The first thing that struck me when I saw the feature article in the Straits Times about Gay Pride events in China was why no similar kind of reporting has been done about pride events in Singapore.
People Like Us’ Indignation has run for four years. This year’s will be the fifth. And it’s been four years of nearly complete silence from our mainstream media. The only times when we hit the news was when the government banned something. Then the story would lead with the government’s justification for the ban, followed by, “oh, by the way, the organisers had wanted to do this and that”. Even then, the story would be about a particular event that the government that prohibited, with no mention that it was part of a larger festival. The very name “Indignation” was taboo.
But reporting about activism in China is OK. On Saturday, 19 June 2009, Sim Chi Yin, the Straits Times’ China correspondent wrote:
Two empty white picture frames hung on the art gallery’s wall.
Hours earlier, the authorities had marched in, inspected each art piece and asked for the sexually explicit ones to be removed.
But apart from those casualties, Beijing’s first gay art exhibition opened without trouble last Sunday.
A crowd of 200 gay, straight, Chinese and expatriate guests gathered over soft drinks and beer at the Songzhuang Art District on the city’s outskirts for what organisers quietly hailed as a breakthrough for gays in China, where homosexuality was delisted as a ‘mental illness’ only in 2001.
— Straits Times, 19 June 2009, ‘Coming Out’ in China
Notice the angle of the story. It was a positive one — “opened without trouble last Sunday”, despite the initial problem with the authorities “marching” in.
You didn’t see the same angle when the Straits Times reported on the Media Development Authority’s ban on various Indignation events in 2007 — those stories tended to take the MDA’s perspective. Other stories weren’t reported at all, e.g. our police harassing and intimidating — threats of strict checks, cancellation of licences and prosecutions — gay bars that put up special nights for Indignation. Nor did the Straits Times care to report on events which were carried off successfully.
Chinese gay events that proceeded smoothly, however, could be mentioned:
On Wednesday, the five-day Beijing Queer Film Festival also started with no police and no disruptions.
Similar events and gay-themed film festivals in previous years had almost invariably been shut down by the police, who sometimes showed up in force.
In Shanghai, the country’s first week-long Pride Festival reached its climax last Saturday with drag shows, a ‘hot body’ contest and a symbolic gay wedding ceremony.
Mardi Gras it was not, but after the police stopped three of the 10 planned events, the rest went off largely without a hitch, said Shanghai-based organiser Hannah Miller, a school teacher.
The Straits Times wasn’t the only newspaper reporting on China’s Gay Pride. Lianhe Zaobao too had a feature article by He Xiwei:
Last Monday, at a chit chat session that was supposed to be attended by youngsters, the appearance of an “uncle” with grey hair stood out like a sore thumb.
It was a discussion related to the developmental process on homosexuality in China, and the majority of attendees are either “comrades” in the circle or people driven by curiosity to take a peep at the psychology of gays. However, the reasons given by “uncle” was different: the organizers knew later that because his daughter was also gay, “uncle” wished to take part in the discussions to better understand his daughter.
Last Saturday, a six-colored rainbow flag, symbolic of the multi-nature of homosexuals, appeared in front of a bar, and atop of the flag hang a banner proclaiming such as “welcome to world expo” and “experiencing progress in scientific outlook” etc, which were slogans understood by smiling visitors to the bar.
Yes, the one-week Pride series of event “Shanghai Pride Week” took place with the intention to increase understanding of homosexuals for the public while not posing any challenge to the authorities for the first time in China’s best known most open city of Shanghai.
— Zaobao, 17 June 2009, Shanghai Pride Week, translated by Signeller Kay Loh
Again, note the angle. It was one of civil society overcoming or working around obstacles and successfully reaching out. Not for this story the usual Singapore media’s angle of gay activists as trouble-makers taken to task by the state for rocking the boat.