Bali’s LGBT+ locals fear backlash after America influencer claimed island was ‘queer friendly’

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

As Bali deports American influencer Kristen Antoinette Gray for claiming the island is “queer friendly”, the local LGBT+ community has expressed fears the scandal could backfire on them.

Gray was booted from Bali last week after attempting to promote it as a cheap, LGBT-friendly destination to relocate to in the pandemic.

Homosexuality is not technically illegal on the Hindu-majority island but prejudice and discrimination are common, and locals were quick to point out that the tolerance Gray perceived is down to her privilege as a tourist.

Now that she and her girlfriend have returned to the US, the queer community in Bali are left to deal with the tensions she stirred up.

“It has now exploded into a story that has lasting repercussions on a very unprotected and vulnerable minority which is us, in the queer community,” said Mata Kai, an Indonesian musician and LGBT+ advocate speaking to the Guardian.

She fears for travellers who might listen to Kristen Gray’s advice, and for Indonesian queer people who “undergo not only laws that threaten us, but also highly pressured society that thinks we’re not normal and that we need to be cured”.

Arya, a manager at the LGBT+ charity Gaya Dewata Foundation, reiterated that Gray’s positive experience of the island is not shared by the local queer community.

“It is friendly here for LGBT+ tourists because they are here as tourists. The people in the tourism business will accept them whatever their sexuality is, they will be served well,” he said.

“But we all have to understand the culture, and the local condition, and be careful with our actions to protect the local community. Not everyone here can express themselves that freely,” he added.
“As tourists they will return to their countries, but we live here, we are staying here. We [the local LGBT+ community] are the ones who have to deal with the impact if something happened.”

Officials said that because Gray referenced her digital book and a $50 follow-up consultation on Twitter, this implied she was illegally working while on a tourist visa.

Gray has denied any wrongdoing in relation to her business activities, claiming: “I’m being deported because of LGBT”.

Her lawyer, Erwin Siregar, said that the couple had not broken any laws and that they were just trying to promote Bali, and help people come to the island after coronavirus restrictions were lifted.