Hidden Rainbow: An inside look at Bali’s underground Pride gathering

A quiet yet solemn Pride celebration took place somewhere in Denpasar in June 2023. Photo: QLC Bali.
A quiet yet solemn Pride celebration took place somewhere in Denpasar in June 2023. Photo: QLC Bali.

In the month of June, the LGBTQIA+ community celebrates Pride Month, which originated in the US but is now observed worldwide, including in Asia. 

In Thailand, a neighboring country, Pride Month is not only celebrated but also paraded without shame. 

However, the situation in Indonesia is quite different, to say the least. Pride Month celebrations are not a prominent focus for LGBTQIA+ individuals in the country, given the ongoing threats to their fundamental rights. 

Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population globally, has witnessed an increasing backlash and persecution against queer citizens, particularly in recent years. Consequently, openly celebrating Pride Month in the country is challenging.

However, some organizations in Bali recognized the need to remain resilient and not allow the growing wave of discrimination to further oppress them.

In the bustling streets of southern Denpasar, nestled discreetly in a nondescript building, an extraordinary event took place. 

The Pride event, known as “Bangga di Bali (Proud in Bali), unfolded its vibrant colors within the walls of the building. Coconuts Bali has been entrusted not to reveal the exact date of the event and the name of the venue in order to protect the community. 

Despite a slight delay in timing (hey, they don’t call it “Bali time” for nothing), the enthusiastic guests eagerly embraced the occasion. Before entering the event space, attendees were greeted by the reception committee, registering their presence and receiving a thorough explanation of the event’s regulations. 

“We were naturally concerned that there would be backlash especially because of next year’s elections,” said 29-year-old Venon Sa’id Ali, one of the event organizers who also acts as a spokesperson for Bangga di Bali.

Venon, who goes by they/them pronouns, revealed that the event began from around 3pm and concluded at about 9pm.

“For security reasons, we agreed that the gates of the venue would be closed at 7pm to ensure that nobody went in or out,” they added.

Ascending to the second floor, guests wandered through booths by local inclusive organizations and queer-owned businesses. From clothing to books, bags to delectable treats, face painting to tarot readings, an eclectic array of offerings delighted those in attendance.

Inside the event venue, an explosion of decorations greeted the audience. Rainbow flags adorned every corner, seats were meticulously arranged, while impeccable lighting and a glamorous stage backdrop demanded attention. 

The event was skillfully hosted by two charismatic MCs, one of them being the island’s celebrated trans woman and drag performer Meghan Kimoralez AKA Kimora, who introduced themselves and encouraged attendees to engage in conversation while waiting for others to fill the allocated seats. 

The event commenced with the core organizers of Bangga Bali taking the stage, introducing themselves, and eloquently expressed their gratitude while setting the tone for an evening filled with pride and empowerment.

Before the entertainment unfolded, the audience eagerly listened to a passionate speech by Jonta Saragih, who represented the Coalition for Our Fundamental Rights. 

Saragih not only praised the Bangga Bali event but also called upon all attendees to continue their fight for more than mere acceptance of gender diversity. The aim was to recognize the contributions of minority groups as integral parts of society and foster awareness to achieve equality in all aspects.

The event proceeded with a captivating dance performance titled, “Bajidor Kahot.” While traditionally performed by young women, this evening showcased the talent of a gay man from a local community.

The dance performance was followed by live readings of thought-provoking poems that provided a critique and aspiration from someone who defies binary gender constructs. They recounted the experience of an individual who had bravely revealed their true self to their parents, who responded with acceptance and positivity.

The event progressed into a talk show segment titled, “Surat Cinta Untuk Diri Sendiri” (Love Letters to Oneself), and a stand-up comedy performance that, on top of the comedic anecdotes, also urged attendees to reflect on real-life experiences of the LGBTQ+ community.

The event was followed by various creative competitions, including a makeup competition with the theme “Laskar Pelangi” (Rainbow Warriors), a freestyle dance competition titled “Joged Ambyar,” and a fashion show with the theme “Ratu Sejagad Raya” (Queen of the Universe). 

Twenty-four participants from various individuals and communities in Bali, including Wargas, Perwaron, QLC Bali, Yayasan Gaya Dewata, Warcan Ubung, Marlboro, and Kuta Legian, showcased their creativity. 

A total of 161 guests and organizers attended the event, representing diverse gender and sexual identities that include 54 trans women, seven non-binary people, one trans man, 30 lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, 47 gay, bisexual, and queer men, 11 heterosexual women, and four heterosexual men. 

“Overall, we’re very happy with the event. For next year, there are some improvements to be made based on this year’s event such as a bigger venue and other things related to the event,” said Venon.

“We felt safe because from the venue management themselves, they already had an experience hosting an event for the trans women friends. So we thought they would be familiar with the variety of people who came.”

The secret Pride event in Bali not only defied societal boundaries but also created a safe haven where diversity and empowerment flourished. Against the backdrop of Indonesia’s predominantly Muslim society, this hidden rainbow illuminated the path towards acceptance and equality. 

As the vibrant colors faded, the legacy of this underground Pride gathering continues to inspire change and foster an even more inclusive Bali.

All pictures courtesy of QLC Bali.


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