Last edited: March 27, 2005

Singapore Government AIDS Comment Outrages Gay Activists, March 9, 2005
Asia News

SINGAPORE—Gay activists responded with outrage and disbelief on Thursday to statements by a Singapore official who said a gay and lesbian festival—dubbed Asia’s largest gay event—may have caused a big spike in AIDS cases.

The “Nation.04” party—a festival of international DJs, podium dancers, pumping music and muscular boys stripping off their tops on packed dance floors—had increased in size every year since it was launched in 2000.

Last August’s party could have allowed “gays from high prevalence societies to fraternise with local gay men, seeding the infection in the local community,” junior health minister Balaji Sadasivan told parliament on Wednesday.

Sadasivan said this was the view of an unnamed epidemiologist to explain a 28 percent rise in the number of new HIV/AIDS cases in Singapore in 2004 to an all-time high of 311.

“This is a hypothesis and more research needs to done,” he said.

Gay activists such as Eileena Lee of “People Like Us” accused the government of promoting homophobia and being irresponsible. “This is almost like paranoia,” she said. “Statements like this can marginalise and stigmatise what is already a minority group.”, which organised the event and runs Singapore’s main gay and lesbian Internet site, said the government must shoulder more responsibility for the rise in HIV because of its poor public health policies and laws which criminalise oral sex.

Under Singapore’s Penal Code section 377A, acts of “gross indecency” between two men are punishable by up to two years in jail. The government has said it may decriminalise oral sex but only between men and women.

“In the past 25 years none of the public health campaigns have ever targeted the gay community. It’s really no wonder that the rates of infection are increasing,” said Stuart Koe, chief executive of

“It’s very simplistic and dangerous of them to point the finger at one single event and say that that is responsible for the spike,” he said.

Ninety percent of newly diagnosed patients were male and a third of them gay men, said Sadasivan, describing the new cases as “the tip of the iceberg” in Singapore where a total of about 2,000 people are diagnosed to be suffering from HIV/AIDS.

“For every AIDS patient we have diagnosed, there are possibly two to four undiagnosed patients with HIV in Singapore. That means there could be, anywhere between 4,000 to 8,000, undiagnosed HIV patients in Singapore,” he said.

The “Nation.04” party—half of whose 6,000 revellers came from other Asian countries and the United States to make it Asia’s largest known gay festival—is at odds with Singapore’s image as a strait-laced city-state.

But the government has turned a blind eye to the growth of an entertainment industry catering for homosexuals, quietly acknowledging the potential of the “pink dollar.”

Gay activists have urged authorities to decriminalise homosexuality in the affluent, predominantly ethnic Chinese island of 4.2 million people to strengthen AIDS awareness.

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