Pink Dot SG

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Aerial photograph of the inaugural Pink Dot event held on Saturday, 16 May 2009.
Pink Dot SG, held on Saturday, 16 May 09, was Singapore's historic, first open-air LGBT-supportive event. It established the record for the greatest number of participants to turn up for any event at Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park since the latter's inception. It was given extensive coverage in the international and local media. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6], [7], [8]

Contents

Background

Pink Dot SG is a non-profit movement started by a group of disparate individuals. Dr. Roy Tan, a medical practitioner with an interest in the archiving of LGBT community history[9], wanted to take advantage of the liberalisation of rules governing activities that could be conducted at Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park [10] [11][12] [13] [14], and initially planned to stage a traditional gay pride parade in Nov 2008.[15][16] [17] [18] Other community activists were concerned that such a parade might not gain the larger public acceptance that was its aim, and Pink Dot SG evolved out of the discussions that ensued. [19][20], [21]. The novel concept of forming a giant pink dot itself, never before employed in any LGBT-supportive event in the world, was the brainchild of Pink Dot organising committee member Choo Lip Sin, while the design of the Pink Dot SG mascot was later provided pro bono by straight graphic designer Soh Ee Shaun [22], [23], [24].

Pre-event preparations

The Pink Dot SG movement was built around a community event, which called for Singaporeans to converge at Hong Lim Park dressed in pink, to form a giant Pink Dot: a tongue-in-cheek reference to Singapore being a ‘Little Red Dot.’ Pink Dot’s overarching objective was to focus mainstream attention on LGBT issues, under a “Freedom to Love” slogan. Recognising the importance of garnering support from all segments of society, its organisers positioned the event as one promoting inclusiveness and diversity, leveraging on the theme to create resonance across various demographic groups [25], [26].

The official Pink Dot SG event took place at the Speakers’ Corner of Hong Lim Park in Singapore on May 16, 2009. The event date was chosen for its significance, as it falls between the International Day of the Family (May 15) and the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17).

An estimated 2,500 people participated in the inaugural Pink Dot event. It was a double watershed – being both the first ever large-scale gay-supportive demonstration to take place in Singapore, as well as the largest gathering to take place at Hong Lim Park since the creation of the Speakers’ Corner in Sep 2000.

Leading up to the main event the committee undertook a series of publicity-generating activities to drive awareness, particularly in galvanising support from heterosexual quarters. These were primarily digital initiatives such as the creation of a Pink Dot SG website, blog [27], Facebook profile [28] and YouTube account [29], and provided the committee the flexibility in being able to quickly and relatively freely disseminate information to relevant parties, while retaining control over the content being published.

Further driving the movement’s focus on inclusiveness and diversity, three non-LGBT celebrity ambassadors were identified, and they constituted a second key component in efforts to engage audiences. The ambassadors, actors Neo Swee Lin, Timothy Nga and radio deejay Rosalyn Lee, generously lent their presence on-event and made appearances at fundraising activities in LGBT-friendly clubs. [30],[31]

Directed by an acclaimed local director, Boo Junfeng [32], the videos were a touching montage of comments made by the Ambassadors and supporters of Pink Dot – the first calling on the public to ‘come make Pink Dot’ [33], the second building on the momentum, titled “Red + White = Pink” [34]. Significantly successful, both videos were viewed a total of more than 48,000 times.

Garnering support was crucial to the campaign’s success, but the committee was also very mindful of the legal implications surrounding the event. Male homosexual sex remains illegal in Singapore because of the existence of Section 377A of the Penal Code (Singapore). Despite the government's approval of demonstrations at the Speakers’ Corner without a permit, the organisers were not certain if the authorities, fuelled by their conservative support base, would nonetheless disallow the event. It was also a concern if the police, who maintain a post in a building adjacent to the park, would be called in to harass those who chose to participate. It was important to allay such fears in the minds of potential participants.

Pink Dot 2009 - The Event

A feeling of anticipation permeated Hong Lim Park on the afternoon of May 16, 2009, when people congregated at the Speakers’ Corner – dressed in all manner of pink. Many came with friends, family members and partners, some came bringing their pets, but everyone came with the sole objective of celebrating the "Freedom to Love" [35].

Three LGBT-friendly cultural performance troupes contributed to the carnival-like atmosphere, representing Singapore’s major ethnic groups and challenging perceptions of such cultural groups being opposed to participating in a LGBT-related activity. They were complemented by 2 other contemporary dance groups – Voguelicious [36], [37] and Dance2Inspire.

Volunteers formed the crucial backbone of the operation, with over 60 taking up a range of tasks from photography to crowd control.

The event’s piece de resistance, the formation of the titular Pink Dot, was preceded by 2 smaller formations by several dozen people of the words ‘LOVE’ [38] and ‘4 ALL’, in relation to the ‘Freedom to Love’ slogan.

Finally, the afternoon’s highlight took place with more than 2,000 people coming together to form the giant Pink Dot [39], marking a milestone for the LGBT community, and making for a great photo opportunity that would gain the event international awareness [40], [41],[42], [43],[44].

Media coverage was garnered locally in The Straits Times [45], [46] and TODAY newspaper [47], [48], which came as a pleasant surprise given the prevailing media gag on positive portrayals of homosexuality. The event also received significant international coverage from the BBC [49] and the New York Times [50] with reports being syndicated to various publications around the world through wire services Associated Press (AP) [51], Reuters and Agence-France Presse (AFP).

The fallout resulting from the AWARE saga helped bring the topic of LGBT acceptance in Singapore into the spotlight, and had considerable impact on the momentum created leading up to the Pink Dot event. It seems to have been something of a double-edged sword for Pink Dot: on the one hand, it helped to galvanise what might be loosely referred to as a ‘liberal constituency’; on the other, the pronouncements of senior political figures in the wake of AWARE’s Extraordinary General Meeting had a dampening effect on media coverage.

Impact on the LGBT community

There were generally positive reactions as seen from myriad comments and responses on the Pink Dot SG website [52], Facebook page [53] and corresponding news sites, with some individuals even saying that the event had directly impacted their psychological outlook for the better, regardless of the ultra-conservative vitriol that was also posted.

The event was important insofar as it tangibly demonstrated to the local gay community the existence of a sizeable heterosexual population that is interested in and concerned about LGBT issues; this indirectly lessens the paranoia that many LGBT individuals experience with regard to their work and home environments.

In its own way, the Pink Dot event has aided the process of demystifying the generally negative pre-conceptions of LGBTs as paedophiles, drug abusers, immoral & deviant among mainstream segments. It has helped to bring about a more positive perception of the LGBT community in ongoing efforts to engage with the still largely conservative populace, further complementing other efforts and campaigns such as PLU’s annual IndigNation season.

Impact on international human rights

The event was deemed significant enough to be included in the U.S. Department of State's human rights reports for 2009, released on 11 March 2010 [54] :

"On May 16, a rally in support of "the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in Singapore to love" took place at Speakers Corner. Participants held pink umbrellas aloft and arranged themselves to form a large pink dot when seen from nearby high-rise buildings. The rally took place without disturbance."

It was also featured in the documentary film "Courage Unfolds", produced in 2011, which formed a central part of the Courage Unfolds Campaign of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) [55].

During the debate in April 2012 at Yale University over the appropriateness of setting up the Yale-NUS College in Singapore given the latter's perceived lack of respect for civil, political and LGBT rights, an article by Ng E-Ching used Pink Dot as an example of the common values shared by Yale and Singapore [56]:

"... the best way for Yale to effect change is not by stressing differences, but by showing Singaporeans how much we have in common. Singaporean gay movement Pink Dot has borrowed selectively from the U.S. gay marriage and adoption debates. By stressing family relationships and acceptance of diversity - both values at the core of Singaporean identity - last year's rally drew over 10,000 people."

Pink Dot 2010

Pinkdot2010001.jpg

Encouraged by the success of the inaugural Pink Dot event in 2009, the organisers decided to hold a second one in 2010. The theme for that year was "Focusing on our families".

New celebrity ambassadors, Adrian Pang, Tan Kheng Hua and DJ Big Kid were invited to make the announcement in one of the campaign videos [57], [58] and to host the gathering on the final day.

In line with the family theme, a series of four videos featuring true-life accounts of LGBT Singaporeans in strong cohesive families was produced [59], [60], [61], [62].

Pink Dot 2010 was held on Saturday, 15 May at 5 pm [63]. Another record turnout of 4,000 people was achieved [64]. For the first time, it received video coverage from the local media, namely, Channel News Asia [65]. The Sunday Times also carried an article with a large photograph of the event [66]. Again, there was widespread interest in the international media [67], [68].

Pink Dot 2011

Pinkdot2011-002.jpg

In 2011, Pink Dot was held later on in the year, on Saturday, 18 June so as not to clash with the Singapore General Elections which took place in May.

The Dim Sum Dollies were roped in as the ambassadors for the introductory, date-announcement video [69] and hosts for the event.

The campaign video for Pink Dot 2011 left the "talking heads" format used in the past 2 years behind and embarked on a new concept, using volunteer professional actors and production staff to create a montage of real-life scenarios in which LGBT Singaporeans often find themselves, with mainstream members of society showing their support [70]. The video garnered worldwide acclaim, with over 150,000 views within two weeks of its release. It was translated into all four official Singaporean languages as well as into French, Spanish and other international ones.

For the first time, Pink Dot 2011 was listed as an event in Time Out Singapore, with a full article devoted to it [71]. It was also the first time The Straits Times listed an LGBT-supportive event in its pages, classifying it as a "gig" [72] because a concert featuring up-and-coming local music icons was slated to be part of the festivities. [73]

Another breakthrough was the clinching of official support for the event from Google Singapore [74], [75].

On 18 June, over 10,000 people thronged Hong Lim Park to form Pink Dot, setting a new record for the largest gathering there [76], far surpassing the estimated 4,000 person limit that an earlier newspaper report said the park could hold.

The event was even more widely reported in the mainstream media than in the previous year, with coverage by Channel News Asia [77], The Straits Times [78], [79], Yahoo! News [80] Lian He Zao Bao [81], [82] and TODAY.

It also spurred LGBT people in New York [83], [84], Utah [85], [86], [87], [88], [89], [90], [91], London [92], Montreal [93], Anchorage, Alaska [94], the Philippines [95], Kao Hsiung, Taiwan [96], [97] and Malaysia [98] to organise their own Pink Dot events using the same concepts and principles upon which the original one was built.

A commemorative video of Pink Dot 2011 was produced by the organisers[99] and other independent videographers [100],[101].

Reports and comments on the event were also made on citizen journalism websites like The Online Citizen [102], [103], [104], socio-political blogs such as Yawning Bread [105] and others [106], and in online magazines locally [107], [108] and online news sources internationally [109] [110], [111],[112].

The National Day (9 Aug 2011) edition of TODAY newspaper featured a full-page article on Pink Dot, implying that the LGBT community was regarded as an integral part of Singapore society on her 46th birthday. It interviewed committee member Alan Seah and published a huge photo of Seah and his mother, seated on a wheelchair [113].

On 9 September 2011, Pink Dot Utah uploaded their promotional video[114] to YouTube which replicated the original Singaporean version [115] almost scene-for-scene.

This spurred the 12 Sep 2011 edition of The Sunday Times to carry an article about how the Pink Dot movement had spread from Singapore to Utah, USA and other major cities of the world [116], [117].

Pink Dot Utah held their inaugural event on 11 October 2011 to coincide with Coming Out Day. It was given the widest coverage of any Pink Dot event outside Singapore [118], [119], [120].

As 2011 drew to a close, Microsoft's news website xinMSN featured Pink Dot SG as one of the international highlights of 2011 [121].

Pink Dot 2012

On Thursday, 5 April 2012, the mainstream media announced that Pink Dot 2012 would be held at Hong Lim Park on Saturday, 30 June 2012 and that for the first time, it would be a night time event [122]. Later the same day, the video featuring Pink Dot 2012's ambassadors - Kumar, Sharon Au and Lim Yu Beng - was unveiled to the public on YouTube [123]. The ambassadors turned up in person with Pink Dot committee member Alan Seah at nightspots Play, Taboo, DYMK and Avalon [124] during the long weekend stretching from Thursday, 5 April (the eve of Good Friday) to Sunday, 8 April 2012. Pink Dot plush cushions (plushies) were made available online as well as at the above venues to raise funds to help defray the cost of staging the event [125]. LGBT websites announced details of the event soon after [126].

External links

References

  • 18 August 2008, Reuters article, "S'pore to ease bans on political films, demos"[127].
  • 25 August 2008, Channel News Asia article, "Singaporeans can demonstrate at Speakers' Corner from Sep 1"[128].
  • 25 August 2008, Channel News Asia article, "Singaporeans have mixed reactions to relaxation of Speakers' Corner rules"[129].
  • 28 August 2008, TODAY article, "A more open field"[130].
  • 26 August 2008, The Straits Times article, "More freedom, speeches?"[131].
  • 18 September 2008, Pride Source article by Rex Wockner, "Pride to be staged in Singapore"[132].
  • 25 September 2008, The Straits Times article, "First gay protest at Speakers’ Corner?"[133].
  • 25 September 2008, The New Paper article, "‘Hong Lim Green’ to turn somewhat pink"[134].
  • 19 October 2008, PinkDotSg news list on Yahoo!Groups set up by Roy Tan to facilitate discussion amonsts Pink Dot committee members:[135].
  • 1 November 2008, The Straits Times article, "Gay protest at Hong Lim Park postponed"[136].
  • Sequence of events leading to the conception of Pink Dot SG:[137].
  • 16 May 2009, The New York Times article, "Singapore's Gay Community Holds First-Ever Gay Rally"[138].
  • 16 May 2009, Associated Press article, "Singapore's gay community holds first-ever rally"[139].
  • 17 May 2009, BBC News article, "Singapore gays in first public rally"[140].
  • 17 May 2009, The Sunday Times article, "1,000 turn up in pink at event"[141],[142].
  • 17 May 2009, The Online Citizen article, "A thousand gather to celebrate diversity and the freedom to love"[143].
  • 17 May 2009, TODAY article, "Pink in the name of love"[144][145].
  • 18 May 2009, Fridae article, "Singapore's gay community holds first-ever public rally"[146].

Acknowledgements

Information on the inaugural Pink Dot was drafted by Dominic Chua and Izzie. The description of subsequent developments and the addition of all relevant links were done by Roy Tan.