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31 Jul 2006

pinking the lion

Singapore celebrates its second GLBT Pride Season from August 1-26. Fridae columnist and co-organiser of the festival Alex Au is happy for straight Singaporeans to lend their support and his retort to a gay person who thought it was a bad idea to hold a Pride Season.

IndigNation - Singapore's GLBT Pride Season - starts on 1 August 2006. Unlike many Pride festivities in other countries, in Singapore, the "Lion City," it lasts for nearly a month.

Another point of difference lies in the fact that there is no parade. To many people abroad, the idea of a parade is so central to that of Pride that not having one is as alien an idea as having balloons without air. Limp is the word.

This is not because gay and lesbian Singaporeans don't want a parade, but because Singapore doesn't have a reasonable government. There are all sorts of bans, even for the most innocent of activities. As an example, for the upcoming IMF/World Bank summit in September which Singapore will be hosting, the government has just announced a total ban on all civil society demonstrations. This is despite the fact that activist groups making their concerns heard when government leaders meet is a time-honoured practice.

The World Bank's Singapore representative, reacting to the announcement of the ban, didn't sound happy. He told The Straits Times, "Effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring that their Annual Meetings are a success."

If the Singapore government can defy the wishes of the World Bank, even after months of unctuous wooing to choose Singapore as the venue, what chance do homegrown gay activists have of getting a parade approved?

That's partly why IndigNation is the way it is - a series of smaller events within the extremely limited space allowed by an illiberal authoritarian state. Nevetheless, there are events aplenty. The Events Calendar can be seen at www.plu.sg/indignation.

There will be a number of talks on various topics. This writer will be helming the first one, on the intersection of the gay issue and electoral politics (1 August 2006).

There'll be another on transsexual issues (3 August) and women's issues (5 August). On 6 August is a multi-part talk about how the gay scene is evolving in Singapore, India and Malaysia.

On 15 August, a double-bill will foil a talk about Western gay history with one about same-sex love in classical Indian literature.

Coming into prominence this year are a number of art-related events, starting with an art exhibition involving 13 artists (starting 1 August 2006). One of the artists is not gay, which in its own way signifies another point of departure about this year's Pride - that straight Singaporeans are joining in as an act of solidarity.

Well-known writer Christine Suchen Lim is another one; she will be reading two of her stories in 'Mothers at the Edge' on 10 August.

Desmond Lim wrote a new play for IndigNation, Fairy Godfather. More gay and lesbian poets will come together on 3 August to recite their works, and a book of Coming Out stories will be launched on 23 August.

Then there are fun and social events, by Twoqueens at Thumper (1 August), at Tantric Bar (5 August) and at Club95 (26 August). On the eve of National Day (8 August), there's AlieNation Revisited at X'ho's Home Club.

The highlight of the third week will be 'Be who you want to be: the great Singapore makeover' where contestants will win fabulous prizes.

The highlight of the fourth week will be 'We the citizens' organised by the founders of TalkingCock.com, a well known satirical website that is not even gay, but like others, happy to lend support to IndigNation.

One of the cardinal principles of IndigNation is that there should be very low entry barriers to the various events. The great majority will be free and only a few, e.g. at the pubs, will involve an obligation to buy a drink. Similarly, all events are open to the public, straight, gay or whatever else in-between or beyond.

The whole purpose of IndigNation is not just a community celebration, but an outreach effort, to give fellow Singaporeans who have never met lesbian, gay or transsexual people before, to meet some and learn some. This is especially important in a country where media control is such that reports and images of LGBTs are often skewed, if not censored completely.

That public education is necessary can be seen from some comments the writer received soon after IndigNation was announced (and carried on a number of blogs, straight and gay). One, responding to Russell Heng's comment "there is a tremendous amount of energy and creativity among gays and lesbians; the pity is that Singapore doesn't realise the contribution made by gay and lesbian Singaporeans unless one organises a festival like this to showcase it," was: "Why must you stick the gay label on all this work?"

The way that latter statement was made suggested that the world would be better off if LGBTs quietly added to civilisation's opus while society would continue to discriminate against the minority without troubling the collective conscience.

Of course the value of the any work must stand by itself and not rely on the sexual orientation of the author, artist or speaker, but it still does not explain why there is the suggestion that the sexual orientation of the person behind it should be hidden from view.

After all, there are plenty of festivals that celebrate some aspect or other of culture and creativity. We have the Spanish Film Fiesta, Youth Photography Week and the Singapore Food Festival (one was organised by the Singapore Tourism Board in London last year). Should we then ask why we must stick the Spanish/Youth/Singapore label on these things?

But if one thinks such niggardly reluctance to concede anything to gay people is bad enough, another comment that the writer came across might be worse. This one was from a gay person too, saying something to the effect that it was a bad idea to hold a Pride Season; it would just draw the authorities' attention to gays and lesbians and they would surely clamp down further.

Erm... that's why it's called Pride, dearie.

Fridae.com is proud to be a Media Sponsor of Indignation.

Alex Au has been a gay activist for over 10 years and is the co-founder of People Like Us. Alex is the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site. He can be contacted at yawning@geocities.com.


Reader's Comments

Comment #1 was deleted by its author
2. 2006-07-31 21:17  
There you go Singapore, we dun need to follow the rest of the world by having gay parades and parties to celebrate PRIDE.

And getting the straight community to celebrate PRIDE says something about where we are heading. In the right direction, I think.

Parades and drug fucked parties are so 90s.
3. 2006-07-31 21:54  
Should we have a straight festival then?
Comment #4 was deleted by its author
5. 2006-08-01 01:18  
If gay activists paid any heed to the wet blankets and docile defeatists of the gay community, the advancement of GLBT equality would be more stagnant than a damp squib. We must forge ahead irrespective of the cold water and less-than-enthusiastic-support emanating from these sectors of the community.

Singaporeans in general and the gay community in particular have a very poor concept of human rights. After 40 years of being pummelled into submission and political apathy, many locals seem to be able to tolerate an inordinate amount of infringement of their basic rights and a high degree of unfairness without letting out so much as a whimper.

Perhaps this has got some relationship to Asian culture in which the lower strata of society resign themselves to their inferior status and defer a disproportionate amount of authority to the managerial echelons. But to forge a creative post-industrial society, one that is in control of its destiny, this passive mindset must change.

And in no better way can it change than to promote universal human rights. That's partly what IndigNation is all about and I urge the gay community to give it it's heartfelt support.
6. 2006-08-01 01:27  
asianrage, have you wondered why there aren't straight film festivals?
7. 2006-08-01 08:38  
OMG ... Straight fest .. most of all the festivals are str8 related... come one now. Its all about celebrating their "family values". Its like having Mens rights oppose to Womens rights.
Comment #8 was deleted by its author
9. 2006-08-01 23:32  
To understand Singapore and the LKY empire you should read Chinese history, all of it
It is more than Asian, it is Confucian, feudalistic and dynastic
To resist is futile
If one can't hack it, there is the rest of the world
10. 2006-08-02 09:52  
the problem which we are facing now is not really all asian. yes, it's asian thoughts such as feudalism which are limiting our freedom. however, it's influx of western conservative ideas which are limiting our activities, and right as a gay member of this society. so the root of the problem is not confucianism, but conservative extremists.
11. 2006-08-02 17:39  
In India they have a very similar struggle (homosexuality is still illegal by the same former article of the British code) and they do it very creatively too. Maybe you have things to say to each other. The most interesting group is GayBombay: its url is http://www.gaybombay.org/.
12. 2006-08-05 09:01  
Well, Alex, "we have seen the enemy, and they is us." Being gay doesn't innoculate someone against homophobia. We all absorb years of it before we realise we're gay; and once we realise we're gay, our internalised homophobia doesn't magically fly away. We still carry it in us.

So you'll find some of the more homophobic sentiments coming from gay people, who can't accept themselves. They'll go to a club and be gay for a few hours a week, and then lock it away in a closet until next weekend. But once it becomes object fact, something they must face the other 165 hours a week, they panic. And public events like the ones you write about scare the pants off of them (nice image!).

Thanks for writing and continuing to report on gay Singapore, if for nothing else than to let us know what there is such a thing, despite what the repressive government would like the world to think.
13. 2006-08-05 09:49  
Happy National Day all of you
You've done well to get this far
We PLU in the West do not realise how well off we have been for at least ten years until 9/11 gave our governments every opportunity to become phobic about people who are different
Liberty is the true heritage of mankind not fear

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