On the last Saturday in June the centre of Singapore’s very sober business district turned distinctly pink. Lesbians, gay men and others converged there for the annual celebration of what organisers call the “Freedom to Love”, also known as the “Pink Dot”, in honour of the “little red dot” that Singaporeans like to call their city-state. It was the fifth such event, and the biggest so far; at 21,000 people it was in fact the largest ever civil-society gathering in the well-policed country.
Activists were heartened by the turnout. This year the Pink Dot also boasted multinational sponsors such as Google and Barclays bank, and was tacitly endorsed by the government. Yet if the day’s popularity provides evidence that attitudes towards homosexuality are changing in this generally conservative part of the world, in other respects many South-East Asian societies remain as prejudiced against gays as ever. As some countries take the first hesitant steps towards legalising gay marriage, the final endorsement of gay rights, others seem to be growing less tolerant.