Pink Dot 2011: Is Singapore’s ‘freedom to love’ event a barometer of social acceptance?
Pink Dot, Singapore’s annual public gathering that celebrates freedom of sexuality, is set to take place on June 18.
Ahead of the day, the event has already garnered attention, largely due to the online release of its video trailer.
Directed by Boo Junfeng (who made the critically acclaimed "Sandcastle"), the video depicts various same-sex couples and a transgender individual in real-life situations: a gay national service man getting teased mercilessly by his army mates, two girls holding hands walking down the street and then letting go, a beautiful man applying make-up in his bedroom.
In every scene, an onlooker -- a father, a mother, a priest -- longs to affirm what they see, but can’t voice the words.
"I want to tell them their love is OK;" "I want to tell them not to feel guilty;" are some of the thoughts than run through the onlookers’ minds.
Since its release, the video trailer has gone viral, attracting more than 190,000 views on YouTube alone. A wide audience by any standard, the numbers indicate that perhaps the video, and Pink Dot’s message, is filtering into Singapore’s mainstream society.
“In 2010, the Pink Dot campaign videos focused on families in Singapore," says Boo. "This year, we wanted to reach out to the wider community. Judging from the video’s view-count and from the fact that it drew comments ... from detractors, I believe we have done that.”
Comments on the video, both negative and positive, have not been moderated, a conscious stance by Pink Dot to let people speak freely.
Boo says he had no problem finding people to act in the video.
“After we developed the concept,” says Boo, “we called a few individuals whom we thought were suitable for the roles and they all came for the casting sessions without hesitation.
"They are all actors, with the exception of Reverend Yap Kim Hao who plays himself.”
Pink Dot has grown significantly since 2009, when about 2,500 people attended; in 2010, attendance grew to 4,000 with more families participating, and encouragingly, this year, Google Singapore has stepped forward as an official supporter, the first multi-national company in Singapore to do so.
"Pink Dot is a pro-family and affirming event that focuses on the universal value of the freedom of love," says spokesperson Rebecca Ling.
“I think that with regards to sexuality, conservatism in Singapore, while it exists, is also overstated. The tremendous support we have been getting from Singaporeans in the past three years is testimony to that, though some are hesitant to show their support in public because of the social stigma that persists.”
“Of course, there are those who oppose the values we advocate and we respect their viewpoints -- Pink Dot does not impose itself on people," says another Pink Dot spokesperson, Paerin Choa.
"But it is our sincere desire to engage Singaporeans in open discussion to drive understanding and inclusiveness.”
Still, some key pillars of conservatism in Singapore remain.
“It is difficult for us to get our message out in mainstream media … [and] censorship in that area needs to be reviewed," says Choa.
"Positive portrayals of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) characters, which are critical to raising social consciousness among Singaporeans and eradicating stereotypes that lead to LGBT discrimination, are often cut or restricted.”
“Furthermore, the existence of Section 377A in our Penal Code (that criminalizes sex between men), continues to reinforce negative stereotypes and wrongful perceptions of LGBT people on the ground.”
While the event is far from being widely accepted, it is undeniable that Pink Dot 2011 has gained traction, and this year’s video has catapulted its reach to a much wider audience.
Signs indicate mainstream society in Singapore is growing more receptive to its message and becoming more inclusive; and the fact that Pink Dot continues to grow also supports that view.
When asked where else he would like to broadcast his video, Boo replied, “On primetime TV in Singapore, of course. Pink Dot's message of ‘freedom to love’ would resonate with many viewers.”
Pink Dot will take place at Hong Lim Park on June 18, 4:30-6:30pm. Come dressed in pink. Dim Sum Dollies, Sebastian Tan (Broadway Beng) and singer Dave Tan of Electrico will be staging a free concert, after which people in the park gather to form a great big, human pink dot. http://pinkdotsg.blogspot.com/