Abdul Qowi Bastian
A transgender festival in Jakarta was cancelled on Monday night, after the Islamic Defenders Front turned up to the event and demanded the organizers shut it down.
Salim Alatas, chief patron of the Jakarta chapter of the organization, known as the FPI, told the Jakarta Globe that the festival organizer for the Miss Waria contest in Pasar Festival, South Jakarta, did not have a permit from the police.
“The local community did not want the contest to be held in their area. They asked the police if there is a permit for the contest, but there is not,” said Salim, who discovered the event from a newspaper. “We will deny if there is such thing as a transgender contest in our country. It’s morally destructive and not educating.”
South Jakarta’s Setiabudi Police precinct head AKBP Lalu Muhammad Iwan confirmed that the police did not issue a permit for the event.
Merlyn Sofyan, the initiator of the festival, denied the event was a transgender pageant contest.
“It’s called Festival Waria Berbudaya [Cultural Transgender Festival], not a pageant where contestants are judged by their looks,” Merlyn told the Jakarta Globe. “Festival Waria Berbudaya is an attempt to answer the wrong perceptions in our community by producing decent human resources of waria. It’s not going to be instant, but we’re trying to nurture them.”
But Salim insisted that such an event would not be tolerated, whatever the reason was.
“These warias are supposed to be taught and guided, not paraded around like this,” Salim argued, who added that the FPI were unarmed and showed up at the event in peace.
However, Agnes Hening, a festival attendant, claimed that the FPI members wore helmets and brought sticks to dismiss the event.
All 20 contestants, hailing from 17 provinces, left the contest peacefully and continued the event at the Legal Aid Foundation in Central Jakarta.
Merlyn, who herself was a winner of Miss Waria 2006, claimed that it was not the role of the FPI to say who was right or wrong.
“If we’re talking about religion, who has the right to judge other people?” said Merlyn, who had hoped the festival would counter negative sentiments toward the transgender community in Indonesia.
“Although we are a minority group, we aim to develop each of the contestants’ local cultures,” Merlyn explained.
The Miss Waria contest was first held in 2006 and then in 2007. After a five-year hiatus, Merlyn had the idea to revive the contest but with more emphasis on giving back to the community.
“What we have now in our community is that our exterior aesthetics are most important,” Merlyn said. “Smartness is not of priority. That’s what I, through this festival, want to encounter. We screened the contestants through written tests and verbal interviews with the judges from competent backgrounds in their respective fields. Some of the contestants have respectable jobs such as make-up artists, a law graduate and a tourism student.”
“It’s weird because the contestants did not wear anything vulgar and did not do anything immorally behavior,” Merlyn added.
In 2010, dozens of FPI members charged into a session and forcefully shut down a civil-rights training session for transsexuals in Depok, West Java. The FPI members thought that it was a drag queen contest, before leaving after negotiations with the representatives from the transsexual groups and local police.