Back Stories » Asia » Indonesia Crowns Its Miss Transgender in Secret Amid Increasing Threat From Religious Hardliners

Last week, in a Jakarta theater, Indonesia crowned its annual Miss Transgender in secret.

Twenty-eight-year-old Qienabh Tappii beat out over 30 other contestants to earn the title of Miss Waria Indonesia 2016, reports the Jakarta Post. Waria is the Indonesian term for transgender.

In addition to the coveted pageant crown, Tappii also received a two-meter-high trophy from the pageant organizers, the Putri Waria Indonesia Foundation and Indonesian Waria Communication Forum. She will go on to represent Indonesia at an international pageant in Thailand next year.

“Tonight is the beginning of my struggle for my rights as a waria,” Tappii told the Associated Press. “I want waria to be accepted, appreciated and understood in our society, and to be equal with other Indonesians. I will work really hard to achieve it.”

Over the past year, Indonesia’s LGBT community has faced a new wave of discrimination as media outlets and Islamic hardliners railed against the global advancement of LGBT rights, reports TIME. In August, the non-profit Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report outlining what it called an “unprecedented attack” on LGBT rights, chronicling the rise in hate speech against Indonesia’s waria community.

From the HRW report, as quoted by TIME:

“Across the country prior to January 2016, many Indonesian sexual and gender minorities lived with a mix of tolerance and prejudice … But in early 2016, [a] combination of government officials, militant Islamists, and mass religious groups stoking anti-LGBT intolerance led to immediate deterioration of the human rights of LGBT individuals. What began as public condemnation quickly grew into calls for criminalization and ‘cures,’ laying bare the depth and breadth of officials’ individual prejudices.”

As a result, staunchly conservative Muslim groups have become increasingly vocal against not only Indonesia’s LGBT citizens but also those promoting women’s rights and religious minorities. In many instances, police have turned a blind eye to such attacks.

Pageant organizer Nancy Iskandar is all too familiar with the threat of such groups. Twice in recent years the pageant has been stopped by Islamic hardliners. This year, Iskandar chose to keep the details of the event secret to prevent the pageant from being canceled again.

“If the public knew in advance that there will be such an event, those who use religion as their mask could attack us. That's why we kept it secret until the last minute,” Iskandar told AP.

Even so, four of the pageant’s 34 participants dropped out of the three-day event last week for fear of retaliation from staunchly conservative religious groups. While their concerns are not unfounded, the audience turnout for the final night was heartening: roughly 200 people watched Tappii take the Miss Waria crown.

Among them was Fitri Pabentengi, a native of Sulawesi’s Makassar and member of the Bugis ethnic group, which recognizes five genders. Pabentengi is considered “bissu”, a gender which is likened to androgynous.

“I came all the way from Makassar to show my solidarity,” Pabentengi told AP. “We Indonesian waria have the same feelings, what they feel in Jakarta we also feel it in Makassar.”

[Photo via Toronto Star]

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