Let's go through PLU's initial announcement of the forum event on 1 November.
So we're going to hold a meeting there where the public can see real lesbian and gay people... talk about gay stuff. The public are of course free to wander in and listen. We're even going to allow members of the public to speak and offer their views. However, we will set one condition. If anyone wants to speak, he must take on the persona of a gay or lesbian person and speak from that perspective.
That's a stunning vote for free speech, don't you think? Especially when PLU was aware that the purpose of the NLB-sponsored open committee meetings was "allow the public to observe and perhaps engage with the issues that these civil society groups deal with."
The whole idea of fighting for gay and lesbian rights rests on the refusal of homosexual people to continue speaking up and acting in society under a default heterosexual persona. And here they are, stipulating the public can only speak at their event if they take on a gay/lesbian persona. I'm sorry, but do you seriously think you'll get a sympathetic understanding from any straight person from this "How does it feel to have the boot on your face for a change" exercise? No one from the left would support this lack of free speech. No one from the centre will be won over by this unfair rule of engagement. No one from the right will be... well, they never were anyway. As a festival open to all, the programming needs to be accessible and have a broad appeal - and this PLU event has a broad repugnance.
Today's reporters and PLU's steering committee clearly know what the real objection of the NAC was. Here, they backpedal and play down the significance of their silly rule: "While we are discussing, members of the public are free to offer suggestions. In a way, it's also interactive theatre." Yes, Alex. The public is free to give feedback, as long as they speak in the appropriate persona. I however fail to see how interactive theatre would not have been served if the audience were allowed to speak up as their real selves.
Then, there has been some form of defence for the rather odd rule. Put simply by pleinelune elsewhere, the gag rule is there to deter some homophobic zealot from grabbing the mike and hijacking the meeting/forum/theatre. Yet the founding father of the Singaporean struggle for gay equality denies this: In the Today article, he estimates that "not more than 10 PLU3 members and only a handful of members of the public would have turned up".
Now, if your event is so unpopular that only a handful would turn up, the NAC should give the venue to a more popular group - and one that doesn't attract so many disruptive homophobic zealots. And if among that pitiful handful, there is still a "homophobic zealot" (and what about free-speech zealots?), who then will ensure that the zealot will follow the gag rule? And should the zealots make a scene about the gag rule and flout it at the same time, who shall control them? The security guards of the NLB? Armed officers from Singapore's counterterrorism squad? Special officers from the NAC? One of your well-built committee members?
Now, this is purely from the point of view of the idelogical audience and the organisation of the event. What about the authorities? The state worries that if the event proves it is effortless, harmless, and equally human to speak from a gay or lesbian persona, it will lead to the normalisation of gays and lesbians in mainstream society. This is tantamount to the criminal act of promoting homosexuality and homosexual lifestyles! Yes. This gag rule was in effect a very good excuse for the machinery of the state to shut the event down. Why did PLU give them such a convenient excuse?
Then, there's the issue of the agenda. Note that the initial release didn't mention anything about the agenda - Spell#7 had just gotten the in-principle, preliminary go-ahead from NAC, which had not been in communication with PLU at that time. Yes, that's precisely what I just said. Read carefully the extract of NAC's clarification email to Spell#7:
Would you mind writing up a brief outline of how you envisage conducting the meeting, and what issues would be addressed? Perhaps if you have any other information about the PLU(3) group, and a list of its recent state interactions and public profilings, that would also be useful.
Now, when PLU says it got an "initial approval" from NLB, we must understand that
1. Spell#7 as the organiser of the series had definite approval of the series. It then got preliminary approval for the PLU event, not definite approval from NLB/NAC.
2. NLB/NAC was never in communication with PLU when it was alleged to have given its "initial approval".
Let it be known that the NAC tried to signal to PLU that it had to do a better job at selling its meeting. First, the original agenda was inappropriate:
In the planned Open Closed Door Session, a few of them, about 5 to 6, plan to talk about a Quarterly forum they are organizing in January and the forums after that. Possible forum topics are "The Singapore Constitution and Gender Issues" and "The Home Affairs Ministry's Review of Sex Laws"
Let's see. A public forum on state property, funded by state organs. Possible forum topics all lead to: we oppose these following policies of the state. And then you want to involve the audience, as part of performance theatre? This is of course more subversive than any piece of performance theatre (which is usually less direct) practised in Singapore.
When asked by NAC to reconsider the agenda, PLU's reply was a masterpiece. "The purpose of a committee meeting was purely organisational (i.e. we would be talking about setting up events and how to get speakers, venues, publicity, about attending other conferences, and arranging meetings with researchers, reporters and other activists coming to Singapore)". And the purpose of the series of events hosted by NLB is (just a reminder) allow the public to observe and perhaps engage with the issues that these civil society groups deal with. I'm sure the purely organisational stuff is something the public is keen to observe and engage with.
After news of trouble with the higher bureaucracy, PLU hastily changes the agenda to:
1. Quarterly Forum (Dec) - speaker(s), exact date, venue options?, publicity arrangements
2. 2006 Pride Month - activity proposals from JC, venue status, time to call for papers
3. Asia Pacific Network conference Kuala Lumpur (2nd week Nov)
4. Upcoming visit of PJ (4th week Nov) - meet and dinner
5. Asia-Pacific Queer conference 2006 - discuss possibility?
6. MC's idea for a Gay and Lesbian Film Festival - discuss possibility?
Great. Work. At. Getting. Support. From. Non-gays.
Yes, a Pride Month would definitely get the sympathy of the public. As with a film festival - Singaporeans watche an average 8 films a year? And the purpose of the series of events hosted by NLB is (yet another reminder) allow the public to observe and perhaps engage with the issues that these civil society groups deal with.
There's a time and place for everything. I have no problems with both agendas of the PLU, and the set of events in the second agenda seem interesting to cover in SBP in the future. Both agendas were inappropriate for the NAC's purposes - they wanted a safe and entertaining show, not this. And both agendas could be discussed in any other private meeting by the PLU committee; they didn't need the NLB/NAC event at all.
PLU clearly didn't try its hardest to get the event. It botched the negotiations with the wrong agendas and the wrong gag rules. So why the free pass at critical analysis? If Singabloodypore prides itself on dispassionately dispatching bloopers and objectionable policies from the establishment, why not do the same for alleged members of civil society? Equal opportunity, I say.
Also, refer to other mistakes made by PLU, the première [note: premier is spelt without an e and without the silly accent] Singapore advocacy group for gay equality.
Si non dominaris, inquit, filiola, iniuriam te accipere existimas?
And if you are not queen, my dear,
Think you that you are wronged?