This art project was created in Indonesia, where homosexuality is largely viewed as a sin.

I visited the beautiful country of Indonesia in early 2016 to meet with six women in Jakarta who shared their honest and open stories with me. These stories were about the difficulties that they face living as lesbians alongside their religious beliefs, family pressures and in a country that is not accepting.

Through their journeys, each of these women has become strong (in Bahasa, ‘Perempuan-Perempuan yang Kuat’). Although it is not illegal to be gay in Indonesia – unlike many other Muslim countries – there is an increasing amount of discrimination from people in positions of power.

Recently, the Higher Education Minister said that LGBT people should be banned from university campuses. The National Broadcasting Commission banned the depiction of LGBT ‘behaviour’ on TV and radio. The Indonesia Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism as mental disorders. The Defence Minister called the LGBT movement a "proxy war" to brainwash Indonesians. All of this is fueling more discrimination, hate crimes and segregation in Indonesia, making it more difficult for the LGBT community to live safely and without fear.

My aim and hope with this project is that by showing my photographs of these brave women alongside their powerful words, they will open minds, create dialogue and inspire other women and members of the LGBT community to step forward and use their voices. This is a powerful project that will make people stop and think.


I was still in high school when I started to notice that I was attracted to girls. As a Muslim, I was taught that homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, after realising about my sexuality, I thought that something was wrong with me and I was sinning. I used to pray and read the Koran. But, then, I started having doubts on whether God would accept my religious practices or not. I thought I was a sinner so there was no point in doing them. God would not accept them anyway. So, I stopped practicing the religion altogether.

At that time, I actually did not know what a “lesbian” was. So I looked for some information on the internet. I tried to learn more and more about it. I then believed that was what I am. I also started to believe that it was okay to be a Muslim and a lesbian at the same time.

I had my faith back, but I did not start praying again until I met my current partner. We started going out last year. She is also a Muslim and she prays regularly. She encourages me to pray as well. She makes me feel that it is okay. Now, I do the prayer again and I feel stronger in my faith than I did before. I can separate my faith from my sexuality and I accept both as parts of me.

Unfortunately, not all people can accept that. Both my partner and I still keep our relationship secret from our families. We can do that because we live together far away from them. It is quite common here, in Jakarta, for people like us to be open about our sexuality and relationship to close friends, but not to the family.



One of my older sisters is a lesbian. I am, too. But, she has come out, and I have not.

Even when she was still in junior high school, everyone knew that my sister was a lesbian. But she seemed very strong, so no one dared to pick on her. I went to the same junior high with her. On the student orientation day, in front of all the other students, one of her friends said that I must also be a lesbian just like my sister. I felt ashamed and humiliated. But, when my sister heard about it, she stood up for me and confronted the person.

Later on, when I was at the school’s canteen, a girl said to other people there that I was a lesbian. Once again, I felt ashamed and publicly humiliated. I stopped going to the canteen. I actually did not want to go to school anymore. I did not have many friends. But I knew that I had to, so I still went to school. In the end, I made friends with a feminine boy who also got bullied at school.

My sexuality did not make me question my faith as a Muslim. But it did make me question myself. I wanted to be like other girls who were attracted to boys. I felt like I was committing a sin because I was attracted to girls, not to boys.

Throughout my life, there were times when I came out to my friends. Usually, when I came out to friends who were Muslims, even when they were also lesbians, they tended to tell me that it was wrong and I was committing a sin. When I came out to friends who were not Muslim, they tended to be more accepting.

After I graduated from high school, my parents enrolled me in a public university in which most of the students were Muslims and most of the women wore hijabs. They asked me to wear one as well. I did not feel comfortable wearing a hijab. I told my parents that I did not want to attend the university if I had to wear it. My parents were angry and they called a family meeting. All my brothers and sisters were there. They were also mad at me and questioned why I refused to wear the hijab. I tried to reason, but no one listened and no one supported me. I then refused to eat. After a week, I fell ill and was admitted to a hospital. Since then, my parents decided that they would not force me to wear a hijab anymore.

Right now, I identify myself as a lesbian woman. However, looking back at that time, I felt more like a female-to-male transgender. I was very masculine. Therefore, wearing a hijab, or any other article of clothing associated with being a woman or being feminine felt very wrong for me.



I am a Muslim and I am also a lesbian. People tend to judge me because of that. They think that I am committing a sin. But for me, religion is something between me and God. I do not feel like I am committing a sin. I pray regularly and my faith in God is strong. I do not mix my sexuality and my religion. They are two different parts of my life.

My mother and my siblings have already known about my sexual orientation. They are okay with it, but my mother still has some objections about my masculine appearance.The members of our family and extended family usually talk about it. My mother lets me express myself this way, but she requested that I should never wear any binder to bind my breasts. She doesn’t want people to start thinking and talking about me being a transgender or being someone who wants to be a man.

I have already come out as a lesbian at work as well. Now, my colleagues are fine with it. But about four years ago when I first came out, they asked why I was a lesbian. Some of them even said that I should be raped so I could be cured. They also said that I should also get ruqya, an Islamic religious exorcism. They believed that I was a lesbian because there was an evil spirit in me… They did not do anything other than suggesting them and I, of course, did not let any of those happen to me. Sadly, I knew that they did happen to some lesbians in Indonesia.

There are many other forms of violence and discrimination experienced by lesbians in Indonesia. For example, many lesbians rent rooms in sharehouses in order to live together with their partner. I have friends who were evicted from their sharehouse when the landlady found out that they were lesbian couple. It happens a lot here.

I hope that, in the future, the government will make it a policy to protect lesbians from violence and discrimination. In the meantime, I also hope that my lesbian friends are not so open in expressing their affections. Some lesbians do express them openly while many people tend to give negative reactions toward same-sex public display of affection. I am worried if they still express their affection in public. I am afraid that they will get hurt.

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