Originally published on Advocate.com April 15 2004 11:00 PM ET
Singapore isn't ready to accept gay rights groups, an official tasked with overhauling the country's conservative image said Thursday. "The vast majority of Singaporeans are not ready and will not accept the formation of groups who may...be seen to promote gay or alternative lifestyles," said Vivian Balakrishnan, a government minister of state for national development. Balakrishnan heads the "Remaking Singapore Committee," appointed by the government to help the Southeast Asian island nation shed its authoritarian reputation and market itself as a media and arts center. "To stridently go out and campaign [for] the registration of groups like this will actually be counterproductive to these groups at this point in time," Balakrishnan said. He was referring to People Like Us, a gay support group that was denied permission last week to officially register as a society.
The government's Registrar of Societies has also ordered People Like Us to halt its activities, saying it was "likely to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or good order." Singapore law bans gay sex, putting it in the category of an "act of gross indecency," but there have been few prosecutions of gay men or lesbians. Critics say there's not enough room for expression and dissent in Singapore and that liberalization has been glacially slow. People Like Us--which claims a membership of more than 1,000--has been using the Internet to push for gay rights in the tightly controlled country.