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13 Jul 2004

outrage over gay exposs in s'pore tabloid

Internet chat rooms and email discussion lists are abuzz as a Chinese-language tabloid in Singapore runs an ongoing series on orgies, saunas, bars and other gay issues.

In response to the series of reports published in a Chinese-language tabloid on five consecutive days since last Friday, a creative 20-something couple created a web site to highlight how the "reports from the tabloid are biased and discriminatory towards the gay community, urge the gay community to stop buying the newspaper, support gay-friendly establishments and practice safe sex."

Images from http://www.antiwanbao.cjb.net
The LianHe WanBao (LHWB), a Chinese-language evening tabloid published by Singapore Press Holdings which also publishes The Straits Times, ran a front-page headline last Friday about an orgy attended by 50 men in a local sauna. The article, which took about nearly three-quarters of page two, detailed the location and facilities of an unnamed sauna as well as an interview with an anonymous patron who spoke at length about what went on in the sauna. In an accompanying story, a psychologist warned of HIV/STD risks and "psychological damage" visitors of saunas might face. He noted that sex between men is illegal and called for stricter policing by the authorities.

On Saturday, LHWB covered another local sauna with a front-page headline which roughly translates into "full moon nude parties" where gay men hu gao, an term taken to mean engaging in sex acts indiscriminately. The article quoted two patrons who described that patrons would proceed to a cubicle to engage in anal and oral sex after they find a willing party. The reporter who apparently spent two hours outside the club noted that a substantial number of the patrons are young men who are likely serving their National Service in the military. A counsellor who was interviewed reiterated a typical stereotypical list of causes of homosexuality including a lack of fatherly figure, being from a single parent household, being sexually abused by male at young age and gender identification problems.

The third article of the series provided details of yet another sauna which provides "extras" including showers, massage and even nude photography services among others. A female lawyer quoted for the story said urged members of the public who get into the saunas by mistake make police reports as the establishments may have their business licence revoked. The report also quoted readers who rang the paper to register their objection to the saunas and urged the police to intervene.

Monday's story covered the gay bar scene and screamed in its headline that a straight waiter in a gay bar had his buttocks molested. The report went on to describe gay men dressed in tight sleeveless tops kissing and touching each other. A pastor (whose anglicised name is Chen Han Xi) of an unnamed church the LHWB spoke to provided a rather incredulous theory that a boy could turn out gay if he had in his childhood witnessed his father ill treat his mother. According to him, due to his psychological damage, he grows up identifying with his mother and develops a desire to have (receptive) anal sex with men. He then recommends a lifetime of religious-based counselling for gays.

The latest report on Tuesday covered another unnamed sauna and its facilities in great detail and quoted the Police who warned that they would take action against individuals who engage in illegal activities. The paper also published a letter from a reader who claimed to be a gay Singaporean who praised the paper for its "daring publicity" and suggested that the articles be translated to English for the non-Chinese reading general public. The anonymous reader also agreed with the reports saying that most gays are "polygamous and sex-crazed" and urged the paper to approach the Police and "apprehend those involved in gross acts of indecency."
However, most other gay men and women in Singapore do not share his view; a 30-something gay man condemned the publication: "The tabloid has clearly overstepped its boundaries of mere sensationalist reporting, into advancing an agenda of homophobia and intolerance of a marginalised community. This is malicious reporting, inciting the public against a minority community."

Within days of the first report, a 20-something couple Adrian and Daniel (not their real names) created a web site to denounce the series of articles published in the tabloid. Adrian clarified that their site Anti-WanBao was not set up "to create or initiate a nationwide gay pride parade or protest" but "to dispel all the 'tweaked' news reports by LHWB and how they, through the use of so-called 'professionals,' give incorrect and extremist remarks in a bid to further blemish the gay community. It also attempts to provide the surfers a complete picture of the whole LHWB series, so as to curb any unnecessary rumours that arose from the discriminatory reports."

The 20-something who runs his own graphic and web design consultancy added in an email interview with Fridae: "The reports from LHWB may seem to be 'investigative' and may have shed some truth about our gay community, but the reports are enhanced with 'professional' comments by psychiatrists, counsellors, and even a pastor who have given comments which are inaccurate and out rightly biased. These 'professional comments' only add on to the misconceptions that the general public have about homosexuality and further re-enforces the public opinion that AIDS/HIV and STDs are exclusive to gays, AIDS is a gay disease, etc.

Through the website, he hopes for "our own community to be on a united front. By publishing the full articles from LHWB (and the new paper) online, I hope to dispel and quell all the rumours that have been circulating regarding the reports. The gay community should be mature enough to have their own stand after reading the reports. We must also be fair to the gay-friendly establishments. The closure of these facilities and establishments (pubs, spas, etc) would only bring us into another dark age. All that we have slowly achieved and fought for ourselves would thus go to waste.

"It is sad to see some of our fellow gays make intolerant remarks towards the sexual habits of others, condemning spas and saunas to be 'filthy places.' If we are intolerant among ourselves, we are definitely in no position to fight for any form of acceptance from others. We should not add on to unnecessary rumours as well. Besides, a lot of us are still using the straight morality yardstick to gauge what is right/wrong. To me, as long as you do not hurt others and engage in safer sex, you are being responsible to yourselves and others. No one is telling you that engaging in orgies or going to saunas is good, but do not condemn it as if orgies are only exclusive to gays."

Another gay man Fridae spoke to found that although he found the reports in LHWB sensationalistic, he hopes that the reports might stimulate discussion as a growing number of Singaporeans now count gays and lesbians among their circle of friends.

Singapore

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