Pink Dot, Singapore’s biggest LGBTI Pride event, was launched on Wednesday (15 May).
Organizers are gearing up for the main event, the annual rally scheduled to take place on 29 June.
This year, Pink Dot organizers are calling on Singaporeans to ‘Stand Against Discrimination’.
But despite a direct call in 2018 for the repeal of Singapore’s anti-gay law, organizers were quick to downplay any potential politicization of this year’s event.
Last year, the Pink Dot rally culminated in a call for the repeal of Section 377A.
Section 377A is a law from the British colonial era which criminalizes male homosexual sex. Though rarely enforced, LGBTI rights activists say the law perpetuates negative stereotypes surrounding Singapore’s LGBTI community.
‘What we should not do is neither pretend that it does not exist, nor to sweep it under the carpet’
Pink Dot is Singapore’s most well-known LGBTI event. In a city-state which curtails public assemblies, Pink Dot is the civil society group which draws the largest crowds every year.
According to a recent survey, the number of people in Singapore supportive of LGBTI rights has increased. This is particularly true among young people.
Pink Dot’s organizers hope that this year’s message against discrimination will resonate across schools and workplaces.
In their opening speech, three Pink Dot organizers highlighted issues LGBTI people in Singapore face. For instance, schoolteachers have reported being unable to provide adequate counseling to LGBTI students.
The organizers also pointed out that LGBTI themes and issues are still censored in the mainstream media.
LGBTI rights groups have often said that the retention of Section 377A perpetuates the marginalization of LGBTI people in the country.
‘We often say that Singapore is an inclusive place; a place where minority groups live together in harmony,’ said Clement Tan, one of the Pink Dot organizers. ‘But when one of us faces discrimination, it is important for all of us, as Singaporeans, to stand up against that discrimination.’
‘What we should not do is either pretend that it does not exist, or to sweep it under the carpet,’ Tan added.
But not everyone might be on board. Organizers acknowledged that high-ranking members from Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party have claimed that LGBTI people do not face discrimination in Singapore.
‘I don’t see that as particularly political’
Once again, Pink Dot finds itself treading the line between politics and human interest.
The movement has long been criticized by other Singaporean activists for its seeming reluctance to talk about LGBTI equality as a political and human rights issue.
Instead, Pink Dot tends to frame its messages in terms of individual kindness and acceptance. The annual rally is largely portrayed as a fun picnic celebration rather than a demonstration demanding equality and justice for all.
While this might be a strategic move in a country with a government that’s highly suspicious of and opposed to political activism, critics have lamented that such a narrative merely appeals to political leaders to consider change, rather than applying more pressure on them to actually do so.
In a press conference following the launch, most members of the organizing committee attempted to downplay the political aspect of Pink Dot.
‘We are calling for the end of discrimination. I don’t see that as particularly political,’ said another Pink Dot spokesperson, Paerin Choa.
‘We don’t see this as falling back from last year’s message, ‘ said Tan. ‘We see this as zooming in on one of last year’s declarations.’
Speaking to GSN, a member of Pink Dot’s communication team said that trying to share the message of Pink Dot was in ‘middle/gray’ area and could not commit to whether the movement was political or not.
This year’s call to stand up to discrimination follows Pink Dot’s 10th public event in 2018.
Last year saw a renewed push by LGBTI activists to challenge Singapore’s Section 377A. The most high-profile of these efforts was Ready4Repeal, which directly called on the government to repeal the controversial law.
However, the overall movement has been met with a muted response.
Last year, a petition to call for the repeal of the law garnered around 50,000 amount of signatures. However, this was eclipsed by a rival petition in favor of retaining Section 377A. The counter-petition wrapped up with over 100,000 signatures.
A recent survey also suggested most Singaporeans favored retaining Section 377A, even if the law were not enforced.
Senior political figures in Singapore have been reluctant to address issues surrounding Section 377A.
In September 2018, K Shanmugam, the law and home affairs minister, said the Singaporean government would only consider repealing Section 377A if the majority of the public were in favor of it.
Opposition politicians have also been wary about addressing whether or not to repeal the controversial law.
In April, Pritam Singh, leader of Singapore’s main opposition party, said his party would not call for the repeal of Section 377A. Singh said that he did not want to politicize the issue.
LGBTI rights activists in Singapore expressed disappointment at Singh’s announcement.