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Indonesia: Under the shadow of shariah law, transsexuals take to the stage

Thursday 18 February 2010, by siawi2

Source: Jakarta Globe - February 14, 2010

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh —

In their best Acehese costumes, kitsch jewelry and towering hair buns, 40 transsexuals sashayed down a stage on Saturday to loud club music, disco lights and rapturous applause as they competed in the Miss Transsexual Aceh 2010.

The streets of Aceh may be monitored by the Wilayatul Hisbah, or Shariah Police, but that did not deter the audience in the auditorium of the Radio Republik Indonesia building in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, as they welcomed the finalists with screams and whistles.

There was no seat left unoccupied. Drag queens, homosexuals and members of Aceh’s minority communities forked out Rp 10,000 for tickets to the show, with some having to sit on the ground or watch from the balconies.

Transsexuals entertained the audience by lip-syncing to local songs and dancing to dangdut music. Some wore sexy outfits while others donned the hijab, the Muslim headscarf.

The winner of the Best Transsexual Catwalk wore a sash with the words “Cet Work,” a misspelling of the word catwalk, splashed across it.

Organized by Putroe Sejati Aceh (True Sons of Aceh), an organization that provides shelters for transsexuals, the 40 contestants represented 23 districts and cities in the staunchly Muslim province.

University student Zifana Letisia, from North Aceh, was crowned the pageant winner and will represent Aceh at the Miss Transsexual Indonesia 2010.

She said she was treated well at her campus despite her sexuality. “At campus, my achievements are quite extraordinary. Nobody dares to put me down.”People on campus are polite, even respectful and proud of me, even though I am a transsexual," Zifana said, adding that she did not take Islamic law lightly.

A third-year nursing student and part-time beauty therapist, Zifana, whose real name is Anggah, beat out finalists Jasmine Mulan Sayuri, from South Aceh, and Joy, from Central Aceh.

“We are very careful today [when it comes to Islamic Shariah law]. One day, we will build a special forum to try and find a middle-ground over this matter in Aceh,” Zifana said.

Organizing committee chairman Jimmy Saputra said the event had been approved by Aceh’s Ulema Consultative Assembly (MPU).

“After we explained that this activity would be a positive event, the MPU scholars gave us permission,” said Jimmy, who also goes by his transsexual name Timmy Mayubi.

The event was judged by a three-person panel. The judges were Marini, from the Indonesian Women’s Coalition of Aceh, and Silver Sebayang and Santi, both from RRI Banda Aceh.

The pageant started out with 40 contestants, of which 15 were selected as finalists. These 15 were further winnowed down to the final six.

Many contestants struggled to understand the judges’ questions, which covered a wide range of issues, from corruption to the daily struggle of transsexuals and Shariah law in Aceh.

When asked to comment on allegations that the province’s Shariah Police were violating the laws they enforced, 23-year-old Alin, from Lhokseumawe, said in a lilting voice: “I will follow the law of Islamic Shariah because I live in Aceh.”

The audience burst into laughter when Carla, 20, who was representing Aceh Besar district, replied to a question on the link between poverty and corruption with the answer: “If [the concept of] poverty was not applied, there would be no corruption.”

Carla, in true beauty-queen style, kept poised and elegant despite the crowd’s reaction, and walked along the stage while waving her right hand.

Other contestants were unable to speak at all when questioned by the judges. But some received standing ovations, including 19- year-old Joy, from Central Aceh district.

In response to a question on the existence of transsexuals at a time when Muslims were subject to Shariah law, Joy loudly declared: “The application of Islamic law in Aceh is not in accordance with the wishes of the people because many people in Aceh are still violating Shariah, especially during Ramadan when they are not fasting and commit adulterous affairs.”

Cut Nyak, 20, of Pidie district, said Shariah law was a “tool applied in Aceh to manage the public because the majority of Acehnese were Muslims,” adding that she supported the implementation of Islamic law in the province.

Aceh’s controversial Qanun Jinayat code is a set of local bylaws that were passed in September by the province’s legislative council, and replaced parts of the Criminal Code with sections of Islamic law for Muslims.

Under the code, people deemed to have committed adultery or had premarital or homosexual sex could be sentenced to lashings with a cane or be stoned to death.

Corporal punishment can also be meted out to rapists, child molesters and those caught drinking alcohol or gambling. Muslims’ interactions with members of the opposite sex who are not family members are also strictly regulated.

After the code was passed, international human rights groups spoke out against the regulations and called them a violation of basic rights. Aceh’s governor, Irwandi Yusuf, has refused to sign off on the Qanun Jinayat.

Jimmy, the event organizer, said “raids against women clad in tight pants” should be the least of Aceh’s worries, as the province had many other problems.

“There’s unemployment and other problems affecting the livelihoods of the people — that should be what we focus on, rather than on issues concerning people’s personal affairs. Everyone has the right to express their personality,” he said.

“Especially when it comes to sex. It should not be banned, because all people need sex. I also really need sex,” he said. He added that there were about 150 transgenders in Banda Aceh and they were able to fit into the community without any problems.