Gay forum banned

Yawning Bread March 2004

What are they afraid of? is the mind-boggling question, as we try to understand another refusal by the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU) to permit a series of open talks touching on homosexuality.

The Fun Stage, a theatre group, applied for permits to hold three talks on March 6, 20 and 27, as lead-up events to their play “Lovers’ Words”, scheduled for mid April. The three talks were titled the “Lovers’ Lecture Series”.

In a letter dated 4 March 2004, the Assistant Director of Operations, Police, replied to Mr Richard Chua, the Artistic Co-Director of the Fun Stage, saying it would be “contrary to public interest” to grant them the necessary permits.

It appears that nothing has changed since May 2000, when the same lousy excuse was used to ban the forum that I proposed. See the article ‘My forum was banned’. Even the same line, “contrary to the public interest”, was used.

“Lovers’ Words” is a Chinese-language play by Qiu An Chen (Taiwan). I gather from a circulating synopsis that the play imagines a situation where society is majority gay and looks at how a heterosexual minority would fit into such a society.

The talks, meant for academics, arts practitioners and critics, aimed to address issues such as the representation of same-sex love in Chinese history, literature and culture, how Chinese culture is changing today, and the impact of the book “People Like Us: Sexual minorities in Singapore”, published last year.

It will strike everyone that “contrary to public interest” is a sweeping reason that begs elaboration. It is so opaque, one cannot but feel it masks a true reason, perhaps one which the government cannot publicly reveal.

People Like Us issued a statement on 9 March 2004 saying the government needs to provide much greater accountability than that. The Straits Times called PELU to ask them to elaborate, but they refused.

The last time PELU elaborated, in the letter of rejection given to me in May 2000, they said that Singapore was conservative and the law made homosexuality illegal. Therefore it was contrary to the public interest to talk about things people don’t want to hear and which Queen Victoria had already made illegal.

From that experience, I think the authorities learnt the lesson that the public felt free to laugh at them. So this time they must have decided to say even less.

Like all organisms, our government learns. They learn how to stonewall better. However, they never seem to stop and ask whether what they’re doing makes any sense at all!