Originally published on Advocate.com March 11 2004 12:00 AM ET
A Singapore rights group complained Wednesday that local police discriminate against gays and that the government denies them basic rights, after authorities refused to give a theater group a license to hold public seminars on gay literature. The Police Public Entertainment Licensing Unit should explain in detail why it won't allow the Fun Stage to conduct a series of three lectures, said Russell Heng, founder of gay rights group People Like Us.
The first seminar, titled "Same-sex Love in Chinese Literature," had been scheduled for March 6. "By this action, the government indicates once again that they will deny gay people due respect, equality, and civil rights," Heng said.
A permit is required for any public gathering of five or more people and for virtually any form of public speech or entertainment in the country. In a March 4 letter to the group, the police said the talks--involving academics, critics and theater producers--would be "contrary to public interest," the theater group's artistic codirector, Richard Chua, said. "In Singapore today, gay people can go to bars, saunas, and dance at a party on National Day in huge numbers," Heng said. "Nothing so far has shown that these things are 'contrary to public interest,' so why should an academic discussion of gay literature be?"
The police confirmed in a written statement that they had refused the permit, but did not expand on the reasons why. While homosexual acts are illegal according to Singapore's loosely defined Penal Code, there is no law in Singapore that explicitly bans the promotion of homosexuality. Singapore has taken small steps to extend rights to gays in the famously straitlaced country. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said last year that his government would begin hiring openly gay people--something that had been rejected in the past because homosexuality was considered a violation of conservative Asian norms.