Not only was it the first-ever public rally to show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Singapore, the turnout was also the largest of its kind since the government eased a ban on public demonstrations last year.
Organisers say the turnout far exceeded their target of having 500 attendees. Roy Tan, a co-organiser of the event, said the success of the event is a “milestone in the development of civil society in Singapore.”
“It is a testament to the fact that the Government sincerely wants us to be a more open society. We are grateful for the opportunity to make our case for the equal treatment of the LGBT community,” Tan told Fridae.
The 50-year-old health-care professional registered with the National Parks Board last September wanting to stage Singapore’s first gay event last year to "set a precedent to make subsequent gay pride parades easier." The idea eventually became Pink Dot when more individuals volunteered to help organise an event.
With cultural performances and a parade of flamboyantly dressed dogs, the event resembled a mass picnic more than a political rally even as ambassadors Timothy Nga and Neo Swee Lin – both of whom are well known local actors and heterosexual - took to the mic to tell the crowd why they support the event.
Nga, said to a cheering audience, “We need to stand up for what we believe in and I don't think that anyone of my friends who are LGBT - or anything else for that matter - need to apologise to anyone else for what they are.”
“We are born alone, we go to our graves alone but there is no reason why any of us should have to live alone in this life without love purely because of intolerance and judgment, “ Neo told the crowd as she choked up.
“I support the freedom to love because I believe in love. Too many of my gay friends have left these shores because of intolerance... Let's be the change we want to see.” She said quoting Mahatma Gandhi.
Although laws against oral and anal sex were repealed in 2007 after an extended public and parliamentary debate, Singapore continues to criminalise sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code which dates back to British colonial days.
Hong Lim Park
Hong Lim Park, a government-designated park for free speech and public assembly, is also a well known and documented gay cruising venue as early as the 1950s, according to Laurence Wai-Teng Leong who wrote in his paper "The 'Straights' Times: News media and sexual citizenship in Singapore" which was published in Journalism and democracy in Asia (2005, edited by Angela Rose Romano and Michael Bromley).
Roy Tan, a co-organiser of the event, recalled meeting his first boyfriend at the park in 1984, and where he discovered that “there was such a thing as a gay community in Singapore, or at least, other gay men here apart from myself.”
“I think holding Pink Dot at the park has a great symbolic significance for many gay men, including myself,” Tan told Fridae.
Although he did not recall any instances of police entrapment operations at the park, he remembers one complaint published in The Straits Times in the late 1970s, when casual park strollers chanced upon young men holding hands at the park.
According to the same newspaper, over a hundred men were arrested for solicitation in 1989 and 1990.
Recalling newspaper reports detailing police entrapment of gay men in the park, Alfian Sa’at, a 31-year-old poet-playwright and co-organiser of Pink Dot, hopes for the community to remember that slice of the venue’s history.
“20 years later. Today, the youngest of those men who were arrested would be 45, the oldest, 71. Were they in the park with us on Saturday? Did they ever know of the event? Did they even imagine 20 years ago that a park which was used by gay men to seek each other out might host, in broad daylight, this tremendous gathering of LGBT and straight people, affirming the right to love, the right not to be harassed, not to be persecuted, for their sexual orientations?”
“We always say that we have a short history. But the truth sometimes is that we have short memories."
"I feel moved that I was standing on the very grounds where some lives were broken simply because of the application of unjust laws. As much as the event was a celebration of certain values we hold dear, I also felt that it was a commemoration, an attempt to find some healing for our community's bruised history.”
Today, the park is Singapore’s only government-designated venue for public assembly and free speech where a police permit is not required; speakers however must be citizens and have to register with the National Parks Board prior to the event and must not speak on matters pertaining to race, language and/or religion.