More than 20,000 Singaporeans came to country’s annual LGBTQ festival, Pink Dot, this year, according to organizers, and that’s no small feat considering the number of roadblocks the 9-year-old festival encountered in 2017, and that sex between men in this country is illegal.
There were so many people who tried to join the event, which sported a rainbow theme this year, that the park where it was held had to be closed at 7 p.m. for capacity.
New rules and regulations for 2017 were likely meant to dampen this kind of showing, but enthusiasm was high regardless of the restrictions on foreigners and foreign money.
After the pride event’s last edition in 2016, the city’s government barred foreign sponsors and foreigners from taking part in the event, and ordered organisers to set up barricades around the 2.32 acre park in response to changes in rules regulating demonstrations in the city.
The result was increased costs for Pink Dot’s organisers.
“To make organisers barricade Hong Lim Park to ensure that foreigners are not there, so that they don’t influence domestic issues, we think is overreaching,” Paerin Choa, a spokesperson for Pink Dot, told media at a press conference.
Singapore’s government has said that it does not tolerate foreign interference in domestic issues “especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones.”
Jessica Toh, 45, who’s sitting with her dog amongst a sea of pink, said she thinks these demonstrations must go on because there’s a changing culture in Singapore.
“I think it’s important for us to make a statement,” Toh, who works at a media agency, told Mashable. [The] government thinks that we’re very conservative, but it’s not true. Society has opened up.”
“Who is more Chinese than Taiwan? Even they have legalised same-sex marriage and they recognise the rights [of queer people],” she said, pointing out that Taiwanese for the most part follow traditional Confucian values which are predominant in Chinese society.
Organisers of Pink Dot were also told this year to increase security in response to potential terrorist threats. They added that the cost of hiring security has thus increased four-fold, and Pink Dot has had to hire 60 security guards for the event to conduct bag checks for every attendee.
Pink Dot would not reveal the cost of security, but would only say that it was a five-figure amount.
The city’s Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam, said in a Facebook post before Pink Dot that “increased security measures are absolutely required” in light of the “recent security climate.”
“Pink Dot will attract a large crowd and it would be irresponsible not to take security measures seriously at such events,” Shanmugam wrote.
But the increased financial burden and the attempt to throttle Pink Dot’s corporate sponsorships did little to dampen people’s spirits.
“I feel like it’s important for Singaporeans to stand up for what we believe in,” said Ted Teo, a 19-year-old student. “Being here personally is empowering, even if you’re not part of the community you can support them… it just makes people feel that you’re home, with everyone that’s here.”
Some believed that the new rules were aimed at Pink Dot specifically.
“[It] spreads a very important message that this event is not really encouraged,” said Toh Ke Min, a 27-year-old chemist. “Other national events, where they actually close roads, they open up, they give more public transport, all these sort of things. This spreads a very very strong message to us, that this event, this sort of pride parade, is not really welcome.”
Local sponsors have also stepped up to fund the pride event, after tech and financial giants like Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg — all of which have a presence in the city — were barred from funding it.
10 foreign companies wrote a letter to the police requesting to sponsor the event, but were turned down.
About 120 local companies raised more than SGD $253,000 ($183,759.45) for the event, up from only 5 local companies last year.
18 companies in total sponsored Pink Dot in 2016. Over 500 volunteers turned up for the event, an increase of about 100-200 from last year, organisers said.
“When we found out that the government changed the rules with regards to foreign sponsorship, we had to step in,” said John Chen, the 38-year-old co-founder of Aloha Poke, a local poke bowl restaurant. “I understand the rationale behind [barring foreign sponsorship] but I’m not supportive of how Pink Dot is a victim because of that.”
“Singapore is without a doubt a very conservative society,” Chen added. “But I think there’s definitely a lot more progress being made, I think people of our generation and the next generation are definitely the more tolerant and more understanding of this,”
Pink Dot hopes that the increase of local participation sends a message — that Singaporean society has changed.
“We hope that the fact that we have 120 sponsors from 5 local sponsors last year is a sign that attitudes are changing,” Choa said. “We hope it sends a message, a signal to everyone that these are not foreign values.”
“These are values that are embraced and valued by Singaporeans here.”