Seeing red over the colour pink

Seeing red over the colour pink

SINGAPORE - The Pink Dot mass picnic started out in 2009 as a small group of people from the gay community celebrating the "freedom to love", as they put it, regardless of sexual orientation.

Over the years, organisers adopted a non-confrontational approach to gay rights. Pink badges - the movement's symbol - sprouted and the event has become Singapore's biggest civil-society gathering. About 21,000 turned up last year.

But this evening's picnic marks a turning point, one that raises the question of whether Singapore is seeing the advent of culture wars, where issues of ideology and behaviour become polarising forces in society, as in the US.

That is because this year, religious groups have come out directly to protest against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) event. They are against homosexuality and see the mass event as undermining traditional family values.

Islamic religious teacher Noor Deros has launched a "Wear White" campaign, calling for Muslims to don the colour of "purity" at mosques today, the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

And in what is possibly the first inter-faith cooperation of its kind against the LGBT issue, some Christian groups have come on board. Outspoken pastor Lawrence Khong has pledged the support of his Faith Community Baptist Church and the LoveSingapore network of churches, asking members to wear white today and tomorrow at church.

Why are gay rights a hot issue?

The LGBT issue single-handedly exposes multiple faultlines within Singapore society.

There is the division between religious and secular groups (and even within that, between religious conservatives and religious liberals), and it also highlights the gap between Singapore's generally silent, conservative majority, and liberal minority.

It also shows up those who find homosexuality morally repugnant, and those who believe universal human rights trump that. The most obvious faultline is how religious and secular groups view homosexuality.

Anecdotal evidence from the debate surrounding the Pink Dot event has seen the conservative camp mainly represented by religious groups, and the liberal camp represented by those with a secular view.

Christian organisations - LoveSingapore, National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) and the Catholic Church - and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) consistently reiterate that homosexuality is a sin.

The response from LGBT supporters is often that gay people are "born that way", a stand which former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong have subscribed to in interviews.

By extension, gays cannot be judged for what is innate.

But even among religious groups, the response can be varied.

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