The 1st Singapore AIDS conferenceEdit

Held on 12 December 1998 at the Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre, the landmark event was organised by Action for AIDS (AfA) to coincide with its 10th anniversary, and the Communicable Disease Centre/Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The Singapore AIDS Conferences were to become biannual meetings targeted at individuals and organisations involved in AIDS prevention and education, and those providing support, welfare and care activities. They would serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas, sharing of research findings and experiences, and an opportunity to update knowledge and skills. The inaugural conference was opened by the Minister of Health, Mr Yeo Cheow Tong and attended by over 400 delegates. The theme of the first conference was “Facing the Challenge in Singapore”.

In all, there were 4 plenary sessions and 29 seminar presentations. The keynote speaker was Prof Werasit Sittitrai, from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) who addressed the topic “Safeguarding Young People for the Next Generation”. Read a summary of the seminars:[1] and the script of 1 of the plenary lectures by Alan John, a news editor of the Straits Times:[2]

One of the highlights of the conference which attracted great media attention was the revelation by Paddy Chew of his HIV-positive status to the general public, the first time in Singapore that a person with AIDS (PWA) had revealed his identity and allowed himself to be photographed. Read the script of Chew's lecture:[3]


The 2nd Singapore AIDS conferenceEdit

The second biennial conference attracted almost 400 delegates who met over one-and-a-half days at the Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre towards the end of November 2000. The keynote address was delivered by Datin Marina Mahathir of the Malaysian AIDS Council. There were 3 plenary sessions, and 10 symposia including 1 nursing symposium. In addition a special post-conference satellite symposium on MSM AIDS and other related health issues was organised. Read AfA's reports on selected sessions:[4],[5] and [6].


The 3rd Singapore AIDS ConferenceEdit

Held on 22 and 23 November 2002 again at the Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre, the theme of the year’s conference was "Change- Attitudes, Behaviour- the Future". The opening included a main speech [7] by the Guest-of-Honour, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Minister of State for Health and Environment and an address by the keynote speaker, Thailand's Senator Mechai Viravaidya who was the key architect of his government's response to HIV/AIDS in 1991-1992. Since then, there had been a 77% decline in new infections in the country.

Read reports of the symposia[8], testimonials from people with AIDs[9], a presentation on the legal reasons for the high cost of AIDS drugs in Singapore[10] and the resolutions of the conference[11]


Homosexuality and Homophobia: Applied Psychotherapeutic Issues for CounsellorsEdit

A 1-day public conference held in August 2003, by SPACES, a private counselling agency. It was groundbreaking in that it was the first widely-advertised seminar organised by a predominantly gay volunteer organisation which dealt with the topic of homosexuality in a scientific and balanced manner. Any previous public talk had to avoid portraying homosexuality as normal, or else the police would not issue a licence to allow it to proceed.

The 3rd International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS3)Edit

Held from 19-22 August 2003 at the Raffles City Convention Centre, it was hosted and co-organised by the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. It drew over 1000 participants from around the world, almost all of whom were academics. Over 900 papers were presented. The conference was a landmark in that its programme included the most papers touching on sexuality and transgenderism ever assembled in Singapore. The 60-80 queer scholars who flew in for the conference were the largest group of queer academics meeting at a local venue at the same time.

Many felt that the theme of sexuality and transgenderism fielded more papers than any other, such as IndoChinese history or modern Chinese politics. Altogether 10 panels (each with about 4 papers) discussed topics on sexuality and transgenderism. They were:

  • Male same-sex cultures in SE Asia and the Asian American Diaspora
  • Gender and sexaulity in recent Chinese cinema
  • Same sex cultures in Taiwan
  • Sexualities and transgenderism
  • Gender performance and identity politics
  • Asian transgender and transsexual cultures I & II
  • Asian homosexualities, globalisation and medicalisation
  • Sexual identities and social histories
  • Female same-sex cultures in East and Southeast Asia

Some of the academics from Australia and other Western countries had wondered, before the conference, whether their papers would be accepted, considering that the conference was to be held in Singapore, and the NUS would play a big part in its organisation. Academic and activist Russell Heng felt they need not have worried as NUS had actually pitched for it.

Homosexuality: Myths and TruthsEdit

Held from 25-28 November 2003 by the Singapore chapter of the controversial US-linked organisation Focus on the Family. This despite the organisers having received protest letters and a statement issued by the AFFIRM Network, a US-based group of psychologists, which highlighted "serious ethical and scientific concerns" about "reparative therapy" for homosexuals. The letter listed "3 serious problems" which the Singaporean public should have been made aware of if they were considering attending at the event. Recipients of the letter included The Straits Times, the Singapore Psychological Society, the California Psychological Association Ethics Committee and Melvin Wong, Ph.D., the California-based speaker of the seminars. The series of seminars, which was supported by the Metropolitan YMCA, the YMCA of Singapore, the Salvation Army, the Boys' Brigade and the State-run and funded National Council of Social Services (NCCS), covered topics such as "Preventing Homosexuality", "Recovery Therapy" and "Unwanted Homosexuality: Steps to Early Detection and Prevention". People Like Us (PLU) had also sent a different set of letters to the NCCS, the Ministry of Community Development, volunteer organisations and the media highlighting that the claims purported by the seminar's organisers were contrary to the opinions of the mainstream medical community. One of the main points of contention was that voluntary welfare organisations were eligible to receive a 70% training grant from the NCCS if they attended, according to the seminar brochure. The NCCS subsequently withdrew its previously-offered training grant to participants on the grounds of the speaker, Dr. Melvin Wong's lack of qualifications.


The Lovers' Lecture seriesEdit

In March 2004, The Fun Stage, a theatre group, applied to the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU), which is under the Singapore Police Force and handles the licensing of public lectures and forums, for permits to hold three talks at SPACE 21, 21 Tanjong Pagar Road. These were to be lead-up events to their play "Lovers' Words", scheduled for mid-April 2004. The 3 talks entitled the "Lovers' Lecture Series" were meant for academics, arts practitioners and critics. Its scheduled programmed was as follows:

The seminars eventually had to be cancelled because in a letter dated 4 March 2004, the Assistant Director of Operations, Police, replied to Richard Chua, the Artistic Co-Director of The Fun Stage, saying that it would be "contrary to public interest" to grant them the necessary permits.

Legislating sexual behaviour- should the State be in our bedrooms?Edit

A forum held on 29 March 2004, organised by the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) at Kent Ridge Guild Hall. The main speaker was activist Alex Au who argued that resolving the question of whether the State should be regulating the sexual choices of consenting adults depended on whether the State was a paternalistic or liberal one. In the former case, the State's default tendency was to regulate, and one would have to present positive reasons for it not to. The opposite applied in the liberal paradigm. Au used the example of homosexuality to show how weak the arguments for regulating sexual behaviour in a liberal context were, even for such a contentious issue. The other speaker was Associate Professor Michael Hor, Faculty of Law, NUS who dissected section 377 and section 377A of the Penal Code, discussed some pertinent cases and also delved into constitutional principles involved. He touched on the reasoning used by the US Supreme Court in the Lawrence vs Texas case, and how such reasoning might apply in Singapore's constitutional provisions. (Read Alex Au's presentation[12], the background to the organisation of the conference[13], the question and answer session which ensued[14] and the Associated Press report:[15])


The Singapore Forum on Politics 2005- Towards an Open and Inclusive SocietyEdit

Loving Myself - Two Gay Pilgrims Journeying LifeEdit

Held on Tuesday, 1 March 2005, it was the first workshop organised by Oogachaga[18]-Looking Glass[19], the non-profit lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and straight affirming counseling service. This was part of regular personal development and growth workshops for lesbians, gays and their friends which were to take place on the first Tuesday of every other month in 2005.

Clarence Singam and Eileena Lee shared their own journeys of growth into self acceptance and affirmation. Eileena and Clarence shared the lessons they learned about being human, being strong, finding empathy and learning to love from their unique and yet common journeys. They shared their ups and downs, their self rejections, their own healing and the celebration of their selfhoods. The sharing was followed by a question and answer session, to engage Eileena and Clarence further.

The Pink Dollar in the Singaporean contextEdit

A dialogue held on Saturday, 12 March 2005 as part of an event curated by Ong Keng Sen of Theatreworks, under the umbrella of the National Arts Council-funded Singapore Season. It took place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK. PLU3's Alex Au was one of the panelists at the dialogue.

Coming Home To Our Families- To Tell or Not to Tell?Edit

Held on Tuesday, 3 May 2005, the second in the series of Oogachaga-Looking Glass workshops. A panel of 3 gay persons (Kok Wei, Dominic Chua and Eileena Lee), 2 mothers and 2 brothers shared their journey of coming home to each other. What wee the challenges they faced when they found out their family members were gay? What made these three gay persons share their lives as gay people to their families? If they could do it all over again, would they? How would they do it differently?

Loving A Partner- What It Means and What It TakesEdit

Held on Tuesday, 5 July 2005, the third in the series of Oogachaga workshops.

It explored the multitude of challenges, from a lack of role models and social support to dealing with one's own and one's partner's hangups. Questions tackled were: What makes a healthy relationship? How does one deal with trials that pop up in every relationship? How does one negotiate one's relationship commitments? What sacrifices does one have to make to maintain a relationship? How does one's biological families fit in, if at all? A panel of gay and lesbian persons shared the ups & downs and joys & sorrows of their relationships. Speaker Kim shared the twists and turns of his 20-year partnership with Leong. Jo and Jorg talked about their long distance stint and why they decided to get married after a 10-year partnership. The panelists shared the lessons they learned about being human, being strong, finding empathy and learning to love from their unique and yet common journeys.

Sexualities, Genders and Rights in Asia: the 1st International Conference of Asian Queer StudiesEdit

From 7-9 July 2005, held in Bangkok, Thailand and organised by the Australian National University and Mahidol University. The conference had difficulties raising funds because many donors had been exhausted by the recent tsunami relief effort. Furthermore, many of them also had policies where their contributions should be linked to health issues. This made it hard for the conference to include thematic streams that dealt with identity and representation not connected with HIV/AIDS. Singapore's People Like Us 3 rendered financial assistance which made possible the "Cinema and Media" thematic stream, in particular the panel on Asian Queer Filmmakers, by funding scholarships for speakers from poorer countries who would present papers on this subject. Fridae was also another proud Singaporean sponsor of the conference. Over 200 papers were presented, including studies by Singaporean and Singapore-based researchers.

  • Singaporean PhD student (at the University of Illinois in the US) Christopher Tan Kok Kee presented a paper entitled "Pinking the Lion City: Interrogating Singapore's Gay Civil Servant Statement". Abstract: Even though it has been 20 years since the separate emergence of queer and Southeast Asian studies within anthropology, the state of being queer and Southeast Asian is still heavily under-articulated. This paper seeks to fill this gap by critiquing the survivalist strategies of Singapore's 2003 statement that promises equal employment opportunities to gay civil servants. Singapore embrace of sexual minorities is indicative of a move by neoliberalist states to attract the 'creative class' by being highly tolerant of 'difference', similar to what Richard Florida (2002) argued with respect to American cities. Despite the significance of this measure, this paper argues that it is not only ineffective because of its inherent contradictions, it is also politically problematic. Homosexuality still remains criminalized in Singapore because of antiquated British colonial laws. The state-regulated media also continues to demonize homosexuality as a symptom of Western decadence as it valorises the heterosexual patriarchal family as a prop to a declining birth rate. Interrogating Singapore's gay civil servant statement can not only reveal the state of being queer and Southeast Asian, it can also illuminate the limits of neo-liberal policies that embrace 'difference' within the confines of the capitalist logic.
Tan argued that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s June 2003 statement, that the Government would employ gays even in 'sensitive' positions provided that these civil servants openly declared their sexual orientation, was not a discourse of tolerance. Data gathered from Tan's fieldwork suggested that while gay Singaporeans welcomed the statement, they also strongly doubted the Government’s sincerity. When civil servants in Tan's survey pool were asked whether their individual ministries or statutory boards had done anything to realise the statement, the answer was a uniformly resounding 'No!'
  • Clarence Singam (Oogachaga Counseling and Support) presented "Developing LGBT Affirmative Support Groups within Singaporean Postmodernity". Abstract: Singapore today, stands between modernity and post-modernity where contradictory narratives of identity battle for dominance. Two increasingly dominant narratives are that of the nation as a successful economic entity and that of Christian fundamentalism. The former asserts that Singapore's survival requires her to become a creative society open to diverse ideas. However this requires celebrating diversity; including sexual diversity. Thus the issue of gay freedom of expression has been a focal point in the public debate on societal diversity. This push towards diversity has however thrown segments of Singapore's population into identity crises. It has resulted in the growth of a minority though vociferous Christian fundamentalism that adopts the discourses of the religious right wing in the United States. Vocal segments of this population believe they are divinely mandated to stem the rise of lesbigay acceptance in Singapore. These battles are often fought in the public sphere via the discourses of Asian and family values, sexual abstinence as the primary anti-HIV message and allowing religious voices in the political space. This paper will trace the evolution of gay support groups within this terrain of meta-narrative conflicts. It will explore the types of support groups in existence, the strategies employed in planting and nurturing these groups, the obstacles faced and the impact these groups have had on the Singaporean discourse on diversity. The paper will explore the development of religious and social activity based lesbigay affirmative support groups as well as recent community experimentation on straight-gay partnerships.
  • Andrea Goh, Melissa Say, Gerald Tan and Frederick Tong, (Nanyang Technological University) presented "Probing Pink Porn: The perceived value of sexual content for homosexual and heterosexual audiences". Abstract: Singapore law requires consideration of the literary, artistic, social, cultural, educational and scientific value of media content in deciding whether it is objectionable. Responses to structured depth interviews with 40 adults aged over 30 (equal numbers of homosexuals and heterosexuals) were analysed to determine the perceived value of sexual content targeted at homosexual and heterosexual audiences. Input from lawyers, media practitioners and members of the Media Authority's various committees was also analysed.
  • Ying Wuen Wong, (National University of Singapore) presented "The Making of a Local Queen in an International Transsexual Beauty Contest". Abstract: This paper analyses the situation of an international transsexual beauty contest in a discourse of imitation and approximation dominated by Western notions of beauty and femininity. Transsexual beauty contests provide a stage to perform transsexual femininity on the one hand, but subject its participants to imitation of mainstream notions of beauty and femininity on the other. Although transsexual beauty contests market and project a transsexual identity for its participants, pageant participants are expected to perform and imitate femininity and are assessed based on their ability to transgress the gender boundary. A local beauty contest is then compelled to imitate an international one, in a bid to produce a "winner" that matched the mould of beauty constructed by this assessment. Such notions of aesthetics and representation (of one's country and culture) is determined by the discourse of power, both within and without the beauty pageant. This paper will use ethnographic details of both local and international transsexual beauty contests held in Thailand and Singapore in 2004.
  • Dr. K.K. Seet, (National University of Singapore) presented "Progression or Regression? - The 'Gay Teen Summer Romance' as Popular Phenomenon in Taiwanese Cinema".
  • Brian Curtin, (Raffles LaSalle International Design School) presented "Thailand's Gay Male Sexual Cultures and the Problem of Visual Representation".
  • Kenneth Chan, (Nanyang Technological University) presented "Rice Sticking Together: Desire and the Cinematic Representation of Caucasian-Chinese Relationships".
  • Day Wong, (National University of Singapore) presented "Beyond Identity Politics - The Making of an Oral History of Women who Love Women in Hong Kong".


In August 2005, gay activists, bolstered by broad-based grassroots support organised Singapore's inaugural month-long gay pride celebration called IndigNation.[20] The latter moniker was a clever play of words representing the gay community's displeasure at the unexpected official ban of the annual Nation mega-parties which had been approved and held without incident 4 years in a row prior to 2005.

Same-sex love in classical Chinese literatureEdit

The first talk of the "festival" was delivered in Mandarin by Dr. Tan Chong Kee to a capacity audience at 7:30pm on 2 Aug 05 at Xpose Cafe, Bar and Restaurant. Its management allowed free use of the premises to conduct the historic event, namely, the first widely-advertised talk on homosexuality, open to all and held in a public indoor venue ever to take place in Singapore since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2004 liberalisation of the rules governing public talks in indoor areas. Dr. Tan, [21] who had conducted extensive research into Chinese civilization, challenged the notion that same-sex love was contrary to Asian culture. He traced and explored various ancient classical Chinese texts to demonstrate that same-sex love had been an integral part of Asian life.[22] (View photos of the event.[23] Download an .mp3 file of the lecture in 3 parts.[24])