When a popular podcast host in Indonesia invited two men to his show who were married to each other, they had a polite conversation on the air about gay life and identity.

But in a Muslim-majority country where gay rights are threatened, the show provoked an intense reaction from conservative fans and religious authorities. So the host, Deddy Corbuzier, removed the interview from his social media pages and uploaded a new interview with a Muslim cleric apologizing for “causing a stir.”

Mr Corbuzier’s 180-degree turn this week highlights tension in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Even as more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Indonesia are standing up for themselves and being accepted by their families and communities, a conservative movement — with the help of social media — is trying to portray such sexual identities as a threat to national security. harmony.

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

“But we have to be very careful not to confuse what is happening in the public debate with our daily lives,” he added. “Violence, stigma, negative perception: we come across all these things. But at the same time, we also have a space to navigate through our daily lives and be who we are.”

Gay life has been tolerated, albeit 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 landmark laws have been passed that have either taken steps toward that goal or decriminalized gay sex.

In Indonesia, which is officially secular and has laws protecting citizens from discrimination, some politicians started a campaign about six years ago to enact anti-gay restrictions. They have tried to associate LGBT people with immorality, disease and the subversion of Indonesian culture. In 2016, under pressure from right-wing Islamist groups, police began mass arrests of gay men, first in public places and later in their homes.

“It’s hard to be gay in this country,” said Gunn Wibisono, a gay social psychologist in Indonesia and an LGBT activist. “Very, very difficult. We feel like we’re being watched everywhere and we can’t be ourselves.”

Corbuzier’s May 7 podcast, “Tutorial on Being Gay in Indonesia,” featured a conversation with Ragil Mahardika, an Indonesian man, and his husband, Frederik Vollert, who is German, in which they talked about their lives together and mused about gay identity.

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

The podcast episode, which has been viewed more than six million times on YouTube, wasn’t much of a tutorial. And it was mainly about the couple’s life in Germany (where they married in 2018), not Indonesia.

Yet the fallout for Mr Corbuzier, 45, was rapid.

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

One of the harshest critics of Mr. Corbuzier was Anwar Abbas, the deputy chairman of the Ulema Council of Indonesia, the country’s main Islamic administrative body. Mr Abbas told bohobarmadrid this week that same-sex marriage was worse than the 1945 atomic bombs dropped by the US military on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“If it’s a bomb, only people living in that area will die,” he said. “But if a man marries a man or a woman marries a woman, there will not be a human left on this planet; there will be no children on the face of this earth.”

To appease such critics, Mr Corbuzier, who could not be reached for comment, removed the interview from his social media pages. Instead, he posted a new interview he had with Gus Miftah, a Muslim cleric.

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

The answer was no, said Mr. Corbuzier.

“If this really causes a stir, I apologize,” he said. “But I’m not campaigning for this. This phenomenon exists and we must be vigilant.”

So why, the cleric asked, was the episode billed as a “tutorial” on being gay?

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

Mahardika, 30, who is currently in Jakarta, said in an interview on Thursday that he had expected the podcast episode to go viral and was not surprised by the controversy that resulted. He also said that while being openly gay in Indonesia he fears for his safety, no specific threats have emerged as a result of the podcast.

“Podcast or no podcast, by the time people knew I was coming to Indonesia, I was already a bad name in the eyes of those who saw me as bad,” he said. “But a good name in the eyes of those who see me as Ragil, a person of values.”

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