At least since the millenium kicked off 16 years ago, Singapore has done its best to appear as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated metropolis, a true global city on pair with other world cities -maybe not an equivalent to London or New York but at least an equivalent to Hong Kong, Boston or Amsterdam.
Like these cities, Singapore has its fair share of internationally acclaimed museums and festivals, its fair share of underground theatre stages, its fair share of contemporary dance companies, its fair share of world class sport events, all wrapped into a dynamic economy populated by a multi-racial multi-country community.
And as a maturing, wealthy society it has also its fair share of gay and lesbian citizens or visitors.
Like other affluent countries, its LGBT community has its own party. Well almost like other affluent countries. Because despite its well educated citizens – government should assume that they can now take their decision on their own- the State still consideres homosexuality as punishable by law. Although the country did not arrest anyone for homosexual acts in recent times.
Singapore has even its unofficial gay event : Pink Dot SG has been hosted for now 9 years and has been growing popular over times. From a few hundreds at its humble beginnings back to 2009, the event attracts now over 28,000 participants. It is still a far outcry from other similar events in the region : Taipei Gay pride recorded in 2015 some 80,000 participants while Sydney sees an attendance of 400,000 during its Mardi Gras…
But worst of all -at least for officials !- it also starts to attract major corporate sponsors. They were 9 in 2015, they grew up to 18 for the 2016 edition which was hosted last week. Among the brands supporting Pink Dot SG 2016 were Barclays, Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs, BP, twitter, Bloomber or Visa among others. Well, after all, many gay elements are wealthy citizens with a high spending power…
The event still faces resilience if not rejection by a part of Singapore most conservative elements. This should not be an issue as anybody has a right to like or dislike an event celebrating gender and sex diversity. Let’s just stress that participation to Pink Dot SG has not been deemed as compulsory for Singapore citizens who can just opt to simply turn a blind eye to the LGBT event. Debating is finally a right of any free mature societies.
Except that the government felt the necessity to add its voice to the chorus of protesters. And in the most ambiguous way : the Ministry of Home Affairs was reported to have issue a « warning » to corporate sponsors asking them not to sponsor events that Singapore was solely to judge good or not. The Ministry of Home Affairs reminded that foreign companies should “not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example”, stated the MHA.
Singapore’s stance is rather surprising for a government generally seen as clever. The strong words of the MHA could in fact have a negative effect on the city’s image. It could generate wake up calls for a Singapore boycott from the LGBT community who also might ask companies to support them. It could also make the involved companies thinking twice before supporting some Singapore events.
It is a deliberate risk that Singapore is taking by showing the dark side of its so much vaunted global image. Just in contrary, it looks as if the Singapore government likes to stick to its image of Nanny State.