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