In what is considered as a step back for LGBT equality in the supposedly progressive city-state of Singapore (if not of Asia), the annual Pink Dot LGBT rights rally will now only allow Singaporean citizens and permanent residents to attend.
In a statement, Pink Dot said that recent changes to Singapore’s Public Order Act meant that “the law no longer distinguishes between participants and observers, and regards anyone who turns up to the Speakers’ Corner in support of an event to be part of an assembly”. Due to this, the organizers will now check identity cards at this year’s event on 1 July.
The Pink Dot rally has been held annually since 2009 in Speakers’ Corner, where demonstrations are allowed even sans police permit. In the past, only locals were allowed to “actively demonstrate” by carrying placards, but non-residents were still able to attend Pink Dot. Approximately 30% of Singapore’s population are not citizens or permanent residents.
The consequence of failing to comply with the Public Order Act will result in the foreign participant/s and/or the organizers being found “guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both.”
Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post for the British East India Company. Singapore declared independence in 1963.
It is one of the Commonwealth countries that still have the so-called “anti-buggery law” (or anti-sodomy law), which prohibits sexual relations even between two consenting same-sex adults.
Singapore’s Parliament declined to overturn this antiquated law in 2007. Then in 2014, a judge leading a panel for Singapore’s top court decided that it is not for the court to decide if the anti-sodomy law should be junked, but for the Parliament to make amendments to the existing law.
Interviewed by BBC following the changes on this year’s Pink Dot, a spokesperson from Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said that it was “not trying to proscribe such events”. Instead, “this approach is consistent with the government’s long-held position that foreigners and foreign entities should not engage in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues”. The same spokesperson said that the rules were “applied equally to all public assemblies and processions”.
Pink Dot claims that in 2015, approximately 28,000 people attended the event.
But this is not the first controversy involving Pink Dot.
There have been claims of elitism, supposedly due to lack of wider LGBT representation. For instance, when interviewed by Outrage Magazine, a non-government organization delivering services to those in the sex industry alleged that they were warned not to “make mention of sex or anything related to it at all” else risk not be included in the line-up of speakers in a past Pink Dot. This move was considered as “tantamount to editing out to sanitize the LGBT movement”, thereby neglecting those at the fringes of the wider LGBT community.
Then prior to this year’s banning of foreigners from participating, foreign companies were also barred from giving financial support to Pink Dot.