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23 Mar 2005

singapore authorities refuse permit for AIDS fund-raising concert

A fundraising concert organised by a Singapore Christian support group to promote HIV awareness has been given the axe by licensing authorities citing that the event would be "against public interest."

An application by Safehaven, a Singapore Christian support group, to hold a fundraising concert for Action for Aids has been turned down by the Media Development Authority (MDA) citing the familiar reason that the concert would be "against the public interest."

In a recent report in The Straits Times on March 18, 2005, Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Lee Boon Yang said that the government was not practising 'double standards' by including a talk on Singapore and the pink dollar during the recent Singapore Season in London. The panel comprised gay activist, Alex Au; gay poet-playwright, Alfian Sa'at and Fridae's chief executive, Dr Stuart Koe. Dr Lee was quoted as saying: 'We can't pretend that there is no such thing as a homosexual community in Singapore.'
In its reply last Friday, the MDA which refused organisers an Arts and Entertainment Licence for affect05 said: "Based on the reports about the duo's performances in the United States and the duo's website, the duo uses their musical performance and their own example of being a couple, to celebrate and promote a gay lifestyle," refering to performers, Jason and deMarco (right) who are in a relationship although they have never been advertised as such.

"We are unable to agree to your application as performances that promote alternative lifestyles are against the public interest."

Despite the concert's main performers being the Los Angeles-based couple, organisers however said that the concert did not promote a "gay lifestyle" to the wider public as there was no mention or suggestion of the two men being in a relationship in its posters, flyers nor the concert website.

Organisers also assured the authorities with sample visual footage of the duo's stage behaviour would be entirely professional not unlike other pop duos.

In an email to Fridae, organisers said that they are disappointed that the application was turned down on the first instance on the receipt of one complaint as confirmed during a telephone conversation with a MDA representative.

"Does the MDA know who this complainant is? How does the MDA arrive at a decision that one complaint is a sufficient basis to launch an investigation that obviously scoured the worldwide web for detailed information about Jason and deMarco?

"To what extent does the MDA and other authorities conduct sufficient due diligence about the complainants? At the very least, this should include ascertaining the identity of the complainant, occupation, religious affiliation etc given that this issue is so charged with prejudice.

"In this situation a serious public health issue was totally ignored in the decision making process. The response of the MDA, is similar to the action of the Singapore Police closing down the Action for Aids booth in the Nation 2004 party. This booth was promoting a safer sex message to the partygoers. In light of the increased infection rate amongst MSM in 2004, it is a legitimate question to ask how many people might have been prevented from being infected had the booth been allowed to remain open that night. A society's homophobic reactions cannot be allowed to constrain public health matters," said co-organiser, Alphonsus Lee, in an email to Fridae.

The organisers on Monday appealed in a letter to Dr Lee Boon Yang, the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts. They highlighted that their efforts are in line with Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Balaji Sadasivan's call for members of the gay community to step forward to champion the message of zero tolerance towards irresponsible sex. Dr Balaji has also been invited as a guest-of-honour at the event.

They also highlighted that "every single cent that is collected via ticket sales" will be donated to
AfA, a non-government organisation and Singapore's sole HIV/AIDS education and support group. In addition, the cost of the concert has been paid for by several Safehaven members and all six of the performers including Jason and deMarco, Sam Wu and local celebrities Hossan Leong, Irene Ang and Selena Tan have donate their performances in aid of the cause.

Many have found MDA's move to be puzzling as Dr Balaji has twice in five months sounded alarm bells about HIV infections amongst the Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) population and further called for "champions in the gay community" to present a message of "zero tolerance" for unsafe sex.

Lee said: "This concert provides an opportunity at a critical juncture in Singapore's dealing with HIV to present a strong call to the gay community towards responsible relationships and responsible sexual practices. To disallow it on the basis that the performers are a gay couple fails to appreciate the important public health impact this concert will have in the years to come on the gay community in Singapore. The fact is this concert will save lives and will transform mindsets."

Lee who is in a committed relationship with his partner for over two years, despite rejection from his father, added: "I have chosen to be part of this concert because if the gay community does not help itself, no one else will."








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