Thousands in Singapore gay rights rally despite opposition

Thousands in Singapore gay rights rally despite opposition

Singapore (AFP) - Thousands of people gathered in Singapore on Saturday for an annual gay rights rally celebrating sexual diversity in the city-state, despite fierce opposition from religious conservatives.

Straight and homosexual Singaporeans turned Speakers' Corner, a government designated free-speech park, into a sea of pink -- the colour chosen by organisers to represent the freedom to love.

Revellers wore everything from neon pink-rimmed spectacles to tube tops and even facial hair dyed in the colour while dogs were spotted in pink clothing and leashes for the "Pink Dot" rally.

Organisers said 26,000 people attended the event, topping last year's record of 20,000 and making it one of tightly-controlled Singapore's biggest public rallies in recent times.

"This is a social movement that is seeking to promote inclusiveness in Singapore, and it is amazing that we are breaking records year after year," Janice Koh, an ambassador for the rally, told AFP.

"Pink Dot's success goes to show that more Singaporeans are becoming open about showing their support for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community," said Koh, an actress and appointed lawmaker representing the arts industry.

The name of the event is a play on Singapore's nickname -- "The Little Red Dot" on the world map.

Organisers have stressed that it was not a protest but a public show of support for LGBT people in Singapore.

The rally has grown in stature since its first edition in 2009, when 2,500 people attended. It now enjoys the support of local celebrities as well as internet giant Google and financial firms Barclays and J.P. Morgan.

The four-hour, carnival-like rally featured musical performances by Singaporean artists, and culminated with the crowd forming a giant pink dot after dusk by holding LED lights.

Participants brushed off countermovements by Christian and Muslim conservatives opposing the city-state's growing gay rights movement.

"Those guys can raise hell if they want, but they cannot put a stop to the increasing number of Singaporeans, gay and straight, who are coming out to say that the LGBT community is very much welcome in Singapore," said Stefanie Toh, 36, attending the event with her lesbian partner.

Twenty-five year-old student Ravindran Thanapal said: "We need to get rid of that old narrative that Singapore is deeply conservative and thus gay people don't have a place here and shouldn't have equal rights.

"Where's the evidence for that? Surely it's not this annual Pink Dot event."

- Campaign to change law -

Lawrence Khong, a senior pastor, with the 10,000-strong Faith Community Baptist Church, had led the charge to ban Pink Dot, saying it was an affront to morality and "family values".

Khong is a longstanding opponent of a campaign to repeal Section 377A, a provision in the Singapore penal code that makes sex between men a crime.

The provision dates back to British colonial rule and carries a maximum penalty of two years, but it is not actively enforced by authorities.

Khong on Friday chastised the Singapore government for "giving Pink Dot public space to push their agenda and grow their movement".

The pastor has professed support for a separate peaceful protest led by Ustaz Noor Deros, a Singaporean Muslim teacher seeking to encourage "a return to values as guided by Islam".

Noor's "WearWhite" campaign has called on Muslims to shun Pink Dot and instead wear white garments to mosques on Saturday evening to attend special prayers usually held on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

An AFP photographer at the mosque chosen by WearWhite as the focal point of their protest said the prayers went ahead uneventfully with only a few people wearing white.

Officials have avoided taking sides and have instead urged Singaporeans to practise restraint in debating LGBT rights.

Even although Section 377A is not enforced, the government, led by the long-ruling People's Action Party, has said it should stay on the books because most Singaporeans are conservative and do not accept homosexuality.

A survey of 4,000 citizens by the government-linked Institute of Policy Studies earlier this year found that 78.2 percent of the local population felt same-sex relations were wrong.