SINGAPORE (AP) — A tragedy half a world away has created an unlikely opening for a repressed community in Singapore.
The mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, has galvanized LGBT people in Singapore, where a candlelight vigil was held Tuesday to express solidarity with the victims. In the process, they highlighted the predicament of their own largely underground community.
Although there is little fear of gun violence in Singapore, “we must remember that violence takes many forms, not only physical,” said Lynette Chua, an assistant professor of law at the National University of Singapore. The gay, lesbian and transgender community is “still unprotected by the law from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity,” she said.
In Singapore, sex between men is banned by a law, a holdover from British colonial days. Over the years, however, the small Southeast Asian city-state has loosened up and homosexuality is now quietly tolerated. Singapore’s leaders have even said the anti-gay law, known as Section 377A, will not be enforced. But discrimination remains rife, although it is subtle and often masked under the need to protect a pro-family Asian culture.
“I felt that a show of solidarity, no matter how small a group would go a long way as a silent statement that the shooting is inherently wrong,” said Nicholas Lim, 36, the administrator of GLBT Voices Singapore, a Facebook page that organized the vigil. The page has more than 48,000 followers.
At the evening gathering of about 400 people, attendees arranged themselves in the form of a heart, they held hands and sang songs in remembrance of the Orlando shooting victims. The victims’ names were read, and some people hugged, overwhelmed with emotion. The crowd raised multicolored glow sticks instead of candles since open flames are banned in Singapore parks.
A 36-year-old teacher, who only wanted to be identified as Jonathan, said: “It is important to show solidarity with the LGBT community around the world. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. There is little fear of gun violence in Singapore, but discrimination is discrimination around the world.”
Not all attendees were members of the LGBT community. “I felt that it was important as the tragedy took place during pride month and there have been negative comments on the Internet,” said social media executive Donna Louisse, 24. “As allies, we are not going to stop fighting for our LGBT friends. Just showing up is a sign of support.”
Public meetings in highly regulated Singapore can be held only with police permits. Politically and socially sensitive meetings can only be held in a designated area, Hong Lim Park, for which no police permit is needed but have to be approved by park authorities. Lim had planned to hold the vigil on Monday, to coincide with similar events in the U.S., but couldn’t get the necessary approval.
The fact that approval was given, even if a day later, shows how far Singapore — a contradictory crucible of modernity and industry under the thumb of a virtual one-party rule — has come in shedding its image as an all-work-no-play country.
While open display of same-sex affection such as holding hands or kissing is not common, it is also an open secret that there are several gay bars in the Tanjong Pagar district that come alive on Friday and Saturday nights. One such is DYMK, which stands for Does Your Mother Know.
Official space for LGBT people, however, is far more restrictive.