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Will PM Lee show up for Pink Dot this Saturday?

Pink Dot invitation to PM Lee
Pink Dot invitation to PM Lee

Pink Dot, the annual gay celebratory event of “the freedom to love”, will take place this Saturday at Hong Lim Park for the seventh time since its inauguration in 2009.

Each year, the event is headlined by celebrities and has attracted global brands as sponsors. It has also seen an increasing number of people turning up to give it support. Last year’s event reportedly attracted 25,000 people.

“Pink is the colour of our ICs,” the group’s Facebook page says. “It is also the colour when you mix red and white – the colours of our national flag. Pink Dot stands for an open, inclusive society within our Red Dot, where sexual orientation represents a feature, not a barrier.”

An inclusive society is also the aim of the Lee Hsien Loong Government which has repeatedly urged Singaporeans to see one another as one people, and has boasted of its inclusive policies.

Mr Lee, however, raised recently some ire among those in the gay community for comments he made about same-sex marriage and the gay community.

In an interview with ASEAN journalists in Singapore earlier in June, he said Singapore society “is still conservative although it is changing gradually” and that it is “not ready” for same-sex marriage, as the Straits Times reported.

But, Mr Lee said, the gay community have the space to live their lives in Singapore.

"We do not harass them or discriminate against them," he explained.

This seemingly more conciliatory position of the Government first came into the spotlight in 2003, when then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong caused a bit of an uproar among conservative circles when he said the government was employing openly gay people in the civil service.

Mr Goh famously said then: “In the past, if we know you’re gay, we would not employ you. But we just changed this quietly.”

“Expecting much indignant resistance from conservative quarters, Goh attempted to placate angry citizens by resorting to essentialist notions of sexuality. He added ‘we are born this way and [gay people] are born that way, but they are like you and me’.”  - [“But They are Like You and Me”: Gay Civil Servants and Citizenship in a Cosmopolitanizing Singapore.”]

Critics, however, point to the presence and retention of Singapore’s anti-gay law, section 377a of the Penal Code. The law criminalises sex between adult males.

Mr Lee said that the gay community “should not push the agenda too hard because if they push the agenda too hard, there will be a very strong pushback.”

"And this is not an issue where there is a possibility that the two sides can discuss and eventually come to a consensus. Now, these are very entrenched views and the more you discuss, the angrier people get," he said.

Pink Dot, in response to Mr Lee’s remarks, said that while it acknowledged Mr Lee’s concerns – given Singapore’s unique position as a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious society, there will be a plurality of viewpoints, some deeply entrenched – it nonetheless feels that “it is not a topic that can be swept under the carpet and allowed to fester.”

Lee
Lee

“We firmly believe that dialogue is our best way forward,” Pink Dot said. “As such, we would like to invite Prime Minister Lee to join us in celebrating the Freedom to Love, this Saturday, June 13, at Hong Lim Park, and meet with the individuals, families, and loving couples who form a vibrant part of Singapore’s social fabric.”

Mr Lee's office has not responded to the invitation publicly.

Pink Dot also noted that racial and religious minorities are protected under the constitution.

“Whether Singapore will eventually abolish Section 377a and create a society truly based on justice and equality, that values all contributing citizens regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity; a lot will depend on fostering goodwill and encouraging respect among groups and individuals.”

Will Mr Lee accept Pink Dot’s invitation and turn up at Hong Lim Park on Saturday, in the name of inclusiveness or fostering an inclusive society? Should he?

Well, if we go by what his government itself has said – that it wants to build an inclusive society – and what is declared in our National Pledge – that we “pledge ourselves as one united people... to build a democratic society based on justice and equality” – then there is no reason for Mr Lee to decline the invitation.

But of course if Mr Lee accepts the invite, it will be seen by the conservatives as a sign of support, or at least of tacit endorsement of the gay community.

Indeed, Pink Dot’s invitation could also be seen as putting Mr Lee on the spot, perhaps nudging him to take a stand, instead of the fence-sitting one he currently adopts when it comes to gay issues.

Whatever it is, it will an interesting Saturday indeed.