Yet again, the authorities have shown us that, contrary to the objects of the public order legislation, the motive force behind official attitudes to homosexuality is straightforward bigotry. Yaacob Ibrahim and his colleagues, cowards as they have shown themselves to be, take shelter beneath the oft-repeated but essentially meaningless maxim of ‘community norms’. But when you examine all the liberation struggles that bigots of every stripe have made necessary throughout the centuries, it cannot escape the notice of anyone who thinks for a moment about these things that the real purpose of controlling and silencing communities which, for the time being, exist outside the pale of polite society, is the resistance to extending the dignity of equal citizenship to those against whom they have built some form of prejudice.
The struggle for women’s liberation, black civil rights, against Jewish discrimination, against the appointment of colonial subjects to positions of authority, indeed the very colonial struggle itself, came about because some group thought themselves superior to their antagonists in the freedom struggles and considered themselves to possess a right to circumscribe their behaviour, their rights, and the protection of the fundamental freedoms.
Thankfully, most societies across the world have come through the principal struggles against prejudice. But with the exception of one: against LGBT people. Societies, and very modern societies at that, together with their governments still believe that to oppress and discriminate against LGBT people is acceptable – and if the Singapore government is to be believed, desirable.
Of course, religions play a fundamental role in maintaining these prejudices and, of course, liberal, moderate adherents of those religions, by their silence, connive in these programmes of chauvinism, but that is a debate for another day. At least the first salvo in that argument was fired when I challenged the hypocrisy and hatefulness of the Catholic Archbishop (and by implication, the sub-educated chicanery of Laurence Khong and the Wear White movement) over his Pink Dot pronouncements but perhaps the continuance of those hostilities can wait for another day.
Today, the issue is the refusal – yet again – for the LGBT community to hold a jogathon as part of our community’s annual IndigNation event. Resorting to the usual officialese in which the authorities couch their bigotry, they said that as homosexuality is a divisive issue, therefore public order concerns arise. This is Orwellian doublespeak shrouding the basic bigotry that is the government’s official attitude to homosexuality.
It is also faulty logic. That homosexuality is a divisive issue may be accepted as axiomatic although it can, and should, continue to be argued that the authorities have no real basis to make the claim except the repulsive Institute of Policy Studies survey sometime last year that broke every canon of academic research. The necessary premise that should link divisiveness to public order is missing from the syllogism.
So, we are entitled to ask on what basis the link between divisiveness and public disorder is made. In simple terms, which perhaps Yaacob and his friends in government might better understand, how does a run by a group of people which happens to occupy a contested social category give rise to social disorder. Since the main objection to homosexuality emerges from religion, shouldn’t it be asked, not entirely tongue in cheek, whether we should ban religion since the objection to gay people jogging would, if it did, proceed from religious people? It is only a slightly funny question.
The suggestion in the police refusal letter, that the run be held at Hong Lim Park, is ridiculous, although no doubt within the mental capacity of a Singaporean police officer. It also negates the public order concerns. If an activity has the potential to give rise to public disorder, it arises wherever the activity takes place. To deny the jogathon outside of Hong Lim Park is simply to say that the powers of the police are being exercised where they can but not where they cannot. By refusing to allow the run in one place but not another, the police clearly indicate that their concern is not public order but an exercise of prejudice against LGBT people which they are content to exercise when and where they can. In doing so, the police, which should take its mandate to protect the public more seriously, is merely defending the claims of those who demand that their bigotry have official sanction.
It should also be asked of the police how a run might promote public disorder or limit public order. Touch Community Services, whose chairman is Lawrence Khong, recently held a jogathon. Given Khong’s incendiary views about LGBT people, did the police not consider his jogathon to give rise to public order concerns. Apparently not, which gives the lie to the reason for turning down the Pink Run.
To prevent an LGBT event on the grounds that it is publicly divisive is to assume that LGBT issues do not already occupy space in the public discourse. Pink Dot in June attracted upwards of 25,000 attendees. The banning of books by the National Library recently occupied an immense media footprint, resulting in an embarrassing climbdown by the authorities. IndigNation, an entirely public series of LGBT-themed events, is ongoing this month. And only last week, the Sunday Times reported on the marriage in London (because gay marriage is illegal in Singapore) of Cultural Medallion winner, Ivan Heng, and his now spouse, Tony Trickett. (Congratulations again, dear friends!) So, this so-called divisive issue is firmly a part of the public discourse. To ban the Pink Run makes the police and their political masters look boorish and bigoted.
The suggestion that you can contain the divisiveness of the LGBT issue by banning a jogathon when you decline to apply the same ruling to an identical event by a vocal, if rather asinine, religious leader, gives the lie to the police’s decision. Let us say it, and say it clearly for the avoidance of doubt, the police (and their political masters) are simply and straightforwardly bigoted and no amount of cowering under the non-existent umbrella of ‘community norms’ is going to erase it, much less disguise it.
The hallmark of a mature society is divisiveness. The public debate occurs precisely because we are diverse, with differing opinions and values. It is on the bedrock of constant public debate that we progress. The authorities make too much of the virtue of unity, of harmony and consensus, not because it is either possible or desirable. They do so because it allows for a curtailed framework of public norms that are essentially dictated by those with the power to do so. This is not harmony. It is a bovine uniformity and complacency aided and abetted by those whose views on societal organisation we should be working to abandon not defend.