American 'digital nomad' to be deported from Bali after LGBT and lifestyle tweets

Bali has been an attractive destination for those hoping to avoid the slog of working in congested and expensive cities in Western countries. PHOTO: AFP

DENPASAR, INDONESIA (REUTERS) - An American woman and self-described digital nomad will be deported from Indonesia after posting tweets that sparked a social media backlash over perceived Western privilege and lack of cultural awareness, after she said Bali was "LGBT friendly".

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority nation and its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community has for years faced discrimination and sometimes violent attacks. Only 9 per cent of Indonesians agreed that homosexuality is acceptable, according to a survey by the Pew research centre last June.

In a series of tweets at the weekend, Ms Kristen Gray wrote about the perks of her decision to move to the tropical island of Bali with her girlfriend, describing it as the "perfect medicine", a place that was LGBT friendly, and where the low cost of living afforded her a luxurious lifestyle.

"The island has been amazing because of our elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living. I was paying US$1,300 (S$1,720) for my LA studio. Now I have a treehouse for US$400," she posted, with a picture of her new, light-filled Balinese abode.

"Being a digital nomad is everything," she added, referring to individuals who often work remotely and in multiple countries.

With its laidback lifestyle, unique culture and relatively low cost of living, Bali has been an attractive destination for those hoping to avoid the slog of working in congested and expensive cities in Western countries.

Ms Gray's tweets were slammed by many Indonesians on social media for various reasons, including allegations she may have cheated the system by dodging taxes, exploited Western privilege, and for an apparent lack of awareness about Indonesian society.

After Ms Gray was summoned for questioning on Tuesday (Jan 19), Mr I Putu Surya Dharma, a spokesman for Bali's Law and Human Rights agency, told Reuters the US citizen would be deported as soon as a flight was available, and was currently being held at an immigration detention facility.

In a statement on its website, the immigration office said Ms Gray may have violated several immigration laws, including by spreading information that could disturb the public, such as suggesting that Bali was "queer friendly" and easily accessible to foreigners amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Hi everyone, first of all I'm 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've been deported because I'm LGBT," Ms Gray told reporters.

Promoting her lifestyle upgrade in an e-book entitled, Our Bali Life Is Yours, she had also posted about how foreign nationals could enter Indonesia during the pandemic.

Her lawyer Erwin Siregar told Reuters that Ms Gray had a social cultural visa that was valid until Jan 24 this year.

Indonesia last month tightened border restrictions to stop the entry of all foreigners, with the exception of diplomats and those with existing work or residency permits, in a bid to stem the spread of more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

Officials said they were also looking into the possibility that Ms Gray had violated Indonesian law by carrying out business activities through the sale of her e-book.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.