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Thailand wins as Singapore's brief gay fling grinds to a halt (Sydney Morning Herald)
4 Nov, 2005

When South-East Asia's largest gay party, Nation '05, kicks off today in Phuket, Thailand, it will officially mark the end of Singapore's flirtation with the pink dollar.

For four years, Singapore dallied with a more liberal policy towards gay lifestyles, warmed by the money that flowed from it and emboldened by research that showed cities with an active gay community were more creative, productive societies.

However, the rise of the new Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has been accompanied by a waning of government support for the gay population.

"The Prime Minister, in his own words, has said the gay community should not oppress others in Singapore," said Nation '05's organiser, Stuart Koe, a Singaporean who runs South-East Asia's largest gay web portal, Fridae.com.

"The Government decided it didn't want gay parties in Singapore. They said it was contrary to the conservative mainstream and there would be a number of people who would find something like that very offensive."

The Prime Minister made the comments to Singapore's Foreign Correspondents Association on October 6. "We were surprised they would take such a strong stand," Mr Koe said. "The party had been held without incident and has been an economic success."

In the years after 2001, the Nation party on Singapore's Sentosa island grew from a small gathering to a dance party attracting up to 8000 guests and generating $A8 million for the Singapore economy.

The first inkling of change came when organisers were refused a licence to host a smaller Christmas party last December.

"It seems to be coming right from the top," Mr Koe said.

"There seems to be a media gag order on any gay issues in the newspapers. Letters are no longer getting into the press. Before, it had been a topic of discussion."

Mr Koe said there would be strong negative repercussions for Singapore. "One very tangible consequence was Warwick University in the UK [which] was recently granted a licence to set up a campus in Singapore but the faculty and students voted not to," Mr Koe said. "One of the reasons cited was Singapore's stance against the gay community. They felt there was no freedom of speech.

"The Prime Minister said it was not homophobia, but they had to be sensitive to people who find gay people offensive."

Singapore's loss has been Thailand's gain. "Singapore has a ways to go in maturing as a society, where Thailand has a long history culturally [of accepting gay lifestyles]," he said.

Phuket will host the three-day party, from today to Sunday, at eight venues with DJs and artists from the US, Thailand, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

"It will be smaller, cozier - 1000 to 1500 people - because there is no domestic Singapore crowd," Mr Koe said. "Everyone is a tourist, but we are sold out."

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