Tue, Jun 28, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Indignant Islamists crash transvestite beauty contest

AP , JAKARTA

Newly crowned Miss Transvestite Indonesia, Olivia, talks to the press at the end of the disrupted pageant in Jakarta on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Islamic hardliners barged in on Indonesia's transvestite beauty pageant, panicking its skimpily dressed contestants but failing to stop the show -- the second year running that the world's most populous Muslim nation has staged such an event.

Dressed in white tunics and prayer caps, 10 members of the Islamic Defender's Front pushed their way into the nightclub on Sunday where 30 contestants were competing for the title of Miss Transvestite, witnesses and organizers said.

After 20 minutes of tense negotiations, the show continued, though organizers agreed to finish early in deference to the group, which has a history of vandalizing entertainment centers it considers un-Islamic.

"We were all traumatized. They said we were immoral, but God created us this way," show organizer Megi Megawati said in a telephone interview Monday. "I am a Muslim too, but I respect other people. Why can't they?"

Indonesia has a secular government and the practice of Islam is more moderate and less austere than in the Middle East. Still, in recent years, hardliners have gained ground and there have been a series of bloody terrorist attacks against Western targets.

The Islamic Defenders Front was formed in 2000 and campaigns for the imposition of Islamic Shariah law. Despite its overt displays of piousness, many analysts say that the group's primary motive is extorting money from frightened bar owners -- not Islamic principles.

"Transvestites should not be made into a role model," said the Alawi Usman, who heads the group's vice-investigation squad. "We are worried it could influence our children."

Homosexuality is considered a sin according to Islamic tenets and many Muslims are uneasy with the way transvestites blur the boundary between traditional gender roles.

But the Miss Transvestite Indonesia pageant highlights Indonesia's seeming tolerance for transvestites and transsexuals. Known as waria -- a combination of the Indonesian words for man and women -- they regularly appear as hosts on television entertainment shows.

But discrimination is rife, said Megawati, and many waria turn to prostitution.

"Animals are treated better," he said. "We tried to do this event to show that we are regular people and look what happened."

The winner of Sunday's show -- a 20-year-old public relations worker called Olivia -- won the equivalent of US$250 and a return air ticket to Bangkok, Thailand, where he will compete in an international transvestite pageant next year.

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