Red, White and Pink in Singapore: Pride event attracts biggest turnout yet
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Red, White and Pink in Singapore: Pride event attracts biggest turnout yet

Pink Dot is an annual, not-for-profit event that has been running in Singapore since 2009 in support of the LGBT community and promoting the “freedom to love”. It is perhaps one of Singapore’s most successful global exports, with Pink Dot events held in many other major cities modelled on the Singaporean event. Unlike most pride parades that focus on LGBT rights, the Pink Dot event markets itself as focusing on inclusiveness through a family friendly carnival. At the end of each Pink Dot event, participants form a large Pink Dot.

This last five Pink Dot events had taken place without much fanfare. This time around, however, Pink Dot 2014, held on June 28, stoked a significant amount of online protest from religious groups, revealing the fault lines in Singaporean society.

The first flickers of potential conflict sparked in May when the Faith Community Family Church led by its Pastor Lawrence Khong proposed a Red Dot event in support of the “family unit” (defined in this case as a male and a female). The church had proposed the event take place on June 28. The event was approved by the authorities, but the church rejected its proposed relocation from the Padang, which is just a s a short walk away from Hong Lim Park where the annual Pink Dot event is held.

On June 20, Muslim religious teacher Ustaz Noor Deros launched the “Wear White” movement in response to the “growing normalization of LGBT in Singapore” to remind Muslims not to participate in the Pink Dot movement. Muslims were asked to wear white to mosques on June 28 for the Terawih prayers on the eve of Ramadan.

The next day Khong, together with his church and a larger LoveSingapore Network (of evangelical Christian Churches), joined the wear white movement.

“I’m so happy that Singapore’s Muslim community is making a vocal and visual stand for morality and Family. I fully support the ‘wear white’ campaign… I look forward to celebrating the family with the Muslim community and I am pleased to partner with them in championing virtue and purity for the good of our nation,” said Khong.

With temperatures rising, the Islamic Authority of Singapore (MUIS) released an internal advisory to its mosques, advising religious leaders to adopt a “non-confrontational approach” to the LGBT community.

Not all Protestant leaders were against LGBTs.  Rev Miak Siew, an openly gay pastor of the Free Community Church, wrote in an Open Letter to Khong in January, “the idea that ‘the family unit comprises of a man as Father, a woman as Mother, and Children’ is not biblical…  Strong families are not defined by their composition… what makes strong families is the love that binds them… The repeal of 377A poses no threat to families bound together by love. It is the continued stigmatization of LGBT people that you are perpetuating that is a threat to families – because you have placed obstacles in how parents understand their children who are different, and create huge rifts in these families.”

That same day, the Catholic Archbishop William Goh released a message to the Catholic Church in Singapore reiterating the Church’s position on the LGBT movement: “[The Church] recognizes that there are individuals who are attracted to people of the same sex. Regardless of their sexual orientation, the Church has always looked on each individual as being a child of God, made in His image and likeness and is therefore worthy of love and respect… Discrimination of any kind is thus neither pleasing in the eyes of God, nor that of man… However, the Church also believes that when God created man (and woman), He had intended for them to ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it’. (Genesis 1:28) For this reason, although the Church treats each individual, regardless of his/her sexual orientation, with sensitivity and respect for his/her dignity, she upholds the view that LGBT sexual relationships are not in accordance with the plan of God.”

This prompted a Facebook reply (June 23) from prominent civil society activist, openly homosexual Catholic Dr Vincent Wijeysingha.

“What concerns me is the cynical attempt to portray the church as a compassionate and empathetic organisation concerned for the souls of LGBT people,” he wrote. “This is entirely at odds with the teachings of the church government at the Vatican… Goh’s statement waters down the church’s real disgust for LGBT people… The Singapore episcopacy, in attempting to come across as nice guys intent only upon the salvation of souls, has masked the church’s real attitude to LGBT people. In doing so, it has further disfigured itself by the hypocrisy which characterised much of its history. Let the Catholic magisterium come out and declare its real revulsion towards LGBT people. And let them at the same time atone for the thousands of lives their church destroyed by the mischief of their ravenous priests. I will take them seriously then. Until then, I will take no moral instruction from those who seek to police my bedroom while turning a blind eye to the priests who lured little boys and little girls into theirs, to rape and bugger them with the connivance and the complicity of the episcopacy.”

The sparks had become a flame.

On June 25 the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), a protestant umbrella organisation of churches of various denominations, released a statement that supporting the view of the traditional family unit, but urged “grace and restraint”.

While no groups had advocated violence, the organisers of Pink Dot announced that they would be hiring security guards for the event to ensure against troublemakers.

Opposition to the Pink Dot event did not just come from religious quarters. In a letter to The Independent Singapore one Vernon Chan, who had attended every previous Pink Dot event, wrote that he would not be attending the Pink Dot event this year: “My activist friends reported the organisers lecturing that this event is not for them, not for the benefit of the LGBTQI community, but for the benefit of appearing safe and unthreatening to mainstream Singapore and their straight allies…. Why bother attending PinkDot if, instead of encouraging diversity and non-judgemental attitudes, PinkDot organisers are the ones who promote the fear and ignorance of real LGBTQIs, and their issues, concerns, needs, diversity?”

In the end, the war of words was confined to the internet. The event went of with a hitch, with a record turnout of 26,000 people at the Hong Lim Park. The wear white event also went of without a hitch. It seemed like just another day in Singapore.

This event however points to a future with more conflicts over the family unit and sexual morality in the city-state.

Some online groups such as The Online Citizen and Mothership have published articles in support of Pink Dot, while others such as The Real Singapore have found themselves along the more conservative end. Comments on some of these sites drew support from their own ideological adherents.

Singapore, like much of the world, faces rising religiosity. Together with that is a progressive change in religious demographics. According to the Singapore Census 2010, the fastest growing religions in Singapore are Christianity and those who do not identify with organised religion. Among Christians, the largest growth according to a paper by National University of Singapore Associate Prof Daniel Goh is evangelical Christianity. Earlier in March, controversy was sparked when NUS Associate Professor Khairuddin Aljunied described liberal Islam and its support of lesbianism as “cancers” and “diseases”. His Facebook post led to a petition by students in the University and he was forced to retract his statement.

Earlier in June, Mathew Mathews at the Institute of Policy Studies released a report on religious identity being especially strong with the Protestant and Muslim groups: 85 and 93.9 percent respectively believed that homosexual sex was morally wrong.

Pink Dot 2014 will not be the final flash point in this area of personal and social morality.

It is at this point, when the cracks in society are beginning to form, that voices of reason are needed.

[Views on Homoexuality] will evolve over time, as so many things have, because after a while my own sort of maturing process will take place with other people. You don’t just live and then you cut off your ideas after a certain time. You keep on living and you watch people and you say, ‘Oh that’s the way life is.’

This is the reality of the society; we decide what is in our interest and how the people will react. Homosexuality will eventually be accepted. It’s already accepted in China. It’s a matter of time before it’s accepted here.

Lee Kuan Yew, 2011, Hard Truths to keep Singapore Going

If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.

The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers…

Pope Francis, 2013