Indonesian transgender models shine spotlight on pollution with plastic fashion

By Zahra Matarani

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Deep in the slums of Jakarta, a transgender community is using fashion to raise awareness about their lives and the environment in this densely populated, polluted city.

Strutting on a makeshift catwalk as their neighbours watch in awe, the women show off colourful dresses made of plastic cutlery and bottles, and in keeping with the festive season, some of the clothes are made to look like Christmas trees.

The event is the brainchild of Mama Atha, founder of the Sanggar Seroja dance studio and de facto head of the transgender community of Duri, whose residents mainly work as buskers and makeup artists. She calls her models the “Trans Super Heroes”.

“When we come home to our rented rooms, we can see that the environment around us is very dirty. We at Sanggar Seroja made the initiative to recycle trash and reuse unused materials,” she said. “Thank God here in Sanggar Seroja we are able to show the public that we can always create art.”

Homosexuality remains socially unacceptable in majority Muslim Indonesia, but it is not illegal, except in the ultra-conservative, autonomous province of Aceh.

Rights groups, however, fear the LGBT and queer community are at risk from changes to Indonesia’s criminal code which are set to take effect in 2026 and under which a spouse, parent or child may report morality-linked offences such as having sex outside marriage or even living together.

(Writing by Stanley Widianto; editing by Miral Fahmy)