On discussing those 141 people

The arrest of 141 people accused of having gay sex party at a sauna in northern part of Jakarta has sent shock right throughout the nation. Looked at with contempt, this incident is considered an anomaly in a nation where being straight is a norm while being outside this norm is an abomination. This contempt is not only limited to the same-sex relationship, but even extended to its discussion in public sphere. Previously, many public discussions on the topic were aborted or cancelled because people were so paranoid of this issue.

But, there’s always exception. Last year, we once had discussion on gay rights in the middle school class. The discussion was triggered by the legalization of gay marriage in Ireland, to which Vatican authority condemned as ‘defeat for humanity’. My students, as inquisitive as they are, were quick to build connections: “If Church upholds the equality, why on earth gay rights should be ruled out? Church has been advocating human rights for so long, why now has it suddenly gone the opposite direction and cherry-picked the case? Where is that Christian ‘unconditional love’, by the way, in this case? Has it been  exempted from these real people?” My gosh, I was not ready for this heated debate.

Now, I could only imagine that my story might resemble the stories of other teachers who are now perhaps having their own dilemma when the topic of LGBT has spread like bushfire around the country. Not used to discussing such issue, those teachers might start scratching their heads, contemplating on the inevitability of discussing the matter with kids in class.

Against what is considered ‘norm’, I should say that school should be a place where social events are discussed in a manner that is critical and holistic. Certain biases in such discussion are likely unavoidable, but anathematizing it completely, as the case in several universities, is not a way out. Forbidding this discussion, I’m afraid, will also lead to the silencing of discussion on other sensitive issues in the class (remember communism?). This “culture of silence” may perpetuate complacence and passivity amid any forms of discrimination and injustice, and, worst, even unintentionally mold our students into being accomplices of vice, born out ignorance and uncritical attitude.

Amid this gay sex party saga, catchphrase, like LGBT is “threatening our morality and culture” has become popular. So, shunning LGBT discussion in the class may be justifiable given the reason of upholding the right morality and culture. Irrespective of being appealing at the first glance, this argument, education-wise, lacks vigor. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of the famous Pedagogy of the Oppressed, writes: “Education as the practice of freedom—as opposed to education as the practice of domination—denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world. In these relations consciousness and world are simultaneous: consciousness neither precedes the world nor follows it.”

If education bridges students to the real world, where real people with varied sexual preferences do exists, it means that school should be the place where students are introduced to real problems of real people. Prohibiting such a discussion, on the ground of religious and cultural prejudices, will not provide us with “alternative facts” on the non-existence of gay people among us. If this happens, it surely means that the saddening eclipse of reason is now rocking the foundation of our education.

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