Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world and at the same time it has a vibrant transgender culture and tradition, known as waria. This report looks at the community its fight for equal rights.
“No homosexuality! They’re worse than animals”, a preacher leading a rally screams. While acceptance is growing in some areas of society, a small but vocal group of Islamic hardliners is making its voice heard. “We’re disturbed by their presence”, says Muhammed Fuad from Forum Umat Islam. “They shouldn’t be allowed to feel normal.” Rejected by their families and persecuted by society, many waria end up struggling to survive as sex workers in the cities. “Waria have been set alight, shot dead, mutilated”, explains Mama Yuli, a campaigner for transgender rights, “but when we go to the police they don’t help. They always say it’s our fault.” Now the first to graduate from Islamic University and head the Indonesian Waria Communication Forum, Mama Yuli is hoping she can spearhead a change in perception and protect her marginalised community. Elsewhere, Mama Shinta agrees, saying that both waria culture and Islamic tradition can coexist. She runs an Islamist school specifically for waria. “We have to live with this, whether we like it or not. In the end we have to accept it and accepting that makes us closer to the creator. The one who makes us Waria is Allah”.