SOAS University of London

School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Gender, Sexuality, Religion: Thinking Beyond LGBT Moral Panics in Indonesia

Gender, Sexuality, Religion... Indonesia poster LCL IMG 485 186 56

Date: 13 July 2019Time: 11:00 AM

Finishes: 13 July 2019Time: 1:15 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G51

Type of Event: Workshop

Chair: Alice Finden, PhD candidate in Gender and Sexuality Studies at SOAS

Speakers: Saskia Wieringa, Ferdiansyah Thajib, Ben Murtagh, Diego García Rodríguez


This one-day workshop aims to examine the emergence of sexual and moral panics in Indonesia. Academic discussions and media articles have set the first months of 2016 as the start of an unprecedented series of anti-LGBT attacks in Indonesia occurring simultaneously at multiple levels. These attacks included statements made by government officials and politicians against the LGBT community. For example, in early 2016 the Minister of Higher Education publicly stated his aim to ban LGBT student groups from universities (Jakarta Post 2016), which was followed by the Minister of Defence comparing the LGBT community with “a proxy war” stating that it is not only “dangerous” but also “skews the mindset of our nation away from our base ideology” (Tempo 2016). In the midst of this anti-LGBT hysteria, police raids took place at saunas, bars, hotels, warung, beauty salons and private housing. The pesantren waria, an Islamic boarding school for waria (roughly translated as transgender women), was attacked by the militant Islamic group Front Jihad Islam (FJI) forcing its leader to shut it down. The homophobic rhetoric, further spread by conservative media, translated into violent attacks perpetrated by, among others, radical groups and municipal police forces (SatPol PP). While media attraction and increasing academic conversations on these attacks seem to have started after the 2016 events, similar events had taken place before that year pointing to the fact that this is not a new phenomenon nor did it suddenly start at this specific historical time. Well before 2016, in 1999 an attempted national meeting of the “Indonesian Lesbian and Gay Network” in Surabaya was attacked by a radical group, while in 2000 a gay and waria show was interrupted through a violent breakup in Yogyakarta (Boellstorff 2016).

Sexual and moral panics fuelled the expansion of imperial powers from the 18th to the 20th centuries, but they have also been useful to uphold authoritarian regimes such as Suharto’s New Order in Indonesia (Wieringa 2009). Through what Boellstorff has termed “State Straightism” Indonesians have been officially defined as “heterosexual and normatively gendered” leading to the exclusion of LGBT citizens from national belonging. Conservative voices have built the “LGBT community” as a ‘Western’ export threatening Indonesian morals and values (and often simultaneously, Islamic principles) through the construction of moral panics that are presumed to challenge stable social orders. In this context, the assumption that LGBT people threaten normative genders and sexualities has often been built around the concept of ‘teroris moral’ (“moral terrorism”) through a reverse discourse employed by hard-line Islamic groups who are often described as terrorists themselves (Boellstorff 2014: 151). Through this workshop, we aim to explore the reasons why moral panics seem to have grown more frequent in Indonesia while also considering the reactions to the anti-LGBT climate from progressive figures. How can this rising intolerance be explained? And how is it being contested by those who are discriminated and their allies?

Workshop programme:

Each speaker will have 20 minutes to present. We will start with two presentations and a round of Q&A, which will be followed by the two final presentations with a further round of Q&A. We will also have time to discuss additional ideas at the end of the event.

Ferdiansyah Thajib, Freie Universität Berlin

Enduring Hostility: Unpacking the affective dimensions of anti-queer sentiments in Indonesia

Diego García Rodríguez, University College London

‘My Islam is rahmatan lil 'alamin’: Contesting heterosexism and homophobia through progressive Islam in Indonesia

Saskia Wieringa, University of Amsterdam

Sexual moral panic as a political project: Exploring the linkages between ‘Communistphobia’ and homophobia in Indonesia

Ben Murtagh, SOAS University of London

‘There’s no place for us here’: imagining a queer world in Indonesian cinema.

Organisers: Ben Murtagh (School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, SOAS), Diego García (CMII, UCL), Alice Finden (Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS)

Registration: This event is open to the public and free to attend

Contact email:

About the speakers:

Saskia Wieringa

Saskia E. Wieringa is an honorary Emeritus Professor at the University of Amsterdam. She is also the co-founder of the Kartini Asia Network. Since the late 1970s she has done research on women’s movements, sexual politics and same-sex relations in many parts of the world, particularly in Indonesia. She chairs the International People's Tribunal on the 1965 Crimes Against Humanity in Indonesia and co-organised the Tribunal on that topic, held in November 2015.  She has written and (co-) edited more than 30 books and over 200 articles. Her latest books include: (2012 co-edited with Nursyahbani Katjasungkana) The Future of Asian Feminisms; (2013 co-edited with Horacio Sivori) Sexual Politics in the Global South (2013, co-edited with Maznah Mohamad), Family ambiguity and domestic violence in Asia: concept,  law and process, Propaganda and the genocide in Indonesia; imagined evil (2018 Routledge); and The International People’s Tribunal and the Indonesian genocide (co-editor, 2019 Routledge). Her recent research projects focus on women’s same- sex relations in historical perspective in Indonesia and on the post-1965 violence in East Java.

Ferdiansyah Thajib

Ferdiansyah Thajib is a PhD Candidate at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin. He was also an Associate Scholar at “The Researcher’s Affects project”, funded by The Volkswagen Foundation. Since 2007, he has been a member of KUNCI Cultural Studies Center, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. KUNCI is a research collective that focuses on critical knowledge production and sharing through cross-disciplinary encounters, action-research and vernacular education with and across community spaces. His lifework is situated at the intersections of theory and praxis, with specific research interests on queer modes of endurance and forms of affective entanglement in everyday life. In 2017, Ferdi joined the Institute for Queer Theory, Berlin, mainly as co-initiator of the public event series “When does it become violence?”. He has published various journal articles and book chapters. Together with Thomas Stodulka and Samia Dinkelaker, he has co-edited the upcoming anthology “Affective Dimensions of Fieldwork and Ethnography“(2019).

Ben Murtagh

Ben Murtagh is Senior Lecturer in Indonesian and Malay at SOAS University of London, where he is currently Head of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics. His recent research has been focussed on representations of alternative sexualities and genders in Indonesian film and literature.  He has published a number of journal articles and book chapters on this topic and his book Genders and Sexualities in Indonesian Cinema: constructing gay, lesbi and waria identities on screen was published by Routledge in 2013. His most article, "Reimagining HIV in Indonesian online media: a discussion of two recent Indonesian webseries",  has just been published in the edited the book Queer Asia: decolonising and reimagining sexuality and gender (eds Daniel Luther and Jennifer Loh ) published by Zed Books (2019). He is currently developing a new research project focusing on representation of HIV/AIDS in popular culture in South East Asia.

Diego García Rodríguez

Diego García Rodríguez ( is a PhD candidate in Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University College London (UCL) Centre for Multidisciplinary & Intercultural Inquiry (CMII). His research explores the everyday religion of queer Muslims in Indonesia in conversation with the emergence of progressive discourses using Islam to promote queer rights. Among other activities, he has published articles on Inside Indonesia (“Reclaiming Indonesian citizenship” 2019; “When sexuality meets faith” 2015), the Zed Books website (“Waiting for the Worst” 2017); and book reviews on The Journal of Refugee Studies, Journal of Religion and Gender and the Gender Forum Journal. His most recent article “The Muslim Waria of Yogyakarta: Finding agency within submission” will be published in August 2019 on TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

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