Podcaster Deddy Corbuzier avoided a gay couple after welcoming them

When a popular podcast host in Indonesia invited two men to her show who were married, they had an educated aired conversation about gay life and identity.

But in a Muslim-majority nation where gay rights are under threat, the show provoked intense backlash from conservative fans and religious authorities. Then the host, Deddy Corbuzier, deleted the interview from her social media pages and uploaded a new interview with an Islamic cleric in which she apologized for “causing an uproar”.

Corbuzier’s 180-degree turn this week highlights a tension in the country which has the largest Muslim population in the world. While more and more gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in Indonesia are establishing themselves and gaining acceptance from their families and communities, a conservative movement is trying, with the help of social media, to portray such sexual identities as a threat to national harmony.

“There is hostility on online platforms and it amplifies negative public discourse on homosexuality,” said Hendri Yulius Wijaya, the author of “Intimate Assemblies: The Politics of Queer Identities and Sexualities in Indonesia”.

“But we have to be very careful not to confuse what happens in public discourse with our daily life,” he added. “Violence, stigma, negative perception: all these things we encounter. But at the same time, we also still have a space to navigate our daily life and be who we are. “

Gay life has been tolerated, if marginalized, for decades in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, and the legal climate in the Asia Pacific region has also become more tolerant in recent years. In 2019, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage – a first for Asia – and other fundamental laws have passed this as well took steps towards that goal or has shifted to decriminalize gay sex.

In Indonesia, which is officially secular and has laws that protect citizens from discrimination, some politicians started a campaign about six years ago to push through anti-gay restrictions. They tried to associate LGBT people with immorality, disease and the subversion of Indonesian culture. In 2016, under pressure from right-wing Islamic groups, the police began arresting gay men in drovesfirst in public places and then in their homes.

“It’s hard to be gay in this country,” said Gunn Wibisono, a social psychologist in Indonesia who is gay and LGBT activist. “Very, very difficult. We feel that we are being observed everywhere and that we cannot be ourselves.”

Mr. Corbuzier’s May 7 podcast, “Tutorial on Being Gay in Indonesia”, featured a conversation with Ragil Mahardika, an Indonesian man, and her husband, Frederik Vollert, who is German, talking about their life together and reflecting on homosexuality identity.

“I would say I was born this way and I’m not making it up,” said Mr. Mahardika at one point in the episode. “Ever since I was little, I thought I was different from my friends.”

The podcast episode, which was viewed more than six million times on YouTube, wasn’t actually a “tutorial”. And it was mostly about the couple’s life in Germany (where they got married in 2018), not Indonesia.

Even so, the relapse for Mr. Corbuzier, 45, was rapid.

A chorus of fans and religious leaders in Indonesia condemned his interview with the couple, saying he had disrespected Islam by portraying gay life in a positive light. The news of the backlash was previously reported by Coconutsa media company covering Southeast Asia and several local news outlets.

One of Corbuzier’s harshest critics was Anwar Abbas, the vice president of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top Muslim ecclesiastical body. Mr. Abbas told the New York Times this week that same-sex marriage was worse than the nuclear bombs the United States military dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

“If it’s a bomb, only the people living in that area will die,” he said. “But if a man marries a man or a woman marries a woman, there will be no more human beings on this planet; there will be no children on the surface of this earth ”.

To appeal to such critics, Mr. Corbuzier, who was not contacted for comment, deleted the interview from his social media pages. Instead of him, he published a new interview he had conducted with Gus Miftah, an Islamic cleric.

In that conversation, Mr. Miftah put the podcast host on the defensive as he tried to clarify whether Mr. Corbuzier had invited a gay couple into his show because he approved of their behavior.

The answer was no, Mr. Corbuzier said.

“If this is really causing an uproar, I apologize,” he said. “But I’m not campaigning for this cause. This phenomenon exists and we must be vigilant ”.

So why, the cleric asked, what the episode called a “tutorial” on being gay?

“So that people who don’t want to be gay know how to anticipate it,” said Mr. Corbuzier. He likened the interview to a motorcycle theft video that people could watch to prevent their motorcycles from being stolen.

Mr. Mahardika, 30, who is currently in Jakarta, said in an interview Thursday that he should have expected the podcast episode to go viral and was not surprised by the controversy that followed. He also said that although being openly gay in Indonesia makes him fear for his safety, no specific threats emerged following the podcast.

“Podcast or no podcast, when people knew I was coming to Indonesia, I already had a bad reputation in the eyes of those who considered me bad,” he said. “But a good name in the eyes of those who see me as Ragil, a human being with values.”