Bali blues: Why I'm Rethinking Australia's Favourite Island Paradise
This week, Jetstar announced its big Bali flight sale. With fares available for as little as $143 and summer now officially behind us - it seemed like a pretty excellent excuse to plan an island getaway.
Sadly, however, trips to Bali might feel less inviting in coming months, as Indonesia moves to draw a hard line on homosexuality and sex outside of marriage in an attempt to better reflect the country's broader religious values.
Since volcanic activity grounded flights to and from the island for weeks at a time last year, Bali has sought to encourage visitors back to its long, pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and high-end health and wellbeing retreats. It's a place of massages and palm trees, cocktails, pools, and relaxation.
In fact, we had first imagined this piece as a list of reasons why Bali should be back at the top of your destination wishlist. After learning about Indonesia's proposed criminalisation of LGBTI communities—put to the vote on Valentine's Day last month—we felt the need to reconsider our favourite island destination.
While it is important, if not crucial, to respect a country's culture and values as a visitor - where human rights are at stake, and a country's law is more concerned with persecution and not protection, it's maybe harder to play along.
Anti-LGBTI sentiment has been growing in Indonesia since 2015, where a series of public crackdowns followed on from a symbolic same-sex marriage ceremony hosted by the Four Seasons Hotel in Ubud. Indonesian officials were publically outraged, and a witchhunt ensued to find all of those involved. The hotel sales executive who arranged the 'karma cleansing' ceremony was eventually named and charged with religious blasphemy, which carries the punishment of up to five years jail time.
Since then, the situation has not improved. Following arrests at gay bars and saunas in 2017, and the arrest and humiliation of 12 trans women in notoriously harsh Aceh in January this year—Indonesia's House of Representatives is right now deliberating revisions to the country's criminal code. Two sections of the new code will outlaw extramarital and homosexual relations, with penalties of up to five and 12 years imprisonment respectively.
It can be easy to forget that Bali is a part of Indonesia, and though Denpasar is a long way from Jakarta, with a very different, internationally-influenced overriding culture taken from teems of visitors from all corners of the globe - it is governed by laws that may soon see a large portion of locals and tourists become criminals.
The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website's 'high degree of caution' warning for Indonesia includes a warning that LGBTI people could be discriminated against.
At the Mardi-Gras parade in Sydney this weekend, Australian-based Indonesian LGBTI group Selamat Datang will march to raise awareness of their challenges at home and to stand in solidarity with the Indonesian LGBTI community. They're able to march due to a donation from Google, and will be raising money for safe houses for gay people in Indonesia.
This piece was published for Lifestyle on 2 March 2018.
Image source, Getty Images.