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Soft Exterior, Hard Core: Policies Towards Gays (During The Goh Chok Tong Years)


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I was reading the book Impressions of the Goh Chok Tong Years in Singapore and found Chapter 34 titled "Soft Exterior, Hard Core: Policies towards Gays" (pp 399-408) written by Alex Au (of Yawning Bread fame).

It covers the Singapore Government's policies towards the gay community and gay development during the Goh Chok Tong's year.

Quite a lot of us walked through those years and it is a good look back in perspective at what happened and Alex's interpretation of why certain events happened that way.

As I could not find any softcopy, I scanned and OCR from the book into this article. My Apologies as inevitably there are conversion mistake from the OCR.

Please go buy the book from the local bookshop (I bought mine from Times bookshop), if you enjoyed this article.

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Soft Exterior, Hard Core: Policies towards Gays

ALEX AU WAIPANG

On 8 April 2004, the Registrar of Societies, writing to the gay and lesbian group, People Like Us (PLU), said, “As the mainstream moral values of Singaporeans are conservative, it is hence contrary to public interest to grant legitimacy to the promotion of homosexual activities and viewpoints at this point in time” This was his justification for refusing to register PLU as a society under the Societies Act Nothing seemed to have changed since an identical reason was given in 1997, when PLU lodged an earlier application.

In August 2004, when Goh Chok Tong handed the reins of government to Lee Hsien Loong, the Penal Code still made criminal offences of "sex against the order of nature and "gross indecency” between males.

 

Yet most people see Goh’s comments to Time magazine as the definitive emblem of his government's position on homosexuality. In it he was quoted as saying, 'We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me. For many, it created the impression that there had been a signal change in government policy to a friendlier stance, although the specific point he wanted to make was only; that the civil service is now allowing gay employees into its ranks. The change in policy, wrote Time magazine, was 'implied at least in part by the desire not to exclude talented foreigners who are gay”.

 

Perhaps because the discussion of homosexuality had been taboo for as long as anyone could remember, this breaching of silence by the prime minister led to an outpouring of letters to the press, including some of the most gay-positive ever printed. Not a few journalists and public figures penned opinion editorials on the matter, and two television channels (Channel U and Suria) produced hour long features on the topic. On the other hand, religious leaders sat up and took note, and were soon warning against liberalisation in public statements and sermons Contradictory views notwithstanding, Singaporeans had never discussed homosexuality in such an open manner.

 

Yet the high profile generated for this subject might have been unintended. The focus of Time magazines cover story, “The Lion in Winter” , was on the Republic’s efforts to climb out of an economic downturn that followed the 2001 dotcom bust and the 1997 Asian financial meltdown. The strategy included drawing in the best and brightest from abroad, and to this end, Singapore would "do whatever it takes" to attract talent. Gay civil servants were cited as one example of how the government was prepared to prioritise merit over other considerations. It was uttered more as an aside, and meant primarily for foreign consumption, than as a distinct policy announcement.

 

Nonetheless, it made the news domestically, creating controversy, Within weeks, other ministers began to warn off anyone reading too much into Goh's statement, Minister without Portfolio Lim Boon Heng said, "it would be a step backward if the gay community starts to push and demand rights. I think there's going to be a backlash".

 

Finally, Goh himself, in his National Day Rally speech on 17 August 2003, explained that his comments on gays "do not signal any change in policy that would erode the moral standards of Singapore", and that he was "glad that conservative Singaporeans and religious leaders have made known their views on the matter". Then he guillotined the subject."! hope we will now move on and focus on more urgent challenges"."

 

On cue, the local media made no further mention of the matter. One year later, the subject of homosexuality was still conspicuous by its absence, right up to the banning of the gay Snowball party in December 2004 when the issue briefly erupted again. The reason given by the police for the ban was that the organisers had breached assurances that these would not be gay events, which were "contrary to public interest in general", words that were a throwback to the hard-line past/'

 

The pertinent question must surely be: What did Goh's gay civil servants remark amount to?

 

During the 14 years of the Goh administration, there was considerable evolution in government policy and the gay scene. In 1990, homosexuality could only exist in the shadows, pursued by the police and without any meaningful media representation other than that of moral degeneracy and as a threat to social order. In 2004, there were openly gay bars and bathhouses, the media's editorial position had mostly shifted to neutral, while in theatre, plays about homosexuality were almost rampant. And the police had ceased sending out decoys to entrap gay men out for a grope.

 

In this essay, this evolution will be traced on five different tracks; law enforcement, artistic expression, media representation, the saga of People Like Us, and HIV and the social scene. Policy changes on these timelines suggest that on and off through the Goh Chok Tong years, there was debate in government- circles about the "gay problem" even though it didn't emerge into the public realm until the Time magazine affair in 2003,

 

Law Enforcement

 

In April 1990, nine men were arrested in the Hong Lim Park area "in a surprise police raid

on homosexual activities". Seven of them pleaded guilty to what The Straits Times described as

soliciting for immoral purposes in a public place" and were fined $500 each. Their names,

ages and occupations were published in the newspaper. In August 1990, two men were

caught, also at Hong Lim Park, and sentenced to two months' jail for "gross indecent". In

July 1991, two policemen were sent as decoys to Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, which

had acquired a reputation as a cruising area among gay men. Four men were entrapped,

arrested and fined $800 each.

 

These were just the tip of the iceberg. Many more undercover operations and arrest were conducted without reports in the press. In fact, as researcher Russell Heng noted in his paper, "Tiptoe Out of the Closet" "the stories of police surveillance of gay cruising

places were increasing. Not only were gay people being entrapped but their pictures were being published in the newspapers. There seemed to be an agenda to make example of them”. Virtually no one stood up to such official tactics until Josef Ng's performance in January 1994, protesting the arrests of September 1993 I his performance and its fallout are discussed in the next section on the arts.

 

Like previous operations, the police sent decoys into the overgrown park near Tanjong Rhu on 19 September 1993. They arrested 12 men, whose names were published as soon as they were charged. Six of them pleaded guilty and were given jail terms ranging from two to six months, but unlike most previous convictions, were also sentenced to three strokes of the cane.

One of them, Tan Boon Hock, appealed his sentence, and in April 1994, Chief Justice Yong Pung How reduced it to a $2,000 fine. The court noted that the police officer was a decoy who made himself available for others to make sexual contact. “I found it somewhat disquieting that an accused arrested as a result of such police operations should subsequently be charged with having outraged the modesty of the police officer he came into contact with", CJ Yong wrote

 

Soon after this, there were no more reports of police entrapment, suggesting that the government had reviewed its tactics

Still, it took six more years before there was some acknowledgement of the new policy not to pursue cases against adults. On 24 October 2000, US National Public. Radio aired an interview with Lee Kuan Yew. Asked about the law against homosexual sex, Lee indicated that the law would only be used if minors were abused. “And if you have consenting adults, well, God bless both of them"'

 

Artistic Expression

 

Up till 1990, plays with gay themes or sympathetic gay characters were routinely disallowed by the Public. Entertainments Licensing Unit. In that year, however, David Henry Hwang's M Butterfly was staged in Singapore as part of the government-sponsored arts festival The play had a transsexual character, another character of ambiguous sexuality and a brief moment of nudity Its arrival in Singapore gave form to Goh Chok Tong's familiar tropes of the "next lap” and turning Singapore into a “gracious society", and presaged his 1991 promise "to give more room for art forms to grow and evolve, and ample space for creativity”.

 

In the years following, a few more plays with sexual minorities were allowed, including Haresh Sharma’s Glass Roots (Don't Step on Them) and Otto Fong Yong Chin's Mandarin play Another Tribe, both staged in 1991. Russell Heng’s Lest the Demons Get to Me was finally staged in 1992, after having been banned in 1988. Tentative liberalisation seemed to be in the air. It therefore came as something of a rude shock when the government reacted as it did to Josef Ng.

 

His performance on 1 January 1994, meant as a protest against police entrapment, involved cutting his pubic hair and thrashing some tofu. The New Paper splashed the event on its front cover with the headline "Pub(l)ic Protest" which in turn created a huge controversy. Ng was fined $1,000 for committing an obscene act in public. The arts group Fifth Passage, which had organised the show, was fined $700 for holding an unlicensed event. Even before their cases were concluded, not only did the government announce that Fifth Passage and Josef Ng would be denied future permits for their work, they imposed a ban on all unscripted performances. The entire fields of performance art and forum theatre were effectively banished from Singapore.

 

The arts community cried foul, the very constituency that was pivotal to the government’s dream of developing a cultural industry. According to Heng, then Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo was reportedly furious at The New Paper for sensationalising the matter, thereby forcing the government's hand." Although it is impossible to verify such information, it can be observed that thereafter the media began to take a more neutral stance on the gay issue; the old habit of crucifying people through the press faded away.

 

Cinema was the other arena where gay representation had the potential to move forward. Unfortunately, domestic film-making was nearly non-existent throughout the Goh Chok T'ong years, and imported films were subject to censorship.

 

The 1992 Censorship Review Committee recommended a new R rating for films, but soon after it was implemented, it met with unexpected opposition from conservative quarters. Taken aback, the government modified the category to R(A), making artistic merit a necessary condition for passage. However, even R(A) rated films were subject to the censor's cuts. Paradoxically, artistic taste being a matter impossible to delineate in any definitive way, unlike explicit sex—something you would know you were watching if you saw it—the R(A) category over time permitted a degree of indulgence. Gay characters were increasingly seen as unproblematic even as gay sex continued to be disallowed.

 

Censorship standards for film were not reviewed again till 2002. A further, albeit slight, liberalisation was the result: suggestions or quick glimpses of intimacy were permissible now. It was enough, however, for the Chinese film Lan Yu to be screened without cuts for audiences aged 21 and above, when pre-2002 it had been banned, Even before the 2002 review, indulgence had been shown towards the annual privately-organised Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF). By the late 1990s, the Media Development Authority (MDA) permitted the SIFF to screen selected film without any cuts, on a one-off basis. For instance, the film Happy Together, which won Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai the Best Director award at the 1997 Cannes festival. was given its one and only showing in Singapore at the 1998 SIFF. Aside from this exception, Happy Together remains on the MDA's banned list even now. That year’s programme included six other full-length films with gay characters or gay-related content, underlining the role of the SIFF in helping to raise awareness of issues of sexual orientation.

 

What were the reasons for making exceptions for the film festival? It was part of a broader framework that became evident from the mid 1990s: more leeway would be given to the arts and media with niche audiences or limited reach, while tighter control would continue to be exercised over the mass media. Thus the arts received more space than the film festival, which was given more space than mainstream cinema.

Media Representation

 

The press and television were kept on the shortest leash of all. Until 2003, these government-controlled media mostly maintained silence on the subject of homosexuality Through a period when gay rights, including same-sex marriage, were headline-grabbers in other countries, local editors tended to treat gay-related news as simply not newsworthy, though it could be asked as well why the threshold of newsworthiness was set so high when previously, the threshold for reporting police arrests had been set so low.

 

One significant exception took place in May 2000, when The Straits Times carried a two-page spread entitled “Do gays have a place in Singapore". It followed closely an attempt by the author of this essay to hold a public forum themed “Gays and lesbians within Singapore 21", in the hope of exploring what the government's Singapore 21 exercise, with its slogans "Active citizens” and “Every Singaporean matters”, meant for the gay community. However, the police refused to grant a permit and the forum had to be called off. The Straits Times interviewed the author of this essay extensively for the feature, but also included comments by religious leaders, a sociologist, an educationist and others, carefully balancing gay-affirmative views with negative ones. Despite this opening, the press mostly lapsed into silence again until the Time magazine controversy broke three years later.

 

Free-to-air television gagged itself even more. There has been no known programme reporting on or discussing gay rights as a social movement, though this omission should be seen as part of the general reluctance by broadcasters to discuss anything political in nature, except when buttressing a political message from the government. Interviews and talkshows where guests expound and debate, common in other countries, on issues that risk contesting the official agenda is virtually unheard of in Singapore.

 

Even dealing with the subject of homosexual orientation as a personal issue is rarely done. A remarkable exception occurred when the Chinese-language Channel U produced and aired a surprisingly gay-sympathetic programme on 30 July 2003, during the Time magazine episode. In it, ordinary people at a market were polled for their views on homosexuals, expressing quite an interesting diversity of opinion. A little game was played to demonstrate how people were wrong when they thought they could “spot” a gay person. Finally, a real gay person, Anthony, was revealed, he spoke to the audience about his own life and the hurdles he faced within his family and society, his tale moving quite a few in the crowd to tears. At the conclusion of the programme, the crowd was asked to applaud Anthony—an act of agitprop common in Taiwan and China, but rare for Singapore.

 

Yet a month earlier, in June 2003, the English-language Channel i was fined $15,000 by the MDA for airing imported programme of an interview with actress Anne Heche in which she spoke about her lesbian relationship with Ellen Degeneres. For this action, the MDAs powers were based on Part 5 of the Free-to-air Television Code, which states. “Information, themes or subplots on lifestyles such as homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism, transsexualism … should be treated with utmost caution. Then treatment should not in any way promote, justify or glamorise such lifestyles”.

 

Why the difference in treatment. The general belief is that the government watches the behaviour of the English-language media more closely than the others. Why that is so may be related to the fact that the elite in Singapore tend to be English-speaking, and the government may be more sensitive to pressure from this quarter than from other groups.

More common than being fined by the regulator are instances when television executives self-censor. From time to time, reports surface on gay online forums about certain episodes of imported TV shows not being shown, or with certain scenes cut. One widely discussed case was the skipping of an episode of Friends.

Partly in response to the near-invisibility of the gay issue in the mainstream media through the second half of the 1990s, Joseph Lo, one of the founders of PLU, co-edited a book with Huang Guoqin. People Like Us: Sexual Minorities in Singapore (2003) was a collection of gay-themed essays taking a snapshot of the situation in Singapore at the turn of the millennium. It would remain the only book of its kind until 2006, when another collection of essays, recounting personal histories, was published under the title SQ21.1'

 

More impactful than books was the Internet. The government's push to make Singaporeans literate in the new technology accelerated the gay community's coming out, Through the Internet, lesbian and gay Singaporeans found a wealth of information and resources, and an impressive history of gay activism. They also found each other, creating a sense of community among previously isolated individuals. Internet chatrooms, online forums and persona! websites propelled identity formation and social consciousness, besides serving more personal needs, such as finding friends, love and sex. These Internet sites were the virtual equivalent of gay ghettoes; few heterosexuals ever stumbled onto them or cared to stay if they did, but nonetheless, the constant engagement of gay individuals with each other eventually produced a new generation of "out and proud" gay Singaporeans, self-assured and vocal about their concerns.

 

This phenomenon can be seen clearly in the 2002 Remaking Singapore online forum, Remaking Singapore, led by then Minister of State for Trade and Industry Vivian Balakrishnan, was a wide consultation exercise—or at least a show of one—designed to garner public support for some difficult decisions ahead. One of its innovative ideas was an online forum in which members of the public, who could register anonymously, were free to post their views on various political, social and economic issues. As it turned out, the thread on homosexuality soon became one of the top two threads, with well over 700 postings, Gay and gay-supportive participants engaged in sustained contention against homophobic one. Whether anyone from the government's Remaking Singapore committee cared to follow the arguments is not known, but the event certainly showed the gay community what they were capable of.

 

All this was happening despite the fact that the MDA had armed itself with powers to censor gay-related digital content. Since 1997, the MDA's Internet Code of Practice has said "whether the material advocates homosexuality or lesbianism" had to be taken into account when considering what material should be prohibited. However, the government had promised a "light touch" when the rules were first promulgated, and hindsight has shown that for gay advocacy, this has been the case.

Identity formation and coming out, however, were much more than an Internetphenomena. Throughout this period, a myriad of gay and lesbian interest groups came to life, most of which were concerned primarily with social, sports, faith or other personal issues. The only group that remained focused on advocacy was PLU.

 

People Like Us

 

PLU was founded in mid-1993, at a time when the police were still sending decoy to entrap gay men. At first, it did not sec itself as engaging in politics, but merely as a vehicle for consciousness raising and community-building. It spawned a number of support groups, gradually spreading the message to gay Singaporeans to think positive and to socially engaged.

Its main activity was a monthly Sunday Forum held at The Substation, an arts venue. However, from quite early on, undercover police officers infiltrated those meetings. PLU’s response was to carry on. It was felt that the group had nothing to hide and not a security threat to the state. The police never intervened.

In 1996 The New Paper, a tabloid, began to take an interest. This was the same newspaper whose front-page headline led to Josef Ng being prosecuted. Fearing a similar expose might force the government's hand again, PLU applied to the Registrar of Societies for registration. One year later in 1997, the application was rejected.

 

PLU's response was to move the Sunday Forum online, in the form of an email list, called SiGNeL, which has since grown to over 2,000 members. But at the time, it was still uncertain whether the government would come after the organisers of PLU for continuing to conduct activities online. What level of activity would constitute an unregistered society? Both the gay community and the government were moving into uncharted territory here, but PLU calculated that the government would not take any action given the government's open promotion on the use of the Internet. Subsequent experience has proven this calculation to be right.

 

Before long, PLU took another gamble. Since the local media would not give space to gay issues, PLU began to cultivate foreign journalists, thus gradually moving beyond the virtual world. One outcome of reaching out to foreign journalists was a feature story in the 15 March 2001 issue of Time magazine, titled Sex in Asia. The Singapore segment of this feature focused on PLU and the gay community. In August 2005, after Goh Chok Tong had left office, the group organised "Indignation", the first gay and lesbian pride month, which included talks, art exhibitions and poetry recitals, that moved the community back into real space.

In the eyes of the gay community, PLU continued to exist all these years despite the refusal of the Registrar to register it; more importantly, the government was seen to have tolerated the existence of PLU. This encouraged a new generation of younger gays and lesbians to form their own groups, albeit more for social purposes than for advocacy.

 

HIV and the Social Scene

 

One of the most visible differences between the beginning and the end of the Goh era was in the gay scene. In 1990, other than a Sunday gay night at a disco in the Kallang area, there was only one small gay bar operating. Vincent's was located in the Orchard Road area and catered mostly to Western tourists and those gay Singaporeans who were attracted to them. Both the disco and the bar were low-profile, almost furtive affairs, reflecting the fear still present at a time when police entrapment was policy. Earlier, another bar called Niche that served the local gay community had its liquor licence abruptly withdrawn by the authorities in 1989. It is believed that this action was taken in reaction to the first AIDS death in Singapore.1,

 

That was a time when AIDS was widely seen as a gay disease. To its credit, the government never made any explicit connection between HIV and sexual orientation, which would have fanned popular homophobia, but at the same time, there was a reluctance by the authorities to intervene aggressively against the potential epidemic. In all likelihood, they were uncomfortable dealing with a sex-related subject,

 

The pole position in combating the disease was taken by Action for AIDS (AfA). This was not a gay-identified NGO, but many of its leaders and volunteers were known to be gay. It suited the government to let an NGO do the talking about sex, but it was also frustrating to AfA since there were certain things, for instance the legalisation of homosexuality (to help remove stigma, which in turn drove gay sex underground) or permitting the open promotion of condom use, that only the government could do in the fight against AIDS; yet they were unwilling to do them. This prudishness on the authorities' part has still not changed.

 

Meanwhile, police harassment of the weekly Sunday party continued. By 1993, the party had relocated to Rascals disco at the Pan Pacific Hotel. In a raid in May that year, patrons were rudely shouted at and indiscriminately photographed. Those without identification were hauled off to the police station contrary to what the law allowed. It was an exercise in bullying, the kind of police behaviour typical of authorities when they see themselves on a moral campaign. The following day, lawyer Wilfred Ong and 21 others sent a letter of protest to the police. To their surprise, the Acting Commander of the Central Police Division replied in a conciliatory tone, and included an apology for the officers' “lack of tact". Thereafter, police behaviour towards patrons at bars and dance clubs known for their gay clientele was much more civil, suggesting that considerable official rethinking had taken place.

 

Together with the demise of entrapment and the rise of gay expression in the arts, entrepreneurs felt the climate changing, becoming confident enough to open exclusively gay bars. Starring with Babylon and Inner Circle, both karaoke bars, and quickly followed by 'Taboo, which had dancing on weekends, the Tanjong Pagar locality soon acquired the feel of a gay district. More had been established by 2004, including a number of lesbian bars that opened and closed in quick succession. The authorities, on their part, had become less suspicious, regulating these establishments more or less as they would heterosexual places,

Around 1998, the first gay bathhouse, Spartacus, made its appearance, and others soon followed. With sex on the premises, they presented a trickier problem for the authorities than bars, but in the end, the police adopted a stance of not wanting to know too much, giving rise to a "live and let live" situation.

 

Yet, as the gay community would soon discover, there were limits, The annual Nation party, first held in 2001, was tolerated while it was a relatively small affair, but by 2003 it was attracting some 8,000 gay party-goers, many from other countries. The foreign media also took notice, with the Far Eastern Economic Review describing Singapore as some kind of gay paradise, a characterisation that must have caused the government concern about rousing the conservatives. At the same time, there was a spike in HIV infections, particularly among gay men. Informal remarks by the then Minister of State for Health, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, linked this with the Nation party, which was banned after 2004,

 

Despite this, the rest of the gay scene continued to flourish with no tightening of regulating For gays and lesbians, social life in 2004 was a world apart from what had existed in 1990,

 

What Motivated Policy Evolution?

 

Even before taking office, Goh Chok Tong had spoken about a compassionate society, pt.sh ably as his way of distinguishing his tenure from that of his sterner predecessor, Lee Kuan Yew. Speaking in Parliament in June 1990, Goh said, "The society which we want in bring about will be more refined, more compassionate, kinder, gentler". In the same speech he also mentioned a consultative and participative style of government. A year later, he fleshed out this theme further. He said, "People want to be involved in shaping Singapore's future. They want to feel wanted and appreciated. We encourage their constructive participation".

 

It is tempting to imagine that the relative indulgence Goh's government showed towards the gay community was conditioned by this overarching theme of being responsive and compassionate, but such a conclusion would be wrong. To begin with, it would be far-fetched to think that gay citizens figured anywhere in his mind when he made those speeches. There was no "gay issue" to speak of in 1990. Through the following four years the police continued to harass and entrap gay men, a policy that only intensified… then in 1990 became jail terms and caning by 1994.

The government tended to see the gay issue through the prism of other priorities. The Josef Ng affair in 1994 focused their minds on the damage that might be inflicted on their dream of cultivating a vibrant arts scene if they did not rein in editors who used homophobia to sell newspapers, the arts in turn were seen through the prism of needing to keep people from chafing under their rule. "I am aware of the feeling that Singapore is over-regulating" said Goh in 1991. "I want to expand intellectual and creative space This is the most effective way of overcoming our limitation of physical space" "' The gay issue was subordinate to the renaissance of the arts, winch was subordinate to combating social claustrophobia.

 

The 2003 gay civil servants statement was likewise another example of the government approaching the gay issue via another priority—tins time, that of economic necessity By then, attracting foreign talent was seen as essential to Singapore's future. This imperative came in the wake of the buzz that followed Richard Florida's 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, in which he argued that cities that welcomed diversity were better able to attract retain intellectual talent. In particular, Florida had used a gay index as a surrogate measure of a society's tolerance for diversity. Vivian Balakrisnan himself referred to it in Parliament on 13 March 2004. He said, “The larger lesson for us in Singapore is that you need to shift our mindset so that we can be more tolerant of diversity”. All very well, but less than a month later, the Registrar of Societies rejected PLU's second application as "contrary to public interest" There was no discernible sense of irony.

 

Hits habit of approaching the gay issue via other priorities meant that official course corrections were typically limited to the minimum necessity for its instrumental ends, such as signalling to gay foreign talent that they were welcome. Where no other priorities were in play, the Goh government remained mostly unmoved. Decriminalisation, relaxation of censorship and society legislation, for example, are questions predicated on respect for civil rights, liberty and social justice, but these arguments had no traction whatsoever since these were not priorities.

 

In addition, where changes were made, they were often a matter of 'closing one eye" rather than substantive changes in laws or written legal regulations. Homosexual sex remained a crime, "advocating" homosexuality over the Internet remained banned, even non-discrimination of civil servants by their sexual orientation has not been codified, despite Goh's high-profile words Administrative non-action can pass without notice while maintaining deniability and thus without stirring public opposition, but by the same token can also be easily revised. In the long term, it is unsatisfactorily.

 

Goh seemed to have calculated that administrative discretion would be enough to keep people happy, that coming out of the Lee Kuan Yew era, people would be grateful for a softer touch and the occasional concession to economic necessity.

Considering how oppressive the climate was in 1990, loosening up on the part of the Goh government through his 14 years in office was quite credit-worthy, albeit each step merely seemed pragmatic and reactive. At the same time, gay people themselves were good at seizing opportunities, for example in the way they leveraged on the arts, the Singapore International Film Festival and the Internet. The result, by 2004, was growing social acceptance and a fairly open gay scene, but also a widening gap between the government’s disapproving stance and ground reality.

 

In the end, Goh left the hard issues to his successor. He had made as much accomodation as he could without risking the ruling paradigm: the goverment sets the agenda and calls the shots, and dissent is best parried through economic contentment with a small dose of recreational permissiveness. His administration grew to be civil and even flexible in some ways, but at its core, remained disapproving and censorious. That being the case, it ultimately fell short of satisfying the gay minority. Their aspirations continue to rise and globalisation, social as much as economic, marches on. At some point, the formal laws and regulations will have to be addressed. Opening these issues will provoke resistance from the conservatives. Yet not dealing with them will condemn Singapore to remaining a poor cousin of the great cities of the world, hobbling Singapore's race to be a cosmopolitan city full of creative energy, That dilemma, as we are already seeing, will come to the fore in the post-Goh era.

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  • 4 years later...

Truly fascinating account of the development of the gay community in Singapore during its arguably formative years.

 

The posts on GaySGConfessions and issues discussed in other threads in this forum now seem awfully trivial in light of such insightful articles. The community should definitely be grateful to the Internet for providing a space for communication and interaction, and we should continue to be invested in working towards an even better future in Singapore.

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An informative and really good read!

 

I only vaguely recall certain events because I was so young back then when some events occurred. It's incredible to be able to understand the details of the events back then

"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all"

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Singapore had a big leap forward for the gays under GCT. The article left out mentioning the gay communities that had developed. There was blowingwind,sgboy,fridae,chubsg,#gam,#sgboy to name a few. I love to see the first draft of how the gay community progressed under the current PM.

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The 2003 gay civil servants statement was likewise another example of the government approaching the gay issue via another priority—tins time, that of economic necessity By then, attracting foreign talent was seen as essential to Singapore's future. This imperative came in the wake of the buzz that followed Richard Florida's 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, in which he argued that cities that welcomed diversity were better able to attract retain intellectual talent. In particular, Florida had used a gay index as a surrogate measure of a society's tolerance for diversity. Vivian Balakrisnan himself referred to it in Parliament on 13 March 2004. He said, “The larger lesson for us in Singapore is that you need to shift our mindset so that we can be more tolerant of diversity”. All very well, but less than a month later, the Registrar of Societies rejected PLU's second application as "contrary to public interest" There was no discernible sense of irony.

 

 

Amazing that the gay community got to where it is today due to this book !  Anyone now know what is the gay index for Singapore today ?

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