Indonesian university student website censored over lesbian love story

Banners against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on December 27, 2017

A university rector in Indonesia has demanded the removal of a lesbian love story from a student publication, and dismissed the outlet’s editorial board after they refused to do so.

The 1,000-word fictional piece, titled “Semua Menolak Kehadiran Diriku di Dekatnya,” meaning “Everyone Refuses My Presence Near Her,” was published on March 12 on the website of North Sumatra University (USU), a public institution in the North Sumatra province.

The lesbian love story was then shared to the publication’s Instagram account on March 18 and it went viral, as its author Yael Stefany Sinaga told local news outlet Tempo.

The story discusses the experience of a woman who falls in love with another woman, and the feeling of rejection she faces as a consequence of society’s rejection of their relationship. Yael said her intention was to highlight discrimination against minority groups.

The lesbian love story was shared on another student media platform.

The lesbian love story was published in its entirety on students’ social media platforms protesting the censorship. (SUARA Realitas/Facebook)

The day after the story was shared on Instagram, Yael and the other students working on the Suara USU website were summoned to see rector Runtung Sitepu.

Runtung confirmed to the local news outlet he objected to the publication of the lesbian love story, claiming it contained “pornography” and did not reflect the university’s values. He also requested that it was removed from the website.

On Monday (March 25), the rector met with other university administrators, who decided to dismiss the website’s editorial board, as the Suara USU website itself reported.

Backlash to lesbian love story latest episode of anti-LGBT moral panic

The student website was also suspended, but its content remains accessible it was moved to a different web provider.

“Universities are supposed to be bastions of academic freedom, and censorship has no place in modern Indonesia. The Indonesian government should be supporting the rights of LGBT people, not undermining them” wrote Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at Human Rights Watch, in sharing news of the controversy over the lesbian love story.

As Human Rights Watch noted, the discussion of LGBT+ issues in university has been a contentious topic in Indonesia for the past few years. In January 2016, Indonesia’s Higher Education Minister Mohammed Nasir, tweeted that he wanted to ban all LGBT student groups from university campuses as part of a wave of anti-LGBT moral panic that has engulfed the country.

In Indonesia, gay sex is illegal in the province of Aceh under Sharia law and for Muslims living in the city of Palembang, but existing laws on pornography are often used to crack down on the LGBT+ community elsewhere in the country.

Ten women were arrested in November in Padang, West Sumatra, on suspicion of “lesbian deviant behaviour” after authorities monitored the women’s activities on social media.