“My name is Efendy Efendy. I was born on May 10, 1980 in Bima, Indonesia. I am 43 years old and I identify as a gay man and a practicing Muslim.
I grew up in a devout Muslim family. My parents prayed 5 times a day and followed all the religious rules like fasting. We used to attend mosque every Friday to pray with our community.
As far back as I could remember, I always knew there was something different about me. I remember when I was 8 years old, feeling like I was attracted to the same sex. I hid this part of myself growing up because I understood that homosexuality wrong and that as a Muslim it is forbidden to be gay.
In school, I was bullied and call names like ‘lady boy’ and ‘sissy’. I was scared walking home from school and tried to avoid situations where I would be bullied by my classmates. The harassment continued through my post-secondary education and employment.
I remember one time I was on public transit on my way home from school and a group of guys standing close to me on the train started rubbing their genitals against me. I told them to stop but they told me the train was busy and they could not help it. I think they saw me as an easy target because of my effeminate mannerisms.
When I a teenager, I felt hopeless and depressed about my sexual orientation and tried to end my life. One day when I was at home, I took a razor blade to try to cut my veins. My parents found me in my room and say the blood and got very upset. They cleaned up my wounds and told me that doing this was forbidden by our religion. I felt ashamed and alone because I could not tell anyone about my situation.
When I was in my early 20s, I became friends with a guy named Budi on campus. We became friends and one night I was over at his house and Budi asked me if I was interested in men. I felt comfortable with Budi and told him that I was gay. This was the first time I had acknowledged to anyone else about my sexuality. Budi started telling me about the different places that I could meet men and where to find men online. I remember feeling relieved that I was not the only one who had felt this way. Budi and I stayed friends for a few years afterward.
When I was living n Indonesia, I used to have casual romantic encounters with men but I was never in a long term relationship. I knew other gay people, but all of their relationships were secretive.
My family used to ask me often when I was going to meet a woman and get married. When in I was in my 20s, a co-worker tried to set me up with his niece Indah and I went on a few dates with her to appease my family. I remember my parents being very happy that I was dating Indah. I used to lie to my parents and show them photos of me with women to convince them that I was interested in women and was preparing to marry a woman.
Gay people are often treated as deviants in Inhdonesia. Being gay is seen as deviating from the dominant normals, values, culture and religion in Indonesia. The LGBT population faces discrimination, humiliation, violence and their rights are not respected. I remember watching television in Indonesia and seeing how gay people were often subject to violence and were ostracized from their family and community. I remember seeing on the news a story about a gay couple who was interrogated and tortured by authorities. This made me fear for my own safety.
When I was working at the Building Plan and Safety Institute (BPSI), my colleagues and bosses used to call me ‘sissy’ and say that I acted too feminine in the workplace. My bosses told me that I was tarnishing the company’s reputation with my mannerisms. I was told to act more ‘manly’ when doing a workshop on fire safety and not to get too close to the male participants in the training group. My boss asked me if I had a girlfriend and wanted to know personal information about me. The fact that I was effeminate seemed to make it difficult for people to accept me at my work place. I did not feel safe or comfortable in that environment so I quit.
When I was walking in public, groups of guys would yell derogatory comments and me and tell them I needed to give them money. I used to leave the house with money in my pocket so that I could give it to them and avoid the comments escalating into something worse. I remember when I was living in Jakarta, I was mugged at knifepoint by hoodlums. They approached and yelled at me “banci” (which means “sissy”). They took my wallet and my headphones. They targeted me because they saw that I was gay and that I was an easy target.
The gay community in Indonesia often functions in secret. Information about LGBTQ community events is usually spread by word of mouth. There are few publicly known services for LGBTQ and HIV+ people. I remember reading in the media about a LGBTQ conference being held in Surabaya and Bali and demonstrations outside by religious leaders who were wearing white clothes and screaming in the name of Allah. The conference was cancelled.
The Indonesian government and authorities do not protect the gay community. If I were attacked on the basis of my sexual orientation, I would not approach the police.
In 2012, I came to Canada as a temporary foreign worker. I worked as a farm worker in Leamington, Ontario. At the farm some of the workers were also from Indonesia. My colleagues would insult and mock me for my effeminate traits. My Mexican colleagues called me “bonita”, “Chiquita” and “little girl”. My colleagues imitated my effeminate mannerisms and some of them tried to touch my genitals and grab my backside because they saw me as an object of amusement. My colleagues would ask me “how much I charge”, or if I was “free”, assuming I would sell myself for sexual acts.
In September 2013, when I was living in Canada, I was hospitalized because of symptoms like coughing, shivering and migraines. I felt nauseous and was losing weight. I was eventually diagnosed as being HIV-positive. I didn’t know much about HIV at the time. After I was diagnosed I was scared, disappointed and lost all hope. In Indonesia, HIV is seen as a dirty and bile disease that is easy transmittable. The population does not like to interact with people who have HIV. It is seen as a disease that is for sex workers and gay men. In Indonesia most people do not live very long if they have HIV for fear od discrimination if they access medical services.
After I was diagnosed with HIV, I did not feel mentally stable. I became sensitive and easily upset and even paranoid that people could tell I had HIV. If I saw people whispering, I would think that they were talking about me and talking about how I had HVI. I was shocked and in denial and scared. I started to think that no one would want to speak to me, that I would lose my job and that I would be completely rejected by society. This is how people with HIV are treated in Indonesia. I started thinking that I was better off dead.
When I was hospitalized in Toronto, I heard news about a friend in the gay community in Indonesia who passed away from HIV and I started to get increasingly scared about going back to Indonesia because of stigma and discrimination. Many gay people die from undiagnosed and untreated HIV in Indonesia.
In July 2015, the renewal of my work permit was denied. When this happened, I went to a non-governmental organization called Asian Community AIDS Services and they linked me to the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario.
The thought of having to go back to Indonesia terrified me. If I went back to Indonesia, I would be ostracized by families and neighbors not only for my orientation but for my HIV status. I also was unhappy about the pressure I would face from my family and community to get married to a woman.
I applied for status as a gay refugee and I had the court hearing for my case in September 2015. Before I walked into the room, I was scared and shaking. I felt like I was in a war, fighting for my life. When I was telling the judge my story, I cried because I was reliving past trauma. The judge listened to my story, looking at my file as I spoke, making sure that I was telling truth. My palms were sweaty. After 30 minutes I was finished and I was told to leave the room. Fifteen minutes later, I was called back in and the judge told me congratulations, that I would be accepted into Canada. I was relieved and felt happy.
Since being accepted as a refugee in Canada, life has been better. I became a Canadian citizen in 2019. When I got my citizenship, I felt like I was born again….or in Asian terms, a reincarnation. I finally felt confident as a Canadian citizen.
I live in Toronto and I regularly volunteer in my community with Asian Community AIDS Services. I help out at workshops and social events, clean the office, fundraise money and support other PHAs. I volunteer also at AIDS Committee of Toronto, Casey House, Fife House and People Living with AIDS Foundation. I do this because I was helped by these organizations when I was applying for refugee status and I want to pay it forward.
I don’t feel lonely anymore as I did in Indonesia because I now have a family in the PHA and LGBTQ communities. As I move forward in my life, I will continue to support my community – I will not forget where I came from.”