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Pink Dot 2017: The voices behind this weekend's event

Freedom to love

Pink Dot 2017: The voices behind this weekend's event
Tracy Phillips catches up with Pink Dot organisers and Ambassadors ahead of the LGBTQ rally on 1 July

Iwas tasked to present a neutral point of view of the annual rally in support of the LGBTQ community, inclusiveness and the freedom to love.  It was supposed to be a factual piece, to hear from both sides — for and against, and to find out where Singaporeans think we're headed when it comes to LGBTQ rights. But the more I spoke with those most affected, and digested the counter arguments as to why Pink Dot shouldn't be supported, I found it impossible to be impartial. Neutral is not an option in equality. Not when it affects some individuals' lives so profoundly, leaving them open to discrimination and alienation while their opponents experience none of the repercussions, except for the need to work on tolerance.

The common argument used against Pink Dot is that it is not pro-family and that Singapore's society is too conservative to discuss or acknowledge the rights of the LGBTQ community. We have come to these conclusions not through any sort of nationwide surveys, but because of a vocal minority who have emerged over the last few years, following the rise of Pink Dot's awareness and attendance, who speak out against any form of discourse on the matter. The antagonism comes in various forms — from organising a counter Wear White Day, to the astroturfing of Pink Dot's sponsors with unsolicited advice and boycotting threats, to the canvassing of different legislative bodies as the recent spate between ASAS and Cathay Organisation over the Pink Dot "Freedom to Love" tagline was made apparent. Yet dialogue between the two differing camps has never actually taken place in the last nine years. Attempts by the Pink Dot committee to reach out to the Wear White Movement in 2014, and most recently ASAS, went without response.

"We recognise the family as an important building block of society, but also acknowledge that families can come in many forms, including single-parent families, families without children, and families with same-sex parents, and we should embrace all of them with the same love and kindness as we would any member of society," says Paerin Choa, spokesperson at Pink Dot. 

"I just don't understand why there are certain people who are so obsessed with a group of people whose lives don't directly affect them. Is it not enough that all we want to do is live like everyone else? I don't think it's enough anymore to be neutral or silent, not when there are people being harmed, even killed, just because they're LGBTQ. To be silent is to be complicit. And I'm not just referring to LGBTQ rights, in whatever cause you choose to champion or speak up for, let it be for the betterment of the world and to allow all human beings equality," impassioned Theresa Goh, Singapore Paralympian and one of Pink Dot's 2017 Ambassadors.  

Theresa Goh

We Are Family
Both Pink Dot and their detractors believe they are pro-family; it's just the definition of what constitutes a family that differs. For some, the frameworks are narrower and a family can only be formed if a man marries a woman and they have children. For Pink Dot campaigners, the term is more encompassing. "We recognise the family as an important building block of society, but also acknowledge that families can come in many forms, including single-parent families, families without children, and families with same-sex parents, and we should embrace all of them with the same love and kindness as we would any member of society," says Paerin Choa, spokesperson at Pink Dot. "Over the past eight years, we have worked hard to ensure every individual, including LGBT individuals, is respected and loved for who they are, without having to hide from their families, workplace and society. Likewise, LGBT Singaporeans have families too, and they continually seek to foster understanding and closer bonds with their loved ones."

Pink Dot 2016
Gentle activism 
In a multi-cultural and global city like Singapore, having different points of view is unavoidable. So the question has to be: How can we do better to understand our differences while still affirming the things we share in common like the desire for connection, equality and acceptance? Would we be so quick to judge if we took the time to understand the struggles others face just for being who they are? And if it's our belief system that questions whether all are deserving of love and fairness, can we not use compassion, the foundation of all faith, to speak out more kindly?

The fact is that throughout history and across the world, marginalised communities have always had to resort to activism to bring about social change. Writer and activist Yi-Sheng Ng says, "Pink Dot is a completely legal, non-violent, pro-family rally for LGBTQ rights. It is the gentlest form of public activism possible in Singapore. If people find that kind of activism unacceptable, what other form should we resort to? As a community that faces discrimination, where if our identities are known we face the risk of being bullied at school, abused in our families, and fired from work, we can't just sit back and wait for society to become nice." 

Pink Dot 2017 press conference

The biggest hurdle
What continues to make the LGBTQ community most vulnerable is Section 377A of Singapore's Penal Code, a leftover from British colonial rule and long since abolished in the UK. "This marginalisation of LGBTQ individuals causes inadequate access to counseling services for LGBT youth and the censorship of portrayals of LGBT individuals and relationships in the media," says Choa.

Paerin Choa, Pink Dot SG spokesperson

"Most would not bat an eyelid if same-sex couples hold hands or kiss. It's just the existing law that states gay sex is a crime. LGBTQ couples cannot get married, their family units aren't recognised in the eyes of the law, just to name a few glaring problems. If our government is truly a secular one, then we should really be moving towards embracing the freedom to love, regardless of sexual orientation," emphasises Rosalyn Lee, Pink Dot Ambassador 2009.

The new rules
2017's event sees changing laws prevent foreign sponsors and friends from supporting Pink Dot this year, requiring the enforcement of barricades and checkpoints to review attendee's IDs. This seems to run counter to the inclusive atmosphere that the rally aims to convey but organisers have been heartened by how the local business community has stepped up to fill the void. To date, 120 local companies have donated in support of the Freedom to Love, surpassing initial targets.

Expat English teacher, Eric Smith, shared: "I've always attended Pink Dot to make sure there was one more face in the crowd. I hope this year that Singaporeans pick up the slack from no foreign participation and come out in full force. In a way, it could be the best thing that ever happened to gay rights in Singapore. It's certainly energised the Singaporeans I know." 

Pink Dot 2017 press conference

Actress and Pink Dot Ambassador 2010, Tan Kheng Hua, sums it up: "I firmly believe our nation — its people and its heart — is growing a deeper understanding of what it means to love in the truest sense of the word. Having been an ambassador, I am thrilled and happy to see younger ambassadors stepping forward to make a stand. A lot of them have deeper influence to engage our young citizens, and this gives me a great deal of hope that Singaporeans can move towards a greater understanding of what it means to be human. And that can only make life easier and happier for everyone."

Pink Dot 2017  takes place on 1 July at Hong Lim Park from 6pm onwards.

Tracy Phillips

  • Image: Pink Dot, Wilfred Lim, Sebastian Tan, Gerald Poh

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