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Artists, youth, women, LGBT celebrate diversity in Indonesia

Artists, youth, women, LGBT celebrate diversity in Indonesia

Published: November 19, 2013
Young people with signs and rainbow flags

Emil (center) wearing the sign, "Stop Bullying LGBT" while parading with the People Like Us-One Heart group. 

Photo: AFSC
Young person at festival

Flat-Horse (Kuda Lumping) Dance is an East Jawa traditional dance depicting horsemen dancing in a group. It's performed by boys on the street during the parade.

Photo: AFSC

The last day of the annual Malioboro Apeman Cultural Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, was especially colorful, as approximately 200 community groups and organizations from diverse backgrounds participated in the cultural parade of the festival organized annually by COMA, the Malioboro Street Youth Community.

Approximately 50 youth from AFSC partner People Like Us (PLU) and One Heart were definitely the most colorful, decked out in rainbow clothing and flags to identify themselves as LGBTIQ and celebrate gender and sexual identity diversity.

Emil, one of the PLU youth, wore a signboard that read "Stop bullying LGBT!”  

Initially, Emil was a little bit hesitant to participate in the parade, as it was the first year PLU has participated in the festival.

Malioboro Street is Yogyakarta’s most famous and crowded street, a must-visit for tourists, lined wall–to-wall with street vendors selling all sorts of food and souvenirs.  

Emil’s worries turned into enthusiasm when her signboard attracted a lot of attention and support from spectators along the crowded parade route.

Some tourists even took pictures of themselves with  Emil and her  anti-bullying LGBT message.

Emil shared, “I was really touched that the cultural activists from COMA guaranteed our physical safety during the event, saying they would make sure nothing happened.”

AFSC partner Women’s Solidarity also participated in the parade for the first time this year, making traditional cakes with village women and also distributing fliers about the importance of justice and gender equality. Women’s Solidarity’s director Novita stated  that while their participation  was motivated by solidarity,  more importantly it gave them an opportunity to share a gender equity and pro-women perspective.

The Apem traditional cake is shaped like a pancake made from rice flour baked using charcoal. This cake is eaten with a sauce of brown sugar and shaved coconut. Apeman, derived from the name of apem cake, is also an acronym standing for “Appreciation of Artists, Musicians and Writers.” Apem also celebrates the month of Ruwah, to welcome the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to purify themselves from any prejudice and bad or worldly thoughts.

Malioboro Apeman Cultural Festival has been organized by COMA for the past four years to welcome the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and funded by AFSC for the last three years.

COMA’s members come from various religious backgrounds, and they try to make the most  of this festival as a medium to celebrate Yogyakarta’s diversity of culture and identity through art.

More than 700 participants were involved in displaying mural and fine art, participating in cultural parade and other events.

More than just a religious occasion, the Apeman festival is also a celebration of local culture. Festival organizer and artist Cutter said, "This festival is an art event, not a religious festival, because the local Javanese culture can go hand in hand with Islamic culture."

After discussions and evaluation of the previous festivals with AFSC, where it was agreed that more diverse representation of especially gender and sexual orientation was needed, this year COMA actively sought the involvement of LGBT and women by involving AFSC partners  to celebrate diversity together.

This year the event involved women in making murals and paintings displayed along Malioboro Street and significant LGBT participation, resulting in some resistance from the community.

The parade ended with a prayer led by Islamic religious leaders. All the participants bowed their heads and prayed together. After praying, all group members mixed and danced together.

Witnessing this celebration of diversity and inclusion, Emil said, "We can run this program in peace, so why do we have conflicts?"