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Sex and song in
Singapore

Sex and song in
Singapore

Jason_demarco_lrg

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

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.

Abstinence-based sex education is widely preferred to education dealing with condoms and contraception. The health minister has even publicly stated that he does not think the only way to educate people is to "do it in an in-your-face approach," crushing any possibilities for more liberal public health education campaigns to be launched. These dueling priorities--stopping HIV but also halting safer-sex education--led to the controversy surrounding the planned HIV-awareness concert. Was this an "in-your-face," condom-dispersing, banana-gloving-demonstration party that was going to feature two gay guys singing about sex, drugs, and debauchery? Far from it, say organizers. "We invited Jason and deMarco because they are a monogamous couple for the past five years and we wanted to send forth the message to the gay community that a monogamous relationship and responsible attitude toward sex should be the approach to take," says Peter Goh, a coordinator from Safehaven. And what better couple to be role models for young gay Singaporeans, who are becoming more visible in their community, than Jason and deMarco? Not only are the two openly gay singers known to be partners of many years, they have also been applauded for redefining contemporary spiritual music. "It is unfortunate that the authorities rejected the license," Brenton Wong, a spokesman for Action for AIDS, told Reuters. "These people had good intentions, they wanted to do something for their community and help us as well as give funds to our prevention efforts." Instead of promoting a more open, educated, and tolerant society, Singaporean officials seem to be doing the opposite. In its effort to reinvent itself as a technologically modern and socially sophisticated society, Singapore seems to be taking a wrong turn in STD prevention methods. Although it has one of the lowest rates of HIV infection in Asia, Singapore can learn some things from nations that are more experienced in dealing with HIV prevention. Kicking out positive--and I don't mean HIV-positive--role models who want to contribute to AIDS awareness is not one of them.

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