July 28, 2023
MANILA – The controversy surrounding British band The 1975 has prompted criticism and concern in both Malaysia and Indonesia regarding the front man’s stunt, claiming that what he did was “performative activism” and led to uncertainty over future LGBTQ events.
The pop-rock band, one of the most anticipated acts in Indonesia’s three-day festival We The Fest, was scheduled to headline on Sunday in Jakarta, before the controversy in Kuala Lumpur caused them to cancel the show.
At their show on Friday in the Malaysian capital, front man Matty Healy kissed the band’s bassist Ross MacDonald onstage as he addressed his regret about performing in a country that bans homosexuality.
“I do not see the point of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with,” Healy said before the kiss, adding that he “made a mistake” when they were booking shows.
Healy’s act led the band’s set to be cut short and prompted the Malaysian government to cancel the festival, which was scheduled to continue until Sunday.
The pop-rock band announced on Sunday that they canceled their headline set in Jakarta that day and a standalone show in Taipei on Tuesday “due to current circumstances”.
Malaysian fans said the controversy has only left the LGBTQ community in Malaysia to deal with the consequences of his action.
“Unfortunately, local activists are now having to deal with the fall-out and the potential policies and restrictions that might come from it,” Kuala Lumpur-based activist Dhia Rezki said, as quoted by BBC.
Prompting more homophobic speeches
In Indonesia, while some fans blamed the front man for his performative activism, many members of the queer community stated that it also opened space for more people to spew hate toward LGBTQ people in the country.
“My whole social media timeline is almost entirely saturated with nothing but homophobic remarks,” 24-year-old April from Bandung said to The Jakarta Post.
April noted that the controversy has led many Indonesians to blame the LGBTQ community in general instead of Healy’s recklessness.
“I find it despicable that people in my periphery are concerned with a supposedly gay band ruining their concert experience, and do not recognize that the government should not be exempt from criticism,” she said following the cancelation of the band’s show in Indonesia.
“I don’t know if his intentions in doing that bit onstage came from the right place or not, but the white and straight allyship [he showcased] proved that they often can’t discern the problem we face and how every little thing affects the community because they’re not a part of it. They have never experienced it firsthand,” she said.
Hani (not her real name), 24, who also identifies as queer, has also seen many homophobic remarks following Healy’s antics.
“It did happen, but that’s [Healy’s] fault,” Hani told the Post on Tuesday, knowing a little spark would cause a big uproar in conservative countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
“That’s the consequence of his action,” she said.
The future of pro-LGBTQ acts
Except in Aceh province, which practices sharia law, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but it remains hugely frowned upon by the country’s Muslim majority population.
“The people’s conservative lean does explain why some of them are so up-in-arms about [the homosexual act]. There’s a rejection and a general stigma toward LGBTQ people,” LGBTQ expert and activist Dede Oetomo told the Post on Tuesday.
While Dede noted that there is no national law regarding homosexuality, he advised that this controversy might lead to more scrutiny toward future acts of musicians and other artists who come to Indonesia.
“There is this clashing battle of values, liberal against conservative, and so far, the referee who will decide who wins in each case is the people themselves,” Dede said.
Other LGBTQ-related events in Indonesia have been canceled following objections from Islamic groups, like the ASEAN Queer Advocacy Week earlier, which was set to be held in Jakarta earlier this month before widespread protests from some Muslim groups led to its cancellation.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) also took a hard stance in March against British band Coldplay, who often publicly show their support for the LGBTQ community onstage. The MUI warned the band not to “campaign” by waving the rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBTQ movement.
The program director of the famed Joyland Festival, Ferry Dermawan, said that while the festival has never dealt with a last-minute cancellation like the one that recently faced We The Fest, he understands the intense behind-the-scenes work the organizers did to look for replacements.
“It’s way harder to deal with international artists because the deal took a long time to happen and the work visa could also be an obstacle,” Ferry said to the Post on Tuesday.
“I’m sure no promoters want to experience what the Good Vibes Festival [in Malaysia] experienced with Matty Healy,” he said.