Pastoral care for transgender people in Jakarta
by Mathias Hariyadi

In the capital, the trans community numbers about 8,000; almost 1,300 are Catholics or Protestants. The humanitarian arm of the local Church has undertaken various initiatives in pastoral outreach. The success of its projects drew the attention of the well-known Catholic businessman Irwan Hidayat.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Pastoral outreach for the transgender community is a new missionary front for the Archdiocese of Jakarta, including professional training, social activities, listening groups and psychological assistance.

Over the past four months, volunteers from the Jakarta Archdiocese Daya Dharma Institute (Lembaga Daya Dharma Keuskupan Agung Jakarta or LDD KAJ), the humanitarian arm of the Archdiocese, have taken a number of steps in favour of one of the most marginalised groups in Indonesian society.

This kind of commitment by Catholics is certainly something new and very "surprising". At the national level, discrimination against such "special" communities is still very strong, especially among the most intransigent Muslim groups.

One of the most dedicated in this area is Irene Sheila Hardjanto, president of the Mother Teresa prayer group. Speaking to AsiaNews, she explained that the LDD KAJ took over the pastoral service for transgenders from the St Stephen Parish Church in Cilandak (South Jakarta). The parish priest, the Jesuit Fr Wardjito, created a programme to guide, support and develop the potential of individuals in difficulty.

The clergyman had to overcome the initial resistance by some in the community. But over time, more and more transsexuals have become involved in parish activities, especially in social gatherings.

Fr Wardjito’s initiative has met with great success among trans people, grateful for the practical help and welcome.

The positive experience by the St Stephen Parish Church highlighted the need for an "action plan" coordinated by the LDD KAJ. "A pastoral movement was born on social media, involving dozens of non-parish groups in the archdiocese," Ms Hardjanto explained.

"Some people have offered their contribution, despite doubts and concerns. LGBT issues in Indonesia are always a source of controversy." And the online grapevine among Catholics drew the attention of well-known Catholic businessman Irwan Hidayat, owner of Sido Muncul, the most important Indonesian maker of herbal medicines.

On 22 June, the entrepreneur and philanthropist provided LDD KAJ with substantial financial aid and facilities where they could implement their projects as part of the new pastoral mission (pictured).

In Jakarta, the transgender community is estimated at around 8,000. "About 1,300 of these people are Catholic or Protestant," Hardjanto noted.

Most have been rejected by their family, ending up on the margins of society, often earning a living from prostitution. In some cases, they perform humble jobs in cosmetics; in others, they become street artists.

"In addition to humanitarian support, LDD KAJ also wants to provide them with professional training," Ms Hardjanto noted.

Mama Yulie is one of those who have expressed great appreciation for the initiatives of the Catholic Church for trans people.

Her real name is Yulianus Rettoblaut and she heads the Indonesian Transvestite Communication Forum (Komunikasi Waria Indonesia Forum or FKWI). The help provided to her community is a source of "great joy", she said.