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2 Jul 2012

Singapore: 15,000 gather to show support for LGBTs at Pink Dot rally

It is a record turnout for Pink Dot, the only public rally to advocate LGBT acceptance in Singapore, and which has even inspired similar events around the world. Watch the video here.

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The first ever night Pink Dot. Photos courtesy of Pink Dot

Singapore’s Hong Lim Park turned into a sea of shimmering pink lights on Saturday night as 15,000 people gathered to show their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the city-state.

Held for the fourth consecutive year, Pink Dot (which references Singapore's nickname "the little red dot") is the only public rally in the country held to create more awareness, understanding, visibility and acceptance of LGBT people.

Singapore’s antiquated British colonial-era laws continue to criminalise sexual relations between men although the government in 2007 said that the particular law (section 377A) will not be enforced.

Since 2009, the event has been held at Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park, the only location in Singapore where demonstrations and rallies are permitted. The event has grown from 2,500 people in 2009 to 4,000 in 2010 to 10,000 last year.

Each year, the event is accompanied by a thematic campaign video that is directed by well-known filmmaker Boo Junfeng, addressing issues such as family acceptance, coming out, discrimination and media censorship.

Ambassadors and hosts of the annual Pink Dot events often comprise mainstream, heterosexual local entertainment personalities who appeal for understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

Sharon Au, a former TV show host and Pink Dot 2012 ambassador, said in a media statement: “Straight people take family support for granted yet this may not be possible for many LGBT individuals. Imagine living in isolation, and not being able to share their pains, sorrows, hopes and aspiration. That is the reality of many LGBT people in Singapore, and I encourage Singaporeans to break through this barrier to their LGBT friends and family members, and to show that you support their freedom to love.”

“They may live in fear of your disapproval, even though you are already aware and are just waiting for them to open up. Take that first move, reach out and show that you care and love them without prejudice.”

The two other ambassadors this year actor Lim Yu Beng and Kumar, Singapore’s most well-known drag comedian who came out as gay last year, addressed the crowd alongside Au.

The annual event, which typically begins with a picnic and concert before it culminates in a massive human dot formation, draws friends, parents and families of LGBT people, sometimes with young children in tow.

Jean Chong, co-founder of women’s group Sayoni, told Fridae: “The turnout is an indication of mass support for LGBT people. I don’t think Singaporeans are an intolerant lot as the government make them out to be.”

But does the huge turnout really translate into mainstream support for LGBTs in Singapore?

Organisers of the event describe Pink Dot’s aims which are “to raise awareness and foster deeper understanding of the basic human need to love and be loved, regardless of one’s sexual orientation…” and to “bring together Singaporeans in a way that promotes love without antagonism”, but how far can the LGBT community go without engaging our antagonists, asks Alex Au (no relation to Sharon).

Speaking with Fridae after the event, Au, a prominent social commentator and pioneer gay activist since the early 1990s, says it's important for the community “to avoid the pitfall of seeing things from inside out.”

Au highlighted a comment about Pink Dot posted on The Online Citizen, a Singapore group blogging website, which he says provided food for thought. The comment read: "I think it is sad when people gathering together to hold up a (mobile) phone with a pink filter over its LED [light-emitting diode] is actually a high point in their life. It must be a win-win situation for the government – the government can claim it is tolerant while some 15,000 morons think by doing the above mentioned that the government is going to repeal section 377A soon or that the Singaporean public will accept the next logical step which is gay marriage."

Au said that while he can understand the human instinct to avoid confrontation, and the preference to choose a campaign style that is celebratory, “we may need to take stock from time to time and ask ourselves, how far can we go without engaging our antagonists?”

He suggests that it may be important to continue to supplement Pink Dot with additional activities – run by others in the LGBT community.

Google became the first multinational to support Pink Dot last year and Barclays Bank came aboard alongside Google this year. While some are opposed to corporate support and/or having big corporate logos at the event, Au noted: “Corporations today are expected to have a social conscience. Surely we would much rather they apply that conscience in support of LGBT rights than ignore us!”

And particularly in Singapore’s case, he added, “having more corporates behind us can only help spread the idea that LGBT equality is a totally legitimate goal.”

Fridae is proud to be a Founding Supporter of Pink Dot since 2009.

 


Post-event media coverage by the mainstream press appears to be scant with The Sunday Times publishing one photo and a two paragraph write-up while Today published a photo accompanied by a 4-sentence report without mentioning gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.


The Sunday Times



Singapore

Reader's Comments

1. 2012-07-02 02:38
I was watching the video and I was almost in tears. When they turn on their own flashlights.I was flabbergasted...it looks like glitters when you look above the sky...really wonderful ( ", )
2. 2012-07-02 04:18
Fantastic! well done :) . wish i had been there
3. 2012-07-02 06:49
Fabulous... Seems that the Straights of Jahore are four light years wide
4. 2012-07-02 06:53
well im hoping Singapore will show true leadership for being first Asian nation to legalise gay marriage soon as they seem to be the best educated Asians!
5. 2012-07-02 09:32
Respectfully, I disagree with Alex Au. Seeing inside out is a wonderful way to live: Seeing, acknowledging and celebrating that your sexuality makes up a significant part of your being may take a lifetime to find, but can allow you to build esteem and let go of negativity created by rejections from others who cannot look past your difference.

Alex is wrong. By lookind from within, the confident, peaceful, forgiving, tolerant us, nestling and finding solidarity, can and do engage with one another in our daily living, winning hearts slowly through our common humanity.

I don't see antagonists, I see flawed human beings who we should hold dear to our hearts but not be burdened by their wrong views. With our friends and family who love us, and we love them back equally, surely we can be generous to those who don't. So live well, for ourselves, and for those who love us.
6. 2012-07-02 11:06
I suppose for activists, it can't ever be about looking from just 1 perspective...

While the event is more of a celebration than a protest, I don't think a 15,000 strong public rally to support LGBTs is entirely unantagonistic but whether it is antagonistic enough for who and what purpose can be debated. I don't imagine such an event to not ruffle any feathers but it's hard to engage or have an dialogue who those who oppose LGBT equality. That said, the aim of such an event must be to win over the middle ground which is probably the majority.
Comment #7 was deleted by its author on 2012-07-02 13:04
8. 2012-07-02 13:07
Looks like another impressive gathering in Hong Lim Park. Congrats to the organizers !

As the article mentioned there are trade-offs with sucking up too heavily to big corpse sponsorships. This has been an issue in Pride events elsewhere. The timing with Barclays Bank being a big sponsor was unfortunate and perhaps signals that organizers need to serious think about from whom they garner sponsorships (Note: the Barclays Chair just resigned in the wake of manipulation of the LIBOR rates, tantamount to ongoing criminal practices and illustrative of the ongoing unabated greed and ethical lapses in the financial sector).

In some ways its a bit ironic that homosexuality remains on the books as a 'criminal act' (from ex-Brit colonial era laws) in Singapore, yet many of the big banks that operate there (and elsewhere) can get away with so many 'criminal actions.'

Perhaps one day local Singapore firms (and your locally controlled consumer cooperative, i.e. Fairprice) and other local Singapore SMEs will see it in their interest to support PinkDot rather than having to rely upon externally controlled multinationals. These local firms might recognize that they employ GLBTQ sisters and brothers, who might also support their local businesses. Some day over the rainbow....
9. 2012-07-02 13:25
Wow!
how nice!
10. 2012-07-02 14:26
Absolutely fantastic...!
Let's celebrate the success thi year and make next year's event even bigger.

Commentator#7 - Islandgayguy: Can we just celebrate and rejoice in the journey that this Asian island state has come? Sponsorship from any multinationals is a start and it's a start that might just bring others on board, so please I would not knock any of it. Some would say: child if you dun have anything nice to say, come sit by auntie and be quiet.
11. 2012-07-02 14:27
Absolutely fantastic...!
Let's celebrate the success this year and make next year's event even bigger.

Commentator#7 - Islandgayguy: Can we just celebrate and rejoice in the journey that this Asian island state has come? Sponsorship from any multinationals is a start and it's a start that might just bring others on board, so please I would not knock any of it. Some would say: child if you dun have anything nice to say, come sit by auntie and be quiet.
12. 2012-07-02 15:08
The celebratory tone of the entire exercise is a guise, a stealthy way to engage with the apathy of those who sit on the fence. Homophobes and bigots are certainly not fooled--one only needs to read the comments on the sg yahoo news article about the event to see this.
13. 2012-07-02 15:09
Hope everywhere around the world, Pinkdot organization can hold activities like that, and every people around the world can bring that "someday" even more faster.
14. 2012-07-03 06:13
Actually to put the record straight -it is not British Law anymore -this is Singaporean law -The British are way ahead with LGBT laws and even have civil partnership laws. SO, no mor excuses for us Singaporeans with out governments laws.

IN London they even have a gay street where you can hold your partner's hand without any odd looks at all. Old Compton Street. They also have gay accommodation agencies and newspapers.
We need to update like the British soon!
15. 2012-07-03 09:48
Well... respectfully I am not comparing apples with oranges... the west vs the east. Any amount of positive outcome must be cherished and I'd rather see the glass half full than half empty.

Those GLBT activists would tell you that every bit of good news means a lot to the GLBT community. So I challenge those who seem sour in one's opinion to reflect truly "what have you done lately to advance the cause of this journey...?" Please sit back or stand up or whichever position is natural for you to really give it a thought!

Merci and hugs...
16. 2012-07-03 12:17
Whoever decided to hold the event in the evening was a genius. Whatever one's sexual persuasion and whatever one's views on homosexuality, that photo of a large mass of pink against the Singapore skyline is destined to become a worldwide icon. Imagine if next year that size of that dot doubles. It will send out a hugely potent symbol to those in power.
17. 2012-07-03 14:14
Hi Megnan. You suggest, "if you dun have anything nice to say, come sit by auntie and be quiet."

Your reading of my comment appears to be selective. My comments included both platitudes and a gently crafted critique. But even that seemed to trigger your sensitivities.

Are you advocating some type of groupthink or a parroting of false platitudes? From my experience, families, organizations and societies that encourage respectful discourse including debate (and even dissent) are able to make progress much faster than being mired in silence and buttoning their lips. And from my experience its the Auntie "shut your mouth" types who feed the mirage and chimera of harmoniousness, when in reality people are backstabbing away whilst they smile saying, "everything was great." But then again that is just my own personal view.
18. 2012-07-04 05:46
I agree with Alex Au that we need to supplement other forms of actions with Pinkdot in order to push for more change.

But Pinkdot does have its value in this battle. First, it's all thanks to Pinkdot that our issues have drawn attention through the mainstream media (MSM) which continues to wield great influence on the general population. More importantly, the MSM have reported on the community in a generally positive light. Pinkdot remains the LGBT community's most successful wooer of positive MSM attention to date.

Second, it's all thanks to Pinkdot that a large campaign of its scale has been at least tolerated by the Singapore government. Looking at back at the government's response to our petition to repeal s377a (tabled by our gay-friendly straight friend, Mr Siew Kum Hong), we could gather that among the chief reasons for the government to keep the law were FEAR that: (1) Sinapore's society is conservative and couldn't accept us; (2) it could motivate the LGBT community to become more aggressive in seeking rights (e.g. gay marriage and adoption); (3) which may lead to more controntations with the (assumed) conservative society. In my humble opinion, Pinkdot has effectively dispelled such FEAR. The increasing participation by Singaporeans from all walks of life and of all sexual orientations show that our society is not as conservative as assumed. The chosen theme of 'celebrating the Freedom to Love and Be Loved" is non-aggressive, - religiously provocative and -political. Nothing of the sort of 'gay marriage' or 'gay adoption' rights had been even mentioned. Lastly, its ability to hold a large gathering in an orderly manner shows that the process of rights-seeking needs not be messy and confrontational as it had been in the past, elsewhere. These are the reasons that Pinkdot had at least been tolerated by the government, and positively received by the MSM.

Lastly, it's a good internal platform for the 'coming out' process. Like most people, I adopted a wait-and-see approach, so I didn't have the courage to attend the first gathering (like most of those 15,000 who attended the most recent one) which had only 2,500 participants. I skipped the second one which drew 4,000 participants. I finally took the plunge last year, and I felt confident enough to take pictures openly during this year's gathering. For most people, it takes some hesitation and deliberation at each stage of the coming out process.
Comment edited on 2012-07-04 05:53:00
19. 2012-07-04 10:28
Great words, Klicky! :) Thank you for your sensitivity and vulnerability.

And of course, once again, kudos to the amazing work done by all involved in Pink Dot! What a glorious moment! Yes, there is much more work to be done, but this is such a great supportive assembly, just a visceral, beautiful expression of community support.
20. 2012-07-05 00:37
I was at the first two Dots.

I salute Kliky and Islandgayguy for their insightful and wonderful writing.

I agree with Au we need to venture to more platforms after the success of this and more ambassadors like her in the future.

I challenge us to the real battlefields like online MSM like AsiaOne.com forum to light some narrow minds there.

I believe these are the places where sadly the Govt makes decisions based on 'mass' opinions of such places.

I wish to see important moments in history be made to align with the so-called dynamic, inclusive yet incongruity of Singapore where the the right hand's claim is showing a 'peace' sign yet where the left is still slacked inside another pocket.

I hope to see the overdue maturing of our Society in my lifetime.
Comment edited on 2012-07-05 00:48:30
21. 2012-07-05 02:47
Thanks, nenihs84 and Shonda.

I'd like to add that, while I agree that we need to adopt different means to advance our cause, I don't agree with Alex Au's comment that "while he can understand the human instinct to avoid confrontation, and the preference to choose a campaign style that is celebratory, we may need to take stock from time to time and ask ourselves, "How far can we go without engaging our antagonists?”

My fundamental question to Alex Au is: Do our antagonists set the tone for this society?

Instead of "engaging" our antagonists, which would probably lead to more confrontations but not necessarily any benefit to us, we should first ask ourselves: "Who set the tone for this society?"

In Singapore's context, it's the party that controls 90% of the seats in the Parliament, the party that went ahead with licensing casinos despite strong opposition from the conservative camp. The thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars of tax and tourism revenue were simply too enticing. Any obstacles such as social problems and opposition voice could be, depending on which angle one chooses to look from, resolved or cheapened.

So what does casinos have to do with gay rights, you may ask. Well, if--and only if--the government views gay rights as economically important as having casinos here, s377a would have been gone long ago. The reason why the government is still hesitating to repeal this law is it hasn't see any urgency to do so.

I use 'hesitate' here because the Prime Minister had personally assured that his government would not proactively enforce this law, implying that it's a worthless law. He kept this law not because it had any purpose, but because he didn't feel any urgency to upset our antagonists when there's no economic benefits.

So we would have missed the forest for the trees if we focus on our antagonists instead of on the government. Unlike other social issues--like HDB flat price, immigrants, service standards of public transport, cost of living and income gap-- which affect large segments of our society, LGBT issues affect only a small portion of the population. We can't expect a large segment of our society to champion our cause or threaten to use their vote to punish the government unless the latter complies. No, this won't happen for gay issues.

So our strategy should be:
1) First and foremost, government-oriented, since it's the government that sets the tone here, not our antagonists, the conservative camp.

Remember: the government boh-chup (ignored) the conservative camp when it went ahead with licensing the casinos even though the camp strongly opposed.

2) to demonstrate that we won't rock the boat or cause trouble for the government by seeking too much gay rights, too quickly. Being too confrontational, adopting Western-styled means of engagement like demonstration, hunger strike and protests, etc. may not be viewed positively in this society even if the cause is noble. Not only does the government dislike such actions, the general population also dislike them.

3) Demonstrate that we are accepted by the moderate majority. Ostracize our antagonists as fear-mongers. Dispel the general population's Fear for the LGBT and myths about us. Having more straight participants in Pinkdot from all walks of life is a good way to demonstrate this.

4) Most importantly, emphasize and demonstrate the economic consequences of progressing too slowly in gay rights. Support from MNCs such as Barclays and Google certainly helps.

The above four soft approaches would sweeten the ground for our cause. We'd need occasional well-planned and -executed punchy actions to supplement the above-described core soft strategy. Such punchy actions shouldn't be done so often and randomly to the extent that the general population and even the LGBT community become nonchalant.
22. 2012-07-05 10:50
Kliky, good point with your rhetorical question, "My fundamental question to Alex Au is: Do our antagonists set the tone for this society?"

and:
"Instead of "engaging" our antagonists, which would probably lead to more confrontations but not necessarily any benefit to us, we should first ask ourselves: "Who set the tone for this society?" "


I also like the strategies you've devised, your points 1 - 4. Obviously, in terms of wide-ranging legislative change, the government needs to be engaged in way which address their concerns and assuage their fears, while providing coherent reasons for why gay rights is a feasible endeavour, worthy of their serious attention. The economic argument is always a pretty solid one (even if not necessarily, from my perspective, the most ethical).

However, I don't think that's where we necessarily begin.

Not to be too crude or cliche, but I believe that the people who set the tone, are indeed: The People.

The government is but one way that the voices of the People (within a democratic society) are made known to one another.

Another way, of course, are grassroots cultural movements like Pink Dot, which canvas courageous, community-based assertions of support and love and attention.

I think you and I agree that any actions that need to be taken for broad social and political change to occur must be multifaceted. I am just hesitant in overemphasising (or re-centering) the role of government in determining what is ultimately of consequence for the human spirit.
Comment edited on 2012-07-05 10:52:22
23. 2012-07-05 19:04
Hi, you said, "The government is but one way that the voices of the People (within a democratic society) are made known to one another." That applies to Western-styled democracy, not the one here.

When the government proposed to license casinos, was it the People who voiced out their concern that lack of casinos in Singapore would lead to economic loss? When the government wanted to pay our ministers the highest salaries among govt ministers in the world, was it because the people voiced out their concerns that our ministers were paid too little? When the government proposed to create the uniquely Singapore GRC system, was it the people who asked for it? When the government decided to raise the selling price of HDB flats, retirement age and CPF withdrawal age, was it the people who asked the government to do so?

Because of the unique political climate in Singapore--for good or bad reasons--the entity that sets the tone here is, undoubtedly, the Government. You'd have noticed that, in each of the above-mentioned cases, after the government had decided upon a policy, it would set the stage for a 'public consultation', but would still go ahead with its plan. Following that, the state-controlled media, NTUC and/or schools would then do their wonder to give concerted support to the establishment.

Look at where the casino opponents are. Even if they are unhappy about the policy, where could their voice be heard? What we read more often in the MSM are reports of how successful our casinos are in creating jobs, attracting tourists and earning revenue.

Moreover, as I said, we won't see a large segment of our population championing gay causes, whether it's the People or the Government who set the tone here, so it doesn't matter. It's even arguably easier for us to advance our cause in this society because it's always easier to convince one small group of decision-makers than do the general population. If the casino-operators had to convince our population that their presence is good for us, I doubt they would have gotten their license.

I'm not here to say whether our system is good or bad. And, I'm not here to ask the LGBT community to boot-lick the government. Rather, what I meant by 'government-oriented approach' is that we should think of what we could do in order to achieve the most favorable response from the government. We certainly don't want to appear hostile and threatening to the establishment, but neither do we have to display servile obedience. Rather, think of what the government is concerned about (e.g. their Fear that we would rock the boat as described), and work towards these underlying concerns. Once the indomitable government is convinced that their concerns have been addressed, and decides to liberalize further, they would push ahead, resting assured that the MSM would do its wonder to neutralize any opposition voice.
Comment edited on 2012-07-05 19:17:53
24. 2012-07-05 21:45
Kliky --> :)
I am appreciating your stern, passionate voice, and your clarification.

Thank you.
Comment edited on 2012-07-05 21:45:56
25. 2012-07-06 13:54
I am not Singaporean and so can only contribute as one who has visited many dozens of times and who has watched for decades from afar in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Thailand. I applaud the thoughtfulness of the debate by contributors in this column, and I agree that Kliky’s way forward seems the most pragmatic and sensible.

I think it is amazing that 15,000 turned out for the Pink Dot event, when Hong Kong, which repealed its similar anti-gay law in 1991, can only muster a couple of thousand for its last Gay Pride Parade. Bangkok’s Pride died some years ago and was never resurrected. Contrast these with Taipei, however, where well over 30,000 turned up for the last two Gay Pride Parades and marched through the streets of Taipei in what were wonderfully fun events which even had passers-by applauding. (How strange that fridae did not cover it!)

Taiwan society seems to be almost as conservative as Singapore’s. Yet there has been some genuine debate about gay rights, with the incumbent Mayor having made promises to improve these prior to his election – a promise not yet kept, I understand. Is this perhaps something to do with Taiwan’s more open democratic systems? Strange, I agree, for a country which had no democracy until the mid-1980s, whereas Singapore has in theory been ‘democratic’ for far longer. Yet when one party is in power with massive majorities for so many decades, there is the obvious danger that its thinking becomes in-bred and it fails to offer a true reflection of the wishes of the majority. In colonial Hong Kong, the government’s many public consultation documents were almost always pre-rigged in the government’s favour!

Let’s remember, too, that colonial Hong Kong had a very repressive policy towards gay men right up to the early 1980s. The police even had a Special Investigations Unit deliberately to root out homosexuals (and this at a time when it was known the Police Commissioner was homosexual! Indeed, we now know he had been put on a list of suspected homosexuals as early as 1973). It took the alleged suicide of one member of this Task Force (with five bullets pumped into his chest - suicide???), one determined councilor (one of the few elected ones) and an incensed jury foreman’s public complaints about the Attorney General’s spin on the verdict, to arouse huge public interest in what seemed an obvious murder and cover-up. This spark lit a fire of pubic opinion and prompted a flood of anti-government sentiment. The end result was an open debate, in which even the legal establishment sided with the Attorney General. They failed, a Law Reform Commission was set up – and ten years later, a change in the law.

Anyone interested in the Maclennan affair can see a summary here –

http://www.lgbthongkong.com/?p=3207

It is one example, dramatic certainly, of how the full weight of an undemocratic colonial government was forced to back down, to change its long-held position that the “gay” law could not be changed because the vast majority of the public would not accept it.

Barring a similar dramatic incident, the only way I can see Singapore changing is through constant, relentless but 'softly-softly' pressure on the government by groups of the public.
Comment edited on 2012-07-06 14:03:22
26. 2012-07-11 18:55
I was wondering if any of you or your friends have a Large Plushie and willing to resell it to me..

My 'gf to be' really hope to get one of the Large Plushie but it was sold out at the Pink Dot Event.. Her birthday is coming in about a week's time, it's the first b'day that i'm going to celebrate with her, i really hope to surprise her..

DM me or email me @ soongfaith@hotmail.com.. Will hope to get a good news!! =)
27. 2012-07-12 12:30
I don't know why people need to criticize every time something positive and good is done for the community. To me anything and any kind of warks are good, one way or another, contributing to the community. If you think this is not good enough, then come out and do it your own way!
28. 2012-07-12 13:07
Hey Eric, there's no doubt that Pink Dot is good and successful in many ways but we (as stakeholders and activists) have to keep reminding ourselves that there is much more to do, and different perspectives/criticism are needed to prevent tunnel vision.
Comment edited on 2012-07-12 13:07:45
29. 2012-07-13 00:13
when is it held every year ? will it be spreaded around the world.haha.good luck.

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