AFP: Gay and lesbian community parties into Singapore's National Day (Aug 6)

Monday, August 6, 2001

SINGAPORE, Aug 6 (AFP) - Singapore's usually low-profile gay and lesbian community is planning a "coming out" party this week to coincide with the republic's National Day.

It will be Asia's answer to Sydney's renowned Mardi Gras and Sleaze Ball parties, said William Koh, a 23-year-old hairstylist.

"It's about time we had something like that. If other countries can have such parties, why can't we?"

Organisers Fridae, an online Asian gay and lesbian Internet community based in Hong Kong, declined to be interviewed but said on their website: "This is the time to come out and celebrate our strength, individuality ... in Singapore's first ever national pride party."

Homosexual acts among males are illegal in Singapore, but the law makes no mention of same-sex activities between females.

Flyers for the August 8 party to be held at Sentosa's Fantasy Island, an offshore water funpark, encourage people to wear red and white, Singapore's national colours.

"You're proud. Of your country. Of your community. Of who you are," they state.

People are flying to Singapore from Hong Kong, Sydney and the United States for the party, according to messages posted on's public forum.

The party attractions are said to include body painting and a foam party, and a "Miss Divastating 2001" beauty pageant.

"Singaporeans, especially the younger ones, are growing more comfortable with the gay lesbian community. Some even prefer to party with us because straight clubs can be so boring," said Koh whose Ritz salon is one of eight retailers selling tickets to the party.

Ten percent of of money raised at the party will go to Singapore's Action for Aids (AFA) organisation which assists with payment of the expensive medical bills faced by Singaporeans diagnosed with AIDS.

AIDS patients can spend 1,500-2,000 Singapore dollars (830-1,100 US) dollars a month on medication, but can only draw up to 500 dollars a month from the state-managed medical health fund.

The ministry said 1,362 Singaporeans were infected with HIV or AIDS at the end of last year, but AFA puts the figure at nearer 4,000.

Reuters: Singapore gays find tacit acceptance, some seek more

Sunday, July 1, 2001

Singapore gays find tacit acceptance, some seek more

by Amy Tan
"Homosexuals can change," a banner proclaimed from the side of a Singapore church that runs counselling sessions to steer gay people back onto the straight and narrow. Gay activists protested and the banner was removed.

Judging by the scope of the not-so-underground gay scene, the strait-laced city state is slowly moving towards quiet acceptance of its gay community. A hip dance club in the heart of town is packed with hundreds of muscular, sweaty men gyrating to pumping music.

Elsewhere on the island, other gay-friendly watering holes see a steady stream of customers. Shelves at major bookstores are stacked with a wide range of books on homosexuality ranging from gay history to romance. Local gay and lesbian Internet groups, some with several hundred members, have mushroomed. "I can't imagine these things that have gone on for so long escape the attention of the authorities," Alex Au, head of the informal gay and lesbian activist group People Like Us (PLU), told Reuters.

It is not illegal to be gay or lesbian in Singapore, but homosexual sex acts are illegal and can land people in jail -- even if they take place in private. Gays and lesbians have no legal protection against employment discrimination on grounds of their sexuality. Self-declared gay men in the military are relegated to administrative or logistics work. Other former British colonies sharing similar laws, such as Australia and Hong Kong, have long decriminalised homosexuality.


In Singapore, the government constantly harps on the need for traditional family units as the population ages and birth rates fall, but life for gays and lesbians appears little affected. "We actually lead very normal lives," says Wee Han, a 23-year-old writer. "I think there is always a discrepancy between the way we are ruled and governed and the way we live." Violent gay bashing is unheard of in Singapore, which generally boasts low crime rates. "Some people in Singapore really object to it but they still keep mum about it," says 19-year-old beauty consultant Celyn Png. "I can even kiss in public. People just stare."

But while commercial ventures catering to gays exist, the government has been less accommodating to homosexuals trying to raise their profile. "The further away you move from money towards speech, the more defined the restrictions coming your way," PLU's Au says. PLU, which started off as a gay social group, applied to the government to form a society to promote the understanding of homosexual issues in 1996 but was rejected after lengthy appeals. PLU plans for a public forum on gay issues in May 2000 was also scrapped after it failed to get the nod from authorities. The hit Broadway musical "Rent," which features two gay couples as central characters and on-stage kissing, made its local debut in February with a rating which barred under-18s.

"Five years ago they would have banned the play," says Gaurav Kripalani, artistic director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre which staged "Rent." "They are letting adults judge for themselves what they want to see and what they don't."


Others in the gay community sense a growing acceptance. "They're beginning to realise that maybe it is not such a major issue," says a 37-year-old banker, who asked not to be identified. "Singaporean morals aren't going to get destroyed overnight just because gay people begin to live as gay people."

But Au does not see the government moving "inexorably towards liberalisation" and says anti-gay sex laws look set to stay. "I think the fundamental reason is not wanting to provoke the fundamentalists," he says. Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, renowned for his no-nonsense approach as Singapore's first prime minister, clarified the official stand on gays in a 1998 television interview. "It's not a matter which I can decide or any government can decide. It's a question of what a society considers acceptable," Lee said. "But what we are doing as a government is to leave people to live their own lives so long as they don't impinge on other people. I mean, we don't harass anybody."

Despite the quiet acquiescence towards gays and lesbians, there is room for more openess, Au says. "There's always underground freedom. The point must be what happens overground," he adds. "The issue is why aren't we given our due -- given legal equality, political recognition and social recognition above ground."


After the Church of Our Saviour put up the banner last year to promote its counselling sessions, the gay community quickly rallied online to gather signatures for a petition. The church still conducts the sessions but the banner has come down. In a written reply to the petition, the church said homosexuals did not have to change their orientation to join the church. They just had to moderate their behaviour.

"There has been much hospitality and grace extended by the church to people steeped in the homosexual lifestyle," it wrote. The ,Straits Times newspaper has cited three new lobbies jostling for the government's attention -- the ageing population, environmentalists and the gay community.

"For now, the gay lobby is most marked in its ability to purvey cultural norms because of the preponderance of homosexual themes in Singapore's art and entertainment scene," it wrote. "Whether it will turn out a socio-political force remains to be seen. But if the trend in other industrialised countries is any guide, the tide is towards acceptance of homosexuals, not criminalisation."

Au, a 48-year-old businessman who has been the single most outspoken member of the gay community, is confident there are now others to take up the cause. "It's reached the point where I'm not the only one who's active," he says."

BBC News: Singapore upholds Janet Jackson ban

Tuesday, June 5, 2001

Janet Jackson
Jackson's All For You tour starts in July
Officials in Singapore have thrown out an appeal against a ban on Janet Jackson's album, All For You.

The Publications Appeal Committee, a panel of academics and professionals, considered the appeal by record company executives.

They decided that the lyrics of the album, particularly one song, Would You Mind, were "not acceptable to our society".

The record was initially outlawed because of its "sexually explicit lyrics". The song lyrics include "I just wanna touch you, tease you, lick you, please you, love you, make love to you."


Distributor EMI is now attempting a compromise by trying to persuade Jackson's management to delete Would You Mind from the album.

This would make the album more acceptable in Singapore. However, Jackson fans can still access and download the offending song from the internet.

Singapore officials banned Jackson's previous album, The Velvet Rope, because three of its songs contained lyrics about homosexuality.

Singapore, a conservative city-state, is notorious for its tight controls on all media and for its promotion of family-oriented "Asian values".


In 1963 it outlawed the Peter, Paul and Mary hit Puff, the Magic Dragon, fearing it referred to smoking marijuana.

An episode of Ally McBeal was banned because its titular character shared a steamy kiss with co-worker Ling, played by Lucy Liu.

Calista Flockhart
Ally McBeal: Lesbian kiss banned
The Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) said it had dropped the episode because it "centres around alternative sexual explorations".

Two further episodes in the same series were given parental guidance warnings.

Austin Powers 2 was heavily censored and had its subtitle changed from The Spy Who Shagged Me to The Spy Who Shioked Me.

Shioked means good or nice in Singapore's mix of English, Malay and Chinese dialects. Singapore's board of film censors said the use of the word 'shagged' was "crude and offensive".

All pornography, even partial nudity, is banned, websites considered obscene or offensive are blocked by the government, and many films are censored or banned.

Jackson is still enjoying success, however. The album is currently riding high in the American charts at number five, after occupying the number one spot.

Her All For You world tour starts in Vancouver, Canada on 7 July. Singapore is not on the list of tour dates. Boys will be girls (2001)

Monday, January 1, 2001

Boys Will Be Girls
In a Bangkok clinic, $1,000 can turn a man into a woman. Some call that the price of freedom

When Chittarika Kijboonsari woke up in the recovery room with a vagina where her penis used to be, she had no regrets. "I woke up smiling. I'd wanted it cut off for so long, it was just a relief to finally look like a woman where it matters most," she says. The doctor did that by splitting the penis up the middle and using the flesh from the scrotum and the root of the penis to mold a labia and clitoris. All that was left to do was go home and break the news to her mother. "She didn't speak to me for three months," Chittarika recalls. "She was scared. She thought I had bad spirits inside me. And then one day she forgave me, she accepted me." Her sisters have as well, welcoming their new sister with gifts of lingerie and makeup. The whole family now cheers her on at transsexual beauty pageants.

The success of last year's smash hit movie Iron Ladies—about a volleyball team comprised of transsexuals—seemed to say to the world that Thailand embraces all. In reality, the film's success owed more to a good storyline than to societal understanding. Although they're not exactly ostracized, transsexuals live on the fringes of Thai society and struggle to be accepted as women. Most of their countrymen believe them to be suffering for bad behavior in a past life.

On Chittarika's identity card her gender—despite her surgery, her little black dress, her long, soft brown hair—is listed as male. Every time an official or employer asks to see it, they find out that she used to be a he. Thai law doesn't allow people to change their gender on identity cards or passports. And yet, Thailand offers people like Chittarika more freedom than most other Asian countries. Singapore and Malaysia push transsexuals much further into the shadows, and the surgery is illegal in Japan.

Nobody knows how many transsexuals there are in Thailand, though some surgeons put the number at more than 10,000. Since there is no official record, there's no telling how many gender change operations are performed every year. But surgery is easily available at a wide range of prices. At the gleaming Bumrungrad Hospital, well-heeled foreigners pay around $6,000 for the works, including breast augmentation and Adam's apple shaving. Some clinics in Pattaya will undo Mother Nature's handiwork for $1,000.

Chittarika knew all along that Nature had made a big mistake. "I wanted to be a girl since before my memory starts," she says, looking entirely feminine in a simple black mini-dress, sipping a frappuccino in Starbucks. Growing up, she played with Barbie dolls and put on her mother's makeup. "In my heart I was a girl, my body just didn't match," she says. Now it definitely does. She does modeling work and appeared on the cover of New Half, a now-out-of-print publication for sao prapet song, "the second kind of woman." The magazine, published by Vanida Koomanuwong, was shut down two years ago by a government policy aimed at limiting media exposure for transsexuals on the premise that they were a bad example for youth. TV shows with transsexual characters—usually used as sassy, obnoxious sidekicks—were told to get rid of the parts. Koomanuwong insists there was nothing vulgar about New Half. It featured real people, with real lives, she says. "People see transsexuals as nasty whores, or as mentally ill, but they're not: they're everyday people."

But while Koomanuwong—who's the first kind of woman, in case you're wondering—advocates for social change, few sao prapet song see any point in being political. Few care to lobby for changes in the rape law, which doesn't cover transsexuals, or for the right to marry. Najaira Lee, a 27-year-old makeup artist, says her biggest concerns are private: whether or not she should tell her boyfriend, an expatriate living in Bangkok, that she used to have a man's body. "Do you think I should?" she asks anxiously. She's not sure her boyfriend would accept her for what she is—and what she was. When she's told men in her past, they've usually become just that, men in her past. Can she risk telling the truth again? "Finding lovers is easy," she muses, "but finding someone who loves you is hard."