Queer influencer Kristen Gray who was ridiculed after promoting Bali as LGBT-friendly to be deported

Kristen Gray and Saundra Alexander smile tot he camera with their dog

Kristen Antoinette Gray will be deported from Bali, Indonesia, after promoting the island as a cheap, LGBT-friendly destination for people to relocate to in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Travel influencer and California native Kristen Gray and her girlfriend Saundra Alexander moved to the south-east Asian country in 2019 as so-called “digital nomads” after booking one-way flights.

But a backlash brewed after Gray promoted the pair’s $30 e-book, Our Bali Life Is Yours, in a Twitter thread posted Saturday (16 January).

She deemed the island “queer-friendly”, among tweets boasting she is enjoying an “elevated lifestyle” and offering travel advice to foreigners, The Guardian reported.

The ensuing controversy reached a fever pitch as immigration officials confirmed Tuesday (19 January) that Gray is being deported and will not be allowed back in the country for six months. She is at the time of writing detained in Denpasar, awaiting the next flight.

Top legal and human rights officials in Indonesia scorned Gray, saying her actions may have violated various immigration laws as well as “spreading information that could unsettle the public”.

Speaking to reporters, Gray sought to stress she is “not guilty” while saying that her deportation is a potshot from the authorities because she is queer.

“I put out a statement about LGBT and I’m being deported because I am LGBT,” she told press.

Kristen Gray called Bali ‘queer-friendly’ despite multiple LGBT+ rights attacks.

Gray suffered stinging criticism online, in part, for remarking that Bali is LGBT-friendly while encouraging people to travel to the country during the pandemic – just as Indonesia is pelted with a surge in coronavirus cases.

In the since-deleted thread, Gray described why she moved to Bali and what some of the “major benefits” are for doing do, according to screen captures. She also plugged her e-book which included “direct links to our visa agents and how to get into Indonesia during COVID”.

“After getting rejected for jobs and living off savings trying to make my business pop, my girlfriend and I decided to book one-way flights to Bali, Indonesia,” the graphic designer wrote.

“This island has been amazing because of our elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living.”

“In March, when the pandemic hit and our six-month plan went out the window, we decided to stay in Bali to ‘wait it out’ and we’ve been here ever since,” she added, noting that some of the “major benefits of moving to Bali” include the “luxury lifestyle”, “low cost of living” and it being “queer-friendly”.

Authorities in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, have amped up attacks against LGBT+ people in recent years, signalling the depth of anger felt towards the community in the republic and the power held by fundamentalist groups.

In 2020, Bali authorities announced they were investigating four hotels for “catering to gays”, a move that drew international criticism.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have pushed legislation that would force queer people into government-sanctioned centres to “rehabilitate” their sexualities. Trans people are plunged into tortuous exorcisms, and are accused of being  possessed by “evil spirits”.

Only recently, a gay couple in the province of Banda Aceh, the only patch of the country where Sharia law is imposed, was forcibly dragged out of their homes and face being lashed 100 times – such scenes chafe against Indonesian history as moderate Muslim country.

Gray also drew criticism for crediting the “elevated lifestyle” to her $400 “treehouse” – certainly less expensive than some Los Angeles properties, but more than the monthly provincial minimum wage in Bali, of just $177 a month, according to local media.

Bali regional office for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights chief Jamaruli Manihuruk rebuked many of Gray’s tweets during a press conference on Tuesday (19 January)

“She stated that she could provide easy access to Bali through the recommended agency and offered the low living costs in Bali, that is comfortable and LGBTQ+ friendly,” he said.

Manihuruk added that as Gray referenced her digital book and a $50 follow-up consultation, this implied that she was working without a business visa and violated her stay permit. “She is suspected of carrying out business activities by selling e-books and put a rate for consulting [about] Bali tourism,” he said.

The Indonesian government said in a statement announcing Gray’s deportation on Tueday that she had extended her permit in December, which was then due to expire 24 January.

“I am not guilty, I have not overstayed my visa,” Gray told press. “I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia.”