Koran Tempo – Tens of thousands of transgender people are threatened with losing their right to vote in the 2024 General Elections due to a lack of citizen documents. Those who are evicted from their homeland because of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) label face more problems. Together with Jaring.id, Koran Tempo met with a number of transgender groups in several regions, including Yogyakarta and East Nusa Tenggara, ahead of International Democracy Day which falls every September 15.
Deserted in democracy party
Ahead of the 2024 General Elections, transgender groups are still at risk of not having access to vote. Besides being excluded from families, their political rights are abolished.
Exactly on International Day of Democracy, Thursday, September 15, 2022, transgender groups are still excluded from Indonesian politics. More than tens of thousands of transgender women lose their right to vote along with being stripped of their identity as Indonesian citizens. They are only seen as spectators, entertainers, or even propaganda communities in the frenzy of general elections and regional head elections.
For three months starting June 2022, Koran Tempo and Jaring.id collaborated on special coverage to take a closer look at the situation faced by transgender women in a number of regions. The team met with them in Jakarta, Central Java, Yogyakarta, and East Nusa Tenggara. Remote interviews were also conducted with leaders of the transgender community in West Java, Bali, and Aceh. This is the first of the two series of special coverage on transgender women in the vortex of politics.
This collaborative report was made possible thanks to the Nusantara Media Development Association (PPMN) and The Asia-Pacific Regional Support for Elections and Political Transitions (RESPECT). The program also involved the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and Lafaek News (Timor Leste).
'I was exiled, not protected'
Jeny broke down in tears again as she recalled her early days in Yogyakarta almost two decades ago. At that time, the courtyard of Lempuyangan Station was her home. The junction of Prambanan Temple used to be the source of her livelihood as a street performer for years.
Jeny touched down in Yogyakarta in 2003, indeed not for travel. She was evicted from her home in Subang, West Java. The family objected to her choice to be a transgender woman. Jeny was assigned male at birth 39 years ago and named Nendi. "My family is the first people who discriminate against me, then society. I'm a human being who is not being taken care of," said Jeny, when met at the headquarters of the Yogyakarta Transgender Family.
Throughout the day, on Tuesday, August 30, Jeny repeatedly shed tears. She did not regret her gender choice. Yet in the last seven years, she realized that living in "exile" since her youth had practically made her lose her identity as an Indonesian citizen.
For almost two decades, she lived without a single citizen document. During that time, Jeny never got her rights as a citizen, including in politics. "I can't vote during SBY's two office terms and Jokowi's two office terms," said Jeny, adding that paralegal training held by the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH) back in 2015 made her understand political rights. "I was not aware of this before, focusing on getting food and living."
Since then, Jeny claimed she encountered difficulties in applying for an identity card or KTP. Her three applications submitted to the Population and Civil Registration Office of Sleman Regency failed. She could not fulfill a number of requirements, including the recommendation letter to change her domicile. To manage this, she had to return to Subang. "The officers didn't know that my family didn't want to accept me," she said.
Her hard efforts fortunately paid off in August last year. Through a citizen advocacy program held by Suara Kita, Jeny finally obtained an ID card. With an identity card, she could have a bank card, a taxpayer identification number or NPWP, and a membership card of the national health insurance (BPJS).
Suara Kita is an organization that provides advocacy for equality and justice to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) groups. In recent years, Suara Kita has been actively lobbying the Ministry of Home Affairs to address problems faced by trans women like Jeny. "The main issues include the citizenship identification number and KTP," said Hartoyo, a coordinator of Suara Kita, on Sunday, June 12.
The Ministry of Home Affairs started to be progressive in issuing ID cards for trans women. Transgender people are categorized along with victims of natural disasters, indigenous communities in remote areas, neglected and extremely poor people, people with mental disorders, and people with disabilities, as vulnerable groups in the access to citizenship services.
On August 26, 2021, the Directorate General of Population and Civil Registration issued Circular Letter Number 470/11320/Dukcapil regarding data collection and issuance of administrative documents for transgender residents. The circular addressed to all population and civil registration offices was claimed to guarantee the ease and equality of treatment for trans women in administering ID cards.
The implementation, however, was problematic. Hartoyo said it depended on the sensitivity of the local government to trans women. Consequently, not all trans women could be lucky as Jeny.
The initial data collection of Suara Kita estimated that there were 32,991 transgender people across the country. But only 4,742 have owned ID cards by far. This means only one in seven trans women has citizen documents. "Together with local communities, we are conducting data collection so trans women can immediately get an ID card," said Hartoyo.
Left after fun
The first visit to Jopu Village, Ende Regency, East Nusa Tenggara, was eye-opening to Hendrika Mayora Victoria who is the chairperson of Fajar Sikka, a trans women community that is based in Maumere of Sikka Regency. Ibu Mayora – as she is familiarly called – had just found out that only one of 30 trans women residing in the regency has an ID card. "If we did not carry out the mapping, we would never know," she said on July 21.
That morning, Mayora visited Jopu Village to launch their first survey. Fajar Sikka planned to collect data on trans women in Sikka and its vicinity areas in a bid to help them register for ID cards collectively. "ID cards application service has not reached remote areas," said Mayora, who was elected as the chairperson of the Habi Village Consultative Body (BPD), Sikka, in mid-2020.
Reaching Jopu Village from Habi Village by car took an hour. Armed with a pen and a notebook, Mayora came to the trans women one by one across the village which she visited for the first time. Not all of them could be met due to health problems.
Inces, a trans woman in Jopu Village, explained the reasons behind the low number of trans women having ID cards. Inces whose real name is Vincensius Laperlaka was the only trans woman who owned an identity card. She was born and raised in Kampung Adat Wologai, Jopu. "I made tenun ikat (woven fabric) for a living," she said when met at her home.
Inces' house is located at the foot of Mount Kelimutu. In the house with a soil ground, thatched roof, and bamboo walls, she lives with her three brothers and an elderly mother.
As the backbone of the family, Inces could produce 1x2 meter tenun ikat within one to two weeks which is sold between Rp500,000 to Rp1 million, depending on the level of complexity, to traders in Ende City. It takes almost two hours by road from the Wologai Traditional Village to the capital of Ende Regency via the Kelimutu National Park.
According to her, encouraging trans women in Jopu Village to apply for ID cards was not a piece of cake. Other than extra efforts and money to spend on transport, trans women often received discriminatory treatment and even verbal abuse in the process. "The problem is in the governmental areas when [trans women] visit there. Some [regional officers] ask, 'What did they come for? As a what?'" Inces recalled. While in fact, the village government asked them to manage the application by themselves.
Inces had just pocketed an ID card ahead of the 2019 General Elections thanks to a priest. The religious leaders, she opined, played a vital role in NTT. "If the priest did not help me, I would never get it."
Despite having an ID card, Inces nearly had the same fate as other trans women in Jopu Village who lost their rights to vote in the elections. She received a C1 form ahead of the voting day but as she visited the polling station in Wologai Village, the election officials accused her of having a double name. "[In my defense,] I said I only have one ID card," said Inces, recalling the unpleasant event that occurred three years ago. "I explained that Vincensius is my name. Bunda Inces is my nickname."
It was an annoying moment for Inces to date, especially given the fact that she actively took part in the campaign prior to the voting day.
For three months, Inces was involved in a number of volunteer activities for Wolocita, a support group of Joko Widodo or Jokowi-Ma'ruf Amin in the area. Inces, who is commonly known as Bunda Inces, was indeed quite famous. She was good at singing and close to church figures. Inces was also often asked to lead a prayer for the candidate's success before meals during campaign activities. "But after the campaign, they just disappeared. That was a bitter experience."
Mayora, who listened to Inces' story, had a similar experience in 2019 when she was appointed to lead a campaign for Sikka's legislative candidate for the House of Representatives (DPR).
For eight months, Mayora departed for work in the early morning and returned home at night, visiting one village to another and calling for the victory of the cadre from one of the major parties in Indonesia. "I am a master of ceremonies in villages while riding a motorbike. I introduced the candidate to the public," said Mayora, adding that she was also asked to campaign for Jokowi-Ma'ruf Amin pair between the agenda.
Mayora agreed to the request as she was promised that the candidate she supported and Jokowi's winning team in NTT would pay attention to the basic rights of trans women, including ID cards, BPJS Kesehatan, and BPJS Ketenagakerjaan. "Did we get their attention after that? No way. Perhaps they were busy. They forgot about their people," she said.
Mayora deserved to be upset for not getting an ID card albeit being a campaigner. As a result, she could not participate in the 2019 general elections and the presidential election. "During the election, I cleaned the house, washed dishes, and made my bedroom," she said. "I couldn't cast a vote."
Mayora finally got an ID card in 2020. She and Fajar Sikka were then determined to fight for the political rights of trans women by helping them in the ID card registration process, which was long neglected by the government. "So we will continue to collect data," she said.
Based on Fajar Sikka's data, at least 300 trans women live in Maumere. Of that number, only 100 people have ID cards. If they do not immediately get their citizen documents, more than half of them will be at risk of losing their right to vote again in the upcoming general elections and presidential election which will be held simultaneously on February 14, 2024.
According to Hartoyo, transgender women are usually involved in election-related events. "No other reasons, we usually entertain people, become singers and make-up artists at campaign events," he said. "We can easily attract public attention."
The problem is, the general elections do not guarantee the fulfillment of transgender rights as Indonesian citizens. Other than having no access to vote because of lacking citizen documents, trans women are marginalized again after the democracy party. "This is a very important issue: what will happen after the election?" Hartoyo underlined.
The guarantee of equal treatment from the state, he went on, is highly necessary outside of election matters. Not a few trans women who have owned ID cards refuse to exercise their rights. They are skeptical of discrimination committed by officers to date.
Mama Echi, Head of the West Jakarta Transgender Community, seconded Hartoyo's statement. She opined that many members of the transgender community are reluctant to go to the polls. "Some also ask the purpose," Echi said, describing trans women's desperation for the general election. "Honestly, trans women want to be seen. We are the same, Indonesian citizens."
Like Mayora and Inces, Echi and her community were also mobilized in the campaign. On April 13, 2019, trans women throughout Jakarta were asked to take part in a grand campaign at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. She remembered that hundreds of trans women were ordered to wear white clothes for the event.
Claims of equal treatment versus unfriendly policies for transgender women
Zudan Arif Fakrulloh, director general of population and civil registration of the Home Affairs Ministry, ensured that there is no discrimination in citizen services. "All communities are served well," said Zudan on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. The population and civil registration office, he added, has also been active in approaching people to provide for their needs.
However, he did not deny that transgender women are sometimes dealing with obstacles to apply for an identity card. For example, they are reluctant to visit the office. "Maybe they are shy," he opined.
In addition, some of them think that the process is complicated since they cannot fulfill the requirements, such as a family card which is the basis for an electronic ID card application. On the other hand, the regulation only recognizes two genders, male and female. "There is no transgender option. So all residents must obey and follow these rules," he remarked.
According to Zudan, the cooperation between the Home Affairs Ministry and the General Elections Commission (KPU) has been going well to ensure that all Indonesian citizens, including trans women, can exercise their right to vote in general elections. He added that the ministry's data recording on e-KTP has reached 99.21 percent as of December 30, 2021.
Betty Epsilon Idroos, the KPU commissioner, made a similar statement. She said that the General Election Law does not differentiate the gender of voters as long as they meet the requirements. "If they are 17 years old and over or have been married, we will categorize them as voters proven by an e-KTP," said Betty last Tuesday, September 13.
Betty explained that transgender is classified as a marginal group in the segmentation of voters so they need education related to voting.
Efforts to provide the education from the KPU's experience were often hampered by different working hours of transgender people, she informed. Based on the meeting with them, it could be concluded that the obstacles include the lack of knowledge of their status on the voter list, their rights and obligations as voters, and figures to be elected. "This is actually the election contestant's duty to convince voters during the campaign period," Betty said. "They don't know the figures to be chosen. What they know most is about the presidential election. Meanwhile, there are [also] elections for DPR, DPD, Provincial DPRD, Regency or City DPRD."
Regarding many complaints of discriminatory treatment at polling stations, Betty received them as input for the KPU. "We will coordinate it later," she said, ensuring that the KPU will follow it up. "So this can be our awareness in serving voters. Because that's our duty."
Yohannes Krisostomus Feri, the head of the Sikka Regional KPU, said he will instruct officers to ensure that transgender people are listed on the Final Voters' List. "We will check and order officers to match and properly check the temporary voter data from the central office," said Fery.
He also guaranteed that there will be no discrimination and degrading treatment against trans women at the polling stations. "If there is such an incident, just shout so that the perpetrator can be reprimanded. Security forces [will be deployed] to guard the election," he added.
Hurriyah, the deputy executive director of the University of Indonesia's Center for Political Studies, argued that people with disabilities and transgender groups are the most marginalized group in the general elections. Structural, cultural, and technical issues are the root problems.
She explained that the structural problems are related to the perspective and state policies that are not closely devoted to the two marginal groups. Population data, for example, is linked to gender identity and health conditions. "This state's perspective has an impact on how government officials treat them as second-class citizens," said Hurriyah.
Cultural issues are surely no less serious than other issues. According to her, strong stereotypes about people with disabilities who are considered "incapable" still exist. Instead of creating enabling conditions, the state seems to set aside the groups. The cultural problems faced by trans women are even more serious. "The gender identification policy exacerbates and/or triggers treatments of apparatus and public against them when they are registered as voters or exercise their voting rights," said Hurriyah.
Person in Charge: Agoeng Wijaya (Koran Tempo), Muhammad Kholikul Alim (Jaring.id)
Authors: Shinta Maharani, Imam Hamdi, Riri Rahayuningsih (Koran Tempo); Abdus Somad, Reka Kajaksana (Jaring.id)
Editors: Agoeng Wijaya, Rusman Paraqbueq, Suseno (Koran Tempo); Muhammad Kholikul Alim, Damar Fery Ardiyan (Jaring.id)
Photos: Shinta Maharani, Nita Dian (Koran Tempo), Abdus Somad (Jaring.id)