Claiming interference in domestic affairs, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs has ruled that foreign entities are heretofore to be barred from sponsoring Pink Dot, an annual nonprofit event for the LGBT community put on at Singapore’s Speaker’s Corner in Hong Lim Park, the only venue where free speech is allowed.
The event, a rather sedate gathering with none of the flamboyance in, say, San Francisco or Taipei, is the closest thing Singapore has to a gay pride parade. It began at 3 pm on June 4 and lasted a single evening. Pink Dot, which began in 2009, has grown to host as many as 28,000 people in 2015 to support Singapore’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, with attendees gathering to form a “pink dot” to show support for inclusiveness and diversity. The events usually also include concerts and booths on the part of organizations supporting the community.
Singapore has a kind of schizophrenic attitude towards sexual diversity, with a healthy cross-dressing community that appeals to tourists while at the same time laws against homosexuality – although never enforced – remain on the books. In the 1970s, authorities rooted out the cross-dressing community on Bugis Street, then tried to rebuild it as a kind of Disneyland for safe ogling of transvestites. The effort fell apart, however. But today there are other areas were cross-dressing thrives and gays are rarely hassled by authorities.
In recent years, the event has begun to include corporate sponsors such as the British energy giant BP, the financial firms Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Barclays, the lens manufacturer CooperVision and others. In this year’s event, 19 such corporate sponsors signed up, according to the organizers.
That apparently was a bit too much for the Singapore Home Affairs Ministry, which issued a statement earlier this month that such sponsorships constitute interference in domestic issues.
“These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves,” the ministry said in a statement issued earlier this months. “LGBT issues are one such example. This is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner, for events like the Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations.”
The ministry, the press release said, “will take steps to make it clear that foreign entities should not fund, support or influence such events held at the Speakers’ Corner. In the context of LGBT issues, this will apply both to events that advocate the LGBT cause such as the Pink Dot, as well as events whose purpose is to oppose the LGBT cause.”
That stunned the organizers, who according to an article in the new portal Online Citizen argued that Pink Dot has nothing to do with politics, that it is a “celebration of love” whose message is love and tolerance and whose purpose is “to educate the public that LGBTIs are people like heterosexuals. It focusses on the person and not the sex. It emphasizes the importance of support from family and friends for the LGBTI.
In Online Citizen, it was argued that authorities have never prevented Pink Dot from taking place over the past eight years and that the claim that foreign entities should not interfere with domestic issues is superficial.
Nonetheless, the police maintain rigorous surveillance of events at Hong Lim Park, including Pink Dot, with only Singaporeans and permanent residents allowed to hold pink placards to come together to make the pink dot itself. Apparently police zealously checked identity cards to make sure foreigners were not participating although they were allowed to be spectators.
Since the 1980s, Singapore has maintained a strict policy against the foreign media, cracking down hard when it deems that its interests have been contravened but they have left other events largely alone. Among those sued or otherwise harassed included the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review and Asia Week, the Asian Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, Time Magazine and others, who were sued in Singapore’s malleable courts and which resulted in unanimous victories for either the family of the late Lee Kuan Yew or the government itself.
The Red Dot corporate sponsorships, the organizers argued, do not constitute interference in domestic affairs. Instead, they were public relations tools endorsing diversity and broadcasting an appeal among the LGBT community to attract talent.
“Pink Dot’s message has been consistent since 2009,” the organizers aid. “Its message of tolerance and living in harmony reflects Singapore’s founding mantra. We are a secular and meritocratic society. This is our software, the foundation for our buildings in Shenton Way. If there is no reason to censor the message of love and tolerance, there is no reason to restrict these corporations’ sponsorships. To censor Pink Dot’s sponsors is to conflate “foreign interference” with corporate sponsorship.”