Pink Dot’s Community Voices segment started in 2014 to give different segments of our community and allies a platform to share their thoughts about various LGBT-related issues. At the 2017 Pink Dot rally, the speakers were:
- Siew Kum Hong – General Counsel and ex-Nominated Member of Parliament
- Akesh Abhilash – Lawyer specializing in dispute resolution
- Kirsten Han – Freelance journalist and writer
- Deveshwar Sham – Founder of The Kopitiam Brothers and FTM shelter volunteer
- Elsa Tay – Co-founder of Young OUT Here
Please note that the following are prepared speeches and may differ from the actual speeches delivered at the rally.
Siew Kum Hong:
(In 2007, Siew Kum Hong, who was then an NMP, presented a citizens’ petition to Parliament calling for the repeal of Section 377A [which criminalises sex between men and provides for a 2-year jail term]. However, the Parliament decided to retain Section 377A. Ten years on, Siew reflects on the petition and looks forward to the day all of us will have the freedom to love.)
I am so very honoured and privileged to be speaking here today.
October 22, 2007 was one of the most defining and proudest days of my life. On that day 10 years ago, I stood up in the Singapore Parliament, to present a petition calling for the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code.
The petition that day was signed by 2,341 Singaporeans. Today, I am heartened to see thousands more of you.
Many people fought against 377A before the petition, and many more rose up to continue the fight after it. But I daresay that Repeal377A opened up the public space to discuss 377A and LGBTQ issues in an unprecedented way, allowing them to enter and remain in the mainstream.
More importantly, Repeal377A clearly showed that people – regardless of race, language, religion, gender or sexual orientation – cared deeply about justice, equality and the freedom to love.
Many of those who drove and supported Repeal377A are also involved in Pink Dot. I’d like to thank them, and all the activists and volunteers and sponsors who’ve made today’s event possible, for their unceasing efforts and commitment to this cause.
Predictably, the petition failed. And since 2007, 377A continues to be used to justify discrimination, prejudice and walls and fences between people; to attack happy and loving penguin families; and to censor content like movies and TV series.
But I am optimistic. Look around you. Shake hands and high-5 with the people to your left and to your right. Hug them, whether they be friend or stranger. Go on.
You, are the reason why I believe 377A will be repealed during my lifetime, and maybe sooner than anyone might expect.
Because you are righteous in belief, strong in conviction, and pure of purpose.
Because you are here, willing to be counted when we needed you to come.
Because you are here, making a stand for equality, justice and love.
The tide of change is irresistible. Something as pure and true as love, equality and justice will not be denied.
One day, 377A and all these fences and walls will fall.
One day, finally, all of us will have the freedom to love.
One day, we will prevail, because we are standing on the right side of history, and justice and love will always win.
(Akesh Abhilash is a straight ally who has been a volunteer with Pink Dot for many years. He shares how straight allies can make a difference in the lives of LGBT people.)
I want to say how happy I am to be here today. I look around and see so many happy faces; everybody having a great time. This event has gone from strength to strength, and grown tremendously with each passing year. Together, we have grown and triumphed over adversity. I think it is telling of the changing mindset of our people; together with the fact that our Singaporeans stepped up this year to help with the funding and make this event possible. To them, I say thank you.
Part of that success however, is down to another thing altogether; the free cotton candy. That really is one of the best parts of this event; long may that tradition continue.
Today, we are surrounded by barriers, and many of our friends are unable to join us. But this year, that is a good thing. It is a good thing because for very long, some people have said that Pink Dot is the result of some kind of foreign influence; that there is some insidious foreign element trying to push for an LGBT agenda in Singapore. Today, we have conclusive proof that this is not the case, as I stand here surrounded by fellow Singaporeans. Even that is in line with Pink Dot, as today you had to bring in your pink IC to enter. And to set the record straight: there is no “LGBT agenda”. I don’t know who came up with that but it really is ridiculous.
Anyway, I am here today with a confession to make, and it is this: I am not an ally.
I don’t call myself an ally for the same reason that I don’t have to call myself a “non-racist”, or “non-sexist”. I am a normal human being living in a diverse society with different people. I am not an ally because it is a meaningless label. I am here today surrounded by completely normal human beings, with different races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations. I accept these differences because they are a part of each and every one of us. I accept these differences because of that silver thread that has bound human society since the dawn of civilisation together – in the words of Ali G: RESPECT.
As a member of the heterosexual majority, I am here to assure you that there is nothing wrong with any of you who are LGBT. It is not a choice you made, it is the way you are. There is nothing wrong with that. You are not special for it, you are not irregular for it, you are not abnormal for it. You are perfectly normal, and wonderful just the way you are. Some of you are also fabulous the way you are.
The fact is this; if you are gay, that is completely natural. Many examples of this present in nature. I think this is great because it means less competition for straight people also.
If you want to wear clothes traditionally associated with another gender, that is your choice. Perhaps it is because you identify with another gender, or perhaps those clothes are more comfortable, or maybe because you feel like it. We have learned from history that even the manliest of men, including Russell Crowe from Gladiator, wore leather miniskirts when they fought. I also know that the good people at Wild Rice recently did just that in a crazy cage, and many people enjoyed it. If a man wants to wear a dress, so what? If a woman wants to wear pants, so what? Women can wear pants, men cannot wear dress ah? I like fruity martinis. That doesn’t make me less of a man. And pink!
Pink is a manly colour. Bret the Hitman Hart was a multiple time champion of the world, and he wore pink all the time. It is time for us to stop categorising each other, to live and let live.
Being LGBT is not a choice. It is not a preference. It is not a lifestyle. It is a part of who you are. I know it is not a choice because many millions around the world are persecuted for it with the threat of death, and still they remain LGBT. I know it is not a choice because many of you were bullied for it, mocked for it, ostracised for it growing up; and yet here you are. There are many more who would be here with us today, who are no longer with us, because of precisely this. A close friend of mine struggled with depression for a long time because of people who told him that he was abnormal. Eventually, he found true friends who helped him realise that he was far from that. To anybody who discriminates against LGBT people I say this; shame on you and how dare you.
Some of you have been cast out of your communities, or lost friends, or removed from your families because of your identity. That is wrong. There are a few things I believe which I want to share with you. No matter what the gender or sexual identity of your family members, always remember: family comes first. If you have a sibling who is an LGBT person, give them your support. It is not easy. You must remember to focus on your family. Do not condemn them; remember that Family Comes Before Condemnation.
I pity the people who continue to strive against the LGBT community; one day generations down the road will look back on them with the horror and disgust that we reserve for opponents of the anti-civil rights movement years ago. I think the real question is this: why are they so concerned about your sexual proclivities? When did it become their problem? Since when was it anybody’s business what other people do with their lives? Maybe they are secretly curious? Nothing gives anybody the right to judge you, especially if those people themselves like posing seductively in leather costumes and doing magic.
Yet, I believe that incidences of discrimination grow fewer with each passing day. The fevered voices of rabid anti-LGBT types grow quieter with each passing day. We are experiencing a generational shift. Unlike the last generation, my generation has grown up with LGBT people. My closest friends in secondary school were LGBT people. And as you can see, hanging around with gay guys hasn’t turned me gay, because as I said, it is not a choice. In fact it was great because I met a lot of girls that way. Thanks gay men!
To all of you I say; have hope. This generation has grown up with LGBT people. The fact that the community has come out of the shadows over the years and into the open is indicative of this. The fact that there are giant Pink Dot posters in Cathay with the words FREEDOM TO LOVE is proof of this. The fact that I, as one of many straight people standing here, is proof of this. Together, we are unstoppable.
Keep living, keep being yourself, and keep being fabulous. All around the world, there is growing acceptance of the fact that there are LGBTs among us and that it is perfectly normal. Even none other than Stone Cold Steve Austin has publicly said that there is nothing wrong with LGBT people and there is no greater endorsement than that.
There is no sound argument against accepting LGBT people. The family unit is the basic building block of society. But what is a family? A single mother and her children are a family unit. A heterosexual couple are a family unit. Two married men with children are a family unit. It is amazing that there are people who believe that it is better for an orphan to grow up without parents than with two loving parents, no matter what the gender. I know a gay couple who treat their dog, Man Tou, better than most people treat their children. They have been together for 20 years. They love each other. They are committed to one another. It is my hope that one day I will be able to attend their marriage (should they choose to do so) in this country. They are a family.
Anyway, my main point is this: there is nothing wrong with being an LGBT person; you already know this. It is completely natural. To all of you here; the world is changing; keep being yourselves. Together, we will defeat ignorance and hate. We will combat these ills with compassion, truth and reason.
In closing, the real reason I am here today is because this issue a national concern. It is about the kind of Singapore we want in 20, 30, 50 years from now. Our actions today will affect the future for generations to come.
As a lawyer, I do not want a Singapore where people are precluded from living their lives to the fullest; where our happiness, well-being, and prosperity as a society is stifled because of the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of a few people. It was by accepting different people of different creeds, races, cultures and religions that we thrived and prospered as a nation. Long may this culture of acceptance continue and thrive.
Nobody has the right to tell any of you here today that you cannot be the way you are. The only response to that is this very Singaporean question: “your problem ah?”. Because simply put, it’s not their problem. So today let’s make a statement. I want you to put up pictures of yourselves and your partners whoever they may be, with the hashtag “yourproblem?”. Because you are nobody’s problem. The LGBT community is a precious part of every human society and that’s the bottom line. Happy Pink Dot 2017 everybody.
(Kirsten Han is a journalist and writer who blogs at spuddings.net. She highlights the role of independent media and writers in raising awareness about LGBT issues.)
We hear a lot in Singapore about the importance of being “pro-family”. Much of the opposition to LGBT equality and events like Pink Dot claim that they are doing this to “protect families”.
In the years that I’ve been a journalist and activist in Singapore, I have never come across any instance of anyone from the LGBT community deliberately undermining or tearing apart families. And today I would like to acknowledge the families – including my own – who have been kept apart and prevented from attending Pink Dot together, not because of LGBT people, but because of increasing restrictions that have been placed upon organizing in Singapore.
In the name of being “pro-family”, it is state policy to keep Singaporeans from seeing positive portrayals of same-sex relationships in our mainstream media. In the name of being “pro-family”, some church leaders have seen fit to warn their congregation away from watching a Disney film just because it acknowledges that gay people exist.
These decisions, these policies, affect us. Not just LGBT people, but all of us, because they shape the society that we live in and prevent us from seeing a diverse range of experiences, stories and relationships reflected in the media that we consume on a daily basis. It allows us to keep pretending that “family” comes in only one form, one shape, one size, that it can only fit into a HDB flat when it’s a particular way.
But look around you right now. It couldn’t be clearer to me that Pink Dot isn’t anti-family. We should never allow the idea of “family” be hijacked by those who would perpetuate discrimination, prejudice and hate. LGBT people have families too. LGBT people love their families too. It was not Pink Dot who built the barricade. Pink Dot is pro-family.
(Deveshwar Sham is the founder of Kopitiam Brothers, a support group for transmen in Singapore. Also, a volunteer at a FTM shelter in Singapore, he shares the issues that the transgender community faces in Singapore.)
Good evening everyone, I am Sham, the founder of Kopitiam Brothers
The Kopitiam Brothers is a support group for underprivileged transmen in Singapore. My goal with the TKB is to provide a safe space for trans men to share their experiences, access resources and be a source of emotional support for each other.
The Kopitiam Brothers is primarily for transmen and their allies. As for myself, I am a proud trans man who underwent a full sex reassignment surgery in Thailand. I am now happily married to my wife, Patricia who has been a constant pillar of support for me through this journey.
Drawing upon my own experiences and challenges as a trans man, I hope to act as a mentor to young transmen looking for an accurate resource on medical and other advice.
Patricia and I have also extended our home to transmen who struggle with finances and deal with homelessness during their transitioning journey.
At a nominal rent of 100-200 dollars, we wish to extend this space that these trans men can call a home.
TKB has made its debut at this years Pink Dot. I wish to thank all of you who came out here to support us and express solidarity. We hope this is the beginning of a long alliance.
Elsa Tay, who has been a coordinator for Young Out Here (YOH), a community group for queer youths, since 2006, shares her aspirations for LGBT youth in Singapore society.
At YOH, we have been organizing support groups and events for queer youths for over a decade. And you can’t help but notice that youths have changed these days. So we asked ourselves, what do today’s queer youths feel about sexuality, gender and their future in Singapore. Are things looking better for them than when I was a teenager a long time ago?
So we set about answering this questions by conducting surveys and focus groups. Here’s a snippet of what we’ve discovered:
The issue of gender identity is more important than you can imagine. 30% of the youths we surveyed identified as non-cis gendered. Traditionally, there’s still a divide between the LGB and the TIA and all the other “+”-es in the spectrum. We just don’t mix enough, and without doing so, how could we achieve understanding and help each other?
Despite increased access to resources, growing up queer is not much easier than it was 10 years ago. Technology gives and takes away at the same time. Today’s youths face a different set of challenges. For instance,
(1) 70-80% of participants lament the lack of mental health resources and physical spaces to meet other like-minded youths. Speaking of which, now that everything is on a mobile app, don’t you notice that our gay spaces are dwindling? Mox, the eponymous bar of my youth, has shuttered. Play has also closed down
(2) Another challenge is disguised tolerance – because it’s no longer cool to be blatantly homophobic, it’s harder for youths to discern who their allies are and who are just pretending to be nice.
Focus groups participants also talked about the unspoken racism too. It exists in our community, although we pretend otherwise. We’re all guilty for not calling it out or advocating enough for minorities. I’m thankful that at YOH we aim to be secular, gender and race neutral. Through the years, I’ve made friends and worked with all 4 major racial groups, boys, girls, non-cisgender, hindus, Buddhists, Christians and muslims but not all queer spaces are this inclusive, especially the social spaces. Perhaps there’s more that we can do.
While we start conversations outside the community, maybe we should also start talking to one another. By addressing the white elephants within, we could work towards creating a better tomorrow for the youths. After all, they are the future we cannot ignore.
Lastly, as a tip to our lovely local corporate sponsors. Don’t underestimate the pink dollar! According to our survey, most participants have heard of PinkDot. Guess what is the 2nd most well-known queer event after that? It is surprisingly, Golden Village’s Love and Pride festival – a commercial initiative. So take that info to your shareholders.
This is just a teaser of our survey results, so to find out more, do drop by the YOH booth at the community tent. We’ve also got a fun activity where you can collect freebies, so go join the queue my fellow Singaporeans!
Thanks for listening and have a great evening!