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2 Aug 2006

singapore's indignation launch a milestone, say organisers

The opening event of Singapore's second annual IndigNation festival was largely successful with over 150 attendees including not only members of the gay community but also diplomats, academics and politicians who were there to engage the gay community.

An estimated 150 people turned out for the first event of Singapore's second annual IndigNation festival on Tuesday night. Titled "The 2006 general election and the gay issue," the forum and talk by gay activist Alex Au was held at Theatreworks where the "Sama-sama" (meaning the same or together in Malay) art exhibition opened on the same evening.

Top: gay activist Alex Au. Above: the Media Development Authority objected to several photographs including the one above at the Sama-sama art exhibition which were removed by curators today.
Held in the same month as Singapore's National Day on 9 August, the organisers who are associated with People Like Us (PLU) - a gay advocacy group which was denied official registration twice in 1997 and 2004 - hope for the pride festival to "reaffirm (the gay community's) participation in the intellectual and cultural life of this country, reminding all that we are as much a part of Singapore as anyone else."

Driving home that message is "Sama-sama" which showcases installation and art works by 13 artists who hope to show that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Singaporeans are "just the same, or just as different as any other Singaporean."

Au, who is widely regarded as Singapore's pioneer gay activist and author of well-known Yawning Bread web site, discussed Singapore most topical issue of the year, the General Elections, which was held earlier in the year and how candidates addressed the gay issue in the mass media.

Au started his talk by recapping the gay-affirmative statements made by WP candidates in a local newspaper, the Singapore Democratic Party's inclusion of sexual orientation alongside race and religion in its manifesto as well as gay-negative comments by new candidates from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

Organisers were encouraged by the higher than expected turnout including representatives from the Workers' Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

Referring to the turnout, Au told Fridae: "The crowd was bigger than expected. It was also gratifying that many invited guests - bloggers, diplomats, academics, politicians came to engage with the gay community. Unfortunately, although the organisers sent invitations to 14 PAP MPs, none of them were able to make it. I'm sure the participants would have wanted to speak with them."

"Social questions are best handled through dialogue and IndigNation was meant to initiate that. It takes two to clap."

Dr Russell Heng, a co-organiser of IndigNation and founding member of PLU, was pleased with the audience's lively participation at the talk and individual event organisers' "never-say-die spirit in the face of censorship hurdles."

Dr Heng believes that the members of the audience will take the ideas in and appreciate that the gay community has an ability to mobilise resources to serve its cause. "Gay activists are not prepared to accept the unfair status quo without a fight," he told Fridae in an interview.

According to organisers, the Media Development Authority (MDA) informed curators of the Sama-sama art exhibition at 5pm on the day of its opening that their application was successful although they objected to several photographs depicting a man in a Police uniform sitting on a toilet, someone in a school uniform sitting on a toilet to preempt any school(s) from complaining about how the uniform was being depicted as well as photos of two women and another of two men (each pair sitting on a toilet) - for being sexually suggestive.

The photographs in question were covered by pieces of cloth on its opening night although the photographs were removed today after several MDA officers visited the exhibition.

"I think aside from the sama-sama (sameness), it is also about defining boundaries. What is so objectionable about taking a dump? It is not to degrade the uniform or the organisation that it represents, but the idea that in the uniform, there's a human being like you and me that needs to go to the toilet too." Curator and PLU member Miak Siew told Fridae indignantly.

A question as to whether the gay community would be uncomfortable should the gay cause become associated with opposition parties was posed midway through the talk but it did not shed much light as to how the audience felt. While some might wonder if the lack of discussion in itself answered the question, the WP and SDP representatives took the floor unreservedly and encouraged co-operation with various quarters of civil society.

For co-organiser Dr Heng, he felt the presence of members of the opposition parties had made the IndigNation launch a milestone event although a no-show by the PAP MPs was a letdown.

"I would have loved some or at least one of the invited PAP to show up but unfortunately, none did. It is a milestone because this is possibly the first civil society event that openly engages political parties. In Singapore, civil society groups tend to shy away from electoral politics." Said Dr Heng.

Au and other representatives who spoke agree that the gay issue does not stand alone and urged members of the LGBT community to stay politically engaged and work with other civil society groups - although they might be championing different causes - to promote basic freedoms of speech, association and assembly.

The Sama-sama art exhibition runs till Tuesday 15 August 2006 at Theatreworks, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. Open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8 pm; Sundays 12 noon - 5 pm; closed Monday. The exhibition - as with ContraDiction 2 to be held on 3 August - has been also been rated Restricted (Artistic) for persons above 18 years old. Approval for Fairy Godfather, a dramatised reading of Desmond Sim's latest play, scheduled to be held on 12 and 13 August 2006, is pending approval. For updates and schedule of other events, visit www.plu.sg/indignation.


Reader's Comments

1. 2006-08-02 19:35  
As the old saying goes You can often say more by saying nothing it just goes to show how homophobic the PAP credtins realy are. congratulations to the organisers and to those who had the balls to attend. might is right and will always in the end prevail.
2. 2006-08-02 19:38  
Congrats on the opening of IndigNation 06. Just a note, the "China Daily" (The Daily English Newspaper in China) had an article about the events in the newspaper on Tuesday, Aug 01. I don't know if the same article appeared, translated, in the Mainland China press, but the fact that it appeared in the paper at all shows some promise. Once again, Congrats to the organizers!
3. 2006-08-03 01:04  
I believe the young PAP members deserve a little understanding.
Given the unclear stance of some senior members of the PAP and somewhat homophobic views held by a few, we cannot expect these new, young PAP members to grace the event. They would have exposed themselves to potential "misquotes" which might endanger their political careers.

It is good to see this annual event being allowed to continue. Let's count our blessings and nudge at it slowly.
4. 2006-08-03 10:32  
jimmyw: you belittle the PAP. surely, even the junior PAP members would be in the clear know of the PAP's policies and stand on issues, including homosexuality. this 'unclear stance' and 'somewhate homophobic' impressions are the result of spin and PR balance-tactics to maintain party support.

i have to take issue with your use of the word 'gracing' to describe the PAP's attendance at the event. it is not the audience's good fortune to be in the presence of PAP members. if anything, it would be a great opportunity for these junior PAP members to show their commitment to community discourse. if you have nothing to hide and your conscience is clear, why the need to shy away?

i agree that we have to keep pushing at the cause, however we must be careful that we do not take a step backwards even as we take two in front. we are not here to ask for anything more than what we are entitled to. these are not blessings, these are our rights.
5. 2006-08-03 14:07  
Totally agree with what you have written!!! You go, girl!! Grrrrr!

And those MDA peeps are such stick-in-the-mud prudes! It's not like the art exhibition is held in a community club or a shopping mall... *shakes head*

Given the niche target audience and the rating of the exhibition, those removed pictures/photos are definitely no big deal. Some (if not all) the commercial movies with an R(A) rating show way much more flesh! The only difference is that the combination of the couples in the photos here is not in accordance with traditional standards *duh*
6. 2006-08-03 16:35  
I only have respect for Alex Au for his dedication and untiring efforts for the PLU and the way he lead his life.

Other members of PLU are not exactly what I would call paragons of virtues.
7. 2006-08-03 17:35  
I definitely applaud the fact that we are publicly airing our views. But i do wonder why forums of this nature are always presented through an arts/theatre medium? Is it because this is the only outlet that we think we can get a public entertainment license? My concern is that not many gay people including myself associate ourselves with the arts/theatre movement. In doing so, it may inadvertently isolate most gay people from being a part of this movement. You also limit your audience range....
8. 2006-08-10 22:15  
I write from London, where, in comparison with Singapore, gay people enjoy near-equality with the rest of the population (still a little way to go!) in terms of law and social respect. I simply want to wish you well and to congratulate yor for your courage in organising IndigNation and foryour continuing campaign. It was to be expected of course that PAP politicians did not turn up to participate in the debate. As an arts journalist I visited Singapore fairly recently and the neurosis of the ruling party- with some of whom I had direct contact - and its desire to preserve the authoritarian status quo at all costs was to me quite shocking. Your case would have challenged them, for it is an irrefutable matter of one of those basic human rights that they are unwilling to concede.

Good luck to all of you

Stephen Pettitt
9. 2006-08-12 15:10  
Well done guys & gals!!

Absolutely enjoyed the segment on same sex in classical chinese literature.
Perhaps, a musical could be in place?!

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