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.
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.