Around the world in 54 weeks
Destination 7: Singapore
In every other place I've been to, all the travellers looked like me — scruffy and in need of a shower. But, in Singapore — with its spotless pavements and cosmopolitan vibe — I felt apologetic for being 'different'. As I got ready to meet three fabulous gentlemen in Singapore, I fretted over my outfit for the first time in weeks. In hindsight, it seemed like very poorly spent 15 minutes.
I met Dr Roy Tan, Dominic Chua and Jack Yong at a neat little bistro on Orchard Street in Singapore. Three perfect gentlemen, outstanding professionals and model citizens who are also gay. I found it thrilling to be engaging with passionate and articulate people. In 2008, capitalising on the liberalisation of rules governing activities of the 'Speakers Corner' in Hong Lim Park; a space where anyone is free to give a speech or engage in a debate, Dr. Tan wanted to organise a traditional gay pride parade in Singapore.
But, considering that the 'parade' and it's perceived connotation might not be welcomed by the average Singaporean, defeating it's very purpose, Pink Dot Singapore (PDS) was born. The idea was simple — to create an environment where every Singaporean's freedom to love, regardless of sexual orientation is respected without discrimination. They decided to do this with a simple call to gather peacefully in solidarity of this notion. The first Pink Dot event in May 2009 was attended by more than 2000 people; all dressed in every hue of pink, coming together to form a giant pink dot in Hong Lim Park.
Not all change needs to come from shouting slogans or staging protests. PDS's success lies in earning acknowledgement of the undeniable presence of Singapore's LGBT community. Subtly highlighting the fact that there is a huge gap between public policy and public opinion, drawing strength from the growing popularity of this peaceful pink movement — PDS is the labour of love of its impassioned supporters.
I personally cringe at the ridiculous typecasting of the LGBT community in Bollywood and the references to things un-cool as being 'so gay' — feeding into the unfortunate stereotyping of India's large and vibrant LGBT community.
Dr Tan, 52, is a medical practitioner and a long-standing advocate of gay rights in Singapore. He also documents Singapore's LGBT history in his free time. Dominic, 35, is an educator, quite appropriate for his gentle personality. Apart from volunteering with Pink Dot he also works with Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Committee. Twenty-nine year old Jack Yong is quite the looker! He's a journalist and serves as Pink Dot's primary spokesperson.
These descriptions could be of any of the millions of people from India's LGBT community. Most of whom are still fearful of 'coming out'; afraid that their sexual preference will become their primary identity. Meeting Dr Tan, Dominic and Jack reinforced my belief that closets are for clothes, freedom to love is for everybody and denial isn't going to 'fix' the situation.
Pink Dot 2010 was a thumping success. It was attended by more than 4,000 Singaporeans of every gender, ethnicity and sexual preference and covered extensively in the international media. Naturally, it has encouraged this dynamic team to up the ante for next year and I'm excited to see where and how far their voices travel.
Hey, if you aren't going all the way, why go at all!
Tithiya Sharma is on a year-long journey across the globe to find 100 everyday heroes — and hopefully herself — along the way.