What I Learned At The Pink Dot PortaLoo

There has been much silliness in Singapore recently when it comes to LBGT rights, rather a lot of it from religious groups and individuals. In fact, there’s been so much silliness that it’s easy to forget what LBGT rights are actually about. In the face of epic bigotry in the name of “family values,” it’s easy to forget what LBGT rights are actually about, at the most basic and human level.

The “traditional family unit” is supposedly – in the worldview of those who would defend mysterious “attacks” on the traditional “family unit” – comprised of hetero men and women who make babies.

What about divorce?

Is it still a “traditional family unit” if it’s broken? What about extramarital affairs? Loveless marriages bound only by duty? How about domestic violence and marital rape? Do these things not threaten the apparently membrane-thin strength of the “traditional family unit”? I imagine that two homosexuals in a consensual, healthy, loving relationship do far less damage to the “traditional family unit” than you know, divorce – if they do any damage at all, and that is a big “if.” Strangely, one doesn’t see religious bigots coming out in force to protest divorce, marital rape, or extramarital affairs.

It is wholly ludicrous that “family values” are heralded as the model on which everyone must base their relationships. It is as ridiculous as telling me that I cannot love brown-eyed boys, but must only love and eventually marry blue-eyed boys, because you have extrapolated and massaged religious doctrine as proof that I cannot love brown-eyed boys, and because your idea of the “traditional family unit” demands that I only love men approved by your religious doctrine.

I hate to break it to those using the rallying cry of religion and moral panic to propagate intolerance, but it isn’t actually about you.

It’s not about attacks on one sexual orientation or another. Or about politicking and winning the pink vote for the next general election. It’s not about straight people who feel threatened by the fact that the LBGT community does not fit in a neat box labelled “heterosexual baby-makers/ traditional family unit/ insert appropriate tagline attempting to generate moral panic.” It’s about treating people with respect, with compassion, with a shred, just a shred, of empathy. This is what I learned in the Portaloo queue at Pink Dot on Saturday.

I happened to glance at the queue next to mine, when a young man in that queue (let’s call him Ted) grinned at me. It was the commiserative grin shared by those queuing up for a Portaloo apparently occupied by someone giving birth to an entire galaxy, and taking their time about it. I grinned back, shaking my head, and Ted trotted over to my queue and began chatting with me. I learned that he was gay and had been out for barely a year, and this was his first time attending Pink Dot. I told him that I was straight, and it was my second Pink Dot. He seemed pleasantly shocked by this revelation, and asked why I was there. I told him that if I woke tomorrow and the world had changed overnight to a place where girls loving boys was the exception to the norm, I would hope that society would be compassionate and tolerant enough to let me love who I wanted to love. Thus, I felt it was important to show support for LGBT rights, especially as a straight person. When Ted heard this, he hugged me (it was startling at first, as I am largely unused to strangers hugging me). But the joy on his face and the tears in his eyes made me realize that this is what LBGT rights are really about. They’re about treating people like human beings.

He told me that I had really made his day, and to hear me say what I’d said, as a straight person, was the highlight of Pink Dot for him. Now, I’m not the sort of person who gets emotional in public, as a rule, but this got me right in the heart. Ted hugged me again and dabbed at his eyes before insisting that I go first (the erstwhile planet-birthing occupant of the Portaloo was finally done). I am indescribably thankful for our short conversation, because I don’t think I fully comprehended before this, how vital it is for straight people to speak up if they do support LBGT rights.

It’s a lot easier to hate, to fear the unknown, the Other, the unfamiliar. It’s easier to label and draw lines in the sand than to step out of your comfort zone. Straight people, I don’t think any of us will ever understand what it is to grow up LBGT in Singapore. If your god or your god’s laws or men who wrote your god’s laws dictate that thou shalt not be LBGT, so be it. However, religious doctrine, “family values” or fear of the unfamiliar are not excuses for bigotry, hatred or discrimination. They are not. You can be better than this.

And as I learned in the Portaloo queue at Pink Dot, it really is as simple as showing some empathy to another human being in another long queue, who is after all, not so very different from you.






  1. The story of your interaction with Ted moved me to shed a tear. Thank you for sharing it, and for showing your support to the lgbt community!

  2. Hi Samantha, thank you for your heartfelt post, it really does reveal how important it is to hear directly from the people themselves and not assume that we know what is best for them. However, I must admit that I profess to be someone who does stand for “family values” and I have a feeling that as much as you call it epic bigotry, it is hard for you to completely ignore how family is something close to all our hearts.

    Calling it “traditional” suggests that it is something of the yesteryear. But no, the same way you decry divorce and adultery and how it breaks down the concept of family is the same way I cannot let this concept of family continually to break down. And yes, I think that no-fault divorces in our law has contributed to that because marriage is just not attributed the value it deserves. Society has come to a position where it is extremely hard to please both camps, those who value the freedom to love and those who value family, and so I will not assert my position and pretend that there is no cost to LGBT members.

    However,this reply is a post to hopefully grant some insight into what we truly stand for, and that it is not blind bulldozing for the sake of religion. It is not a guise, it is something that we cannot deny, and so we protect. The same way LGBT supporters proclaim the freedom to love because that is what they hold close to their hearts, we proclaim family because that is what we hold close to our hearts. To call us bigoted for something we hold close to our hearts and as a result, speak out about is to be honest, not very fair. It is a difference in opinion where there is a cost to either party, but that does not make either side a bigot. So yes, the experience you blogged about was something I respect because I know it means something to you so I hope you will do the same for those like me.

  3. I am all for traditional “Family Units” and “Values”. I told my father-in-law to be, a staunch Muslim who supported the wear white campaign that I will follow the traditional “family unit” and would strive to have either four or ten wives (depending on which values) and insist that his daughter wear the head scarf and completely cover herself once we are married. He got angry and argued that I have got the definition of family unit and values wrong. I asked him to tell me if there was a single universally accepted definition of family unit & values even amongst the various Muslim communities and he could not answer. Of course I did not tell him that his daughter is bisexual, that I am saving for last.

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