Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has made his first public comments against the escalating discrimination experienced by the country’s LGBT population.
“The police must act [to protect them],” Jokowi told the BBC. “There should be no discrimination against anyone,” he declared.
The statements come after months of increasing anti-LGBT rhetoric from politicians and officials and several anti-LGBT directives by government institutions.
In February, the Indonesian Child Protection Commission backed a ban on television and radio shows that portrayed “LGBT behavior” as normal.
In September, the country’s Communications Ministry announced a ban on more than 80 websites and apps geared toward the LGBT community, under the guise of protecting children and enforcement of pornography laws.
Last week, Indonesia’s Youth and Sports Ministry banned members of the LGBT community from applying for the country’s Creative Youth Ambassadors competition — going so far as requiring a clearance letter from a doctor on the participant’s sexual orientation.
“Jokowi’s long-overdue statement in support of LGBT nondiscrimination is a breath of fresh air as Indonesian officials and politicians continue their abusive and ill-informed homophobic onslaught,” Kyle Knight, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch, tells TIME. “A logical next step would be to repeal discriminatory anti-LGBT directives [by government institutions].”
However, Jokowi qualified his statements to the BBC by stating that “in terms of our beliefs, [the LGBT lifestyle] isn’t allowed, Islam does not allow it.”
“The thick cloak of social sanction created by the anti-LGBT cacophony of dozens of public figures won’t dissolve simply because the president finally expressed his support for basic rights,” says Knight. “But it does signal that the Jokowi administration is keen on cultivating an Indonesia that is inclusive and safe for everyone — and every node of the government has an obligation to and interest in upholding that position.”
— With reporting by Yenni Kwok