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Mobilizing Gay Singapore

Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State

Lynette J. Chua
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Mobilizing Gay Singapore
    Book Description:

    For decades, Singapore's gay activists have sought equality and justice in a state where law is used to stifle basic civil and political liberties. In her groundbreaking book,Mobilizing Gay Singapore, Lynette Chua asks, what does a social movement look like in an authoritarian state? She takes an expansive view of the gay movement to examine its emergence, development, strategies, and tactics, as well as the roles of law and rights in social processes.

    Chua tells this important story using in-depth interviews with gay activists, observations of the movement's activities-including "Pink Dot" events, where thousands of Singaporeans gather in annual celebrations of gay pride-movement documents, government statements, and media reports. She shows how activists deploy "pragmatic resistance" to gain visibility and support, tackle political norms that suppress dissent, and deal with police harassment, while avoiding direct confrontations with the law.

    Mobilizing Gay Singaporealso addresses how these brave, locally engaged citizens come out into the open as gay activists and expand and diversify their efforts in the global queer political movement.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-1033-7
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Mobilizing Gay Rights under Authoritarianism
    (pp. 1-25)

    The night for Keenan and his friends started out like any other Sunday night at Rascals, when the disco attracted a regular crowd of gay men. People were dancing, drinking, and enjoying themselves. Suddenly, the music stopped and the lights went up. Out of the corner of his eye, Keenan saw a senior partner at his law firm try to hide himself in the crowd.

    “Shut up!” “Police raid.” A plainclothes officer in a striped polo T-shirt warned everyone to keep quiet or, he threatened, “I’ll knock your heads.” He and other officers divided Rascals patrons into those who carried...

  5. 2 Legal Restrictions, Political Norms, and Being Gay in Singapore
    (pp. 26-44)

    Singapore’s sociopolitical background brings out important elements in the social processes of pragmatic resistance. The laws, regulations, and political norms are signals that gay activists consider when mobilizing and implementing pragmatic resistance and are intricately linked to a PAP-centric historical narrative. They revolve around maintaining political hegemony through suppressing confrontation, quelling dissent in the name of social stability and economic progress, and using the law to achieve these aims. Understanding the connections of these laws, regulations, and political norms to this narrative has implications for evaluating pragmatic resistance and the roles of law and rights examined in Chapters 7 and...

  6. 3 Timorous Beginnings
    (pp. 45-62)

    Starting with this chapter, I analyze the development of Singapore’s gay movement from its emergence in the early 1990s. I structure the analysis chronologically to show how gay activists respond to ever-shifting signals, engage in strategic adaptation of pragmatic resistance, which is the central theme of this book, and deploy tactics that heed both movement advancement and survival. In the process, the chronological analysis brings out the three patterns of change highlighted in Chapter 1—the movement’s coming out; tactical escalation, expansion, and diversification; and the opening up of political and media spaces. As activists strategically adapt pragmatic resistance over...

  7. 4 Cyber Organizing
    (pp. 63-78)

    By the late 1990s, Singapore’s gay movement shifted to the Internet as a means for organizing and for deploying pragmatic resistance. In this chapter, I examine this shift and show how the three patterns of change noted in the previous chapter evolved along with the strategic adaptation of pragmatic resistance. I also examine how gay activists in Singapore generally organize through the Internet.

    Mindful of threatening signals, gay activists tactically adjusted to the newfound medium of the Internet and continued to mobilize away from public view. While the movement still lacked visible grassroots support and allies, it was expanding in...

  8. 5 Transition
    (pp. 79-97)

    From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, Singapore’s gay movement underwent transition. In the face of signals that were sometimes optimistic and sometimes disconcerting, they attempted to push boundaries further while toeing the line. Their strategic adaptation of pragmatic resistance to these shifting currents reshaped the three patterns of change that I have been tracing.

    The movement started to mount challenges openly. It was no longer focused inward on community building; although the time frame of cyber organizing partially overlapped with the period of transition and some activists still mobilized with characteristics of the outgoing era, the new characteristics were...

  9. 6 Coming Out
    (pp. 98-117)

    In the mid-2000s, Singapore’s gay movement entered the contemporary era, one in which the matter of survival has given way to the movement’s advancement as the primary focus of activists. Chapters 6 and 7 analyze how strategic adaptation advanced the three themes of change in this period. Imbued with a new sense of agency and confidence, gay activists pushed the movement out into the open and engaged the state and media directly. Hence, their tactics continued to escalate with a series of public, landmark events and growing support from the grassroots and allies. The movement also gained broader media and...

  10. 7 Mobilizing in the Open
    (pp. 118-145)

    This chapter continues to show the ways in which the contemporary period develops along the three themes of change summarized at the opening of Chapter 6—coming out into the open, holding public events and enjoying growing support, and receiving broader recognition from the state, the media, and even a countermovement. But the developments examined in this chapter also highlight differences in tactical direction that occur as activists make adjustments based on lessons learned from earlier tactics. After analyzing these changes, I step back at the end of the chapter to examine the implications of pragmatic resistance.

    Repeal 377A and...

  11. 8 Pragmatic Resistance, Law, and Social Movements
    (pp. 146-168)

    Throughout this book, I followed a group of activists and their movement to examine how they organized and pursued social change in Singapore, a state known to restrict civil-political liberties and collective mobilization. Whereas the strategy and tactics of Stonewall and gay liberation drew from a decade of civil rights protests, black militancy, campus demonstrations, and the rise of the new Left in the United States, the pragmatic resistance of Singapore’s gay movement was born of strategic adaption to almost fifty years of single-party, authoritarian rule in the postcolonial state. Deploying pragmatic resistance to advance their movement without jeopardizing its...

  12. Appendix A: Research Design and Methods
    (pp. 169-178)
  13. Appendix B: Study Respondents: Singapore’s Gay Activists
    (pp. 179-185)
  14. Appendix C: Singapore’s Gay Movement Organizations and Major Events
    (pp. 186-186)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 187-196)
  16. References
    (pp. 197-210)
  17. Index
    (pp. 211-215)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 216-216)