BANGKOK >> An American woman who has been living in Bali during the pandemic is expected to be deported Thursday after she praised the Indonesian island as “queer friendly” and offered to help foreigners enter the country despite its coronavirus travel ban.
Indonesian immigration officials detained Kristen Gray, 28, overnight Tuesday and said she was being deported for “spreading information that could unsettle the public.” They also accused her of “carrying out dangerous activities” and endangering public order by not obeying rules and laws.
“I am not guilty,” she told reporters outside the immigration detention center on Tuesday. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”
Her arrest came three days after she posted a thread on Twitter extolling the ease of her low-cost life in Bali and its tolerant community and promoting an e-book she wrote with her partner, Saundra Alexander, called “Our Bali Life Is Yours.” The couple also offered tutorials for people wanting to move to the island. Alexander, 30, will also be deported Thursday, according to their attorney, Erwin Siregar.
Siregar said the deportation was undeserved and that the couple had not broken any laws. Their goal was to help people come to Bali after coronavirus restrictions are lifted, he said.
“They are good people,” Siregar said. “They can persuade tourists to come to Indonesia after the pandemic is over without a cent of payment. We should thank them, not deport them.”
Bali, which is predominantly Hindu, unlike the rest of majority-Muslim Indonesia, is highly dependent on tourism and has long cultivated a reputation for tolerance in a country that is increasingly conservative.
With the ban on international tourists, many hotels and tourist destinations have closed. Balinese workers have struggled to make a living and the tourism industry has been desperate to bring back visitors.
In her lengthy Twitter thread, Gray, who is Black, praised Bali as a place welcoming of Black people. She also boasted about living an elegant lifestyle on a shoestring budget, comments that set off a firestorm of criticism among Indonesians on social media.
Some complained that foreign tourists like Gray had helped drive up prices on the island and limit opportunities for Balinese outside the service industry.
“Why do Americans think their peace of mind is worth gentrifying a whole island and pushing locals out of their own lands and into low-paying jobs,” one commenter wrote on Twitter.
In her thread, Gray said she and Alexander left the United States last January in part because of the high cost of living, and said that she found living in Bali much more rewarding and less expensive.
“This island has been amazing because of our elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living,” she wrote. “Being a digital nomad is everything.”
She said she was paying $400 for a treehouse compared with $1,300 for a studio in Los Angeles.
The couple initially planned to stay six months but remained in Bali after the spread of the coronavirus halted most international travel. Indonesia banned foreign visitors from the worst-hit countries in March, and soon after extended the ban to all foreign tourists.
In a statement, the Bali immigration office said that Gray’s Twitter posts could “unsettle the public” by suggesting that the island was tolerant of gays and lesbians in a country that does not recognize same-sex marriage. It also accused her of spreading information about the ease of entering Indonesia during the pandemic.
In one of her posts, Gray wrote that the book included “direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting into Indonesia during COVID.”
One observer on Twitter noted that it was ironic for Gray to claim that she was a victim of discrimination after praising Bali as a queer-friendly destination.
“You said Bali is queer-friendly but then you also said you were discriminated for being gay in a homophobic country,” the observer wrote. “Not only you played yourself but you also risk the actual queer people’s lives here who have to live discreetly.”
Siregar, the lawyer, said the sudden deportation was unfair to the couple because they did not have a chance to prove their case in court and had only a few hours to pack their bags and say goodbye to the dog they had adopted. He accused immigration officials of deporting them because of the criticism on social media.
“They are kindhearted people,” he said. “They like to help poor children and buy them food. It is proof they don’t want to live selfishly. I wonder why good people like them are being deported.”
Gray’s Twitter account was no longer public by Tuesday, and the couple’s e-book is no longer available online.
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