November 1999

Gay parades as indicators of civil society




Bangkok has just had its first gay parade. I wasn't there (I'm not a party animal) so this isn't a report on it, but it got me thinking, especially as the same weekend I was attending a conference on civil society in Singapore, what gay parades mean for society as a whole.

The Economist Magazine has its McDonald's Big Mac Index, as its easy-to-use indicator of purchasing power parities when comparing currencies. Let me suggest, half in jest, but half not, that gay parades are useful indicators of the health of civil society in any country.

There is, as yet, no government in the world that wishes to be seen as "promoting the gay agenda" -- and I use this phrase very carefully because all gay people take umbrage at the bias inherent in it, as it paints a simple demand for equal rights as an unreasonable demand for extra rights. No government will risk the flak from homophobic opponents for organising a gay parade. Hence, gay parades are quintessentially bottom-up initiatives, flowerings of civil society. When you find a city with a gay parade, it says a lot about grass-roots activity in general, and the attitude of the government in that country to its own citizens' liberties.

Bangkok's parade was held on 31 October 1999  climaxing a week of various gay lesbian festivities. On the right are two reports to give you a glimpse of the event.

Groundbreaking though the Bangkok parade was, it was still peanuts compared to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, held annually every February or March. (See Stuart Koe's first-hand report on this). The Sydney event draws a few hundred thousand visitors to the city, bringing in over half a billion dollars in revenue. It is by all accounts, the city's biggest annual event and a major tourism earner for Australia. And it is privately organised.

Thomas Lee, whom the Bangkok Post quoted as saying that such parades would be considered illegal in Singapore, was, I think, not entirely correct. Our law simply says we'd need a police permit to hold a parade; it does not say that a gay parade must necessarily be illegal. Nonetheless, he reflected the widespread feeling among gay Singaporeans as well as straight, that there is almost no hope in heaven of such a permit being granted.

This pessimism merely reinforces the general apathy of Singaporeans for organising anything. At the end of the day, we're left with a vicious cycle: there's no chance of the government giving such a permit, so why bother to try.

It may strike an outsider as strange why there is so little confidence in getting a permit, but there is a history to all this. Our government has tended to be parsimonious about giving permission to anything that it does not approve of. It uses its permission as endorsement; and the public has learnt to see it that way. There isn't much track record of the government here taking the position: I don't agree with you, but you are free to do what you want.

This tendency to use permission as endorsement is very stifling to civil society because it reduces everything to Endorsed or Banned. There is no space then, for non-government activities to flourish if they aren't in line with the government's agenda.

Another side to this problem is the way the government goes into all sorts of activities and pre-empts bottom-up initiatives. For example, I was dumb-struck when I saw a TV program about how a government-affiliated committee is promoting a song to celebrate the millennium, and how it is getting all event venues to play the song in sync. The person interviewed in the program was a Deputy Director in the Ministry of Information and the Arts, which only proves to me the government's heavy involvement in such a hare-brained scheme.


Source: Bangkok Post

Pink parade fosters gay issues
Bangkok is venue for first event in Asia

Anjira Assavanonda and Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

Silom Road was yesterday besieged with lavishly dressed gay dancers who entertained thousands of spectators at the inaugural Bangkok Gay Festival, the first of its kind in Asia.

Dancers dressed in outlandish costumes shook and gyrated to ear-shattering disco music on a parade of seven trucks decorated with rainbow-coloured balloons and flowers.

The parade proceeded along Silom and Suriwong Road in the early evening, as spectators and supporters cheered and clapped to the beat of the music.

The event attracted local gays, and those from further afield such as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Event organiser Pakorn Pimthon said the festival was aimed at gaining more public recognition of the gay community.

"Many people now think that gays and lesbians damage the reputation of the country and we want to change this attitude," said Mr Pakorn.

Natee Teerarojanapong, an Aids campaigner, urged society not to pressure gay men into marriages with women just because of society's accepted norms for everyone to be heterosexual.

Thomas Lee, a 28-year-old Singaporean, said he strongly supported the grouping of the gay community.

He said: "We cannot do such a thing in Singapore because it is considered illegal. I think it's a good start to begin from Thailand. We're a community of our own, and should be free to express ourselves. I've come with a group of 20 friends, and I have heard there are hundreds of Singaporean men attending."

Mr Natee said the festival could become an annual event if it is well received by the city.


The millennium celebrations should be a completely private-sector and commercial matter, each location competing to offer the best attractions, and through such competition (including choice of music) raising overall standards. But no, there is a National Committee involved, trying to keep everybody regimented.

The day the government stops doing this kind of thing, the day it decouples permission from endorsement, is the day civil society will begin to take off. And the day we have a gay parade down Orchard Road in Singapore is the day civil society will have arrived.

Yawning Bread 



Source: PlanetOut

First Bangkok Gay Festival

Thailand's Bangkok Gay Festival, billed as the first of its kind in Asia, climaxed with a Mardi Gras-style parade on October 31.

Costumed participants danced their way down Bangkok's main street with seven rainbow-decorated trucks while spectators clapped along with the disco beat.

Megan Smith, CEO of PlanetOut, says that thousands crowded the streets along the Silom-area route, 60 - 70% of them gay and lesbian, and were very receptive. The parade circled several blocks before the cheering audience of both visitors and local shopkeepers and emptied in the neighborhood that is home to several major lesbigay venues; it concluded with a contingent of rainbow balloon-filled tuk-tuks (3-wheeled motor-scooters used as taxis).

The event was organized by Pakorn Phimthon, editor of the gay magazine "Male," who had previously called it "the first and biggest gay parade in Asia where Asian gay men have a basic human right to be who they want to be and love who they want to love." Smith said the flatbed trucks with male dancers were reminiscent of parade entries in other countries and that the drag queens were "fabulous," but adds that a good 15% of the participants were women. One festival event yet to come is a November 6 women's night party (prominently advertised in the society page of the Bangkok Post) sponsored by the lesbian group Anjaree.

Thailand's Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai had been invited to serve as Grand Marshal, but it was not reported that he did so. Other festival events included a beauty contest, exhibits of art by gay Thais, and dance parties. Gay men attended from Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan (where gays and lesbians in Tokyo have previously held pride parades).