“I can definitely host you on those dates, but do you have anything pink to wear?”
I stare at my screen for a moment, slightly confused. Why was my soon-to-be host in Singapore asking me to wear pink? I’d heard of couchsurfers with some odd kinks but this was a new one to me. When I press him on it he remains coy, but he promises that bringing something pink along with me will be worth it. So 12 hours before I left Australia for good, I manage to race around Kawana Shoppingworld and find something befitting a mystery event in Singapore. One of the cheap stores usually reserved for middle-aged men has a pastel pink shirt with ‘Hug Me, I’m Special’ emblazoned on the front. It’s $8 and perfect.
Whenever I fly to Europe I try to break up the 23-hour flight and visit somewhere in Asia. A good friend of mine had recently moved to Singapore, and with Scoot offering $200 flights between there and the Gold Coast, I couldn’t resist. I’d visited briefly in 2012 but wanted to get a proper feel for the dark horse of Southeast Asia. What I didn’t expect was to end up at a gay pride rally along with 21,000 locals and expats alike.
Only hours after jumping off the plane I found myself at Pink Dot, Singapore’s largest gay and lesbian pride event. Homosexuality is still technically illegal in Singapore, although in practice it’s almost never enforced. Even so, the last few years have seen a growing desire for the law to be abolished, especially by Singapore’s large group of young, mostly progressive urban professionals. Pink Dot started in 2009 when Singapore’s notoriously strict rules regarding public demonstrations were relaxed; it was the first large-scale protest for homosexuality that the conservative country had seen. Since then it’s become Singapore’s largest protest, with over 20,000 people showing their support this year.
And it shows. We surface from the incredibly clean Singapore Subway (where eating or drinking will set you back a breezy $500 SGD) into Speaker’s Corner, the one public area in the city where it’s legal to protest, and are immediately surrounded by thousands of smiling pink-clad Singaporeans handing out pamphlets, bubbles, candy and soft drink. We make our way through the crowd and find a spot to sit to watch the festivities.
It’s pretty obvious that Pink Dot is serious business. The stage is adorned with massive corporate sponsors like Google and Barclay’s Bank. It’s interesting that they’re throwing their weight behind a cause such as this, but then again Google has always made its progressive values known. Soon enough though the logos are obscured by a pyramid of cheerleaders in skimpy outfits careening around the stage. A video from pop band fun. plays to rapturous applause, before a local singer makes her way onstage. I was looking forward to seeing some local live music in Singapore, but unfortunately after some encouraging words of support to the crowd she starts belting out ‘We Are Young’ by that aforementioned band. Turns out it’s the biggest song of a generation in Singapore (I hear it at least 10 times in the 4 days I’m in the city) and the crowd goes wild and sings along. Even though I despise the song, I can’t help but join in and sing along.
Night falls and all of a sudden everyone pulls out pink LED lights. It’s time for the part that gives Pink Dot its name; the crowd, wearing pink, forms a dot that is photographed from the top of a nearby building. Singapore bureaucracy rears its ugly head again as the organisers ask all foreigners to leave – apparently it’s only legal for locals to protest here. Of course we politely ignore the request and find ourselves a spot in the circle. Even though 21,000 people in a park meant for a quarter of the size is way too many to properly organise into a circle, the atmosphere is euphoric and when a love heart appears on the nearby building I can’t help but cheer as well. Being gay in Singapore isn’t as dangerous or as stigmatized as it is in other Asian countries, but there’s still a long way to go. Abolishing an outdated law that criminalizes an act between two consenting people is only the first step. Thankfully though Pink Dot at the very least proved that there is a lot of desire for things to change. A pretty tops way to begin my trip.