and uncomfortable with the use of condoms. In response, condom use instructions with illustrations were provided in many of the community publications. Condom use demonstrations were also a key part of community outreach at this time.

Article about latex condom and the issues around it, Tempo, 10th August, 1991

Access to condom safe lubricants was also an ongoing issue in this period. Popular lubricants like body lotion, baby oil or other oil-based lubricants were often used instead of water-based lubricants. There was also little understanding of the risks of using non-condom compatible lubricants in the wider community.

Lubricant information and ad, Buku Seri IPOOS #12 & #14, 1994-1995

By the late 90s, condoms were becoming more accepted and more widely available. In 1997, IPOOS collaborated with Sutra, a major condom brand, to try to make condoms more relatable to the gay community. As part of this collaboration, they held a condom slogan competition.

Slogan Competition, Buku Seri IPOOS, Nov 97

The 90s saw the founding of the first HIV focused NGO groups. The first of which was Lentera, a program of the Yogyakarta Indonesia Family Planning Association which was founded in 1993. They were active in creating community targeted sexual health campaigns, workshops and events. They were known for their interactive visual campaigns, and innovative use of entertainment mediums for HIV messaging.

A Lentera sticker campaign focused on condoms and HIV

Groups like Lentera drew extensively on community knowledge and expertise that had been fostered through the community response, recruiting many community members.

Some of the first staff members would go on to form their own organisations such as Mami Vin with Yayasan Kebaya and Anto with Yayasan Vesta Indonesia.

Image: Lentera’s Peer Educators training in Kaliurang, Yogyakarta. 1994 est.

Lentera also wrote some of the first HIV prevention workshop guidebooks to help share knowledge throughout Indonesia. Importantly this was showcased live with journalists in 1994, showing firsthand the community work being done to combat HIV. Marcel L with IPOOS also worked to adapt the ‘Gay Now, Play Safe’, a gay self-esteem and HIV prevention program developed by the Victorian Aids Council.

More established groups like KKLGN also met with community networks and informal gay and waria to groups to help them set up community-led responses to HIV. Most notably it was this skill sharing that would lead to the formation of GAYa Celebes in 1993.

Peer educators meeting and discussion, Media KIE GAYa Celebes, 2000

In Bali, Yayasan Citra Usadha Indonesia (YCUI) brought together gay men and waria outreach workers to support their HIV prevention efforts. On the 14th February 1992, these members would come together to form GAYa Dewata - Bali’s first LGBTQ+ HIV prevention organisation.

Outreach program in Buleleng, Bali. 1996 est.

One of the strongest education tools used by both HIV organisations and community groups is their ability to combine educational messaging in entertaining performances and activities. Locally known as Edutainment, many groups would utilise traditional theatre, dance, pageants, comedy sketches, and puppet shows to spread HIV prevention and safer sex messages.

In its first year, GAYa Celebes held many events including performances by popular waria performance group Sensasi Dolls, discotek dance nights and many pageants and fashion shows. They also founded the annual Pemilihan Waria Cantik Peduli AIDS (Miss Waria Against AIDS Pageant).

Miss Waria Against HIV/AIDS, Media KIE GAYa Celebes, 1999-2000

Community pageants were also popular in Bali. In 1993, Yayasan Gaya Dewata hosted the waria beauty pageant Putri Kebaya. In 1996, the first Raka Rai Gaya Dewata pageant was held. Both contests required participants to hold sufficient knowledge about HIV/AIDS and sexual health and showcase their leadership in the community.

Raka Rai Pageants, Bali, 1996

Traditional Theatre was also a popular event, allowing more engagement with the general public. In Yogyakarta, Lentera adapted wayang wong (puppet theatre) into a live-action story of the perils of HIV. In Jakarta, IPOOS would hold pageants and cabaret shows regularly.

Wayang Wong, Lentera.
Jaka Tarub performance by IPOOS, Buku Seri IPOOS #9, 1993

Importantly, these groups were not just places of education. For many, these organisations were their only support mechanism. This was particularly important for those living with HIV. The fear and stigma surrounding HIV meant that many were left alone in their final weeks. Richard Howard writes powerfully about the role IPOOS played in supporting those who died from HIV in the 90s.

A story of Aron, an IPOOS member who lived with HIV/AIDS, extracted from Richard Howards thesis ‘Falling Into the Gay World,’ 1997

Fear and stigma of HIV often lead to the erasure and abandonment of those who were dying from HIV. Supporting and memorialising LGBTQ+ community members who were living with HIV and those lost to HIV would remain an important part of the role of community groups.

The first Malam Tirakatan Mengenang Korban-Korban AIDS (AIDS Candlelight Memorial Night) was held in May 1991. KKLGN and Persatuan Waria Kotamadya Surabaya (Perwakos), a leading waria organisation in Surabaya, organised the event to support the people who were living with HIV/AIDS and memorialise those who passed away from it.

image: Poster of MRAN by GAYa Celebes, Paraikatte #2, 1994

At these events, the discrimination and stigma towards marginalised groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, sex workers, people living with HIV was acknowledged. The event was open to all affected by HIV, with the goal to promote love and support.

MRAN 1996 in Surabaya, GAYa NUSANTARA #47, 1997

In 1993, the Malam Tirakatan Mengenang Korban-Korban AIDS changed its name to Malam Renungan AIDS Nusantara (MRAN) or the Indonesian Aids Candlelight Memorial. The event became regularly organised across the nation.

MRAN by GAYa Dewata in Bali, 2001

After 1995, more organisations (not limited to LGBTQ+ ones) joined together in organising MRAN events, memorialising and commemorating those lost to HIV across the country.

Throughout the 1990s Indonesia held three Kongres Lesbian dan Gay Indonesia or Indonesian Lesbian and Gay Congresses. These events aimed to bring gay and lesbian leaders from across the country to strategise, share information and plan for the future.

Image: KLGI I-III, various sources

The first congress was held in Yogyakarta in 1993. This event saw community leaders passing resolutions on supporting and promoting non-discrimination against and inclusion of people living with HIV. Technical aspects of the HIV/AIDS programs (communication, voluntary testing and counselling, etc) were also discussed. The second (held in 1995 in Bandung) and third (held in 1997 in Bali) congresses held workshops related to HIV/AIDS (covering funding, counselling and forms of support for people living with HIV).

Opening Ceremony KLGI III, Bali, 1997

As the Indonesian government response to HIV became more formalised, community-based organisations and community leaders advocated for their communities and the importance of peer-based responses. In 1994. Marcel Lukas (a member of IPOOS) wrote an article in Kompas (a leading Indonesian newspaper) responding to the forming of Komisi Penanggulangan AIDS Nasional (National AIDS Commission) and the new national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS. He advocated for the importance of community-based organisations as first-hand educators for their peers.

Despite the advocacy of the community groups and leaders, the government-led programs and strategies of the 1990s focused primarily on the promotion of abstinence and faithfulness as the main strategies of HIV prevention. This would even see some regions rejecting condoms as an HIV prevention tools, despite the official government stance of ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms). An emphasis on a return to religious values and heteronormative family structures alienated gay and waria run organisations and the community developed HIV prevention strategies they had developed over their over 10 years of organizing .

The focus on heteronormative morality in the policymaking process excluded LGBTQ+ community, especially regarding access to community sensitive health care and sex education. Almost all public sexual and reproductive health services were designed for married-heterosexual couples. With gay men and waria communities seen as high-risk groups to be managed not catered for.

With the fall of the new order regime and the transition to the democratic reformasi period in 1998, the LGBTQ+ began to face violence and threats. In 1999, community leaders were forced to cancel their meetings due to threats, bringing to an end the gay and lesbian congresses.

In November 2000 Kerlap Kerlip Warna Kedaton, an HIV/AIDS event organised by Lentera with support by the Indonesian Gay Society, was violently attacked by a religious fundamentalist group. Around 600 people were in attendance of the event when 200 men attacked the event with weapons. Many people were hurt and many valuables were stolen.

Image: article collage of KKWK attack news coverage.

KKWK Poster, New Jaka-Jaka #6, 1999

The attacks made headlines across Indonesia but the tone was mixed. Some papers ran with the event as a sex party rather than an HIV event. After the attacks 57 men were brought in to the police for questioning, no one would be charged for the violence. This, unfortunately, would set a long-running precedent of inaction against homophobic vigilantism and mob violence.

Releases from IGS responding to the attack, 2000

Despite these new challenges, community organisations and community events continued to grow throughout the 2000s. In 2007, community groups from around the archipelago came together in the form of a new network of gay and waria groups working towards HIV prevention and support for people living with HIV. The network was called GWL-INA and it was a major step in strengthening the voice of the community at the national level. By 2015 over 100 community organisations had joined the network.

The resilience, innovation and solidarity shown throughout the community response to HIV continue to this day. Despite some tremendous victories, the battle against HIV in Indonesia is far from over. Current data shows that under 20% of people living with HIV in Indonesia are on treatment. This makes Indonesia one of the lowest treatment coverage rates in the world. New infections are at 46000 annually, with a majority of those people under 25. AIDS-related deaths are at 38000 people a year and show no sign of dropping.

Despite the ongoing and tireless efforts of LGBTQ+ community groups HIV continues to take a heavy toll on Indonesian LGBTQ+ communities, especially gay and bisexual men and waria/transpuan communities. HIV prevention aside, far too many of our HIV positive community members are isolated and stigmatised. Too many spend their last days alone in hospital wards.

We hope this exhibition has shown the tremendous things that can be achieved by working together, building new communities, new families and a new form of hope previously unimagined.

source: GAYa NUSANTARA #39, 1995

Queer Indonesia Archive would like to thank you for joining us in this journey through one part of our collection. If you want to look more closely at some of the items featured within the exhibition, please see our website.

This exhibition would not have been possible without the work and assistance of Dede Oetomo, Marcel L, Danny Yatim, Idik, Octavery Kamil, Mami Vinolia, Mbak Irma, Andreas, Jean-Pascal Elbaz, Made Efo, Ketut Yasa, John McGlynn, Dr. Zubairi Djoerban and the the many more who were involved in the creation and support of this exhibition.

The Queer Indonesia Archive is a digital archiving project committed to the collection, preservation and celebration of material reflecting the lives and experiences of queer Indonesia. The project is volunteer run, community focused and non-profit.

If you have any questions about any of the exhibition content, or if you have any suggestions of contributions for materials for the Queer Indonesia Archive Collection please email us at info@qiarchive.org

This exhibition is a proud participant in the Southeast Asia Queer Cultural Festival 2021 - Please see their website for their full program including two more exhibitions drawn from the Queer Indonesia Archive collections.

This exhibition also been supported by the ASEAN SOGIE CAUCUS and VOICE Global
This work is licensed under Creative Commons License BY-SA 4.0. Sourced materials shown remain the copyright of their original copyright holders and are presented on this site without profit for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes 'fair use'. If you wish for any of your materials to be removed from this exhibition please contact Queer Indonesia Archive. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this exhibition for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.