I’ve never been to Pink Dot.
It’s not that I don’t support the movement championing the right to love among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore.
It’s just that there wasn’t enough of a push for me to rally my friends who, LGBT or otherwise, never saw the impetus of attending, either.
This year is different though – because for the first time, Pink Dot is going to be a wholly Singaporean affair.
By now, you’ll know that many locals and foreigners have been up in arms the past week over the government barring foreigners from participating in, or observing, Pink Dot 2017.
Under recent changes to the Public Order Act, foreigners are not allowed to assemble at the Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park, where Pink Dot is held. Anyone caught flouting this rule will be prosecuted – and they’re not going to distinguish between participants and observers.
Are you really surprised by this move? I’m not.
There’s been something brewing in the authorities’ cauldron since last June’s prohibition on foreign dollars funding and supporting the event. Previous Pink Dot rallies saw big-name foreign corporate sponsors like Facebook, Google, Apple and JP Morgan.
The news cast a dark cloud over the upcoming celebratory pride rally happening on July 1, and with the latest ban on foreigners at Pink Dot, many see it as another sign of rain on this parade.
According to the government’s official stance, this ban was designed to “prevent foreigners from advancing political causes in Singapore” (in the words of Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, not mine).
I presume he means that since LGBT issues are already a major headache for the government mediating between local rights groups, why inflame the situation by letting foreign elements into the fray?
He also added: “The point is, this is a matter for Singaporeans, Singapore companies, Singapore entities to discuss.”
He’s not wrong.
Am I the only person who sees that? Well, myself and Mr Shanmugam, anyway.
Look, I’m all for equal participation. The more the merrier when advocating a cause, right?
I’ve spoken to foreign friends who are upset about not being able to attend this year’s Pink Dot with their friends, or their partners who are Singaporean. A few also say that they almost feel discriminated against, seeing as they’ve been working and living here for so long that they’re practically local.
All they don’t have is a pink or blue (for PRs) IC. And I genuinely feel for them.
Still, I say the minister is not wrong.
Before you sharpen your claws behind your keyboards, consider this: if we want Singaporeans to make a stand on what matters to them, we’ve got to give them the opportunity to step up to the plate.
And who says we aren’t capable of tackling sensitive civic issues with heart, panache and sensibility?
Take the attendance at Pink Dot, for a start. Its inaugural rally in 2009 drew a paltry 2,500 participants, but its 2015 edition saw a record 28,000 attendees. True, foreigners were welcome then, but I’m fairly certain our fellow Singaporeans far outnumbered them in coming out to show their support.
The numbers speak for themselves – more people are starting to make their case for LGBT inclusivity in Singapore.
When the injunction was imposed on foreign sponsorship for Pink Dot last year, local businesses showed that they were unafraid to align themselves with a contentious minority group. Finally, a show of guts that debunks the “passive Singaporean” label.
Despite their decidedly shallower pockets, a total of 50 Singapore firms pledged to sponsor the rally this year, helping the organisers to reach the equivalent of 70 per cent of the foreign funds they had received for last year’s event.
That was in March, four months before Pink Dot.
Within the same month, CEO of 99.co Darius Cheung initiated the Red Dot for Pink Dot campaign to amass 100 local businesses as sponsors of Pink Dot 2017. Two weeks ago (4 May), the campaign surpassed its own target of $150,000 with 103 sponsors who’ve raised a total of $201,000.
Talk about putting your money where your heart is.
When opponents of Pink Dot posted a call to action on Facebook (which ironically, has been one of the sponsors of the rally in previous years) to boycott the brands and companies that support it, the attempt backfired with an epic trolling.
A small gesture, no doubt, but a significant one – proof that rather than to instinctively raise pitchforks and pick fights, Singaporeans have the ability to engage those they don’t agree with with sass and wicked humour.
And on the other camp, I’m expecting Pink Dot’s opponents to similarly make their voices heard, just as they have in previous years.
But that’s the beauty of a civilised society, isn’t it – that we can stand up for what we believe in, engage each other civilly and, eventually, use this discourse to chart our progress?
I hate to admit it, but I’ve never felt particularly strongly about any kind of social rights movements, Pink Dot included. I blame the whole “apathetic nation” mentality.
But this time, I feel like I finally have a chance to get excited about something. And I have the ban on foreign involvement to thank for awakening my dormant activist.
In the face of overwhelming support by our local firms, Mr Shanmugam was even prompted to say: “Why don’t we have confidence that our people can organise and take part in civic activities?”
If our minister has such faith in his fellow Singaporeans, who are we to disagree?
I’m all for having an entirely Singaporean presence at Pink Dot this year, because I have every confidence that we’re going to make this one count, especially.
Idealistic? Maybe. But I can’t help it. I’ll be going to Pink Dot for the first time, and I’m thrilled.