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31 Jul 2007

measuring progress by sleep

Although Kissing, a photo exhibition, has been banned by the Media Development Authority at the eleventh hour, Indignation - Singapore's GLBT pride season - will go ahead with its other events from Aug 1 - 15.

A celebration of gay pride and diversity, organising something like this may well be more difficult in Singapore than in most other Asian countries.

Top pic: Ovidia Yu will read her stories at Indignation; Nicholas Deroose kissed for the camera. Although the photo exhibition 'Kissing' has been cancelled, look out for 'Kiss and tell' which will be organised on nine evenings preceding the main program. It will comprise of a short talk in which a sample of the pictures, shown on powerpoint, will be discussed. There will also be a photo corner set up where you can have your own kissing pictures taken.
The Singapore government, in its determination to maintain order at any price, is well known for its refusal to allow any public events that take issue with the government's declared agenda. Rallies, marches and parades are not permitted unless organised by the government itself with the aim of idolising the state. Indoor gatherings and speaking permits are tightly regulated by law. Arts and film events must subject themselves to squinty-eyed censorship.

For many years, the Singapore government's position on homosexuality was crystal clear, or some might say, solid black. It was deemed "against the national interest," justifying all manner of restrictions.

More recently, however, none other than elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew has said that becoming a more tolerant place was important to the city's hope of attracting talent from around the world. This would necessitate doing away with the law that banned gay sex, for example. The ground is obviously beginning to shift.

It is under these, now more fluid, conditions that Indignation 2007 is held. Comprising 25 events squeezed into fifteen days from 1 - 15 August 2007, the theme this year is "Celebrating diversity, advancing equality." It is in demonstrating the talent and intellectual contribution from members of our community to society that we seek to reverse stereotypes and advance our cause.

Packaged together by People Like Us, the events are separately organised by various individuals and groups who share the same passion for the cause. The result of such a "ground-up" style is a considerable diversity of interests catered to. There are movies, talks, poetry, art, music, readings in English and Chinese, a play, and outdoor events. The calendar of events can be seen at www.plu.sg/indignation.

Opening the season on August 1 was to be an art and photo exhibition. Kissing, a collection of 80 posed shots depicting same-sex kissing and photographed by this columnist, has however been cancelled. The Media Development Authority informed organisers two days before its opening that its licence application has been rejected on the grounds that it would "promote a homosexual lifestyle." In its place, Kiss and Tell will be held on nine evenings preceding the main program. It will comprise a short talk in which a sample of the pictures will be shown on powerpoint, and a photo corner will also be set up where attendees can have your own kissing pictures taken.

Idiosyncracies, an art exhibition curated by Miak Siew, will go on as planned.

Playwrights Ovidia Yu and Ng Yi-Sheng will be helming the event on Sunday, August 5, titled Tall tales and short stories, which from the title alone, sounds extremely interesting already.

On Friday, August 10, there will be a first in Singapore: a forum on how sexuality education is handled in Singapore schools, with a particular focus on how teachers and principals deal with LGBT pupils.

There's a picnic at the Botanic Gardens on August 9 and more outdoor activities, organised by Adlus, on Saturday, August 11. This will be followed by Adlus' 8th anniversary bash that same evening.

Hopefully, people will remain sober enough for the following evening's ContraDiction, a regular feature of Indignation. This is the night for poets to take the stage. Singapore has a surprising number of young gay and lesbian poets who write of their lives and experiences, but there aren't very many opportunities for them to showcase their work. ContraDiction is dedicated to them and their talent.

Two high-profile guest speakers from abroad feature in this year's program - Rev Troy Perry and Prof Douglas Sanders. Rev Perry is the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the world's leading church that is accepting of GLBTs. Here in Singapore he will share his perspectives at the Free Community Church on August 8.

Prof Sanders is a leading expert on constitutional law and sexuality issues. He will deliver his lecture "Sexual orientation in international law: the case of Asia" on August 7.

His talk is among the events that necessitate much prior to-ing and fro-ing with government departments. In accordance with regulations, an Entertainment Licence has to be obtained from the Police and a Professional Visit Pass from the Immigration and Customs Authority. With the topic that he has - on international law and sexual orientation - the bureaucrats are, unsurprisingly, very nervous. Should they approve or not? What will the minister say if they make the "wrong" decision? In the old days when the government's position on homosexuality was crystal clear/solid black, life would have been easier for them. It would have been more obvious what decision was called for. But now with policy in flux, it's much harder for the bureaucrats to second-guess what the ministers' would want them to do. As of the time of writing, this matter is still not finalised.

Of course, it is frustrating dealing with the ever-suspicious and excessively cautious government agencies, and not just with respect to Prof Sanders' talk - some other events also require licences and these too are not yet finalised, But if we look at things with a little perspective, it's actually quite encouraging.

A few years ago, we wouldn't even have tried to ask for a licence. We'd consider the idea of openly hosting a gay event to be so out of the question, we'd scratch the idea two seconds after it pops into our heads. But now, we do it. We make no bones about the fact that the events are part of a gay pride season, and we put the ball in the government's court, kind of like saying, "We dare you to refuse us a licence."

Few gay Singaporeans even realise the distance we have travelled. To many, Indignation is "too political," which in Singapore-speak means one risks being arrested if one is associated with such activities in any way. Too many Singaporeans still think that to be gay and safe, one has to remain lurking in the shadows, always a victim of the prevailing climate, never becoming themselves agents of change by standing up and speaking out.

Yes, Indignation is political, and that is a good thing. Unless we are constantly pushing the envelope, we will never have more space. Worse, other forces, often religiously motivated, will push in and suffocate us all.

But no, it is not risky. Consider this: for the opening reception which is open to everybody (do come), we have issued special invitations to quite a number of members of parliament. In the old days, some would have said we were mad, inviting official attention and triggering a clampdown. Frankly, we have not the slightest fear. Most of the ruling party MPs may still decline the invitation, but they are not going to ring the chief of police demanding that he mount a raid.

We won't be offended if the MPs can't bring themselves to attend; it takes time for them to find courage. But the difference from the past is that they are the ones who may lose sleep trying to make the decision whether or not they can afford to be seen in the company of gays and lesbians. We, on the other hand, sleep soundly nowadays.

One final word: Indignation 2007 would not be possible without our generous sponsors. The two main sponsors are "72-13," an arts venue, which opened their spaces for us to use over all 15 days, and Fridae.com. They set great examples by being unafraid to openly support gay activism. Make their support meaningful by coming to Indignation.

Fridae is proud to be a main and media sponsor of the event.

Reader's Comments

1. 2007-07-31 23:04  
The Singaporean gay life is colourful, that is for sure. I hope you guys and gals have fun in the next few weeks.

For those of us living outside of Singapore...what ever happened to the Jonathan Zhang "Ah Men" blog? I thought is was to be posted every second Sunday? Cheers fridae.....

Take care you all, and have a rocking August.
2. 2007-08-01 06:04  
Ridiculous that something can be banned like that. State-sanctioned Art or Expression is not honest or ultimately truly creative... God. I feel like making sheep noises... but instead, I'll just go:

3. 2007-08-01 13:09  
hahahahahahaha SingaBORE is really so frwaking Homophobic but more OBVIOUS gays in that city than in any other cities in asia. The Government should wake up and smell the KY!
4. 2007-08-01 18:26  
Oh dear

Poor u . I like dougchew's remark ....smell the KY !!
hahah thank god i am am out and living overseas now. Don't give up folks !!
5. 2007-08-01 21:14  
This is just so typical about Singapore -- being, sorta, bipolar. Never can decide on a stand and then, ultimately, succumbing to the side imposing the greatest pressure. With that said; however, Singapore has come a long way since when I was a teenager confused about my own sexuality. Keep up the good fight and keep pushing the envelope.
6. 2007-08-03 12:27  
For those who have the photographs taken during the Kissing Project, we know that it is not only about getting the exhibition going. It is wanting to challenge the present norm. It is also about not wanting to self censor. Singaporeans have been brought up with too much internalised self governance and censorship. Everytime we do something, we said to ourselves that it wont be approved, that way, we get nothing done. :)

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