“Please, Prime Minister Lee … Lead us. Tear down this law.”
Such was the message conveyed by lawyer and Pink Dot SG spokesperson Paerin Choa at Hong Lim Park last Sat (29 Jun) — a message that reverberated like a clarion call among some thousands of Pink Dot 11’s attendees, prompting them to repeat after him, just minutes before the park became awash with a constellation of pink lights as the predominantly young crowd waved their torchlights and handphones to the sound of The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You”.
Taking the movement a step further from its “We Are Ready!” theme last year, which focused on fostering acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Singaporeans within society at large, Choa’s message this year was prompted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent comments regarding the government’s intention to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sexual activity between two men.
Lee said that the particular legislation has not prevented individuals to whom the legislation might apply from “living” their lives as they wish, and has not “has not stopped Pink Dot from having a gathering every year”.
Choa also called upon members of community to “stand up for one another” in his speech on Sat, as Singapore’s laws currently do not grant LGBTQ people the rights and protections “that we deserve”, adding that Section 377A’s “trickle-down effects” have resulted in members of the marginalised community living “incomplete lives”.
In a statement on Sat, Choa said that “our leaders seem to be selective in their listening when it comes to the discrimination that LGBTQ people face every single day” despite efforts made by Pink Dot for over a decade to raise awareness regarding the often invisible plight of LGBTQ Singaporeans.
“We continue to be made invisible and marginalised in Singapore where we are denied respect and dignity by the laws and the policies of this country,” he added.
Pink Dot 11’s emcee Harris Zaidi, seen below with his mother and one of his strongest allies, emphasised that Pink Dot “is not a picnic” or a yearly event made purely for entertainment, but “a protest” against Section 377A and all other forms of discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Singapore.
Harris, who is the development board member of one of Singapore’s leading professional theatre companies W!LD RICE, also called upon LGBTQ people and their allies to continue pushing back and to “make sure that 377A goes down”.
The theme for the 11th edition of Pink Dot — “Standing Against Discrimination” — also bore a heavier and more sombre tone compared to the previous editions, as multiple stories of discrimination faced by LGBTQ people from other members of Singapore’s society were featured throughout this year’s campaign, be it stories in the workplace or learning institutions, as narrated in Pink Dot 11’s campaign video last month and a newer video released by Pink Dot on Sun.
Local radio presenter and music artist Joshua Simon, who performed during the concert segment of Pink Dot 11, told the crowd about seeing his name removed from the list of speakers for a TED Talk at a polytechnic recently due to elements in his script that referred to same-sex relationships.
Simon has since released a statement via Instagram regarding the incident, stating that it “would be against my principles to flip the gender of my ex when mentioning my breakup and to totally leave out my coming out story to my father – both of which are, and will always be, defining moments of my story”.
“To hide my struggles and sacrifices is to be ashamed of them. To honour my story is to be completely vulnerable on that stage,” he added.
“I told the school I will not do the talk. I chose not to censor my script. Doing so would also set a hurtful precedence to the next gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer person offered a chance to speak,” said Simon.
“Our stories matter. The fight to have them told continues.”
This year’s Pink Dot ambassadors also asserted the need for the government and society as a whole to actively fight against discrimination of LGBTQ Singaporeans.
Actress and theatre director Beatrice Chia-Richmond pointed out that LGBTQ people are often left out of the “national narrative” of “inclusivity” painted by the government, and attributed this to the “trickle-down effect” of Section 377A.
Speaking from the perspective of a straight cisgender ally, she urged other straight cisgender allies in particular to “call out discrimination” wherever such discrimination is seen, such as “censorship in the media”, at the workplace, or in the form of bullying in schools.
The sibling duo of prominent local YouTubers Preeti Nair, or more popularly known by her moniker Preetipls, and her brother Subhas Nair, who is a rapper, also spoke up as Pink Dot 11’s Ambassadors about the discrimination faced by LGBTQ Singaporeans and the apprehension they face as a result.
Preeti recounted how a gay man wrote a poem about the slurs made against him by bullies, taunting his purportedly “effeminate” nature, and expressed his struggle with his grandmother who might not understand “the difference between nature and nurture”.
In the same poem, the gay man also recalled how his media law lecturer had likened Section 377A to a cane, which is typically only used to “scare” students and deter them from “misbehaving”, and that it “shouldn’t be thrown away”, which suggests that the perception that even consensual same-sex relationships in any form are perceived as a “misdemeanour” worthy of the threat of punishment.
Preeti also vowed to use her platform and privilege as a straight cisgender ally to stand up for the LGBTQ community in Singapore.
Subhas, who was seen clutching the rainbow Pride flag that represents LGBTQ people around the world, said that ending discrimination begins with “ending patriarchy and capitalism”, as such issues are “interconnected” in the matrix of privilege and power.
He added that the work of allies should not stop at the yearly Pink Dot event, but that it must be done all year round.
Subhas also introduced Irie Aman, editor-in-chief of homegrown independent intersectional feminist collective The Local Rebel, who highlighted that LGBTQ spaces in Singapore are “Chinese-dominated”, which comes with the baggage of “privilege and power”.
“Growing up, it was hard to find a safe space, even within a safe space, because queer brown people are minorities within a minority.
“This is why, as a people, we must strive for bigger. That is what inclusivity does. It listens to people, acknowledges their experiences, makes space for them. We can always do more,” they said.
“We are not footnotes in your history,” said Irie.
Photo: Photo: Danisha Hakeem/TOC
Pink Dot SG spokesperson Clement Tan opined on Sat: “The rest of the world has moved on. We’ve seen Taiwan, India, Bhutan, Botswana, Ecuador – countries where the governments have taken steps towards freedom and equality for all their citizens – all in one year.
“As young Singaporeans who are contributing to our nation, we ask ourselves if Singapore is the place where we want to really lay down our roots, build careers, and start our families. It’s ridiculous that Singapore is left behind time and time again,” said Tan.