So, what has Singapore got against gay penguins? Why has this tiny Asian city-state decided to collect and destroy all copies of a children's book?
This week, both the BBC reported on a small (and rather pathetic) news story about one Asian nation's censorship of gay themes in children's books. According to the source:
Singapore authorities have withdrawn from libraries two children's books featuring same-sex couples, sparking controversy amid a debate on gay rights in the conservative city-state.
The two books in question were "And Tango Makes Three" - a story based on true events about two male penguins at New York's Central Park. The other is entitled "The White Swan Express" which merely mentions- though it does not feature- a lesbian couple seeking to adopt a child.
The two books were removed earlier this week after a library user wrote into the National Library Board expressing concern about the books' content.The library board said in a statement that it takes "a pro-family and cautious approach in identifying titles for our young visitors", and plans to pulp the books despite vocal opposition.
It shouldn't come as any big shock. Singapore has for some time been known as a place where interference and restrictions in the lives of its citizens is all too routine. Over the years, the authorities in the tiny Southeast Asian city- state have felt no qualms about encroaching on its citizens' civil liberties.
In fact, although gay and civil rights groups have recently sought to overturn the laws with two constitutional challenges. homosexuality is still illegal in Singapore. As a concession (of sorts), the Singaporean government stated that, while it will retain the law to reflect mainstream society's stand on the issue, the anti-gay laws will not be actively enforced.
(Of course, there is always a critical difference between mere tolerance and actual acceptance. The fact that the laws are still on the books and still could be used is seen by some as an unspoken threat.)
The population of Singapore is over 5.5 million people, which means- at least statistically- that more than 220,000 gay and lesbian Singaporeans living as a marginal population. (That's not to say, of course, that Singapore doesn't have a vibrant gay community.)
Interestingly, attitudes about homosexuality are not indigenous but are actually left-overs from colonial British rules against sodomy. The traditional Asian attitudes to homosexuality were always comparatively more relaxed than Western mores of the same time period.
Of course, when it comes to the law, the gay population of Singapore shouldn't feel especially singled out. Selling chewing gum and hugging in public without permission and- let's not forget- walking around your house in your birthday suit are all also criminal activities there.
And the government apparently doesn't think twice about venturing where angels fear to tread when it comes to regulating the lives of its straight population too. All forms of porn are strictly forbidden. Oral sex had been considered illegal unless it used as a kind of foreplay. (As opposed to .. what? a sport.. or an art form?)
Of course, since homosexuality is still technically illegal, that happy diversion is reserved only for consenting heterosexual couples.
All around the world, from Russia to Africa to the Middle East, gay equality issues have been an increasingly hot topic.
One travel advisory for gay tourists gives us some interesting details into the conservative dynamic in that society. It states that although Christians and fundamentalists are a minority- like gay people- in Singapore society, they hold half of the civil service jobs.
This unquestionably helps to set- if not an agenda- then at least, a policy-shaping mentality.
Outrageously, while banning gay and lesbian self-help groups, government officials awarded a large grant of public money in 2006 to a Christian group that tries to un-gay queers. Fundamentalists have also been paid to teach lopsided sexuality courses in public schools. In 2009 an attempted takeover of a large women's NGO by Christian gay-haters was aborted by public outrage forcing the government to warn against mixing religion with secular politics.
The attitude may not be directly hostile but it is pervasive. For example, In 2011 the authorities ruled that no one under the age of 21 could see "The Kids Are All Right," which is about a two-mom family. (Not a bad film, by the way.)
The existence of alternative lifestyles is simply not recognized and any reference to them is erased the public discussion or, at least, highly regulated. Global Post also noted another example:
And three years before that, a home decor show caught a nearly $11,000 fine for showcasing a gay couple interested in turning their spare room into a nursery. Video games have been banned just for giving players the option of coupling their character with the same sex.
So, no making out or gay canoodling amongst your same-sex Sims. Enough of that love propaganda!
Thousands have signed a petition and an open letter urging for the books to be reinstated. Netizens are not happy.
The books, they point out, are not against family values but the notion of parenting families shouldn't be limited to opposite sex couples. As far as the anti-tradition arguments, as we have seen, an anti-gay stance is just as much a Western import as the modern gay lifestyle.
But before you look down on tiny-weeny Singapore as being some kind of bastion of backwardness you might want to note one thing. This particular children's book has stirred up its share of ire in the United States too, according to the BBC article:
It has been the subject of intense controversy in the United States, and has consistently made it to the American Library Association's list of books which receive the most number of removal requests.
With a myriad of dire threats to the planet and to innocent children, with wars and atrocities going on every day, you'd think some people would have adopted better priorities.
No, it's so much easier to bluster and clutch those fake pearls about the story of pair of love-struck penguins and their adopted chick.