An American tourist was deported from Indonesia after causing an online uproar last week over tweets that promoted moving to Bali—during the pandemic, no less—because of its safety and “queer friendly” community.
What was perhaps intended to be an aspirational Twitter thread ended up stirring the feelings of the locals, who have been dealing with “privileged” tourists on the popular island long before COVID-19.
Kristen Gray, a 28-year-old “digital nomad” who has been staying in Bali with her girlfriend since 2019, was sent back to the United States on Thursday, Jan. 21 following her viral tweets that praised Bali for its “safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, queer friendly, (and the) Black in Bali community.”
“Moving out of America in my 20s has been a game changer. I’ve been living in Bali, Indonesia for over a year with my girlfriend,” Gray began her Twitter thread as to saying.
Gray, who shared that she struggled with being black and queer in her home country, reportedly also said Bali was the “perfect medicine” for her physical and emotional health. She started a graphic design business in Bali, where she lived in a “treehouse” for $400. In the US, her rent for a studio apartment was at $1,300.
The thread went on to promote Gray’s e-book titled Our Bali Life Is Yours, which she sold for $30. The e-book reportedly contains “direct links” to visa agents on how one can move to Bali during the pandemic. Gray also offered 45-minute consultations for those thinking about making the move to Bali for $50.
Gray’s Twitter thread received backlash from locals. Foreigners are barred from entering Indonesia because of the pandemic. As of Jan. 24, Indonesia has over 977,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27,664 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Her tweets also exposed local sentiment about privileged tourists in the country—particularly in Bali, a popular tourist destination—that glamorized the island as a paradise for foreigners contributing to its gentrification.
Comments on Gray’s tweet say labelling the island as “queer friendly” was also problematic.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Bali. However, news blog Coconuts notes that “members of the LGBTQ community in Indonesia live in fear of persecution and are targeted by authorities and conservative groups.”
Soon after Gray’s tweets became viral, immigration authorities in Indonesia announced Gray and her girlfriend’s deportation, saying the two may have breached immigration laws, such as violating the purpose of her visitor stay permit for conducting business in Bali and for “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
According to Coconuts, Gray apologized before she left the country last week. But she also maintained her innocence.
“I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT, and I’m being deported because of LGBT,” Gray said in a statement.
Bali, being heavily reliant on tourism, is the worst-hit economy among the Indonesian provinces because of the pandemic.
Apart from the multifaceted debate Gray’s tweets have begun—as they touched upon foreigner privilege and LGBT issues in the country—the situation also opens the question of what happens to digital nomads now during the pandemic.