When a popular podcast host in Indonesia invited two men onto his show who were married to each other, they had a polite on-air conversation about gay life and identity.
But in a Muslim-majority nation where gay rights are under threat, the show provoked an intense backlash from conservative fans and religious authorities. So the host, Deddy Corbuzier, deleted the interview from his social media pages and uploaded a fresh interview with an Islamic cleric in which he apologized for “causing a ruckus.”
Mr. Corbuzier’s 180-degree turn this week highlights a tension in the country that has the world’s largest Muslim population. Even as more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Indonesia assert themselves and gain acceptance from their families and communities, a conservative movement is trying — with help from 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 surrounding homosexuality,” said Hendri Yulius Wijaya, the author of “Intimate Assemblages: The Politics of Queer Identities and Sexualities in Indonesia.”
“But we need to be very careful to not conflate what happens in the public discourse with our daily life,” he added. “Violence, stigma, negative perception: All of 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 across the Asia Pacific region has also grown more tolerant over the past few years. In 2019, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage — a first for Asia — and other landmark laws have passed that either took steps toward that goal or moved to decriminalize gay sex.
In Indonesia, which is officially secular and has laws that protect citizens from discrimination, some politicians began a campaign about six years ago to pass anti-gay restrictions. They have tried to associate L.G.B.T. 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 droves, first in public venues and later in their homes.
“It’s hard being gay in this country,” said Gunn Wibisono, a social psychologist in Indonesia who is gay and an L.G.B.T. activist. “Very, very hard. We feel that we are being watched everywhere and that we can’t be ourselves.”
Mr. 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 life together and mused on gay identity.
“I’d say I was born this way and I am 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 was viewed more than six million times on YouTube, was not really a “tutorial.” And it was mostly about the couple’s life in Germany (which is where they were married in 2018), not in Indonesia.
Even so, the fallout for Mr. Corbuzier, 45, was swift.
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 reported earlier by Coconuts, a media company that covers Southeast Asia, and several local news outlets.
One of Mr. Corbuzier’s harshest critics was Anwar Abbas, the deputy chairman of Indonesia’s Ulema Council, the country’s top Muslim clerical body. Mr. Abbas told The New York Times this week that same-sex marriage was worse than the nuclear bombs that the United States military dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
“If it’s a bomb, only people who live in that area will die,” he said. “But if a man marries a man or a woman marries a woman, there will be no human left in this planet; there will be no children on the surface of this earth.”
To appease such critics, Mr. Corbuzier, who could not be reached for comment, deleted the interview from his social media pages. In its place, he posted a fresh interview he had conducted with Gus Miftah, an Islamic cleric.
In that conversation, Mr. Miftah put the podcast host on the defensive as he sought to clarify whether Mr. Corbuzier had invited a gay couple onto his show because he approved of their behavior.
The answer was no, Mr. Corbuzier said.
“If this is really causing a ruckus, 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, was the episode billed as a “tutorial” in being gay?
“So that people who don’t want to be gay know how to anticipate it,” Mr. Corbuzier said. He likened the interview to a video of a motorcycle theft that people could watch to avoid having their own motorcycle stolen.
Mr. Mahardika, 30, who is currently in Jakarta, said in an interview on Thursday that he had to expected the podcast episode to go viral and was not been surprised by controversy that ensued. He also said that while being openly gay in Indonesia makes him fear for his safety, no specific threats had emerged as a result of the podcast.
“Podcast or no podcast, by the time people knew that I’d come to Indonesia, I already had 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 human with values.”