Singapore's Pink Dot gay rights rally draws thousands amid 'unprecedented' discrimination

Amid opposition from some religious conservatives, thousands of people turned up at Hong Lim Park on Saturday for the annual Pink Dot event supporting Singapore’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Organisers estimated that 26,000 people were at the park during the height of the event at 8pm, surpassing the record 21,000 set last year.

“It is very heartening to see the dot growing year on year. We believe that this sends a strong message of love and acceptance, affirming that Singapore is a home for one and all, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity," said Paerin Choa, spokesperson for Pink Dot Sg.

The massive turnout came amid what organisers called “overwhelming” negativity towards the gathering, which celebrates the “freedom to love”.

Earlier this month, a Muslim teacher launched a “Wear White” campaign on Facebook to remind Muslims not to participate in the event.

The campaign also encourages supporters to wear white when attending tarawih prayers which begins on the eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, taking place this year on the same evening as Pink Dot's event. Meanwhile, it is also typical of Muslims in Singapore to wear white when attending prayers at the mosque.

However, when Yahoo Singapore approached some of those attending tarawih at Sultan Mosque in the Kampong Glam district, several were unaware of such a campaign.

"I don't know about any wear white campaign protesting against Pink Dot...I don't know about any anti-gay campaign, I came here to pray," said a 23-year-old man known as Azmi, who was on his way to prayers.

The campaign also drew support from conservative Christians led by Faith Community Baptish Church senior pastor Lawrence Khong, who staunchly opposes the repeal of Section 377A which criminalizes sex between men.

For the first time since the event began in 2009, organizers engaged security personnel for crowd control and to prepare for any unruly behaviour.

Organizers also introduced a “community voices” segment where invited speakers from the LGBT community, and straight allies, shared stories on their personal challenges and touched on their hopes and dreams for a better and more compassionate Singapore.

in the rally on Saturday, the speakers were: "sticker lady" Samantha Lo, human rights lawyer M Ravi, prominent blogger Benjamin Lee, university student Melissa Tsang, a transgender woman, Fanny Ler, and husband, Zack Ling.

In his speech, Ravi said that in challenging Section 377A “we are fighting for fundamental equal rights”.

Lo, meanwhile, talked about her experiences dealing with discrimination in Singapore society. “I worked twice as hard to prove that a lesbian female can contribute to society,” she said.

In a press briefing before the start of the event at 5pm, Choa said that the extent of discrimination against the LGBT community has been “unprecedented” this year.

"We saw that the online comments made towards us were very brazen this year and that the extent of the negativity was quite overwhelming," said Choa, reiterating that the team wants to "cure the stereotype" on "gay people". On the flipside, Choa also noted that the wear white campaign had helped to gain more awareness on Pink Dot.

However, he said that organizers were open to having a dialogue with Khong, who has asked his followers to wear white specially for a worship service at Suntec Convention Centre on Sunday to make a "statement".

"We are getting through to Mr Khong through another fellow pastor. At this moment, we are trying to find a suitable avenue to get in touch with the 'wear white' people. We have not had any contact made with them as of yet," said Choa.

The Pink Dot gathering has been growing rapidly over the years, drawing a record 21,000 people last year from 2,500 in its inaugural year.

With reporting by Nurul Azliah and Justin Ong