When sexuality meets faith in Indonesia
Diego García Rodríguez
In March 2010, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Organisation Conference was set to go ahead in Surabaya, Java. A group of conservative Muslims, some of them members of the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front), occupied the hotel where Conference participants were staying. The police ordered that the conference be cancelled for reasons of public safety. Later that year the same group of conservative Muslims attacked an international gay film festival in Jakarta. In response to these events, a group of ten young people came together to create the Youth Interfaith Forum on Sexuality (YIFOS).
Four years later, during the summer of 2014, I meet Yulia and Vica, two of the organisation’s members, in a café in Malioboro Street, Yogyakarta. Both have come from Jakarta to discuss ideas with Yogyakarta-based activists working on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the city. Yulia and Vica seem excited to talk about their project. While having an ice cream, with some Arabic-style Indonesian songs playing in the background, we speak about sexuality and faith in Indonesia, and the work of YIFOS.
Creating safe spaces
YIFOS began as a community-based organisation bringing together members of Muslim, Catholic and Buddhist communities. The organisation’s goal was to foster exchange between members of different religions about faith and sexuality. ‘In Indonesia we never have the chance to discuss our own sexuality,’ Vica points out. The lack of safe spaces for young people to speak freely about sexuality and faith was what prompted YIFOS’s establishment.
From its conception, YIFOS has aimed to involve religious leaders in its efforts. ‘So we invited religious leaders to talk at local groups and discuss sexuality and faith.’ Yulia explains that people of all religions are welcome to join this discussion, providing they are willing to bring an open mind. The focus of YIFOS dialogues is always to put young people first, allowing them to search out grounds of commonality, negotiating religious values and issues of concern around sexuality and the LGBT community, without fear of judgement.
The inclusion of religious authorities in debates on sexuality is a new phenomenon in Indonesia. The country has seen the emergence of interfaith organisations such as Interfidei in Yogyakarta in 1991, or the Regional Interfaith Youth Network formed in Ambon in 2005. However, YIFOS is the first space in which simultaneous discussions on sexuality and faith are encouraged. Unlike other groups working in a single city or region, YIFOS has operated across the country since 2011. For Catholic communities, the organisation has visited centres where regular discussions among youth regarding sexuality were already in place. With participants already in place, all that YIFOS needs to provide are materials. YIFOS also works with Islamic youth organisations on university campuses.
The participants express their feelings after one of the sessions. Yulia Dwi Andriyanti
Before the arrival of YIFOS, reflects Yulia, ‘it was quite difficult to talk about sexuality within faith groups; but also when we went to LGBT groups, they were quite reluctant to speak about God.’ By creating safe spaces where young people can feel comfortable speaking about their sexual and religious identities, the participants in YIFOS dialogues are able to realise what they have in common as young people, instead of focusing on their differences.
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