Indonesia Hits Delete on Gay Emojis

A popular messaging act pulled same-sex characters from the country after protests. Now the government may ban LGBT representations on phones entirely.

Gay emojis have left Indonesia.

The Japan-based Line messaging app, which has about 700 million users, announced via Facebook on Wednesday that it was “currently working to resolve” the fact that some of its emojis featuring same-sex couples had made some Indonesians “uncomfortable.”

“At Line, we stick to the global benchmark for screening and filtering of content that is sensitive from the perspective of the local culture,” it said. “Line appreciates all the feedback from users and other parties related to the products and features, and we realize how sensitive this matter is and will work hard to ensure that things like this do not happen again.”

The Indonesian government seems to have picked up the charge, with a spokesperson from the ministry of communication and informatics saying that Line “understands the norms, culture and religions in Indonesia.”

Queer emojis have proliferated quickly in recent years, with Apple products now featuring ones including same-sex couples and families with two moms or dads by default. Line users, by contrast, would have to purchase the offending images.

Now Facebook and Whatsapp may be the next targets of Indonesia’s government ire. Ismail Cawidu, the spokesperson, reportedly said that the government will require the social networks to following in Line’s footsteps.

“The ministry is appreciative of Line Indonesia for their understanding and discretion in dealing with matters that could potentially cause public unrest, especially the concerns of mothers for their children in terms of the negative influence the circulation of these LGBT stickers could cause,” Cawidu said.

The topic of homosexuality is sensitive in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

The crackdown on emojis has drawn sharp condemnation from groups like Human Rights Watch, which sent a letter calling on Indonesian president Jokowi Widodo to stand up for sexual minorities.

“President Jokowi should urgently condemn anti-LGBT remarks by officials before such rhetoric opens the door to more abuses,” said the group’s LGBT rights director, Graeme Reid. “The president has long championed pluralism and diversity. This is an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment.”

And yet, LGBT Indonesians may still have more defenders in government than in many other countries. The country’s chief security minister reportedly said Friday that queer Indonesians “are still Indonesian citizens and have rights to be protected.”