March 19, 2020 / 9:23 AM / in 20 days

INTERVIEW-Gay YouTuber takes aim at Indonesia's 'sexual deviant' bill

KUALA LUMPUR, March 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indonesian YouTube star, whose videos about being gay and living with HIV have generated millions of views, is hoping his popular channel will help fight moves by lawmakers to clamp down on the country’s beleaguered LGBT+ community.

In recent years, there has been a rise in anti-LGBT+ sentiment in the Southeast Asian nation, where homosexuality is not a crime but remains taboo.

Under a new law proposed by Indonesian legislators last month, homosexuality would be defined as “sexual deviation” and LGBT+ people would be required to be treated at rehabilitation centres.

This prejudice towards LGBT+ people spurred Acep Saepudin, a gay Muslim, to take to YouTube two years ago and openly fight misinformation - including on the latest proposed law.

“Homosexuality is not sexual deviation,” the 24-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from his hometown in Indonesia’s West Java province on Thursday.

“This law will cause more stigma, bullying and persecution against LGBT+ people. I’m worried that more LGBT+ people will be forced to undergo conversion therapy and depression will go up.”

Conversion therapy, now widely discredited, is rooted in the belief that LGBT+ people have a mental illness which can be cured through psychological, spiritual, or in extreme cases physical means.

Saepudin, who has more than 100,000 Instagram followers and subscribers to his YouTube channel, called the move by lawmakers “puzzling” in a recent video and vowed to keep up the pressure until the bill is scrapped.

In 2018, he defied public hostility to became one of the first gay Indonesians to campaign on LGBT+ and HIV issues using YouTube - two weeks after he was diagnosed with the virus. His most-viewed video has been seen 3.5 million times.

Supporters of the “family resilience bill”, which would also see incest and sadomasochism labelled “sexual deviations”, have said it aims to foster family values.

The bill has appeared on Indonesian parliament’s priority list for the 2020-2024 period, prompting criticism from human rights campaigners.

The LGBT+ community have long been largely tolerated in Indonesia, but they have faced a growing backlash since a wave of anti-gay rhetoric in 2016, with a rise in laws and raids targeting the community.

Saepudin said he chose to use YouTube because he can reach a wider audience and it was “real” to show who he was.

He warned widespread anti-gay biases could threaten Indonesia’s goal to end an AIDS epidemic by 2030, recalling his own experience when he sought testing at a government clinic.

“The doctor told me ‘people like you shouldn’t exist in Indonesia’,” said Saepudin. “For many gay people, they are nervous even before they go to the clinics.”

“This is why we shouldn’t have bizarre laws targeting LGBT+ people that would make the prejudice worse,” he added.

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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