We have seen the power of people when we gather to voice our rights and concerns as seen in the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Last Saturday’s Pink Dot live stream, which garnered over 11,000 online attendees, was a testimony to the power of community. Now that Pink Dot 2020 and Pride Month is over, how can people further educate themselves on the stories & struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community?
We spoke with local LGBTQIA+ musicians on their views regarding moving the general public perception forward so increased awareness towards wider acceptance and visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community is achieved. From placing as emerging acts on Season 2 of The Great Singapore Replay to performing on the coveted stage at Pink Dot, these musicians are living totems of courageously living out one’s true identity and sexuality.
“We are still far from achieving basic human rights for all queer people, the most obvious being the existence of 377A that basically tells gay people in Singapore they are second class citizens,” shares bisexual singer-songwriter Leon Markcus who most recently performed his song ‘Forgotten Natives’ live on last Saturday’s Pink Dot live stream.
On a legal front, Section 337A of the Penal Code remains present in Singapore, which criminalises sex between consenting male adults. Even after being appealed for lifting multiple times through the past decade, the item of legislation still stands in the law.
“Definitely repeal Penal Code 377A. A discriminatory law that justifies the mistreatment of LGBTQIA+ people in our community. Also, I think it’s important for film and media to continue showing representation for LGBTQIA+ characters. Changing public perceptions of queer people is so important in making real change,” comments singer-songwriter Karen Grace, whose original song ‘Didn’t I learn my love from you‘ was written five years ago in an effort to reconcile her love and religion.
Even as representation of LGBTQIA+ characters on both traditional and non-traditional global media platforms has increased in recent years, censorship in Singapore still remains a rather prevalent issue that limits awareness and public perception.
“People are generally not being made uncomfortable enough to confront/unlearn their own beliefs; There’s no way anyone can get educated or forced to acknowledge anything if their ignorance is continually enabled with no queer representation allowed on National TV and the stubborn existence of an outdated law that reduces queer people into a sexual act,” shares openly queer musician Jean Seizure, whose original song ‘I Know (An Honest Love Song)’ is written as an ode to her girlfriend.
Pertinent LGBTQIA+ representation in the current education system is also severely lacking while traditional media outlets such as TV and radio remain silent and generally averse to LGBTQIA+ content and artistes. As you scroll through local free-to-air television channels, the rare occasional appearance of an LGBTQIA+ character remains rather stereotypically distasteful or pessimistic.
“My hope for Singapore is that there will be implementation of education on sexuality in secondary schools (and up)… And more representation in local media. I want our local artists and celebrities to feel comfortable talking about our experiences as LGBTQIA+ folk on stage, and to not fear losing jobs because of it,” comments folk singer-songwriter LEW.
Over the years, multiple online appeals have been made by the community, with the most recent edition being 2018’s online campaign Ready4Repeal which garnered close to 110,000 signatures. While the internet has served as a powerful tool for digital activism for LGBTQIA+ voices to freely express their concerns and judgements, the concept of ‘normalisation’ as brought up by transgender musician Chris Hong who most recently performed on the digital live stream of Pink Dot 2020 is still far from ideal.
I believe our voices hold immense power both online and offline. Speaking out on matters that may be uncomfortable to certain people or groups is necessary as it can possibly contribute to a larger positive change in the near future, similar to the butterfly effect. We can begin by casually talking about LGBTQIA+ topics with your schoolmates, at the workplace or even with your small group of friends,” shares folk-acoustic singer-songwriter Khairul Ameer, who goes by the moniker _lameer.
The LGBTQIA+ community hopes for allies to challenge the status quo and change perceptions, synth-pop singer-songwriter KEAT remarks: “Call people out, but don’t shame them, help them see where & why they could be wrong. Speak up and speak out but be kind. Begin to help people understand we’re part of the community and that we are people too.” The 2019 Noise Singapore mentee also believes in the power of art in advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights through creation.
In acknowledging the concept of ‘killing with kindness’ in altering impressions, 21-year-old singer-songwriter KIRSHANN emphasizes that getting allies on board requires patience and is necessary, as it serves as a springboard for marginalized voices:
The LGBTQIA+ community has to be patient and understanding. Instead of taking a hostile approach of pitting ourselves against our soon to be allies, we should take the time to shed a light on our concerns in a conservative society. This has to start with the people around us. I know it isn’t easy because some of us hide our sexuality from close friends but having the courage to stand up against offensive comments to the LGBTQIA+ community is the first step to educating the people around you. It could be a simple explanation of why certain jokes are hurtful but it reminds them that we are people too. It is also important to accept not just one kind of queer person but all kinds because of intersectionality.”
“In spaces where the LGBTQIA+ voices are being muted, allies should share their space, let our voices be amplified. I think it’s important to remind allies that it is not the responsibility of the LGBTQIA+ community to educate, we have been through a lot and sharing our trauma isn’t something you can learn from,” – non-binary singer-songwriter Saud Alexander, who goes by the stage name Alex Asha’ari.
This is further echoed by independent musician Marian Carmel who believes in the power of ally voices when helping the LGBTQIA+ community. “Hear a casually homophobic joke? Let them know why it’s not okay! Don’t keep quiet, and stand up for your queer friends so that you can help them build a world that accepts them,” remarks the Singapore Youth Music Awards 2019 recipient for ‘Best Song to Sing Along’ for her collaboration track ‘Thursday’ with homegrown rapper Axel Brizzy.
I think on a fundamental level, people need to be more open to having honest conversations with one another, starting with their family and friends. It’s not easy and unfortunately it frequently lies on the shoulders of LGBTQIA+ people to carry out these difficult interactions – this is why allies are so important to help relieve this burden for queer people and call out injustices on their own accord,” shares musician RENE.
Singer-songwriter Empatlines who records original songs in her bathroom and posts them on Instagram shares a similar point of view, “all the information and help to educate and inform is out there for anyone interested. But above all, the desire to want to be part of this changing world can’t be forced upon someone.” She further shares that the LGBTQIA+ community already has a lot on their plate to be constantly spoon feeding allies and hopes that allies can rise to the occasion in spreading and fighting for the cause. To further that point, Joshua Su (The G3sha) whose single ‘I’m OK’ recounts the struggles of a homosexual growing up in a conservative society, shares all the things supporters and activists of the cause can do:
Speak up everyday, have more empathy. Create and educate everyday. Change doesn’t happen in a day or in a month. Use your platforms (social media & word of mouth). Share more LGBTQIA+ quality content. Volunteer and take part in activities and events that support LGBTQIA+ people!” – The G3sha
As we bid farewell to Pride Month, the fight for basic human rights for the LGBTQIA+ community still stands, even as artistes and influencers from the community rise to a wider acknowledgement and voice on mainstream media. It is not an altercation, but the need to address and represent a community that has been silenced and misconstrued on most fronts. As suggested by these out & proud LGBTQIA+ musicians; with kindness, communication & legal government representation, we can march towards a more receptive, loving and communal society. Queer artiste Aeriqah sums it up succinctly:
It all starts from an individual, willing to ask themselves the right questions; why exactly they think the way they do and who exactly it was who made them believe certain things. There is a lot of necessary, internal work that goes into allyship, and it is a constant process of learning. We have to think about the way we frame queerness in conversations and in our heads. We all have some level of internalised queerphobia and it is all of our jobs to put in the work to unlearn them.”
Curious? Below are some curated suggestions of LGBTQIA+ centric content you can check out at your own time as suggested by the featured musicians:
Aeriqah: Youtube web-series ‘Her Story’ & Alok V Menon
Chris Hong: self-written song about platonic queer friendship & Worms
Empatline: Worms Wav & Marla Bendini
Jean Seizure: Queer Eye (Netflix series) & Chella Man
Karen Grace: Disclosure (documentary) & Laverne Cox
KEAT: Call Me By Your Name (movie) & Troye Sivan
Khairul Ameer: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (Netflix documentary) & Jonathan Van Ness
KIRSHANN: Dear White People (Netflix series) & Lady Gaga
Leon Markcus: POSE (Netflix series) & Lady Gaga and Paddy Chew
LEW: Georgia – Katie Pruitt & Queer Eye
Marian Carmel: I Know A Place – MUNA & Raveena, Dodie, Miette Hope, King Princess, Worms (founder of Queer ZineFest)
RENE: Girls Girls Girls – Not Safe for TV and Sam Lo & MUNA
Saud Alexander: The Half Of It (Netflix movie), ARROWS, Young M.A & skrrrt.central, dink, invisible.thedrum
The G3sha: POSE & Kumar