The Magic of Singapore

by Lawrence Ferber
Gardens by the Bay in Singapore

As with every time I've visited this cultural and religious melting pot city-state, known affectionately as the "little red dot," the topic of penal code section 377A arises.

Lawrence Ferber

LGBTQ characters cannot be depicted in a positive light on locally produced media, and the government won’t promote openly LGBTQ-related anything. From what I’ve ascertained, 377A solely exists to appease and comfort stodgy, older legislators and segments of the population.

Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore

Changi Airport
Photo: Lawrence Ferber

Singapore’s populace, however, is changing, and 377A’s days may be numbered. Launched in 2009, Pink Dot SG (www.pinkdot.sg) throws an annual demonstration and rally in support of LGBTQ rights and the repeal of 377A, and boasts a line-up of celebrity ambassadors. Boo Junfeng (www.facebook.com/boo.junfeng), an acclaimed, out Singaporean filmmaker, is a Pink Dot committee member and has produced slick campaign videos for it.

Junfeng tells me, “there has been progress, at least in the court of public opinion. A number of things have swayed in our favor, with establishment figures voicing their support for the abolishment or review of the law, including the former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong. According to a survey by the Institute of Policy Studies this year, Singaporeans have grown more accepting over the last 5 years, so we are generally cautiously optimistic.”

Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple in Singapore

Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple
Photo: Lawrence Ferber

In 2019, Pink Dot made an overt statement calling for the repeal of 377A, with a campaign that “angled towards shedding light upon the trickle-down effects of 377A on the lives of LGBTQ+ Singaporeans,” Junfeng added, “More than ever before, it is important to keep telling our stories so that lawmakers can see this not just as an intellectual issue, but one that actually impacts lives. On platforms like Netflix, LGBTQ+ affirming content can be viewed uncensored, and this has created an information divide where older generations who still watch mainstream TV have a different understanding of LGBTQ people and their lived experiences, as compared to younger people who consume entertainment online.”

Singapore Style Noodles

Singapore Style Noodles
Photo: Foodio

After dinner, I’m exhausted and stuffed, and Genie disappears to visit Neil Road’s lively cluster of gay bars, which includes the perpetually lively Tantric (78 Neil Rd. Tel: +65 6423 9232. www.homeofthebluespin.com/tantric) and its upstairs May Wong’s Café (named after Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star, Anna May Wong); decorated with Broadway show posters, Tantric’s adjacent sister venue Backstage Bar (80 Neil Rd. Tel: +65 6423 9232. www.homeofthebluespin.com/backstagebar); just across the street, the two-floor, 5,000 square foot bar and dance club, Taboo Club (65-67 Neil Rd. Tel: +65 6225 6256. www.taboo.sg); and, inspired by 1960s Hollywood, Out Bar (43 Neil Rd. Tel: +65 6224 2865. www.facebook.com/OutBarSingapore), which programs special themed parties, from “sports and tights” to “sailor” to, every second Saturday, Canto-Mando pop music.

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