Who is Kristen Gray? Lesbian American deported for helping LGBTQ tourists break Bali's health and visa laws
Authorities said she was being deported for 'spreading information that could unsettle the public,' such as Bali being queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners enter Indonesia during the pandemic
Meet Kristen Gray, the digital nomad who broke Indonesia's laws and is now saying she is facing discrimination because she is a Black lesbian woman. Gray had recently started a Twitter thread about moving to Bali with her girlfriend and using her experiences to sell her e-book.
Titled 'Our Bali life is Yours', she detailed how she and her girlfriend enjoyed an “elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living” during their stay and promoted her e-book titled “Our Bali Life is Yours”, priced at $30. In it, she described Bali as an LGBTQ paradise where she had connected with the Black community living on the island there and was not harassed despite being queer and Black.
In the Twitter thread, Gray wrote that she and her girlfriend booked one-way flights to Bali in December 2019 with an initial plan of staying for six months to “stack some bread and elevate our lifestyle.” She added, “I was broke, struggling to find work the entire year of 2019 and I wanted to take a stab at entrepreneurship."
The tweet thread continued with additional details about her 'before and after' situation: "I was paying $1,300 for my LA studio. Now I have a treehouse for $400. Dec. 2019 on the left... Jan 2021 on the right,” she said, posting two photographs -- one of her apartment room in Los Angeles and of her current idyllic "treehouse" residence in Bali.
“In March, when the pandemic hit and our 6-month plan went out the window, we decided to stay in Bali to 'wait it out' and we’ve been here ever since,” she wrote. Gray, who runs a graphic design business, said 2020 was “the best year” for her even during the quarantine period, as she was able to focus on her works “without the dictation of the American news or political drama”. In short, she was working in Bali and running a business there while on a tourist visa.
Gray described Bali as Black-friendly queer paradise for the American LGBTQ community, posting enthusiastically about why Americans should 'settle' there, after coming in on tourist visas.
“It’s a guide breaking down how we did it and how you can do it too,” Gray wrote in the now-deleted tweet. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting Indonesia during COVID,” she said in one of her tweets posted on January 16. One use posted screenshots of Gray's now-deleted tweets for those who were "curious".
For anyone curious about the deleted/hidden Bali thread pic.twitter.com/FYA3mRcMNf— Salt chip (@gastricslut) January 17, 2021
Unfortunately for her, even before she had deleted the tweet thread and locked her accounts on Twitter and Instagram, her tweets had already 'gone viral'. People both in Indonesia and the US called out her hypocrisy of using the privilege of an American tourist in a poor country to break local health visa and tax laws and encourage the gentrification of the country by encouraging other US citizens to settle there illegally.
One Indonesian tweeted: "Indonesians have nothing against you @kristentootie being black nor being queer. but you (jumped ship) living in Bali illegally on expired visa, hence don't pay taxes, still trying to make money from selling guides on how to jump ship while encouraging travel during pandemic WTF".
Preston Mitchum, an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center teaching LGBT Health Law and Policy, wrote a scathing tweet directed at Gray saying: "No, please don’t use you being LGBTQ+ to garner sympathy from us. As a Black queer person, I find it disgusting. You were deported for being loud and wrong on social media, telling your business, and saying that people need to move to Bali (illegally) & during a pandemic." He also posted a video of the immigration official announcing how Gray and her girlfriend, Saundra, had broken laws before Gray spoke on camera with a mask about how she was being discriminated against because she was queer and Black.
Indonesians have nothing against you @kristentootie being black nor being queer. but you (jumped ship) living in Bali illegally on expired visa, hence don't pay taxes, still trying to make money from selling guides on how to jump ship while encouraging travel during pandemic— Permadi Arya (@permadiaktivis1) January 17, 2021
No, please don’t use you being LGBTQ+ to garner sympathy from us.— Preston Mitchum (@PrestonMitchum) January 19, 2021
As a Black queer person, I find it disgusting.
You were deported for being loud and wrong on social media, telling your business, and saying that people need to move to Bali (illegally) & during a pandemic. https://t.co/wxr6tHVYCC
After the tweet thread was heavily retweeted, quoted and discussed, Indonesian authorities had called Gray and her girlfriend, Saundra, in for questioning. After finding that she had broken Indonesian laws, Gray has been deported today, January 19, pending the next available flight.
The head of the Bali office for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Jamaruli Manihuruk, said in a statement that official investigation found that as a US citizen Kristen Gray, may have violated a number of immigration laws, including “spreading information that could unsettle the public,” such as Bali being queer-friendly and suggesting that foreigners can enter Indonesia during the pandemic.
“The concerned foreign national is suspected to have done business by selling her 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,” the statement added, explaining that those actions mean Gray has violated the purpose of her stay permit.
Gray is in Indonesia under a visitor stay permit, which is still valid until January 24. However, the investigation has concluded that since she has violated a number of regulations, she will be deported. “An American national by the name Kristen Antoinette Gray is subjected to Administrative Act from Immigration in the form of deportation,” the statement said. Gray is currently detained at the Immigration Detention Center in Denpasar as her deportation is postponed until a flight to the United States becomes available.
While Bali has been relatively progressive in terms of tourism and LGBTQ+ issues, the country's local LGBTQ community continues to face discrimination. Gray's privilege as an American tourist discernably helped her avoid hate crimes and homophobic attacks. Therefore, Gray touting Bali as an LGBTQ-friendly place to her followers was also a false notion.
One Indonesian lesbian woman tweeted about how Gray had made the lives of locals who were queer worse, saying: "What she has experienced is so far from what we and especially Bali locals experience. Our islands aren’t a place for westerners with their mighty currency to escape to permanently - we face real consequences for being queer here", in the context of the “Islamisation” in Bali as a homophobic reaction to queer culture becoming too 'visible' in the island country with the influx of LGBTQ tourists from Western countries.
What she has experienced is so far from what we and especially Bali locals experience. Our islands aren’t a place for westerners with their mighty currency to escape to permanently - we face real consequences for being queer here https://t.co/jaDiE9VJqy— shan (@shannsational) January 19, 2021
Before locking her account, Gray had posted one last tweet which acknowledged the backlash, saying: “The conversations being had here are valid. Though they aren’t the conversations I was having today. They’ve been seen and heard. Just sharing my story with people.”