Jakarta election commission reaching out to transgender community to help them exercise voting rights

With anti-LGBT sentiment at “alarmingly” high levels in Indonesia (stoked at least in part by political interests), few Indonesian authorities are brave enough to speak out in defense of the rights of the highly stigmatized minority group.

One of the very few exceptions is Jakarta’s General Election Commission (KPU), which claims to be reaching out to the waria (the Indonesian term for transgender women) community to invite them to exercise their voting rights in the presidential and legislative elections on April 17.

Jakarta KPU Commissioner Partono said that his commission was reaching out to a number of marginalized groups, including those in the LGBT community.

“We are also [reaching out to] the waria community,” Partono said at his office yesterday as quoted by state-run news agency Antara.

Partono said that in addition to the waria community, the capital’s KPU was also reaching out to women’s groups, community organizations and first-time voters to give them information on topics such as registering to vote, checking their voter registration status and what to do on election day.

Although waria have long been accepted members of many Indonesian communities, in recent years they have faced increasingly harsh discrimination and abuse, especially in certain highly conservative regions like West Sumatra and Aceh.

President Joko Widodo has made tepid remarks about protecting the LGBT community, but neither he nor his election rival Prabowo Subianto has made any overt overtures towards their community (or anti-LGBT crusaders, for that matter).

Despite their silence on the issue, both Jokowi and Prabowo have allies that have expressed strong anti-LGBT opinions in the past. The president’s running mate, Indonesian Ulema Council Chairperson Ma’ruf Amin, signed off on a fatwa calling for LGBT behavior to be made illegal. As for Prabowo, he has courted the support of hardliners such as Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) head Rizieq Shihab, who has said that if you want LGBT to be banned you should vote for Prabowo.

So while we applaud KPU for reaching out to the waria community, we couldn’t blame any of them for wanting to abstain from voting due to their dissatisfaction with both tickets (not that we’re advocating the idea of abstaining, because apparently, that could be a crime).

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