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No Mardi Gras, Says PM. Yet... Gay poser on National Day (The New Paper [Singapore])
6 Jul, 2003

Event touted as Asia Mardi Gras. Are they pushing their agenda?

Nation.03 has been dubbed "Asia's Mardi Gras" and it will be held right here in Singapore - on National Day. This, despite Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong having said that gay parades are a definite no.

The PM had indicated a softening of the Government's stance towards the gay community in an interview with Time Magazine.

He felt that, over time, Singaporeans would "understand that some people are born that way".

Said Mr Goh: "We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me."

But is the gay community, bouyed by his remarks, pushing its agenda with activities like "Asia's Mardi Gras"?

There has been some fudging.

While the Mardi Gras tag touted on its promotional blurbs by organisers Fridae.com might give the image of a gay pride street parade like those seen in Sydney, Nation.03 is no parade.

It is a ticketed event and all the action will take place within th confines of the event venues.

Still Nation.03 is no small , underground part for Singapore's GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual in gay-speak) community.

The organisers claim that this year's party, the third in the annual series of Nation parties, will be the biggest to date.

The puzzling thing is this: The police have yet to recieve an application for the event. Such an event, said a spokesman, would require a permit.

But Fridae.com seems confident thtat there will be no obstacles.

It has spread the gaiety over three days comprising a Welcome Party on Aug 7 at Why Not? Bar, the main Nation.03 event on Aug 8 at Sentosa Musical Fountain, and the Poolside Recovery party on National Day at Big Splash.

The event is expected to attract 4,000 and 5,000 party goers, said Fridae.com Chief Executive Officer Stuart Koe, 30.

In 2001, the inaugural event attracted 1,500 party goers. Last year, that number swelled to 2,500.

Hailed in international gay circles as "Singapore's coming-out party", Nation.03 is dubbed the "Mardi Gras of Asia".

Dr Koe claimed that, going by initial ticket sakes, Nation.03 will attract people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and as far away as Los Angeles and New York City in the US.

"And it will generate between $3 million and $4 million dollars for Singapore tourism," he predicted, with "up to $10,000 to be donated to Action for Aids".

Though a GLBT event, Nation.03 is open to non-GLBTs.

"Typically, between 10 and 15 per cent of people who attend are non-GLBTs," claimed Dr Koe.

"They come to have a good time, fully aware of the nature of the party," said Dr Koe.

Are they testing the limts, given that Singapore is still largely conservative?

The organisers deny this. But they want Nation.03 to serve as an avenue for mainstream Singaporeans to understand and accept Singapore gays better.


Said gay activist Alex Au, who is not involved in organising Nation.03: "The party will help people become aware that the gay community is large, vibrant and full of yuppies and middle-class, forward-looking people.

"Since it is open to everyone, Singaporeans will also have the chance to discover that it is not terribly threatening to be amidst gay people."

For foreigners, Nation.03 will also help change Singapore's image as a "straight-laced, boring town", Dr Koe pointed out.

And he doesn't think gay activists are pushing the limits by coinciding Nation.03 with National Day.

"We are not making a statement."

"There have been gay bars for the last 30 years and it is only now that these activities are becoming more visible," he said. Nation.03 is a party for GLBTs to celebrate National Day, he explained.

"Nation is no longer 'just a dance party'. In there short years, Nation has evolved into a major celebration of social diversity and acceptance.

"Singapore as a country has moved towards being a society highly tolerant of diversity, and Nation reflects this shift in mindset."


Dr Koe felt that Singaporeans are "a lot more tolerent than we give them credit for".

Will such events runt he risk of offending hetersexual Singaporeans?

Mr David Kan, 38, executive director and senior counsellor at the Family Life Centre, has counselled gays before. He called for empathy among heterosexuals.

He said: "I see them as fellow human beings who are imperfect.

"But we have to remember that we ourselves are not perfect.

"Their imperfection comes in not being able to connect with the opposite sex. But hetersexuals are not free from imperfections in other ways.

"So I can't say if they are right or wrong. Just that they have a certain set of needs that are different from other people."

Wanting to "crusade their cause", Mr Kan said, shows their need for acceptance by mainstream Singaporeans.

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