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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.