Sex and song in Singapore

The banning of Jason and deMarco from an AIDS-awareness concert is the latest sign that the government’s newly proclaimed focus on HIV prevention remains far from effective

BY Kevin Kumala

March 31 2005 1:00 AM ET

Advocate cover subjects Jason and deMarco, a pop duo
who are also offstage life partners, were invited to
be guest performers in Singapore at the April 3 Action
for AIDS event, organized by Safehaven, a Christian
group supportive of the gay community. In late March, stating that “performances
that promote alternative lifestyles are against the
public interest,” the Media Authority of
Singapore, which must approve every public entertainment
event in the city-state, banned their appearance. The
entire event, intended to raise both money and
awareness of the threat of HIV/AIDS among
Singapore’s gay population, was subsequently canceled
by organizers. The ban is the latest in a series of mixed
messages from the government, which on the one hand
claims to be concerned about rising HIV infection
rates and on the other has stymied activists’
attempts to educate those most at risk of infection.
The barring of Jason and deMarco followed recent
comments made by health minister Balaji Sadasivan, who
alleged that gays were the biggest reason for
Singapore’s “alarming AIDS
epidemic.” The minister also suggested that the
28% rise in HIV cases last year was linked to the Nation
Party, an annual event popular among gay tourists and locals. The Singapore government has allowed the Nation
Party to be held annually since 2001. From 1,500
people in its debut year to 8,000 in 2004, the event
has grown significantly, drawing many gay tourists and their
“pink dollars” to Singapore. Despite the
government’s concern about the possible spread
of STDs at these parties, it shut down an Action for
AIDS booth last year because members of the organization
were promoting safe-sex messages to partygoers. Nevertheless, Singaporean leaders claim AIDS
awareness is now a high priority. As in China, they
have only recently addressed concerns about the spread
of HIV and have declared a “zero-tolerance”
stance on unsafe sex. But the initiatives the
government has taken in order to implement this policy
seem more archaic than productive. Singapore’s ruling party, the
People’s Action Party, has a social-policy
platform similar to that of the Republican Party in the
United States, although religion is not the driving force
behind it. (Singapore’s government and parties
are mostly secular.) Antisodomy laws are still on the
books, and gay rights issues and sex education are
frowned upon in this very conservative atmosphere.

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