AsiaOne: Sex, drugs and the hard facts (Nov 9)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sex, drugs and the hard facts

In town last month to promote her work, Elizabeth Pisani, the London-based 44-year-old epidemiologist, is as unflinchingly honest in real life as she is in the book.
Tan Hui Yee

Tue, Nov 11, 2008
The Sunday Times

The speaker takes the microphone to address the handful of people at the corner of Page One bookstore. Please, he asks those milling around, take your seats for a session with the author.

No one stirs until a small, pixie-faced woman leans over the mike and announces: 'Sex and drugs in the corner! Sex and drugs in the corner!'

Peals of laughter break out. The seats fill up. The woman is Elizabeth Pisani. Her newly released book, The Wisdom Of Whores, gives an insider's view of the bloated Aids industry and it literally has a lot to do with sex and drugs.

In town last month to promote her work, the London-based 44-year-old epidemiologist is as unflinchingly honest in real life as she is in the book. The former Economist journalist, who spent more than 10 years tracking and fighting the spread of the disease in organisations such as the World Bank, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation takes no prisoners as she attempts to pin down exactly what is wrong with the system.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids), she says, is 'completely preventable' with a condom and a clean needle. The HIV virus, which causes it, is spread mainly through sex, and drug addicts using infected needles.

But bureaucrats, religious leaders and politicians are squeamish about providing or promoting the use of the two relatively cheap items. Some even insist on making abstinence central to HIV prevention programmes.

'But discouraging sex is never a winning game. Sex is a lot of fun and people will go a long way to get it,' she says.

'Abstinence has no effect on preventing the spread of HIV. It sometimes delays the spread of HIV by about a year and a half, but it doesn't seem to have any effect at all on the overall levels of HIV.'

She also pokes fun at unrealistic pro-abstinence groups, one of which suggests on its website that people 'visit a nursing home' instead of having sex.

'Hmmm, visit a nursing home or have an orgasm? Now let me see...If we base our prevention programme around things which are so obviously absurd, we're going to get nowhere,' she declares.

'Absurd' is also the word she uses for the Singapore Government's move earlier this year to criminalise anyone who has reason to believe that he may be infected with the HIV virus and yet has sex with another person without first informing that person of the risk.

She says: 'I can't imagine a situation when you're in Batam for the weekend with your golf buddy and you're in the brothel, and you think: Oh, you know what, actually I won't have sex with this girl because otherwise if I don't tell my partner I might get into trouble. Or I will use a condom because otherwise...People don't think like that. It's impossible to regulate your way out of this problem.'

'Nothing,' she declares, 'gets in the way of common sense like erections and addiction.'

In her book, she suggests instead that the enforcement of condom use be put in the hands of those in power. The Thai government, for example, registered great success when it threatened to put out of business brothel owners who were lax in enforcing the use of condoms.

The scientist in her will not let political correctness get in the way of plain facts.

While she is derisive of religious zealots who try to paint Aids as a gay disease, she is equally critical of gay men who are lax in their use of condoms.

She writes in her book: 'HIV is not divine retribution for unprotected anal sex with lots of other people. It is simply a consequence of unprotected anal sex with lots of other people, in the same way that lung cancer is a consequence of smoking, and obesity is a consequence of eating fast food, drinking supersized Cokes, and getting in your truck to drive the 800 yards to church instead of walking.'

In Singapore, where heterosexual sex is the main source of HIV infection but gay sex accounts for the fastest-rising source of reported cases, 'the gay community should be very worried', she tells The Sunday Times.

'To say 'Oh, this isn't a gay problem' doesn't help reduce the stigma because in the end what you get is more disease.'

However, she notes that Section 377A of Singapore's penal code, which criminalises sex between men, makes it more difficult for gay men to seek the information they need to protect themselves.

Globally, the budget for Aids in developing countries has grown from a mere US$300 million (S$449 million) a year in 1996 to US$10 billion last year, but vast amounts of money are wasted because governments, for ideological or political reasons, are not focusing enough attention on the groups which need them most - gay men, sex workers and drug injectors.

For example, the United States, which budgeted US$4.2 billion for HIV in developing countries this year, does not allow federal funds to be used on clean needles for drug injectors.

Wastage also stems from the fact that many countries prioritise Aids treatment over other equally or more pressing health threats.

'Why should someone with HIV get free treatment when someone with lung cancer doesn't? The reason that distortion exists is because there is a massive international lobby for free HIV treatment. So developing countries, where a big proportion of the health budget comes from donors - and Indonesia is a classic case - very often spend a big proportion of their health budget on HIV.'

Asked about the provocative title of her book, she paid tribute to the transgender sex workers on the streets of Jakarta who provided her with the greatest insights after she went there seven years ago to work on HIV prevention.

She mentions in particular Ms Ines Angela, a sex worker in Jakarta who pointed out that surveys on sex workers were skewed because researchers were interviewing the least active individuals.

Ms Pisani relates, with a chuckle: 'She said, 'Any sex worker who is on the street talking to a research team is a sex worker who is not with a client... I'm never on a street corner, I'm with a client.'

'And I was like...she's right. Oh dear.'

After that, surveys on the sex workers were conducted through their internal hierarchies, with each district's leader gathering interviewees at her home in the daytime, when they were not working.

The other reason for Ms Pisani's choice of title is somewhat more grim. The budget to fight HIV/Aids worldwide has ballooned almost disproportionately in relation to the number of people suffering from the infection. The number of people living with HIV rose by 38 per cent between 1996 and 2006, but spending on HIV in developing countries surged 2,900 per cent over the same period.

This money, in turn, has attracted groups - some not entirely relevant to the cause - into vying for a piece of the pie.

She reflects: 'After nearly 15 years in this ever-better funded industry, more and more money is sloshing around, and more non-governmental organisations, United Nations organisations and international organisations are jumping into the cause. You see people bending over backwards to get HIV money. In the Aids industry these days, we're all whores.'

» Go to for more on Ms Elizabeth Pisani.

The Wisdom Of Whores. Bureaucrats, Brothels And The Business Of Aids, published by Granta, by Elizabeth Pisani, is on sale at $40.66 (with GST) at major bookstores

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Nov 9, 2008.

Oogachaga's Upcoming Family Forum

Friday, November 7, 2008

*Me & My Family

Apart or A Part?*

Family is home. Family is where we develop our sense of self.

Does that change if …

you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT)?

your loved one is gay?

you are GLBT and have children of your own?

Join us and our panelists for an afternoon of lively conversations. Hear what
family means to them and share with us what family means to you.

Date: 29 November 2008, Saturday
Time: 2.30pm – 5.00pm
Venue: @ 381 Toa Payoh Lorong 1 (5 mins walk from Braddell MRT)

Admission is free

Register now at and bring a
family member or friend!

This forum is proudly brought to you by OC and facilitated by Leow Yangfa, a
social worker.

For map of the event venue, please visit

365Gay: Singapore gays plan massive rally (Nov 7)

(Singapore) Singapore’s LGBT community is planning a massive rally to celebrate gay pride and chastise the government for its tough stand on homosexuality.

The event will mark a loosening of tight controls on public demonstrations at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park.

The rally is the brainchild of Roy Tan, a gay man who works in the health care industry. Tan, 50, originally planned to hold the event next week, but postponed it until next year, saying there had been such large LGBT interest he would need more time to organize it. Tan also said that he will form a committee with a number of those people who have offered help.

But he said that the event will be restricted to people from Singapore. Tan said that if foreigners were involved, it would require a police permit which might not be granted.

He said he hopes to hold a pride march around the park and then have speakers who would press for the repeal of anti-gay laws in Singapore.

Last October Singapore’s Parliament passed a sweeping revision of its penal law, eliminating sodomy as a crime for heterosexual couples but leaving in place provisions that could send gays to prison.

Under the law, anyone engaging in same-sex sodomy could face two years in prison, although police say no one has been charged in recent times.

Last August, Singapore banned a gay pride event, saying it ran counter to the city-state’s public morals.

In addition, censors refused to allow an LGBT book reading event that was to have been part of the pride celebration. A human rights forum was blocked. And a photography exhibit of of gays and lesbians was closed by police hours before it was to officially open.

The Media Development Authority balked at a book by author Ng Yi-Sheng about a young man’s fictional sexual adventures with older men including military officers and government officials.

The authority said that the book went beyond good taste and decency and disparaged public officers.

The human rights forum was to have featured Douglas Sanders, a professor emeritus in law at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University.

The forum, titled “Sexual Orientation in International Law: The Case of Asia,” was deemed contrary to public interest.

The censorship board ordered the photo exhibition closed because it showed photos of gay men and women kissing. The board said that the show violated Singapore law because it promoted “a homosexual lifestyle.”

Earlier this year, the government fined two television stations that showed gay content.

One aired an episode of a home and decor series called “Find and Design” that featured a gay couple wanting to transform their game room into a new nursery for their adopted baby.

The other ran a commercial that showed two lesbians kissing.

ST: California bans gay marriage (Nov 6)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

LOS ANGELES - THOUSANDS of gay rights supporters took to the streets of Hollywood late on Wednesday outraged that California had voted to ban same-sex marriages.

The historic presidential win of Mr Barack Obama, who promises to be far more socially liberal than his predecessor, was therefore a bitter-sweet moment for California's gay community as a simultaneous referendum went against them.

Voters approved the constitutional amendment by a margin of 52.5 to 47.5 per cent, according to near complete results.

Known as 'Proposition 8,' the proposal was trumpeted by conservative groups as the people's way of overturning the legalization of gay marriage back in May.

For the gay community, however, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Angry crowds thronged the streets in central West Hollywood, the heart of Los Angeles' gay community, chanting slogans and waving signs.

'Stop the hate in 2008!' went one chant. 'Keep religion out of my Constitution!' was another.

Protestor Jason Louis wrote the words 'I am a victim of H-8' (H for Hate) on his bare chest.

The referendum circumvents a California Supreme Court ruling in May that legalizes gay marriage by amending the state constitution to add the phrase, 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California.'

The court's May ruling overturned an earlier plebiscite in 2000, when 61 per cent of voters agreed marriage should be defined as only being between a man and a woman.

Fearing that Proposition 8 could be approved, thousands of same-sex couples rushed to tie the knot since Jun, and especially in the last days.

The ruling now leaves thousands of gay couples in a legal limbo.

Those couples include some celebrity marriages such as comedienne Ellen DeGeneres who wed her long-time girlfriend Portia de Rossi in Aug.

'I feel anger, I feel frustration,' Mr Louis, 34, told AFP. 'I just got married last Sunday, we did it two days before the Election Day because I knew that Yes on Prop 8 it could win. Now we don't know what is going to happen, but for sure it will be a long, long legal battle.'

Police said at least 2,000 people gathered for the march, but the crowd continued to swell after that estimate. Protestors included families with children and clerics from progressive churches.

A lesbian couple planned to file a new suit to prevent Proposition 8 from being implemented.

'The new lawsuit will contain a new and controversial legal argument as to why Prop 8 is unconstitutional,' said their attorney Gloria Allred said.

Japanese-American actor George Takei, who played Mr Sulu in the long-running series 'Star Trek' and who married his longtime partner Brad Altman in Sept, said his marriage would remain valid no matter what.

'There's nothing in the language of Proposition 8 that says it's retroactive, so our marriage is going to be valid,' he told a local TV channel.

'But what we're concerned about is the young people of the future.

'Proposition 8 will eliminate in the constitution of the state their options of really being who they want to be.'

Takei and Altman were the first couple to receive a marriage license in West Hollywood when California began issuing them to gay couples on Jun 17.

Hollywood stars including Brad Pitt and Steven Spielberg as well as multinational companies such as Apple campaigned against the ban, with donations of up to US$100,000 (S$148,343).

But supporters unleashed a flood of hard-hitting ads especially targeting the Hispanic community and its traditional Christian and family values.

The Los Angeles Times reported some 18,000 same-sex couples married in the past four and a half months.

Arizona and Florida also passed similar referendums by large margins on Tuesday, stating that marriage was the legal union between a man and a woman.

The largest was in Florida where 62 per cent of voters approved the measure compared to 38 per cent against.

In Arkansas, voters approved a ban on couples who live together without being married, whether gay or straight, from adopting or fostering children. -- AFP

ST: Penang police raid gay parties (Nov 4)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nov 4, 2008
Penang police raid gay parties
GEORGE TOWN (Penang): Malaysian police broke up four gay parties over the weekend and nabbed 70 people, some of whom were caught literally with their pants down.

Those detained included locals, Americans, Europeans and a Chinese national.

Police, in a blitz to weed out vice activities in George Town and in Seberang Jaya last Saturday, stumbled upon the parties specially organised for the men.

In the three-hour operation that started at 5.30pm, police raided a traditional massage parlour and a fitness centre in Midlands Park and two other fitness centres in Seberang Jaya.

The raiding party seized pornography DVDs, gay magazines, lubrication jelly and boxes of condoms found on the premises.

Police said the organisers had used legitimate businesses as their front to conduct the illicit activities in order to hoodwink the authorities.

George Town Deputy Superintendent of Police Gan Kong Meng said they arrested 29 men, including a Chinese national, at the massage parlour and fitness centre here during the 8.30pm raid. Many of them were naked when police walked into the joints.

The men, aged between 20 and 40, were arrested and questioned at the state police headquarters in Penang Road and were later released on bail.

'Those caught will be charged with gross indecency,' said DSP Gan, adding that police had raided the massage parlour and fitness centre five times in the past.

In Seberang Jaya, the police conducted the raid following public tip-offs and caught 41 suspects, including the Westerners.

The suspects were taken to the Seberang Jaya district police headquarters and had their statements recorded before being released on police bail.

Police are also looking for the owners of the two premises to prosecute them for allowing their premises to be used as vice dens.

There are no laws against homosexuality in Malaysia but acts such as sodomy and oral sex are illegal.


Sayoni Queer Women Survery 2008 Report

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sayoni proudly presents Sayoni Queer Women Survey 2008 Report (Singapore).



1.To gain some perspective on the actual needs of queer women, and what we
can do about them

2.To provide free and accessible information to researchers, and act as a
starting point for further research into the field

3.To ameliorate the dire lack of information on queer women in Singapore.
Currently, there is no proper understanding of how the women's queer
community functions, other than biased and disjointed personal views.

The survey is broken down into five main aspects. Questions in each category
are stream-lined and standardised for easy answering, by presenting most of
the questions as rating questions where possible.

1. Introduction

General background.

2. Family, Friends and Work

Questions on how out the respondent is in their various social circles, how
this group has reacted to the information, and the respondent's intention to
come out to that particular group.

3. Personal

Questions on a personal level relating to sexual orientation. Probes how the
respondents come to realise their sexuality, different aspects of personal
identity, and how their sexuality has affected them. Also includes
information on relationships of respondents.

4. Financial

Questions to ascertain the financial status of queer women as a community -
on income, occupation and industry, housing and car ownership.

5. Feedback on Sayoni and the community

Take note that the answers to these questions with the exception of two, are
not presented in this report as they are meant for internal feedback.

This survey was not carried out with a null hypothesis in mind, and much of
the information contained in this report is processed descriptive
statistics. Where possible, averages and trends have been pre-computed, and
presented along with a broad analysis of the data. This year, the data is
presented in a much more visual format, as opposed to raw numbers in the
pilot run of 2006.

In the report of 2006, the data was broken down across Age, Ethnicity and
Religion, as it is believed that these three different aspects affect the
average queer woman in her views and social situation with respect to her
sexuality. This year, due to the significant changes in methodology and
presentation, we have decided to omit the comparison by Ethnicity and
Religion, as the representation for minority ethnic groups is not high
enough to allow accurate comparisons.

Download the report here:

The Sayoni Admin Team
To Empower Asian Queer Women

ST: Gay protest postponed (Nov 1)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nov 1, 2008
Gay protest postponed
Speakers' Corner event on Nov 15 postponed to cater to strong response
By Kor Kian Beng
SINGAPORE's first outdoor gay protest at Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park on Nov 15 has been postponed to early next year.

Organiser Roy Tan, 50, a Singaporean who initiated the event, yesterday cited the overwhelming response from the gay community as a key reason for the date change.

The event was being postponed 'to ensure that all interested parties - straight, gay and queer - have the opportunity to participate in this landmark occasion', he said in a statement e-mailed to the media.

Many members of the gay community have expressed interest in taking part, he told The Straits Times when contacted.

A number of those who are backing the event also want to help him organise it, said Mr Tan, who works in the health-care industry.

An organising committee has now been set up.

Said Mr Tan: 'We're postponing it so we can have more time to organise a better event.'

He declined to comment on a new date, the number of interested participants and organisers, and whether there would be changes to the programme.

More details will be released later, he said.

Mr Tan registered with the National Parks Board (NParks) in September to stage the Nov 15 event.

He will now let the Nov 15 date lapse and make a fresh application closer to the new date.

When he first registered to stage the event, which he described as a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual) pride parade, he said it would feature speeches on gay rights.

Participants would march around the park with placards to protest against Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual sex. There was also to be a public forum on the difficulties that gay Singaporeans here face.

Mr Tan said he was keeping the event as a Singaporeans-only activity. This was to avoid having to apply for a police permit, which is required if foreigners were to speak or participate in or organise activities at the park.

With the Government moving to relax the rules at Speakers' Corner as of Sept 1, applicants need only register online with NParks before they speak or stage a demonstration.

But they have to state the topic of their speech or demonstration, as issues such as race and religion remain out of bounds.