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28 May 2010

Fridae's LGBT People to Watch 2010: Kamilia Manaf

The series presents 10 movers and shakers in Asia who are set to bring about positive change in their local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

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This week we put the spotlight on Charlene Liu, a Malaysia-born expatriate in Shanghai, China and key member of Shanghai LGBT, organiser of Shanghai Pride which was first held last June; and Kamilia Manaf, a radio journalist and young lesbian activist in Jakarta, Indonesia.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but we are sure that this handful of extraordinary individuals will encourage and inspire you. If you know of anyone who you think is doing an amazing job for the greater good – whether they be activists or artists, entrepreneurs or entertainers, send us their details at editor@fridae.com.


Kamilia Manaf

On March 26, 2010, the Asia chapter of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA-Asia) was scheduled to begin its 4th regional conference in Surabaya, Indonesia. Organisers however had to declare the cancellation of the event after dozens of protesters from hardline Islamic groups staked out the hotel and conference venue for hours what was to be the first day of the conference.

Kamilia Manaf

Since October 2008, Indonesia has been enmeshed in a maelstrom of debate after lawmakers passed a far-reaching anti-pornography law, which allows local authorities to arrest anyone who promotes, participates or engages in “sexually suggestive performance or immoral acts”. Critics of the bill say it discriminates against women, gay men, lesbians and transgender people. Since Indonesia is a constitutionally secular country, many view this as a step closer to implementation of conservative Islamic (sharia) law nationwide.

Despite the political undercurrents, ILGA-Asia accepted the proposal of local group GAYa NUSANTARA to host the conference in its home of Surabaya since the city was known to be progressive and accepting of the LGBT community. Some 80 LGBT delegates from across Asia converged on the East Javan city, only to be met by fundamentalist protestors who were allegedly given a tip-off by the media about the new conference venue after the original location decided  not to host the conference.

Kamilia Manaf, a young lesbian activist in her late 20s, attended the conference to participate in the scheduled youth forum. After years of witnessing the stigma and discrimination suffered by lesbians in Indonesia, she become involved in a women’s rights organisation in her hometown of Lampung. This experience led Manaf to become more proactive in hopes of changing the situation for her community.

In January 2008, Manaf was elected as a Board Member of ILGA Asia to represent LGBTQI youth. She has continued her advocacy by organising a support group for young lesbians in Jakarta, empowering women through sports and activism. In 2009, Manaf founded Kartini Sejati, Indonesia’s first women’s boxing club for survivors of violence and has been active as the club’s coordinator and peer coach. Manaf also works as a radio journalist for the Women’s Journal Foundation (Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan) and her stories and poems about lesbian youth can be found in the Indonesian Women’s Journal. She’s also the Founder and Executive Director of Institut Pelangi Perempuan (Indonesian Youth Lesbian Center).

æ: Why do you do this work?

In the Indonesian context, lesbians carry multiple burdens because our sexuality is regarded as taboo. The multiple discriminations I face in my daily life pushes me to struggle for equal rights for young lesbians. As a young person, I feel it is important to participate and get involved in activism for social change and to encourage young people‘s empowerment.

æ: How do you think you can make positive change happen in 2010?

Young people are the leaders of the future. In order to sustain LGBTIQ rights advocacy work, we need more young people to get involved. Together with ILGA-Asia, I am planning to create the Asian Youth LGBTIQ Network. Our movement was represented at the recent ILGA Asia conference in Surabaya, Indonesia. We never had a formal youth LGBTQI forum in Asia until then. In 2010, we will launch the Asian Youth LGBTQI Network to widen our advocacy throughout Asia.

æ: What is your message to people who stand in your way?

Your silence will not protect you. When you face discrimination, you have to speak out. Though young people are often regarded as unstable and inexperienced, I encourage them to be confident and to continue speaking out because they will be able to be change makers by doing that—there is no other way.

 Kamilia Manaf can be contacted at kamiliamanaf@yahoo.com.

With contributions from Laurindo Garcia, Patty Tumang and Sylvia Tan.

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