Covid takes a toll on transgender entertainers in Indonesia, where even the term LGBT is seen as a threat

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01/23/2022

It was almost 2pm in one of the outer western suburbs of Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city of more than three million inhabitants. Merry, 50, a transwoman, had just alighted from a bemo, or public transport van, to head home after a day spent busking. Home is a 3 square metre (32 square ft) room she rents for just under US$25 a month. This is a marked improvement from the wooden shack she was living in a year ago. At US$2 a month to rent, it was a fraction of what she pays now but lacked access to clean water and electricity. Merry was able to upgrade her living situation after an appeal for public donations by Indonesia’s food bank, Garda Pangan, to help the city’s transgender community through the coronavirus pandemic. One donor gave her some capital to set up a small eatery next to her rented space. While Merry is thankful for all the help she has received, she still faces challenges. “My eatery caters to people around here and they are mostly poor, so sometimes they eat here but can’t pay and ask me to put it on their tab. That’s why I still need to go busking at least three times a week to supplement my income.”

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