Gayhood in Singapore

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Credit: WTF Fashion Singapore Blog
Credit: WTF Fashion Singapore Blog

After playing hide-and-seek for many years, the gay community is finally coming out of the closet; and what a confident and proud group we are seeing as they are declare their sexuality openly and unabashedly.

The most recent pink declaration came from Opposition politician Vincent Wijeysingha when he said on his Facebook: “…Yes, I am gay”

He revealed this on the eve of Pink Dot, an annual event to celebrate homosexuality. This year it saw a spill-out turnout of 21,000 people, nine times more more than when it was first held in 2009.

Another signifcant development was the kind of sponsors this year’s event drew — J P Morgan, Barclays, Google and Park Royal Hotel.

The gathering at the Speakers’ Corner saw even straight people turning up in droves to show their support.

Nominated MP Janice Koh was there with her children. She says in a newspaper column: “As a parent, this is an opportunity for my children to learn the importance of treating everyone equally and with respect, no matter their race, language, religious background or sexual orientation.”

The surprising but silent partner in this coming-out party is the government which is well known for its hard conservative stand and has not openly accepted gayhood as a form of lifestyle in Singapore.

Two factors have played a major part in this turnaround: Economics and politics.

It was the chase for the pink dollar that saw the government declaring way back in 2003 that it would accept gays in the civil service, even in sensitive positions.

The quote that caught many by surprise was this extract from the interview he gave to Time magazine:

“We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me.”

Why make such an important political point to a foreign magazine?

This is where economics comes into the calculation. It was the time when the recruitment of foreign talent was
being pushed strongly and the government wanted to send the word out to the world that Singapore was was shedding its image of a staid, prim and proper city state to one that is fun and funky.

Even founding father Lee Kuan Yew, the man who jealously guards the nation’s conservative values, was sympathetic.

He said three years before Goh’s interview — again to an American journalist: ” Once we conclude that homosexuality is also a

DNA problem, then you have got to approach the punishment in a different way. And if you have consenting adults, God bless both of them.”

From a political perspective, the change in government attitude reflects the new Singapore reality. The gay community and those who support their cause are generally anti-establishment and as the support for the ruling party at the elections continues to erode, this is a pressure group the establishment cannot afford to ignore.

Since the two leaders’ comments, Singapore has become more relaxed allowing gay clubs to open and plays and films with outspoken themes to be performed and shown.

Benjamin Low, 35, is enjoying this openess. He said: “Growing up in a country was tough.

“I was lucky. I had very understanding parents. But it was my overseas education that opened my eyes to the reality that there was nothing to be ashamed about being gay.”

The Benjamins of Singapore are still waiting for the day when the law that criminalises sex between two men, Section 377A, will taken off the statue books.

There was an attempt to do this in Parliament in 2007 but the conservative majority voted against it with most MPs thumping their chairs to show their support.

Six years later, the gay law is still very contentious with both sides of the divide, especially the Christian groups, pushing back the gay groups.

The debate spilled into the open once again when two gay men decided to test the constitutionality of Section 377A by taking it to the High Court.

It was thrown out but now the duo are appealing and have asked for permission to hire prominent Queen’s Counsel Lord Peter Goldsmith to argue their case.

This testing of the boundaries, with the conservative ground pushing and the gay groups shoving, will continue as the government walks a thin line of new realities.

In the meantime, people like Benjamin are basking in their new-found freedom, a freedom they never thought they would experience in their lifetime.

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