In his casual and thoughtful manner, Au referred to several events in Singapore and the region that could give us cheer, including New Delhi's High Court striking down the anti-sodomy law. I especially admire his emphasis that the cause of gay rights is inextricably linked with equal rights for all. That link shows that gay rights is not merely special pleading, but an integral part of a more liberal vision for society. Having heard too much quietism from a few gay friends this week, I was lifted by a voice that spoke for the need for change.
LMH, who was an army buddy of mine, told me that night that while he was writing with me in 1994 the army commemorative magazine by day, by night, he was meeting up with friends like Alex and Russell to discuss the advocacy of equal rights for gay people. It was a salutary reminder that though the movement is young it already has a history. A history to which I am the latecomer.
The opening event, like the following month of talks, art shows, films and readings, was organized by volunteers, and sponsored by Fridae.com and by passing the hat around. The audience sat on folding chairs arranged in lecture hall-style. The reception was a simple buffet to which people helped themselves. Someone signed for the hearing-impaired; my reading was also translated. The night had the feel and substance of a real grassroots movement. I hope the movement will never lose sight of its simple beginnings and its spirit of inclusiveness.
After Au's speech, the inaugural Rascal's Award was presented to the best research paper with lgbt content. The panel of judges, comprising academics, was represented by Sharon Siddique who gave the award to two papers, one on queer media, the other on the relation between Singaporean and queer values. Another paper, on the disembodiment of public spaces, was highly commended. Yet another paper, written by a team of secondary school students, was commended by the judges, but the students chose not to attend the event, or else they were prevented from attending. Either way, their absence was a quiet reminder of the special nature of our assembly.
After the Rascal's Award, the Dignity Award was given out, to an individual who advocated publicly for the rights of gay people. This year the award went aptly to Siew Kum Hong, the former member of parliament who spoke up for the decriminalization of consensual sex between adult men. Mr. Siew is straight, and, as the citation reminded us, spoke at some personal cost. He explains why he spoke up in his blog. When he came forward that night to receive the award, many in the audience stood up, and the applause was long and warm.
I read after the awards ceremony, read three poems that I thought would speak most directly to the audience. "Brother" conveys what I think is the feeling of many gay people: we have a missing twin we spend all our lives missing. "Blowjob" is about a childhood straight friend whose life diverged from mine in adulthood. "Hungry Ghosts" is about coming-out to one's parents.
After my reading, the lesbian group Sayoni presented their coming-out book. It is for those who are questioning their sexual orientation. The book will be revised further after receiving new rounds of public feedback.
I enjoyed meeting people afterwards, though the place and occasion did not allow for any real conversation. There were ghosts from the past like LMH, as well as TPP who was at Oxford the same time I was. There were people I knew from print and now met in person, like AS and MS. There were friends like DC and NYS. There were strangers-who-may-become friends like J. the Imperial College student, and C. the event photographer. I'm glad I was a part of the night.