You might have heard about this case. About a couple of months ago, an American woman and her partner who had been living in Bali during the pandemic had been deported by Indonesian authorities after a series of tweets encouraging others to join her as a digital nomad sparked a debate among Indonesians about foreigner privilege.
American Kristen Gray, 28, and her partner Saundra Alexander were accused of violating local immigrations laws and “spreading unsettling information,” which included depicting the popular holiday island as LGBTQ-friendly.
Both of them were said to have been flown to the capital Jakarta overnight before boarding a flight back to Los Angeles, with a stopover in Tokyo. They have since been banned from returning to the country for a minimum of six months.
According to the local authorities in a statement distributed to the media, “The concerned foreign national is suspected to have done business by selling an e-book and putting up consultation fees on traveling to Bali, which means she can be subject to sanctions according to the 2011 Immigration Law.”
Gray, a freelance graphic designer, accused the authorities of targeting the couple for portraying the island as “queer-friendly ” in a series of now-deleted tweets.
Indonesian social media was livid in response to Gray’s lengthy thread about moving to Bali, famed for its sandy beaches and ancient island temples. She was believed to have arrived on a one-way flight in late 2019 with her partner, after spending most of the year out of work in their own country.
In the tweets, Gray said that Bali was “the perfect medicine” for her physical and mental health and went on to list benefits of living on an “island paradise” during the pandemic.
In a now-deleted tweet that drew more than 24,000 likes, she stated that “The island has been amazing because of our elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living.”
She then went on to list a series of “major perks” of her Bali move, which included safety, lower cost of living, a more luxurious lifestyle and local queer-friendly and Black communities. She also encouraged others to follow suit, which is where the anger appears to have started in the first place. She even had the audacity to share links to visa agents and gave advice about how one could go about entering Indonesia despite the raging pandemic and attempted to sell the advice for $30 in an e-book titled Our Bali Life is Yours.
“When I think about it, it’s super clear that the move was intuitive. Bali is where I was supposed to be through it all,” Gray said in her tweet. “There was an energy about the U.S. that I had to take a break from and Bali was the perfect medicine.”
Though not as ravaged by the pandemic as the U.S., Indonesia is still struggling to contain the coronavirus and remains the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia. Deaths in the sprawling archipelago are nearing 27,000 as daily cases continue to soar despite the launch of an aggressive—and controversial—vaccination campaign by the government.
Health ministry officials reported a whopping 14,224 new infections that weekend, the country’s highest single-day rise since the start of the pandemic.
Because of its heavy reliance on tourism and foreign travelers, the pandemic’s impact has been devastating in Bali. Hotels, restaurants and prominent tourist destinations have closed, leaving thousands of local Balinese workers stranded and struggling to make a living as COVID-19 rages on.
Indonesians across social media moved swiftly to condemn Gray and her partner, who they accused of overstaying their visas, being “privileged”, “tone deaf” and “culturally insensitive” during a difficult time for the country.
“I was fucking livid at her audacity for plugging her tips and tricks on how to cheat the visa system to live an “elevated” life in Bali while [millions like myself] are stuck here in the closet in fear of persecution and struggling to make ends meet during COVID-19,” wrote a queer Indonesian Twitter user. “Her audacity to overstay her visa, work from here and not pay the obligatory income taxes for foreigners who stayed more than 6 months, is grating on my nerves,” the Twitter user added.
Other than abusing her visa and having no respect to the local Balinese situation, another user mentioned her concern towards the other implication of Grey’s statements. “How has she ensured that moving to Bali and encouraging others to do so isn’t contributing to gentrification (raising prices so that natives aren’t kicked out or forced to learn English as opposed to expats learning Bahasa)?” wrote this user regarding the matter.
Gray was summoned to the local immigration office, where she said she did not overstay her visa and that charges against her were personal.
In her defense, Grey has stated that she was not guilty. She believed that her deportation was simply caused by her being part of the LGBT-Q community. “I put out a public statement about LGBT rights and am being deported because of it,” she said. Her lawyer Erwin Siregar reiterated that the couple “did not break any laws” and that their deportations were undeserved.
“Their goal was to help people come to Bali after coronavirus restrictions were lifted. They wanted to persuade tourists to return to Indonesia without a cent of payment,” he told the New York Times after the couple’s arrest earlier this week. He further stated that the Indonesian government should be thanking them, not deporting them.
Bali remains closed to tourists but foreigners on the island have made headlines recently for flouting mandatory health and safety rules on the island—deliberately not wearing face masks because of low fines and light punishment.
While Gray’s characterization of Bali as a queer-friendly place led to trouble from authorities, some Indonesians maintained that the real issue was in their western attitudes towards gentrification and privilege.
Eka Apriliani, a tourism manager from the island’s capital city of Denpasar, said that “The problem won’t disappear just because Gray is gone. Bali’s foreigner problem is a very complex one.”
“Bali is seen as a tourist paradise but there are many of us who call it home. There are good foreigners who respect and assimilate into our culture but there are also many of them who are disrespectful and disregard our way of life, beliefs and even personal safety at the expense for them to escape their own troubles back home.”
“It’s selfish and an extremely problematic narrative to have.”
With all this being said, we want to clarify that we do welcome and enjoy having so many nationalities among us, as long as you have the appreciation and respect to our beliefs, culture, and way of living. What do you think of the matter? Let us know.