Singapore Government AIDS Comment Outrages Gay Activists
March 9, 2005
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.”
Fridae.com, 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
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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