10 years ago, about 2,000 people gathered in Hong Lim Park near Singapore’s Central Business District. Dressed in pink, they stood in the middle of the park and formed a “pink dot” calling for the freedom to love—a positive, friendly message in support of LGBTQ equality in Singapore.
On 21 July 2018, the same park reverberated with upbeat pop tunes, dance and music performances, and the chattering voices of thousands of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs) decked out in their finest pink outfits. The event culminated with the issuing of 10 declarations before its iconic light-up, giving Pink Dot 10 a more pointed, political edge over previous iteration.
As with the previous year, the park was surrounded by a metal barricade, with security checking bags and ID at entry points. Under new regulations introduced by the government in 2017, only Singaporeans and PRs are allowed into the park to participate in the rally.
The issue of LGBTQ rights and equality is a sensitive one in the city-state. Under the country’s penal code, Section 377A criminalises sex between men. Although the government has given assurances that the law will not be actively enforced, the presence of S377A entrenches the discrimination and marginalisation of LGBTQ people, affecting state policies such as those related to representation in the mainstream media or sexuality education in public schools.
Pink Dot, building on the years of LGBTQ advocacy preceding it, emerged as a way to raise awareness and mobilise Singaporeans to support the cause. Apart from organising the annual event, the movement also produces videos highlighting the stories of LGBTQ people. This year, they also organised PinkFest, a series of events that led up to the big bash.
Explore the sights and sounds of Pink Dot 10 via our 360˚ video below:
The concept for Pink Dot was inspired by a common nickname for Singapore, “The Little Red Dot”. Its organisers emphasise that members of the LGBTQ community are Singaporeans, too, and deserve to be treated equally.
Singapore’s government, led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has been reluctant to change their position on the issue of LGBTQ rights by repealing S377A. In 2015, Lee said that Singaporean society was still “basically a conservative one”, and that its people were “not ready” for same-sex marriage. He also warned the LGBTQ community that “they should not push the agenda too hard because if they [do], there will be a very strong pushback.”
Three years later, Pink Dot demonstrated its disagreement by issuing, for the first time, 10 declarations, all of which began with the phrase “we are ready”.
The declarations covered a variety of aspects, from commitments to engage in difficult conversations to calls for the registration of LGBTQ organisations—thus granting them legal status to access funding and other forms of support—and equal access to healthcare and social services.
“We are ready to see more positive portrayals of LGBTQ people in our mainstream media without censorship, because we are sick and tired of being seen as tragic characters or vilified as perverts,” said theatre actor and director Ivan Heng, who had been a Pink Dot ambassador in 2013.
The declaration that received the loudest cheers and screams of approval was delivered by actors Lim Yu Beng and Adrian Pang:
We are ready for LGBT Singaporeans to be seen as equal citizens in the eyes of the law. We need to repeal 377A, a outdated law that criminalises gay men for something so innate to them. We are all Singaporeans, regardless of race, language, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. 377A must not stand in the way of Justice, Equality and Progress—three of the five stars in our national flag that are so lacking for our LGBTQ citizens.
The organisers pulled out all the stops to further emphasise their message. As participants were guided in annual exercise of forming the pink dot, volunteers created a clear message to the country’s legislators:
“WE. ARE. READY.”
Kirsten Han is a Singaporean journalist whose work often revolves around the themes of social justice, human rights, politics and democracy. Her bylines have appeared in publications like The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Asia Times and Waging Nonviolence. As an activist, Kirsten has advocated for an end to the death penalty in Singapore, and is a founding member of abolitionist group We Believe in Second Chances.