SPECIAL REPORT: GAY ASIA
Gay Asia: Tolerance Pays
In this special report, we examine the changing lives of Asia's gays. We begin in Singapore, a state where contradictions abound, but where one message has hit home: Gay rights make economic sense
By Gordon Fairclough/SINGAPORE
Far Eastern Economic Review
For many, the journey has yet to begin, but a growing number of Asian gay men and women are finally on the road to winning social and legal acceptance.
Some are benefiting from the belief that open societies equal stronger economies; others are finding the courage to stand up for themselves as they find--often through the Net--that they are not alone.
ON A HOT TROPICAL NIGHT, around 8,000 gay men are dancing to pulsing house music. Laser lights play across sweaty bodies. Many of the men have whipped off their shirts. Some are down to just their Speedos.
Welcome to Singapore.
Sean Ho, a 33-year-old information-technology consultant surveys the scene. He's wearing a T-shirt that proclaims "Choose Sin" in large, red letters. Below, in smaller type, is "gapore." "Singapore's become much more tolerant and open," says Ho. "They are giving us a lot more space."
The annual gay Nation party, held to coincide with Singapore's National Day in August, is an event the city-state's conservative founders would probably never have imagined. But stodgy Singapore has recently witnessed a flowering of gay culture. Gay bars, dance clubs and about a half-dozen bath houses have sprung up. The national art museum even featured an exhibit of homoerotic photos this summer.
The driving force behind this liberalization appears to be economic. One consideration: Earning "pink dollars" from gay tourists. Organizers estimate that Nation and related events pulled in about 2,500 foreign visitors and nearly $6 million. But Singapore's more relaxed attitude towards homosexuality is also part of a broader government strategy to transform the city into a creative, ideas-driven economy. That, Singapore's mandarins realize, will require some loosening-up, as well as a serious effort to change the world's perception of Singapore as a rigid, authoritarian place.