Gays rally in Singapore despite opposition from religious conservatives
One of the largest crowds ever recorded in Singapore for a civil society gathering turned out yesterday at a gay rights rally, against a backdrop of noisy opposition from religious groups in the run-up to the event.
An estimated 26,000 people, a record, descended on Hong Lim Park for the "Pink Dot", an annual event since 2009 that aims to discourage discrimination against same-sex couples.
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 spectacles to tube tops and even facial hair dyed in the colour, while dogs sported pink clothing and leashes for the event.
Its name is a play on Singapore's nickname - "The Little Red Dot" on the world map.
Watch: Thousands join gay rights rally in Singapore
Rally spokesman Paerin Choa stressed it was not a protest but aimed to "promote inclusiveness and diversity and to make LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Singaporeans feel this is a place we can all call home".
The rally has grown in stature since its first edition, when 2,500 people attended. It now enjoys the support of local celebrities as well as internet giant Google and financial firms Barclays and JP 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 counter movements 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 stop 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.
Student Ravindran Thanapal, 25, 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."
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".
The pastor has professed support for a separate peaceful protest led by Ustaz Noor Deros, a Singaporean Muslim teacher.
Noor's "Wear White" campaign called on Muslims to shun Pink Dot and instead wear white garments to mosques yesterday to attend special prayers usually held on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Officials have avoided taking sides and have instead urged Singaporeans to practise restraint in debating LGBT rights.
Additional reporting by Reuters