Happy Sunday, all! I hope you’ll like waking up to this. This is the sort of thing I had in mind to do for paying subscribers of this newsletter, although I’m sending this out to everyone (so people can get an idea of what I’m experimenting with, in case that helps them decide if they’d like to get a paid subscription). Feel free to forward this email to anyone and everyone!
I look forward to Pink Dot every year. I can’t say I’ve been to all 11 editions, but if I’m in Singapore on that day, I’m definitely there. This year, I was there with my camera.
In many ways, Pink Dot represents the Singapore that I love.
It’s not without its problems, and there are many very valid critiques of it out there. And if it’s the only thing that most Singaporeans are doing to advance the struggle for LGBT equality, then it’s not enough.
But Pink Dot is also a wonderful space for Singaporeans to build community and demonstrate solidarity—something that doesn’t happen very often in a country where people are wary of engaging with issues that are “political” and don’t often choose to publicly stand by activists who are fighting for change.
Pink Dot is also about visibility. About taking a community that is actively censored out of the mainstream media and discourse and putting them front and centre. To let people know that it is okay to be who they are, and that there are other Singaporeans who support and love them for it. It’s about placing the experiences of a marginalised group in the spotlight.
This year, for example, Pink Dot focused on the issue of discrimination and bullying. People were encouraged to share their stories and talk about what they’ve experienced from friends, family, colleagues, classmates, or even random members of the public in Singapore.
This is especially important in a context where the powerful are constantly denying the community’s experiences. It’s one layer of abuse over another: first the bullying and discrimination, then the denial. Gaslight gaslight gaslight. That’s why it’s crucial that people are brave enough to share their experiences, to put it down on the record. To say, “Hey, this did happen. This does happen.”
Just over the past week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Section 377A—a colonial-era law that criminalises sex between men—will remain in Singapore “for some time”, yet denied that it’s a big issue for the LGBT community.
“[It] has not inhibited people from living. It has not stopped Pink Dot from having a gathering every year. And it’s the way this society is,” he said.
Given that Pink Dot is a reaction to the discrimination and oppression that LGBT people face in Singapore, it’s especially galling to see it co-opted in such a way. And Pink Dot wasn’t going to take it lying down.
Throughout the event, it was emphasised that Pink Dot wasn’t just a picnic or a gathering—Pink Dot is a protest. A big, pink, sparkly, flamboyant protest, but a protest nevertheless. A protest with rappers and singers and dance troupes and drag queens who slay, but still a protest.
Every rainbow flag waved, every button or badge pinned on to shirts and bags and ribbons, every defiantly outrageous outfit is a statement. They’re statements against what the powerful keep claiming we are “not ready” for, and celebrations of who we are, where we want to go, and who we want to be with for the journey.
For God’s sake, even some ridiculously on point eye makeup can say something.
This is why, even though I’ve been frustrated and criticised and critiqued Pink Dot, I show up year after year and can’t help but be moved by what I see every time.
Unlike the rest of Singapore the rest of the time, Pink Dot is a space where we can be together, unafraid (or a lot less afraid), and express ourselves the way we want to. It’s a space where I know I could show up dressed down in T-shirt and shorts, or dressed up in sequins, or absolutely covered in glitter, and still be accepted and celebrated without judgment. It’s where I meet friends, or perhaps strangers, only the strangers act like friends.
Within the confines of Hong Lim Park on Pink Dot day, I see proof that Singaporeans are engaged, passionate, enthusiastic, brave, vibrant, creative, confident, daring, non-conforming, compassionate. I recognise this as the people and the society that I love, that I want to see more of, all day, every day.
I see that this is the Singapore worth fighting for.
As I said, though, it isn’t enough to just have this one day a year. If you’re someone who only goes to Pink Dot but doesn’t get involved in other ways to push for LGBT equality (or other human rights or civil liberties), then you should really start thinking about what more you can do to contribute to the struggle for this better Singapore.
Pink Dot shows us that there is some space in Singapore, even with all the gaslighting and ridiculous restrictions. And it’s our job to demand more, to work to get more.
Only in this way can we continue building hope for the future, together.