New Emissary

Indonesian Q! Storm

An ongoing gay and lesbian film festival has ignited controversy – and raised concerns about the use of social media.

Organizers of Indonesia’s 9th annual Q! Film Festival have forged ahead with scheduled film screenings in the capital city despite facing threats last week from the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the county’s most prominent and hard-line Muslim organization.

Homosexuality isn’t illegal in the country, about 80 percent of which is Muslim. However, the FPI stated last Friday that homosexuality is an ‘abuse of human rights,’ and demanded that the Indonesian government ban the event.

The month-long Q! Film Festival, which opened in Jakarta on September 24, is known to be the biggest festival of its kind in Asia and will this year screen 150 films from over 20 countries.

I spoke to Hera Diani, a freelance journalist based in Jakarta, about the current situation and the controversy surrounding the film festival. Diani, who wrote ‘Muslim Twitter Wars’ published in The Diplomat earlier this year, has herself attended Q! several times over the past decade, and described the atmosphere as ‘relaxed and intimate.’ She mentioned also that the event is really no different from any other film festival she’s attended.

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On whether she’s sensed the increasing intolerance towards gay people in Indonesia as reported recently by the media, Diani warned against generalizing, saying that it’s in her opinion still a case-by-case issue: ‘the intolerance toward gays has always been around because Indonesian society is generally conservative. Parents disown their children over it, gay people are mocked and condemnation has been voiced by many religious leaders, not only Islamic. But cases of actual gay bashing are a rare extreme.’ She pointed out, however, that if intolerance really is rising, that it’s likely to be centred in Aceh Province, which last year criminalized homosexuality and punishes adultery with stoning.

Diani also touched on the new role of online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook in the country. Such forums have, according to her, increasingly become tools for propagating intolerance and in the case of the Q! Film Fest, have allowed ‘homophobes and religious hardliners to freely attack gay-friendly crowds, and vice versa.’

It’s clearly difficult for any country or person at present to impose legislation for users within online communities, which are still rapidly evolving and simply uncharted territory. Such laws would also raise questions of free speech and censorship. However, I hope that the lack of restrictions doesn’t lead to more cases like the tragic case of Tyler Clementi, one of a spate of gay US teens who have committed suicide recently, in this case after his college roommate deplorably exposed his private life on Twitter.