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12 Aug 2007

the pink non-picnic

Despite the National Parks Board's official ban on a gay picnic in Singapore, approximately one hundred queer people and allies turn up to relax and share food at the Botanical Gardens.

We were there. A hundred of us, at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. On the green next to Symphony Lake, between 4.30 and 6.30pm on Thursday, 9 August 2007, National Day.

Scattered in an archipelago of picnic blankets, we wore pink T-shirts, pink caps, pink shoes, and carried pink parasols. We shared pink foods: smoked salmon, watermelon, cherries, strawberry-flavoured Pocky and Yan Yan, san char balls, pink agar-agar jelly and beng kueh, ruby grapefruit juice, guava juice, raspberry 7-up, ros wine.

I am amazed that so many of us had the guts to come down and risk legal repercussions for the simple pleasure of having a picnic - that we stood together and told the government that it's absurd, insane, undeserving of their dignity to ban a picnic; that it was a ruling so ridiculous we could not obey it.
Why were we there? Well, there'd originally been an event entitled "In the Pink", a gay-themed picnic planned for Singapore's IndigNation pride season. We were invited to dress in pink, and bring pink food to eat. But on Monday 6 August, activist Alex Au was informed in a government letter that the event (as well as "The Pink Run," a planned 5-km run in the park) was forbidden, these were "organised gatherings," and such events would require permission from the National Parks Board (NParks).

In an interview with The Straits Times, spokespersons of National Parks elaborated that "The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a premier botanical institution. We do not want it to be used as a venue for interest groups to politicise their cause... Let's keep our green space as areas for relaxation and recreation."

Organiser Miak Siew officially cancelled the event, but noted that before the ban, few people had expressed interest in attending. Now, everyone wanted to come.

So we came. Men and women; gays, lesbians, bisexuals and straight allies; adults and children.

Social services worker Leow Yangfa brought his 8 and 10-year-old nieces. SAFE (a parents, families and friends of LGBTQ support group) co-founder Dr Khoo Hoon Eng brought her goddaughter, American expatriate couple Anne and Shannon, just off the plane, brought their own children, 3-year-old Ayden and 6-year-old Sydney. One supportive straight couple brought their baby in a stroller, clothed in pink.

Miak, who identified himself as a non-organiser of this non-picnic, estimated 100 people in the field - a prodigious turnout for a non-event. Activist Alex Au estimated even higher - 150.

"In the Pink" was no longer happening, after all - (no-one even called it that dreadful name) - this was, for the sake of argument, a perfectly legal phenomenon, where a hundred Singapore citizens and friends had, almost by coincidence, decided to celebrate our National Day with a picnic in pink.

"My mum was actually afraid to let me go because she thought I'd get arrested," a girl named Vanessa Wong told me. I'd had fears of police intervention myself - I'd attended the flashmob protest against the firing of blogger Mr Brown, and uniformed police had been all over the place on that occasion to intimidate us.

This time round, however, all we got were discreet plainclothes policemen - assuming we identified them correctly. Two gay men described a man in the white tank top with a sling bag who'd acted suspiciously; two lesbians talked about two men in black polo tees, reading newspapers and observing the scene; the girls purposefully sashayed in front of them and began holding hands and were rewarded when the unsuspected undercover cops began snapping pictures.

The vast majority of the afternoon, however, was spent in utter peace - police were probably busy doing crowd control at the National Day Parade, so we were more concerned with escaping the heat than with government reprisals. In any case, contrary to the expectations of National Parks, we had never intended to use the picnic as an opportunity to talk politics and plot the gay takeover of the world. Instead, we were there for the very "relaxation and recreation" they recommended - we ate, we drank, we gossiped, took photos and played board games. No sex or nudity or public displays of affection, either - it was an ordinary picnic.

In fact, the very borders of the picnic were unclear. In between our blankets, other families set up their picnics and played ball; children came up to us and asked to play with our dogs. Grown men and women and little girls from other families would confuse us by wearing pink T-shirts - and not all of us queers were in pink, either; some of us dressed in brown and blue and black and white, and munched on distinctly un-pink foods - satay, otak-otak, beehoon, potato chips, brownies, green tea.

Sure, more than half of us wore pink, but the outsiders didn't bat an eyelid - as a straight friend commented, we just looked like a breast cancer benefit with an unusual number of supportive men. After all, we were a decent, well-brushed group of people - a survey of occupations revealed bankers, engineers, IT professionals, teachers, designers, journalists, consultants, accountants, police officers (yep, there are queer police officers), civil servants, NSFs (national servicemen) and students. We weren't raising hell or making trouble. We were picnicking.

But still, a tinge of paranoia persisted in the atmosphere. A truck rolled up, and we thought it might be a police van - but no, it was just the park cleaners, who have come to pick up our rubbish.

Even now, I am wondering what the government might choose to do with our photographs; whether it'll pull out more stops to prevent the Pink Run this Saturday morning, organised by gay sports group ADLUS, now shifted to a location away from the Botanical Gardens,

Primarily, I am amazed that so many of us had the guts to come down and risk legal repercussions for the simple pleasure of having a picnic - that we stood together and told the government that it's absurd, insane, undeserving of their dignity to ban a picnic; that it was a ruling so ridiculous we could not obey it.

It is an unusual thing to see this many Singaporeans mobilised in a political act. And yes, at the risk of inviting danger, I'll say it was a political act.

Remember, so many everyday activities - watching movies, laughing at jokes, having sex - are not political in themselves. But when a higher power forbids them, they become political - reminders of how authorities attempt to control our bodies.

I can't say if this two-hour gathering is going to have any impact on the progress of gay rights - who knows, it might just invigorate anti-gay conservatives, and not all of the attendees will engage in future activist events. This was, in the end, an afternoon of simple pleasures - food and friends on a holiday afternoon, sandwiched between working days.

But come what may, it is important to remember this:

We were there. One hundred of us.

And that is the true meaning of Pride.

UPDATE: The Pink Non-Run

While the "Pink Run" was officially cancelled in Singapore, a "Run-of-People-Dressed-Mainly-in-Pink" occurred on Saturday morning, 11 August in the Clarke Quay area.

At 8.30am, approximately 35 ADLUS members and friends gathered outside the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, together with ten plainclothes police officers, including one wielding an intimidatingly large video camera. The spokesperson was Mr Kelvin Yeo from the Compliance Management Unit of Tanglin Police Division, who confirmed with ADLUS administrator Dr Ethan Lim that the run was not allowed and advised them not to continue with the event.

When pressed, he could not quote the precise law that was being infringed. Dr Lim then officially called off the event, took a group photograph and handed out T-shirts, and told us we could run individually as we liked. Police did not interfere while the runners ran the route. Additionally, Mr Kelvin Yeo was polite enough to provide me with his name and to accept my business card.


1. 2007-08-12 23:40  
be proud of who we are !!!!
2. 2007-08-13 00:24  
great article!

3. 2007-08-13 00:26  
for this, i applaude!
4. 2007-08-13 00:33  
Stand up, come out. It show that we are exist.
5. 2007-08-13 01:00  
6. 2007-08-13 01:14  
rock and roll!!! Good Job.. let the government know gay and lesbian gathering will not always end up in public sex....or watsoever...
8. 2007-08-13 01:37  
Yes... we should do this every year. And move to different heartland parks as well. Btw, Vannessa is a very pro gay straight woman whom decided to show up to show her support to the community
9. 2007-08-13 02:10  
sometime in the future, my niece no. 1 might be pleased that a year was taken off her actual age in the article! so glad we were there ;)
10. 2007-08-13 02:16  
We salute U from Bangkok, proud of U boys and girls!
11. 2007-08-13 03:19  
A brave and respectful pink message!
Regards from Amsterdam
12. 2007-08-13 05:05  
Well done for those who "came out" to show the Sg govt and public... being gay is not about sex and illicit behaviour....I salute you all..... regards from Australia
13. 2007-08-13 07:53  
From Sydney, Australia, I stand up and appluade all of you. I am inspired by people who risk personal safety for a cause they strongly believe in. I wish I could have been there to join you. Thank you for inpsiring me and others around the world.
14. 2007-08-13 08:08  
I don't live in Asia. If I do, I'd be the first on the Green to support... :-] What were the officials thinking when they try to ban a "leisure and recreational" event such as a picnic... We sure showed them...
15. 2007-08-13 10:05  
good work... very proud of u
16. 2007-08-13 10:21  
yes, pride! :)

"gay takeover of the world" LOL! yeah, that seems to be what the government seem to fear. how odd. not like we're gonna picnic and shout "TURN GAY, TURN GAY NOW!!" or something.

and what's up with taking pictures of girls holding hands. ugh.
17. 2007-08-13 11:11  
This is hilarious. Damn, I would have been there if I weren't away for the week.

This is Pride and I've never been more proud of us.
18. 2007-08-13 13:43  
Greetings to the brave 100,

what you did is great: When I read this I shivered!!!
You showed your presence.

wish I was with you...

19. 2007-08-13 14:27  
very "legally brawn". salute, all you pink panthers.

more picnics please!
20. 2007-08-13 15:03  
This sort of "non" activism takes a lot of courage. Ghandi would approve of the tactics.From the safety of Australia,I salute my brave brothers and sisters.
21. 2007-08-13 16:16  
well to put it succinctly any one that defines them selves as 'queer' cannot legitimately make a claim as to be exhibiting true 'gay pride' this writer Ng Yi-Sheng is obviously a lower intellect like so many other self defining 'queers', men of colour (other than white) who think wearing a heterosexual white mans anti gay slur term as if it's a badge of honour do not get my vote of confidence , and following the western 'queer' lobby into hell, well...it's sad it's pathetic and hardly revolutuionary or even remotely clever. using it smacks of typical arrogance by those that do as globally the disparate GLBT communities have not been consulted as to whether they want to be termed as 'queer' neither has permissen been granted to do so, attempting to legitimise this squalid term which by the way many have been brutalised or murdered while having it spat at them dishonours those that have been victims of abuse and murder, you can't complain if some one calls you a 'faggot' if you call your self a 'queer'...there is NO difference
22. 2007-08-13 17:14  
WOW! that is great! congratulations to all those who showed up, both gay and straight. you showed a lot of courage and a lot of pride. i hope it is an even bigger gathering next year!
23. 2007-08-13 18:09  
Bloody hell good on you guys, I have been folowing this news from bangkok. I am stationed here now. But Bloody good effort folks. I wished I was there. I am so proud. Hugs.
25. 2007-08-13 20:23  
What a sad sad place Singapre is now.
When will the powers that be realise they are acting like dictators.
26. 2007-08-13 20:39  
The non-ness is full of possibilities, like our city. ;)
27. 2007-08-13 21:12  
The Singapore police are so easily manipulated it's kind of humorous.
28. 2007-08-13 21:53  
Way to go Singapore!
29. 2007-08-13 21:59  
Inspiring...this can possibly extend to other social activities beside picnics

movie events, shopping events, food events (hmm..a hawker food event would be one of its kind in singapore)....

or to be more productive, a gay clean up day to help communities....

to show that, there is no difference to the lives of the community.

anyway...ideas running wild..haha...

well done!! (from hk)
30. 2007-08-13 22:13  
There may be one hundred really crack elite troops of the Special Air Service in Singapore . But none of them has more balls than those of you who showed up to picnic.
Welll done you heroes of the gay world.
Let us not rest until something as peaceful as a picnic even attended by five thousand, should be accepted in the Heartland of Singapore
31. 2007-08-13 22:28  
I am so sorry to see the new low levels that Singapore is dredging through. I pray that this insanity of predjustice is ended one day soon. Shame on the closed minds that empower such close minded police!
32. 2007-08-13 22:29  
I am so sorry to see the new low levels that Singapore is dredging through. I pray that this insanity of predjustice is ended one day soon. Shame on the closed minds that empower such sorrowful police!
34. 2007-08-14 00:17  
Many congratulations to everyone who attended the non-pink picnic. I would have been there if I was in Singapore then. As for aztlan-oz, calling Ng Yi-Sheng lower intellect is so insulting. Whilst I would prefer not to apply the term queer to myself, I understand the politics of reclaiming the term of abuse back from heterosexuals, just like in USA a large number of black people reclaim the word nigger from racists. There are more than one way of skinning a cat!
35. 2007-08-14 00:49  
Great job! I rejoice.

We, the citizens of Singapore
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of sexual orientation,
to build a democratic society,
based on justice and equality,
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.
36. 2007-08-14 00:50  
I thought it might be of interest, regarding the debate going on over there, that similar arguments were made in England in 1891 in support of decriminalisation:

"The points suggested for consideration are whether England is still justified in restricting the freedom of adult persons, and rendering certain abnormal forms of sexuality criminal, by any real dangers to society: after it has been shown
(1) that abnormal inclinations are congenital, natural, and ineradicable in a large percentage of individuals;
(2) that we tolerate sterile intercourse of various types between the two sexes;
(3) that our legislation has not suppressed the immorality in question;
(4) that the operation of the Code Napoleon for nearly a century has not increased this immorality in France;
(5) that Italy, with the experience of the code Napoleon to guide her, adopted its principles in 1889;
(6) that the English penalties are rarely inflicted to their full extent;
(7) that their existence encourages blackmailing, and their non- enforcement gives occasion for base political agitation;
(8) that our higher education is in open contradiction to the spirit of our laws.

- John Addington Symonds ("Suggestions on the Subject of Sexual Inversion in Relation to Law and Education", published 1896; it is at the end of the larger work online at http://www.infopt.demon.co.uk/symfram1.htm).

It took till 1967 to decriminalise in England, over 70 years after this article was written.
37. 2007-08-14 00:53  
Sorry the link was bracketed and so doesn't work. Here it is again:

38. 2007-08-14 01:50  
I have high praise for the event organizers as well as the participants. Keep on pushing the limit of tolerance. One day, in the future, the level of homophobia will be minimized in Asia.
39. 2007-08-14 02:25  

Insanity of Predjustice=SINGAPORE=
We, the citizens of Singapore
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of sexual orientation,
to build a democratic society,
based on justice and equality,
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.

Salute, all you pink event organizers as well as the participants


40. 2007-08-14 03:55  
Well done!
41. 2007-08-14 09:08  
cool!! fight for our rights! (=
42. 2007-08-14 09:51  
nice job guys!!! hahaha :)
43. 2007-08-14 10:09  
you guys rock!
44. 2007-08-14 10:42  
I applaud your courage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
45. 2007-08-14 12:47  
This time Pink Picnic, next time, Pink Parties and Pink Parades.... U go GURLS.... All great things start out small!

I am sure in time to come, we would evolved in some ways that we could take a stand, not from a political standpoint, but rather be the VOICE that the authorities & society has learnt to accept! I strongly believe in that! =D
46. 2007-08-14 17:40  
Rock On...
47. 2007-08-14 18:46  
Compliance Management Unit - how very Orwellian. bravo to the police force for defending our land from those 35 people who had the audacity to exercise! those progressives! they should have their legs cut off for outraging velocity and perspirating on our fine city.
48. 2007-08-14 22:08  
Once again, Singapore rears its ambiguous head. My friends are afraid to visit Singapore for fear that they might be thrown in jail. The national message about welcoming all visitiors (gay and straight) and the continuous action of repressing local gay activities sends a mix message to the world. Should we believe you by what you tell us or your action? I think action speaks louder than words. Make up your mind, Singapore.
49. 2007-08-14 22:08  
CMU Compliance Management Unit?! First time I have heard of such a unit in any part of the world. Do they also have a GST Gay Suppression Troop? Oh, I almost forgot, GST already stands for something unpleasant in Spore.
50. 2007-08-14 22:13  
So nice seeing these pictures taken from public area in Asia!


Bangkok, Thailand
52. 2007-08-14 22:17  
Mr Kelvin Yeo from the Compliance Management Unit of Tanglin Police Division? Was he also the same officer who called up Ministry of Sound some time back to cancel the "Gay" party last-minute? Wow, what a high value-added job!
53. 2007-08-14 22:52  
it is funny how, when you take the colours of our flag (white & red) and mix it, it becomes pink. irony.
54. 2007-08-15 00:00  
WOW, wonderful achivement for these group, congratulation on your success... I hope be yours... Sweet life for our society... mujirh@yahoo.com
55. 2007-08-15 01:43  
wooww great article i smiled when i read the articles ,what a nice peacefull event i wished i was there to join.
56. 2007-08-15 02:13  
ok i'm going to be all bimbo about this. So CUTE all PINNNK!...
57. 2007-08-15 05:18  
Well Done!
58. 2007-08-15 14:04  
Well done! More power to those who attended.
59. 2007-08-15 17:05  
Yeah, you guys were brave. Good work. It would have been even better if there were more people attending, but this is still wonderful. The freedoms we enjoy here in Australia should not be taken for granted when we think of our Singaporean brothers and sisters. Best wishes and prayers for you !!




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