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PinkDot2009

Aerial photograph of the inaugural Pink Dot event held on Saturday, 16 May 2009 at Hong Lim Park.

Pink Dot SG, (more commonly referred to simply as Pink Dot) was held on Saturday, 16 May 2009. It was Singapore's historic, first open air LGBT-supportive event. It established a record for the greatest number of participants to turn up for any congregation at Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park since the latter's inception. The landmark gathering was accorded extensive coverage in the international and local media.[2][3][4][5][6][7],[8],[9] In the years to come, similar eponymous events based on the original concept, values and messaging of Pink Dot would be held in cities all around the world.

BackgroundEdit

See also: Sequence of events leading to Pink Dot

Pink Dot SG is a non-profit movement started by a group of disparate individuals. Dr Roy Tan, a medical practitioner with a passionate interest in archiving the history of Singapore's LGBT community, wanted to take advantage of the liberalisation, with effect from 1 September 2008, of rules governing activities that could be conducted at Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park[10][11][12][13][14]. He initially registered with the National Parks Board to stage a traditional pride parade on Saturday, 15 November 2008[15],[16][17][18][19]. The LGBT community's immediate response to the idea of a pride parade held in Singapore was less than encouraging. Tan’s promotion of the event on SiGNeL, a local LGBT mailing list, largely drew a blank. Slightly frustrated, he resolved to conduct a one-man pride parade with himself as the only person marching if it boiled down to that as he was determined to set a precedent that would facilitate the organisation of such events in the future. There was a real fear amongst closeted individuals that participating in a parade would be indirectly outing themselves to the world, especially with the intense media coverage that such a groundbreaking development in the conservative republic was expected to attract. Moreover, a pride parade was traditionally a form of protest and Singaporeans had become conditioned to being averse to protest marches after decades of authoritarian rule. As such, other community activists were concerned that the event might not gain the larger mainstream public acceptance that was its aim. Pink Dot SG evolved in the ensuing months out of brainstorming discussions by key stakeholders, rustled up by Tan with the help of his friend Dominic Chua[20],[21].

The novel concept of forming a giant pink dot itself, never before employed in any LGBT-supportive event in the world, was the brainchild of Pink Dot organising committee member and Fridae's Chinese section editor Choo Lip Sin. However, it must be mentioned that the first activist-inspired public gathering of people dressed in pink was organised by Miak Siew and took place 1 year earlier, in 2007, during the Pink Picnic[22] held at the Botanic Gardens during the third year of IndigNation, Singapore's LGBT pride month. Also, Bian Tan was the first person to suggest on SiGNeL that a gathering of people togged out in pink would have more broad-based appeal than a gay pride parade[23]. The rationale was that a mixed crowd of both straight and LGBT participants dressed the same way to support a cause would circumvent the problem of outing oneself as it would mean that just because one was seen at the event, this would not necessarily signify that one was gay.

Pinkie001

Pinkie, the Pink Dot mascot.

The design of the Pink Dot mascot, affectionately named "Pinkie", was later provided pro bono by straight graphic designer Soh Ee Shaun[24],[25],[26]. Soh's help was solicited by Dominic Chua, a personal friend of his. The crafting of the PR-friendly slogan "Support the Freedom to Love", which was a concerted attempt to move away from using the word "rights" and which later gained widespread currency both locally and internationally, was the work of Ash Lim. Dr Stuart Koe, CEO of Fridae.com, generously agreed to making his immensely popular and socially responsible LGBT portal Pink Dot's first corporate sponsor. Koe provided website information technology, creative, marketing and logistics support, the use of the Fridae office for meetings, and at least $2,000 to get the inaugural event off the ground.

Prior to September 2008, Pink Dot would have been an illegal event, with the police regarding it as a form of demonstration in violation of the rules governing the use of the Speakers' Corner. For 8 years since its inception in 2000, users of Speakers' Corner were required to register themselves at the police post and were prohibited from employing any audio amplification equipment or conducting themselves in a manner which may be deemed a public protest or demonstration.

The status quo changed on 1 September 2008 when the Government decided to relax the rules to allow for protests, demonstrations and self-powered sound systems, all made permissible by just a simple online registration with the National Parks Board (NParks). However, this newfound right was secured through years of effort by activists to open up political space and to persuade Singaporeans to accept the idea of peaceful protests. It took arrests, fines and prison sentences suffered by activists, in particular Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader Dr Chee Soon Juan[27]. Chee made a decision in 1999 to risk imprisonment by embarking on a long-drawn campaign of civil disobedience to bring the government to bear for its refusal to honour its citizens' rights to free speech and assembly.


Pre-event preparationsEdit

The Pink Dot SG movement was built around a community event, which called for Singaporeans to converge at Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park dressed in pink, to form a giant pink dot, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Singapore being a little red dot. Pink Dot’s overarching objective was to focus mainstream attention on LGBT issues, under a “Freedom to Love” slogan. Recognising the importance of garnering support from all segments of society, its organisers positioned the event as one promoting inclusiveness and diversity, leveraging on the theme to create resonance across various demographic groups[29],[30].

Initially, the small organising committee of 12 Singaporeans planned to hold the event on Valentine’s Day 2009. However, as 14 February drew near, the group realised that it, and the community, were not quite ready. There was one meeting at Fridae where it came so close to abandoning it all. But some hard soul-searching showed that everyone fundamentally believed in the need for something like Pink Dot, and so they recommitted themselves and set a new date to work towards. The new date they found had symbolic significance – 16 May 2009, sandwiched between the International Day of Families (15 May 2009), and the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO, on 17 May 2009). The committee was only too aware of how conservative Christian groups had been weaponising the rhetoric of ‘family’ against LGBTQ people, and it wanted to push back against that. It simply was not fair to portray gay people as being anti-family. Formal training for the group's representatives - Roy Tan, Stephanie Ong and J. Yong - in speaking to the media was provided by two committee members who were public relations professionals and conducted in their PR agency's office along Maxwell Road. A press release was sent out to the media on 17 April 2009[31].

Leading up to the main event, the committee undertook a series of publicity-generating activities to drive awareness, particularly in galvanising support from heterosexual quarters. These were primarily digital initiatives such as the creation of a Pink Dot SG website, blog[32], Facebook profile[33] and YouTube account[34]. They provided the committee the flexibility in being able to quickly and relatively freely disseminate information to relevant parties while retaining control over the content being published. Grassroots support from the LGBT community was also solicited via real world visits and promotions at clubs such as Play.

Further driving the movement’s focus on inclusiveness and diversity, three non-LGBT celebrity ambassadors were identified, and they constituted a second key component in efforts to engage audiences. The ambassadors, actors Neo Swee Lin, Timothy Nga and radio deejay Rosalyn Lee, generously lent their presence on-event and made appearances at fundraising activities in LGBT-friendly clubs (see videos:[35],[36]).

Directed by an acclaimed filmmaker, Boo Junfeng[37], the event's campaign videos were a touching montage of comments made by the ambassadors and supporters of Pink Dot – the first calling on the public to "come make Pink Dot"[38], the second building on the momentum, titled “Red + White = Pink”[39]. Significantly successful, both videos were viewed a total of more than 48,000 times[40].

PINK DOT 2009

PINK DOT 2009

RED + WHITE = PINK (2009 Campaign)

RED + WHITE = PINK (2009 Campaign)


Garnering support was crucial to the campaign’s success, but the committee was also very mindful of the legal implications surrounding the event. Male homosexual sex remained illegal in Singapore because of the existence of Section 377A of the Penal Code. Despite the government's approval of demonstrations at the Speakers’ Corner without a permit, the organisers were not certain if the authorities, fuelled by their conservative support base, would nonetheless disallow the event. It was also a concern if the police, who maintained a post in a building adjacent to the park, would be called in to harass those who chose to participate. It was important to allay such fears in the minds of potential participants. Great emphasis was laid on the message that the gathering was "not a protest or a demonstration" to encourage Singaporeans who were averse to any form of dissent to show up and also not to rile the Government. Most activists at the time were of the opinion that the authorities were more amenable to have a change of heart, and especially to repeal Section 377A, if a non-confrontational approach were taken. This remained the strategy for ten years until Pink Dot 2019, when a complete U-turn was made.

AWARE sagaEdit

Main article: AWARE saga

The breakout of the AWARE saga which stretched from late March 2009 to early May 2009 gave rise to an immense amount of indignation amongst the LGBT, human rights and feminist communities in Singapore, as well as interested observers from the general public.

The debacle began as an orchestrated takeover of the leadership of Singapore's best known women's organisation, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), by a group of women (and some men) with strong anti-LGBT and right-wing Christian leanings. It garnered intense publicity in the media and ended with the ousting of the new guard by over a thousand women outraged by the inexperienced new executive committee's questionable actions and agenda.

ChingShutUpSitDown

The AWARE saga galvanised people to attend the first Pink Dot to make a stand against the underhanded modus operandi and homophobic values of the disgraced ex-new exco, in addition to supporting the "Freedom to Love". This boosted the attendance to some 2,500, far surpassing the Pink Dot organisers' modest expectations. Some participants even wore T-shirts emblazoned with the quote, "Shut up and sit down!", in mockery of how the new exco attempted to quieten the audience during AWARE's extraordinary general meeting at Suntec City on Saturday, 2 May 2009 when a vote of no confidence was passed against it.

Pink Dot 2009 - The EventEdit

RoyTanPinkDot002

Main organiser, Roy Tan, waving the Pink Dot flag during the inaugural Pink Dot event at Hong Lim Park.

A feeling of anticipation permeated Hong Lim Park on the afternoon of Saturday, 16 May 2009 when an estimated 2,500 people congregated at Speakers’ Corner dressed in all manner of pink, far exceeding the organisers' modest expectations. Many came with friends, family members and partners; some came bringing their pets, but everyone attended with the sole objective of celebrating the "Freedom to Love"[41]. It was a double watershed, being both the first ever large-scale LGBT-supportive demonstration to take place in Singapore, as well as the biggest gathering to take place at Hong Lim Park since the creation of the Speakers’ Corner in September 2000.

Three gay-friendly cultural performance troupes contributed to the carnival-like atmosphere, representing Singapore’s major ethnic groups and challenging perceptions of such cultural groups being opposed to participating in a LGBT-related activity. They were complemented by 2 other contemporary dance groups – Voguelicious[42],[43] and Dance2Inspire. Tribute must be paid to the kindness, generosity and courage of the performing artistes who took a chance on the controversial event and stood with it. These included Bharathaa Arts, Tumpat, Rhythm de Passion, Shao Hong Lion Dance, Jack Magik, The Fireflys and "Bubble Girl" Caroline Jones.

Volunteers formed the crucial backbone of the operation, with over 60 taking up a range of tasks from photography to crowd control.

The event’s pièce de résistance, the formation of the titular Pink Dot, was preceded by 2 smaller formations by several dozen people of the words ‘LOVE[44] and ‘4 ALL’, in relation to the ‘Freedom to Love’ slogan.

PinkDot20009-1

Finally, the afternoon’s highlight took place with more than 2,000 people coming together to form the giant Pink Dot[45], orchestrated and counted down by theatre actress Pam Oei. It marked a milestone for the LGBT community and made for a great, iconic photo opportunity (known affectionately to the organisers henceforth as "the money shot") that would gain the event international awareness[46],[47],[48],[49],[50] and spawn copycat aerial photographs in later years like the SG50 gathering in 2015.

Media coverage was garnered locally from The Straits Times[51],[52] and TODAY newspaper[53],[54], which came as a pleasant surprise given the prevailing media gag on positive portrayals of homosexuality. The event also received significant international coverage from the BBC[55] and The New York Times[56] with reports being syndicated to various publications around the world through wire services Associated Press (AP)[57], Reuters and Agence France-Presse (AFP).[58],[59],[60]

The Online Citizen interviews the organiser and participants of the inaugural Pink Dot, 16 May 2009

The Online Citizen interviews the organiser and participants of the inaugural Pink Dot, 16 May 2009

Pink Dot loves Singapore!

Pink Dot loves Singapore!


First Pink Dot- All You Need Is Love (16 May 2009)

First Pink Dot- All You Need Is Love (16 May 2009)


The fallout resulting from the AWARE saga helped bring the topic of LGBT acceptance in Singapore into the spotlight and had considerable impact on the momentum created leading up to the Pink Dot event. It seems to have been something of a double-edged sword for Pink Dot - on the one hand, it helped to galvanise what might be loosely referred to as a ‘liberal constituency’; on the other, the pronouncements of senior political figures in the wake of AWARE’s extraordinary general meeting had a dampening effect on media coverage.

PinkDotEarly002

Post-Pink Dot meeting on 6 October 2009 at Fridae's office, #03-09, Blk. 26, Kallang Place. Steering committee members from left to right: J. Yong, J. Koh, Roy Tan, Sylvia Tan, Choo Lip Sin, Andrew Wong, Dominic Chua, Stuart Koe, Ash Lim, Stephanie Ong and Abra Lee[1]. Absent: Boo Jun Feng, Izzie Salleh Ali and Alan Seah.


Impact on LGBT communityEdit

There were generally positive reactions as seen from myriad comments and responses on the Pink Dot SG website[61], Facebook page[62] and corresponding news sites, with some individuals even saying that the event had directly impacted their psychological outlook for the better, regardless of the ultraconservative vitriol that was also posted.

The event was important insofar as it tangibly demonstrated to the local gay community the existence of a sizeable heterosexual population that was interested in and concerned about LGBT issues; this indirectly lessened the paranoia that many LGBT individuals experienced with regard to their work and home environments.

In its own way, the Pink Dot event aided the process of demystifying the generally negative preconceptions of LGBT people as paedophiles, drug abusers, immoral and deviant among mainstream segments. It helped to bring about a more positive perception of the LGBT community in ongoing efforts to engage with the still largely conservative populace, further complementing other efforts and campaigns such as PLU’s annual IndigNation season.

Impact on international human rightsEdit

The event was deemed significant enough to be included in the U.S. Department of State's human rights reports for 2009, released on 11 March 2010 [63] :

"On May 16, a rally in support of "the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in Singapore to love" took place at Speakers Corner. Participants held pink umbrellas aloft and arranged themselves to form a large pink dot when seen from nearby high-rise buildings. The rally took place without disturbance."

It was also featured in the documentary film "Courage Unfolds", produced in 2011, which formed a central part of the Courage Unfolds Campaign of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)[64].

During the debate in April 2012 at Yale University over the appropriateness of setting up the Yale-NUS College in Singapore given the latter's perceived lack of respect for civil, political and LGBT rights, an article by Ng E-Ching used Pink Dot as an example of the common values shared by Yale and Singapore[65]:

"... the best way for Yale to effect change is not by stressing differences, but by showing Singaporeans how much we have in common. Singaporean gay movement Pink Dot has borrowed selectively from the U.S. gay marriage and adoption debates. By stressing family relationships and acceptance of diversity - both values at the core of Singaporean identity - last year's rally drew over 10,000 people."

International eventsEdit

The success of Pink Dot 2011 inspired many LGBT activists around the world to organise similar events in their own cities. Facebook pages have been created to organise events in Utah, Hong Kong, Montreal, New York and the Philippines. Pink Dot events were held in Utah in 2011 and 2012 and in 2012, Pink Dot Montreal organised a similar gathering. Smaller celebrations were also held in locations like Anchorage, New York, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Pink Dot AnchorageEdit

As an Alaska PrideFest event, Pink Dot Anchorage organised a gathering on 18 June 2011 at the Anchorage Town Square where around 100 participants turned up. The participants massed into a heart-shaped formation[66](content removed).

Pink Dot HKEdit

On 24 June 2011, Hong Kong's Pink Alliance organised a gathering at Psychic Jack Lounge located in Central Hong Kong[67].

Pink Dot LondonEdit

On 18 June 2011, Singaporeans in London organised a picnic at Hyde Park, London in conjunction with the Pink Dot event occur in Singapore that day.

Pink Dot MTLEdit

Pink Dot MTL is a movement inspired by the Singapore event which believes that love is best built on a foundation of trust and honesty, not fear and shame. The group hopes to bring LGBT individuals in Montreal closer to their families and friends where change for the better happens through conversations, not cover-ups and covert lives[68].

On 18th Aug 2012, a Pink Dot event was organised where nearly 300 attendees gathered at Place Émilie-Gamelin, Montreal, Quebec. A competition was organised where LGBT individuals were invited to submit their personal coming out stories. The top three writers were sent an invitiation to the event and their stories were read out in front of other participants[69].

In 2013, a Pink Dot event was held at Place Émilie-Gamelin on 17th Aug. The event had a one-page feature on local gay magazine Fugues[70].

Pink Dot NYEdit

A Pink Dot picnic was held on 7 June 2011, on 6 October 2012 and on 22 June 2013 in Central Park, New York. Around 30 participants turned up for each event.

Pink Dot OKEdit

Pink Dot Okinawa was inspired by Singapore's Pink Dot. The event was the island's first LGBT event and was held on 14 July 2013 with a turnout of 800 people. It was located in a park in Naha city, Okinawa which was specifically chosen for its large tourist crowd and mixed culture[71]. Unique from Singapore's Pink Dot, Pink Dot Okinawa features pre-night club events[72], a pre-event beach party and LGBT book fair[73], and an after-party.

The event was covered by local media like the Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Shimpo.

The mascot of the event is Pinkmaaru, a winking cartoon animal with the event's name, ‘Pink dot OK’[74].

Pink Dot PenangEdit

A Pink Dot event was planned to be held in Penang, Malaysia on 29 March 2014 by SUARAM. Flying under the slogan "Sit in solidarity in the day, Dance together in the night", Pink Dot Penang was meant to be a two-part event including a workshop in the day and a party in the night at the 1926 heritage hotel.

The event was eventually cancelled on 16 March due to religious pressure by Perkasa and other Muslim activists making police reports on the event being a "sex festival"[75].

Pink Dot TWEdit

A Pink Dot event was organised by the Taiwan Adolescent Association On Sexualities on 18 June 2011 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Participants gathered at the Kaohsiung Cultural Central.

Pink Dot UtahEdit

Pink Dot Utah is a campaign inspired by the Singapore event and flies under the theme "Support, Love, Courage" aiming to engender an appreciation of Utah's diversity – regardless of race, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The campaign encourages individuals of the LGBT community to share their life stories which are then featured on the campaign website. It is organised by the Support Love Courage Council[76].

Pink Dot Utah 2011 was held on National Coming Out Day, 11 October 2011, at the Spring Mobile Ball Park in Salt Lake City, Utah. More than 3000 participants showed up for the inaugural pink dot event in Utah and gathered at the baseball field near Spring Mobile Ball Park[77]. Several community organizations and businesses were in attendance at the event, including representatives from First Baptist Church and Utah's Latino community. Denise Winslow came on behalf of Wells Fargo Bank with her family.

Pink Dot Utah organisers invited Emmy award winning composer, Kurt Bestor and Anchor of Fox’s Live at Five andNews at Nine Newscaststo Co-host, Hope Woodside as celebrity ambassadors of the event[78]. The event was also covered by local media like The Salt Lake Tribune[79].

The organisers of Pink Dot Utah also created their own campaign video, which bore an uncanny resemblance with Pink Dot SG's 2011 video, to promote the cause.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

ReferencesEdit

AcknowledgementsEdit

Information on the inaugural Pink Dot was drafted by Dominic Chua and Izzie Salleh Ali. The description of subsequent developments and the addition of all relevant links were done by Roy Tan.

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