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ASAS must retract demands to Cathay and apologise for the grief that it has caused to LGBT community

by Kokila Annamalai

At my first Pink Dot in 2013, I turned up at HLP in black, surrounded by a sea of pink. I've managed to get it right every year since.

Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), on the other hand, is still getting it wrong. So this is my second letter to an organisation this week, about Pink Dot. This one's not as pretty as the first one. #30daysofpink

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to express my great disappointment at the baseless statements and actions by ASAS with regard to the Pink Dot advertisement by Cathay.

I utterly fail to understand how the words "supporting the freedom to love" breach values of family, community support and respect for individuals.

Any honest reflection would reveal, very quickly, that the spirit of these words, especially in the context of Pink Dot, are exactly about community support and respect for the individual, and the important role of families in ensuring LGBT persons' well-being.

When we censor affirming messages like this, the stigma and trauma LGBT persons and their families suffer continues unabated and unchallenged, because by exclusion, we perpetuate a single narrative, and it is not an encouraging one.

I cannot emphasise this enough. Hateful attitudes and actions towards LGBT people flourish because we don't allow messages of inclusion to permeate public consciousness - something AOL advertisements have immense power to do. The result of invisibility and negative portrayals is a societal ignorance that contributes to LGBT youth enduring great emotional stress, becoming suicidal, homeless, bullied, abused or humiliated by family members, schoolmates and colleagues - is this, then, what is in line with ASAS's values and standards?

It is not LGBT people's freedom to love, but the rejection of this freedom, that tears families apart.

When parents are able to be accepting and kind towards their LGBT children, that keeps families together. When LGBT persons feel more able to seek support in the face of intimate partner violence or domestic conflict, this can help increase safety within their families. When same-sex parents are respected and their children are treated like all other children, this affirms the importance and well-being of their families.

It takes moral courage from an authority, such as yourself, to stand by advertisements and messages that promote the very values you claim to uphold, even in the face of resistance from those who are intolerant and would rather perpetuate the marginalisation of a group of people in our society. It is not your role to police everything that offends some people or to respond to every complaint by "playing safe". Rather, it is your role to grapple with difficult questions and make decisions that have integrity.

Demanding that Cathay take down this innocuous text reveals a disheartening lack of leadership on your part. As an organisation vested with power and authority to determine what ideas our society is exposed to through advertising, I am alarmed that you do not realise the great responsibility you have to be ethical, fair and inclusive.

As with the advertisers you hold accountable, you too are accountable for your actions and decisions. I request that you publish an explanation of why you deemed the text "supporting the freedom to love" as incongruent with the values under SCAP’s General Principles, and in particular, with ideas such as not "downplaying the importance of family" or "community support and respect for the individual".

And if you are unable to justify the demands you've made of Cathay on this basis, then you must retract them and apologise for the grief you have caused.

In the case that Cathay chooses not to comply with your direction and you proceed to impose sanctions on them, rest assured that the LGBT community and their allies will do everything in their power to make up for any losses Cathay incurs with our buying power (gay people love culture and cinema, haven't you heard?)

This post was first published as a Facebook post by Kokila