Bali beauty pageant promoting HIV education forced to cancel under pressure from anti-LGBT groups

The winner of ‘Miss Gaya Dewata’ 2017. Photo: YGD
The winner of ‘Miss Gaya Dewata’ 2017. Photo: YGD

A Bali beauty pageant promoting HIV education and equality has been called off after mounting pressure from hardline anti-LGBT groups.

The event, organized by Yayasan Gaya Dewata — a Denpasar-based Indonesian NGO focusing on HIV/AIDS education, prevention and support — was originally set for Oct. 10.

But intolerant groups took to the internet to harass the event’s venue, the Bhumiku Convention Hall in Denpasar, ultimately coercing it into canceling their agreement to host the event.

“Online groups harassed and threatened the venue for the event until they were forced to withdraw their support,” a source within YGD, who wished to remain anonymous, told Coconuts Bali on Oct. 15. 

“This constitutes an unpredicted attempt by extremist anti-LGBT groups to influence events in Bali,” he added. 

Although nominally a beauty pageant, contestants had to undergo training and show knowledge in sexual health and HIV issues to appear in the finals at the now cancelled event. Twenty-four contestants narrowed down from 80 applicants, all Indonesian, had been set to compete to take the crowns in separate Mr and Miss categories through talent performances and a drag show.

“The event is an important part of the YGD’s HIV prevention efforts, education the community and allowing us to spread our message of HIV prevention and sexual health empowerment to members of the Bali Community.”

Indonesia seems to be experiencing regressing societal attitudes towards the LGBT community in recent years. Although gay sex is not illegal in Indonesia (except in Aceh province, which has special autonomy to enact sharia-based laws), many within Indonesia’s LGBT community say they are terrified by the virulent homophobia espoused by religious leaders and government officials. But prior to this flare-up, Bali has generally not experienced the same LGBT panic as the rest of the country, partly due to its Hindu social norms and identity as a tourist island, allowing its openly gay nightlife to carry on.

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