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Singapore’s LGBT Festival Goes Local

Government Hurdle for International Corporate Sponsors Leads to Local Business Support

A woman wrapped in the rainbow flag is seen at the Pink Dot rally, Singapore’s annual gay pride rally, July 1, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

Pink Dot, Singapore’s annual event bringing people together in support of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, proved extra special this year when over 100 local businesses sponsored the gathering. This year, the government barred international companies – which have historically backed the event – from doing so.

Pink Dot is a pivotal gathering for LGBT people in Singapore, where sex between men is punishable by up to two years in prison and radio and television guidelines preclude plots that “promote, justify or glamorize” LGBT lifestyles. First launched in 2009, the annual event has been supported by local branches of over a dozen multinational firms operating there.

Singapore has a reputation of welcoming international companies. And unlike the government, many of these businesses – including Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, Visa, and Microsoft, which have offices in Singapore – recognize LGBT rights in their policies.

So why were international firms barred from supporting the event?

After last year’s Pink Dot event, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam issued a statement that “foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones,” adding that LGBT issues are “one such example.”

In October, the ministry said it would require multilateral companies to obtain government permission to sponsor Pink Dot. Shanmugam added that it would be difficult for companies to receive permission to support LGBT-themed parties, as Singaporeans had “sharply divided opinions” on the issue.

To the delight of Pink Dot’s organizers, local companies stepped in to fill the funding gap this year. By March, it had reached 70 percent of its donations target as momentum built toward the July 1 event. By May, organizers had surpassed their fundraising target with more than 100 Singaporean companies chipping in.

Earlier this year, when Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked what he thought of the country’s colonial-era sodomy law, he responded: “I’m prepared to live with it until social attitudes change.”

It appears Pink Dot 2017, sponsored by local companies and attended by more than 20,000 citizens and permanent residents, has heralded exactly that shift. The government should heed this lesson and make changes to include – not discriminate against – its LGBT population. 

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