Doritaenopsis Sir Elton John

It wouldn’t go unnoticed, though whether the Straits Times editors fully realised the significance of what they were doing is an open question. Channel NewsAsia’s report, by contrast, didn’t have a photo showing David Furnish though he was mentioned in the text. It’s entirely in keeping with the general observation that Channel NewsAsia is more politically timid.  Facebook had several postings by gay men pointing out the printed photograph of singer Elton John with his husband David Furnish and baby Zachary, among which was this posting by Alan Seah:

In brief, what the hubbub was about was this: At the 20th World Orchid Conference organised by the National Parks Board and the Orchid Society of South East Asia, Elton John got a hybrid created at the Singapore Botanic Gardens named after him.  He joins a long line of visiting state dignitaries and celebrities, but he’s perhaps the first openly gay person to be given the honour. The Straits Times mentioned that Ricky Martin also had an orchid named after him some years back but it is not clear if that was before or after he came out as gay.

Apparently, Marina Bay Sands had initiated the idea of naming an orchid after Elton John, probably because they are hosting John’s concert, but whether this is a correct sequence of events is not clear to me.

Adding to the significance, John, whom we can expect to be aware of the situation in Singapore with respect to gay rights, very shrewdly invited his partner David Furnish and his son Zachary on stage to share in the honour. This was in front of all the media, cameras, video, etc. Furnish and Zachary had been placed right at the back initially and had not been invited to take part.

“It might very well be the first time a same sex family unit has been on stage in an official function in Singapore ever!” said an eye-witness to the occasion.

The picture above might have been the stage moment, but the Straits Times chose another photo, this time of the family arriving, that was just as … erm … obvious.

One thing we should not do is to read in the editors’ decision any grand scheme to shift the debate on gay equality. It’s not as if it’s part of a larger plan preparing the ground for and  heralding a forthcoming government decision. Nor is it even a trial balloon to see how Singaporeans react.

On the gay issue, the government has given up governing. They don’t know what to do, they are paralysed and they are just hoping the issue will go away. Ask them what their responsibility is towards basic principles of justice and equality, and they will try to look away and pretend not to have heard your question. Thus, to imagine that media editors are the advance guard to test or prepare for future moves by the government is to give the government too much credit.

Editors at the Straits Times are no Neanderthals. They know where the world has gone on the gay issue; and most of them — though there are some remarkably antediluvian exceptions — know that Singapore is embarrassingly behind the curve. They also have a sense that saying it like it is and publishing the photo is going to get little more than a shrug among their readers. Thus, all we can read from this media decision is that, yes, the Straits Times too has come to believe that it’s largely a non-issue. Singaporeans, by and large, are not going to reel in shock that there is homosexuality in the world, there is same-sex marriage and that there are gay-coupled families. Now with children.

Of course, that recognition itself is an significant milestone, so it’s not as if this news story has no importance.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron is accelerating the process towards gay marriage from the current law that only permits civil unions between same-sex couples. Next March, a public consultation will begin on allowing same-sex couples to call themselves married and Cameron has said he hopes the historic change will become law before the election planned for 2015.

In the US, California’s Proposition 8 case is slowly winding its way through the courts. The day before Elton John got his orchid, the Calfiornia Supreme Court ruled that proponents of Proposition 8 (which amended the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage) should have the right to defend the measure in court. This decision will now revive the federal case currently resting at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but is not decisive. It’s all very technical at this moment with no clear outcome in sight.

In contrast to the relatively principled arguments being considered in the UK and the US, in Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is playing politics with the issue. She has proposed a conscience vote on gay marriage at the upcoming Labour Party national conference, where there is a good chance that a majority of delegates will vote in favour. She herself is likely to vote against, not because she is against gay marriage, but because she does not want to upset conservative voters. Allowing the conscience vote is designed to appease liberal voters, and that way she hopes to have her cake and eat it.

But all this is just at the party level. The issue is still far from reaching the federal parliament.

* * * * *

Malaysia provided the most recent example of bad news. Seksualiti Merdeka, a festival of talks, films and exhibitions modelled on Singapore’s LGBT festival Indignation, was banned by the police earlier this month. Even as the ban was being announced by deputy-inspector general of police Khalid Abu Bakar, saying that “the programme could create disharmony, enmity and disturb public order”, the matter was debated in parliament with Malaysian legislator Bung Mokhtar saying “Your Honour, I am asking for this activity to be blocked. It involves wild relationships that will damage the country and nation. It is planting the seeds for the emergence of wilder relationships.” (Free Malaysia Today, 3 Nov 2011. Link).

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was  reported to have called Seksualiti Merdeka “immoral.”

“Any activity that does not benefit the majority of Malaysians should not be carried out. It’s a waste of time, although they can say it’s their own right and freedom,” he said. “That’s why to me, it (the festival) is totally unsuitable and I don’t know its benefits. I don’t understand why they carry out such promotions. Is there any political agenda behind it?” (Channel NewsAsia, 3 Nov 2011, Malaysian police ban gay rights festival. Link)

Elton John’s concert in Genting Highlands, Malaysia’s gambling resort, scheduled for 22 Nov 2011, was also the target of anti-gay criticism. Calling for a ban, Shahril Azman Abdul Halim Al-Hafiz, an official with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), said the concert would corrupt young Muslims because of John’s homosexuality. “It’s not good. In Islam homosexuality is forbidden,” he told AFP. “What he is doing is hedonism. Hedonism is not good in Islam.”

However, this time there were defenders.

Recording Industry Association Of Malaysia chairman Norman Halim called it a “few narrow-minded people trying to impose their values on everybody.”

“You don’t go to an Elton John concert and suddenly become gay!” he said adding that such protests should not happen if Malaysia wants to achieve developed country status.

Sisters In Islam communications member Akmal Zulkifli said: “In Islam, we cannot judge someone immediately, we have to go deep into the issue. Elton John will go on stage to play the piano and perform, not kiss another guy.”

— The Star, 25 Oct 2011, Pahang PAS’ anti-Elton John concert draws flak, Link.

Oh dear, I wonder whether the John-Furnish family plans to go on stage together, while there.

30 Responses to “Doritaenopsis Sir Elton John”


  1. 3 Pauls 21 November 2011 at 17:14

    I wouldn’t be surprised if such an undissembling depiction of Elton John’s husband and child is deemed acceptable because he’s such a famously flamboyant pop star, so those who are discomfited by same-sex couples can write it off as the latest antics of someone who’s really far-out rather than as reflecting the actions of a normal person and of the changing times. Just imagine: Would the ST publish a photo and report of a non-celebrity same-sex couple, e.g. two average Singaporeans, and their child? The authorities’ treatment of the film “The Kids Are All Right” suggests otherwise.

  2. 4 walkie talkie 21 November 2011 at 17:36

    Dunno if someone can ask Sir Elton John to consider influencing some Queen’s Counsels to give free legal service to help the lawyer Ravi to do the constitutional challenge against S377A in the current court case.

  3. 5 Serendib 21 November 2011 at 18:42

    I was at the concert. Sir John quipped he liked/loved the country but “you need to get your gay rights sorted out” (or something to that effect). And there was applause from the audience. Not really surprising as I wouldn’t expect anyone who’s anti-gay to have forked out that kind of money to watch him =)
    It was a ‘by-the-way’ type of comment, but I salute Sir John for voicing his opinion – as I’m sure there must have been at least one person (MBS?) who would’ve advised him to keep mum on the topic.

  4. 6 Simon Says 21 November 2011 at 19:34

    Maybe that’s PAP stance. They won’t spell out that they support LBGT in law , but otherwise ok to gesture it in token lah.

  5. 7 Malaysian 21 November 2011 at 23:59

    Recent news

  6. 8 Yujuan 22 November 2011 at 00:48

    Call me puritanical or living in Victorian Era, find this picture of Elton and family together disgusting.
    People could choose their own sexual orientation and way of life as they prefer, but to flaunt it openly in public is outrageous, at least not in an Asian country, yet.

    • 9 walkie talkie 22 November 2011 at 11:15

      Why “not in an Asian country”?

      Traditionally in Asian countries homosexuality was quite vibrant. In China it was so vibrant that the Roman Catholic priests were shocked by it when they arrived in China. The current anti-homosexuality attitude found in Asia is actually a relatively late Western Christian value, and not our traditional Asian values of sex-friendliness and sexual-openness.

    • 10 Poker Player 22 November 2011 at 12:06

      Yes. And don’t get me started on the yuck factor of children seen with parents of different races. Marry people of other races if you want, but for heaven’s sake stay out of sight – our grandparents’ generation had the right moral values.

    • 11 jem 22 November 2011 at 15:25

      Yes, all the straight couples, who chose to be straight and lead a straight way of life, that I see in the MRT and public areas kissing and holding hands are absolutely outrageous. I suggest they all be hauled off and caned.

    • 12 SN 22 November 2011 at 16:29

      Dear Yujuan,

      The point is that people don’t choose their sexual orientation. It is a question of nature, not of choice.

      But let me go one step further: so what if it is a question of choice. How are same-sex relations a violation of morality?

      I pose these thoughts to you not as an Asian or a non-Asian, but as a fellow human being.

      Regards.

    • 13 Daniel Ho 22 November 2011 at 23:42

      Yes, agreed. They should have kept their child in a plastic bag and out of sight. Preferably in one of those environmentally friendly reusable kinds.

      The gall of some people, appearing in public with their families! And smearing their gaiety in our bigoted faces!

    • 14 Eden 23 November 2011 at 00:40

      “at least not in an Asian country”

      You mean Taiwan, SK and HK ???

      Don’t lump developed countries with your bigoted version of Asian Countries.

    • 15 Daniel Lee 23 November 2011 at 11:26

      I am sure someone of the other side of the fence would find male-female relationships ‘disgusting’ too.

      Just because someone wants to look the other way does not make them less of a human being.

    • 16 Anna 23 November 2011 at 12:38

      Yujuan, I find your bigotry disgusting. Can you not flaunt it openly in public, please? What right have you to do so?

    • 17 Vane 1 December 2011 at 18:33

      I’m not even sure if Yujuan knows that homosexuality while not common was already in ancient China / indonesia-polynesian communities.

      If roles were reversed and all human beings are genetically engineered to be homosexual, which becomes the “default” sexual orientation. Would you like people to describe your heteorsexual relationship as perverse and disgusting just because you are different from the norm?

  7. 18 Anonymous 22 November 2011 at 05:34

    Since we are on this topic, it would be interesting if yawning bread can do an article on the effects of children grown up with gay and lesbian parents.

    • 19 Poker Player 22 November 2011 at 12:02

      Yes. Also children raised by parents of discriminated minorities, poor parents, mixed race parents, parents of different social and economic status. And raised with large number of siblings because their parents are not allowed to use contraception.

    • 20 kampong boy 22 November 2011 at 16:34

      I think there will be very little effects on children growing up with gay and lesbian parents. Because I think the majority of the gay people now have straight parents, and that didn’t affect them, so I don’t think their sexuality is affected by their parents sexual orientation. Just reflect upon ourselves, are our sexual orientation ever being affected in any way by our parents orientation? Do we even think of our parents sexually? Do we ever contemplate them having sex? Is this contemplation affecting our sexual orientations?

      Also since we are closer to our mothers emotionally, does that means that the male child will be more likely to be straight and the female child more likely to be gay? And what about single parents?

    • 21 Anonymous 24 November 2011 at 13:49

      I think in the US they recently completed a study of, I can’t quite remember the numbers, bunch of families over 15 years, or something to that effect.

      Anyway, a study on child abuse in lesbian homes. 0%. Even for such a small sample size, that number is pretty amazing.

      I think there a some studies that shows consistently that heterosexual homes have the highest percentage of child abuse.

      I wish I can pull out those studies, but my brain has melted because of all the OT the past month. I’m not even sure what I’m typing now. Sorry guys, maybe Alex will have a better clue.

      or some such. I need sleep….

  8. 22 Rabbit 22 November 2011 at 11:09

    It is a great honor to have the couple grazes our land. They look really blissful walking down the aisle, like the orchid, whichever way you look at them. We should embrace more of such privileged people in Singapore and from around the world. Moreover, Elton John is a great talent that Singapore should try to attract, not the half-cooked kind that our govt oft classified them as talent and created myth that we need them to depress our living space and wages. Gay people can become great achiever in country of freedom.

    I hope this is not the last time we are seeing Elton John & family in Singapore even though the world know how discriminative our land is towards gay people. His brief presence is enough to attract much attention from around the world to Singapore, no need for our PM or president to travel so frequently to seek global attention, we don’t even need a million dollar investment in F1 or youth Olympic to do the job. No point having a pot without an orchid in it. Singapore need more soul and not shows towards its people.

    God bless Elton and family with unlimited joy and many fruitful years ahead and may their adopted son grew up to be a great & kind man.

  9. 23 Chee Wai Lee 22 November 2011 at 11:14

    I think about the time they took off a TV show on home decor/improvement just because the couple were lesbians (I believe) and the authorities “did not want to encourage the homosexual ‘lifestyle'”.

    Well, apparently if you were rich and famous enough, that would not matter …

  10. 24 georgia tong 22 November 2011 at 12:33

    to Yujuan – the disgust is in your mind. Looks like you are one of those prejudicial bigot folk whom we can do with less.

  11. 25 Alan 22 November 2011 at 18:30

    Yujuan, when straight people walk down the street with their spouses and children, are they flaunting their sexual orientation? Do you find it “outrageous” and “disgusting”? I wouldn’t so much label you as someone puritanical, as much as I would call you someone who simply needs to understand that there simply are people in this world who fall in love with people of the same gender as they are. And this does not make their love wrong, or shameful. Just different.

  12. 26 Lef 22 November 2011 at 20:10

    You are entirely right Yujuan!

    I’m inspired by your words. I’m going to demand that the very next heterosexual couple I see together in public stop flaunting their outrageous demonstration of their sexual orientation immediately!

    We are an Asian country!

  13. 27 Roy Tan 22 November 2011 at 23:37

    In response to Anonymous’ suggestion above:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_parenting
    “Consensus
    The scientific research that has directly compared outcomes for children with gay and lesbian parents with outcomes for children with heterosexual parents has been remarkably consistent in showing that lesbian and gay parents are as fit and capable as heterosexual parents, and their children are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents, despite the reality that considerable legal discrimination and inequity remain significant challenges for these families.”

  14. 28 Daniel Ho 22 November 2011 at 23:37

    “What he is doing is hedonism. Hedonism is not good in Islam.”

    Yes, the hedonistic singing must stop!

  15. 29 Thor 24 November 2011 at 18:48

    I do not mean to be crude but will speculate for a purpose. What might have happened in Elton John’s Marina Bay Sand’s room? Wouldn’t that be illegal? Why is there no prosecution? I strongly believe what happens between consenting adults is a private affair. But it makes no sense to keep a law and then claim discretion to apply it selectively. It seems to go against the basic notion of fairness. Why is it ok for Elton but not Eng Tiong or Elfian or Endiran?


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