TodayOnline: Once-banned gay pop duo given green light for concert here (Nov 22)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Once-banned gay pop duo given green light for concert here

Thursday • November 22, 2007

Alicia Wong

IN A sign that authorities are prepared to work with civil society groups to tackle the HIV problem, a once-banned gay pop duo has been given the green light to take part in a concert here next month.

And the HIV Outreach, Prevention and Empowerment (Hope) Concert will have as its guest of honour, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts).

The gay duo, Jason and deMarco, had a planned performance here cancelled two years ago after the Media Development Authority (MDA) rejected an application by the organiser, Safehaven, a gay-affirmative Christian support group, for an Arts and Entertainment Licence.

The MDA had then cited "alternative lifestyles are against the public interest" as its ground for rejection.

Explaining its change of heart, the MDA said that the organisers had assured the authority that the aim of the Dec 13 concert is Aids education and HIV prevention.

"The organiser for this concert has rated the performance R18 and has given the assurance to MDA that the concert is targeted at the high-risk group," said Ms Amy Tsang, MDA's Deputy Director (Arts & Licensing) of the Media Content Division in an email reply to Today.

Dr Balaji's scheduled attendance at the concert is not surprising since he had earlier touched on the need for the authorities and non-governmental organisations to work together in tackling the spread of HIV.

Out of the 357 new HIV cases reported in Singapore last year, 26 per cent were contracted through homosexual sex.

In an interview with this newspaper in August, Dr Balaji noted that in the Australian state of New South Wales, the number of HIV cases reported each year had, on the whole, been dropping over the past decade.

Dr Balaji had earlier went on a study trip to Sydney, accompanied by Ministry of Health (MOH) officials and representatives from Action for Aids (AFA), gay web site and Oogachaga, a local gay and lesbian affirmative counselling agency.

Referring to the Sydney trip, Mr Paul Toh, AFA's Director for fund-raising and programmes, said yesterday: " I guess the Government has learnt from other developed Western countries how they can cope in terms of managing the epidemics within the alternative lifestyle community."

Mr Toh said while everyone has a role to play in addressing the HIV problem, the Government "bears more weight" because it has the "political will to move things at a faster pace".

Jointly organised by AFA and Safehaven, the HOPE Concert aims to raise awareness on HIV and Aids in the gay community, said Mr Alphonsus Lee, the chairman of Safehaven.

The concert will be held at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre, which can house a 1,100-strong audience. The one-night only performance will also involve local artists such as Chua Enlai as MC, Hossan Leong and Selena Tan.

Concert tickets are available only through AFA and restricted channels, such as nightclubs, saunas and gay website

"We are very conscious of the mainstream view of such a concert and we would like to be respectful of their views ... So, we are willing to restrict ourselves," said Mr Lee.

Although this is a "once-off event the official nod for the HOPE concert is "good news" since it will help increase local Aids and HIV awareness, said Mr Bryan Choong of Oogachaga.