Nine transgender women have been arrested for cross-dressing in Indonesia’s Aceh province in the city of Meulaboh. Some of the women were arrested in a beauty salon where they worked, whilst others were apprehended in a contraceptive store. They were arrested after residents thought the women were possibly prostitutes and were tainting the Islamic Sharia Law.
However, police found no evidence of prostitution and admitted that they were only arrested to convey the transphobic attitude of the local province. The head of West Aceh Sharia Police, Ika Suhannas stated, “Their activities caused public unrest because they hung out until midnight wearing female outfits even when they’re male. These activities caused public unrest and residents told us to take action,”.
Cross-dressing in Aceh is not illegal per se, however it is heavily stigmatised and there is no legal anti-discriminatory protection. The country’s law does not provide sex change operations or allow a trans person to obtain new legal documents once they have made their transition. Same-sex sexual activity is legal across Indonesia, apart from the provinces of Aceh and South Sumatra where gay sex can be punishable with up to one hundred lashes and one hundred months in prison. Although homosexuality is legal in the rest of Indonesia, the age of consent for gay sex is higher than that of heterosexual sex.
Police Chief Suhannas asked the women to start dressing in men’s clothes and avoid working in beauty salons; “When we asked them to return back as men, they said they could not do it because it is their soul. But we hope if they are persistent (in doing this), then they should return to their hometown.”.
Out of the nine arrested women, only two were residents of the West Aceh district, whilst the rest are from other Aceh regions. When released, the women promised Suhannas they would return to their hometown.