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First gay erotic art exhibition[edit]

From 4 to 7 January 2003, openly gay local artist Dr. Martin Loh, well known for his Straits Chinese (Peranakan) works, mounted "Men in the Raw", Singapore's first private gay erotic art exhibition in Singapore[1]. It was held at the Utterly Art Exhibition Space, #02-01, 208 South Bridge Road. Low is a Fulbright scholar with a doctorate in history who had to leave the civil service because they discovered he was gay[2].

Mark Chan's score for "Little Toys"[edit]

From 28 February to 1 Mar 2003, gay Singaporean composer Mark Chan conducted a select ensemble of top-rank musicians at the world premiere of "Little Toys", a classic Chinese silent film set to his new, vibrant and modern score at the 2003 Hong Kong Arts Festival[3].

People Like Us: Sexual Minorities in Singapore[edit]

In March 2003, Select Books released Singapore's first non-fiction publication dealing entirely with the hiterto taboo topic of local LGBT culture entitled, "People Like Us: Sexual Minorities in Singapore". It was a pioneering collection of essays by contributors such as Alex Au, Jason Wee, Desmond Sim, William Peterson and Laurence Leong. Its style is eclectic, ranging from the academic to the casual. (see The New Paper's report and Yawning Bread's comments:[4], Fridae review by Alvin Tan:[5]).

Censorship of lesbian film "The Hours"[edit]

In March 2003, Singapore censors snipped 3 same-sex kisses from the recent Oscar-winning lesbian movie, "The Hours"[6]. It starred Nicole Kidman, who took home the Best Actress prize for portraying author Virginia Woolf in the sombre sapphic drama. It was directed by openly gay Stephen Daldry who was nominated two years ago for Billy Elliot and produced by openly gay Scott Rudin[7].

Trilogy of Eleanor Wong plays[edit]

A month-long trilogy of plays was performed at the Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel in April 2003. They were penned by acclaimed playwright and academic lawyer Eleanor Wong[8] and produced by W!LD RICE, a professional theatre company founded by well regarded Artistic Director Ivan Heng[9]. Despite the stellar credentials of the artists involved in the production of the plays, they failed to secure any sponsorship, probably due to their lesbian theme[10]. Despite this, it enjoyed an overwhelming response with 3 additional performance being added[11](see Singapore gay theatre).

My Sisters, Their Stories[edit]

In April 2003, Select Books released Singapore's first pictorial documentary on transsexuals in Singapore and Thailand entitled, "My Sisters, Their Stories", written by male-to-female transsexual, Leona Lo[12],[13].

Fridae launces Chinese personals site==

In May 2003, Fridae launched a new Chinese language personals site, Asia's first personals online service, customised for and dedicated to the needs of the native Chinese gay and lesbian communities, particularly in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan[14]. In the third quarter of 2003, Fridae, Asia's largest non-pornographic gay and lesbian web portal, also launched its Chinese site with original Chinese content with contributions from writers in North-East Asia.

SARS dampens gay sauna attendance[edit]

The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis of 2003[15] initially exacted a heavy toll on attendance at gay saunas. Discos, such as Why Not? saw a less marked fall in takings, - about 5 to 10%, according to its manager, Louie Chang[16]. However, after a few months, when the death toll was less than feared, patronage returned to normal.

On Sunday, 18 May 2003, the Singapore AIDS Candlelight Memorial was held at 7pm at the Youth Park (National Youth Council) along Somerset Road. The official theme of the memorial was "Remember the Cause, Renewing our Commitment"[17].

On 23 and 24 May 2003, 3 of Singapore's most talented theatre performers who also happened to by gay - Darius Tan, Gani Abdul Karim and Juwanda Hassim starred in the original musical production, "3 Men & A Boot" at the Victoria Theatre[18]. It was about 3 guys trying to make it in a very tough and fast paced Singapore. With love, faith and hope as their guide they waddle through funny, touching and nonsensical moments...with a smelly boot offering some help.

In May 2003 that the very first locally-produced television documentary dealing with homosexuality as its main subject was broadcast on Singaporean airwaves. It was a homophobic, 30-minute episode in a Mandarin-language series called "Crunch Time 2" shown on Channel U, a television station owned by Singapore Press Holdings. The series was advertised in The Straits Times which promoted it as one that featured the turning points in the lives of 12 people including a loan shark, an unwed mother and a drug addict.

The particular program featured actors re-enacting the supposedly true-life account of a young, masculine gay Singaporean man cruising for sex in public swimming pools and toilets. It reinforced the misconception that homosexuality resulted from having an unhappy home, parents who constantly fight, and being sexually abused. In this case, the protagonist was only 6 years old when he was asked by an adult female to perform sexual acts with a girl his age. The episode wound up with an interview with a spokesman from Choices, a Christian counselling group from the Church of our Saviour (COOS) in Queenstown which helps "straighten" out gay lives, which was the eventual outcome for the gay man in the story. He was depicted as having been "successfully'" converted through counselling from a dissatisfied, unfulfilled homosexual to a man happily married to a female spouse and producing a son.

The negative and stereotypical depiction of homosexuality in the program prompted an online petition which garnered more than 200 signatories over the ensuing weekend[19]. It probably had a significant effect as the episode was the last time a homophobic documentary was aired in Singapore.

Also in May 2003, The (Singapore) Sunday Times ran a full-page feature on an ex-transsexual who changed his mind about having a sex-change surgery after receiving counselling from Choices. The New Paper, Singapore's highest circulated tabloid, ran an article headlined, "My boyfriend is a conwoman". The report told of a "man" who borrowed S$90,000 from "his" girlfriend's family only to have her true gender revealed at the police station after the girl's relative made a report.

These homophobic media reports came to an abrupt halt after the publication of the 7 July 2003 issue of Time (Asia) magazine which carried a feature article entitled The Lion in Winter[20],[21],[22] (see Archive of Time magazine article "The Lion in Winter" by Simon Elegant, 7 Jul 2003). It examined Singapore's prevailing bleak economic climate against a wider backdrop of Asian NIE malaise at the time. In the issue, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, unprompted and of his own volition, was quoted as saying, 'So let it evolve, and in time the population will understand that some people are born that way. We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me.' He also stated that gays would now be allowed to serve in 'sensitive positions' in the civil service[23],[24](see video:[25]). It is not known if PM Goh's announcement was connected with the recent dismissal of Fulbright scholar Dr. Martin Loh from the civil service after they found out he was gay (see above).

The news unleashed a media frenzy with both brickbats[26],[27],[28] and bouquets tossed up by the general public. The gay community was elated.

Within an hour of reading Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s, activist Alex Au decided to rally the gay community in launching a second application for the registration of People Like Us (PLU). A pre-registration meeting was held at the Blue Room of The Substation on 10 July 2003[29]. Owing to an unexpectedly large turnout of over 100 people, including members of the press, the party had to adjourn to Fort Canning Green[30]. Membership application forms were snapped up with gusto. However, in view of media hoopla going overboard in July and August 2003, People Like Us decided to delay the application because it felt that the government might be unable to consider the application rationally when the issue was under an intense spotlight. After a few months of dormancy, the application was finally submitted to the Registrar of Societies the following year, on 25 February 2004.

From 30 May to 8 June, gay photographer Jason Wee mounted an exhibition entitled, "Celestial Encounters" at Utterly Art in which he investigated the Chinese zodiac as it wields its influence over man, not from cosmic forces, but from its imposition over our bodies and minds. He enlisted naked male models to represent our essential selves[31].

From 31 May to 8 June 2003, 20 bicyclists and 7 support crew rode over 950km from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and back in a charity called "Riding For Life 2003" to raise funds for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention[32],[33]. One of the participants was Roger Winder, a part-time Programme Coordinator for AfA, running its HIV/STI Prevention Programme for MSM, and university tutor[34].

In June 2003, Fridae teamed up with the M*A*C AIDS Fund and the Elton John AIDS Foundation Team to spread the first-ever public service announcements on AIDS featuring spokespeople Elton John, Mary J. Blige and Shirley Manson[35].

On 7 June 2003, Fridae held its "Boys of Summer" party at Tunnel, next to The Big Splash as an appetiser for its upcoming Nation party in August[36].

On Friday, 11 July 2003, singer Shirlyn Tan, best known to Singapore's lesbian community for being the host of the monthly Herstory parties, performed with her band, UnXpected at the Esplanade's Recital Studio[37].

From 25 July to 17 August 2003, Toy Factory presented "Bent" at The Attic, level 4, 21 Tanjong Pagar Road[38]. It was an award-winning and groundbreaking play by Martin Sherman about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, coming out and the struggle for gay pride.

Fridae's Nation.03 extravaganza at Sentosa expanded to become a 3-day event in 2003, attracting an estimated 4500 paying attendees intent on celebrating Singapore's 38th National Day[39],[40],[41],[42],[43],[44],[45]. It included a welcome party at Why Not? bar on August 7 and a poolside recovery party on August 9 at the water-theme park Big Splash and Tunnel Club, also located on the same premises. This year's major corporate sponsor was Subaru represented locally by MotorImage Enterprises Pte Ltd[46]. An estimated 1000 partygoers were visitors from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and as far away as Canada and the U.S. The Sijori Resort Sentosa, located a few minutes from the party grounds and Hotel 1929, the official hotel for the party, reported a 100 percent occupancy rate during the period. Nation.03 marked a milestone in that it was the first time in Singaporean television history that a local gay event had been reported in a positive light, accompanied by snippets of bare-chested men dancing on podia. The following day, Channel NewsAsia and its sister station MediaCorp TV Channel 5 announced, 'Nation.03 can be seen as a gauge of Singapore's tolerance.'

From 13 to 17 August 2003, The Necessary Stage presented Harish Sharma's gay play, "Mardi Gras"[47][48],[49] at the Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel. The comedy was about a group of people wanting to organise Singapore's first Pride Parade. It starred well known local TV personalities including Hossan Leong, Jimmy T, VJ Rick Tan, with special guest appearances by Kumar and Irene Ang.

During his 13th National Day Rally speech on Sunday, 17 August 2003, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, referring to his earlier comments in Time magazine, said that "they do not signal any change in policy that would erode the moral standards of Singapore, or our family values. In every society, there are gay people. We should accept those in our midst as fellow human beings, and as fellow Singaporeans. If the public sector refuses to employ gays, the private sector might also refuse. But gays too, need to make a living. That said, let me stress that I do not encourage or endorse a gay lifestyle."[50].

In September 2003, the 22-member Censorship Review Committee, made up of private sector and government representatives who had been appointed in April 2002 to do a once-in-a-decade censorship review, announced that the censorship authorities would relax their ban on gay-themed movies, plays, broadcasts and publications[51]. These included allowing films with homosexual themes to be screened at cinemas rather than only at film festivals.

In September 2003, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported in an article entitled "Singapore emerging as Asia's new gay entertainment capital" that the tiny city-state was slowly emerging as Asia's gay entertainment hub[52]. This echoed recent articles in The Straits Times on 17 August and Time magazine (Asian edition, August 18-25). The AFP report promoted Singapore as a hip and fun destination for gay travellers and highlighted a growing number of gay-friendly clubs, saunas, restaurants and fashion outlets.

From 1 to 26 October 2003, Toy Factory staged, at The Attic, the Mandarin production of Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing starring local actors Scott Lei, Charmaine Ang, Ben Xiao, Darius Tan and Alicia Kim in Singapore for the second time[53].

From 15 to 26 October 2003, Escape Productions staged gay British playwright, Terence Rattigan's "The Deep Blue Sea", which he had written after his male partner committed suicide shortly after leaving him for a another man[54]. It starred Amy Cheng, Jimmy T and Mark Waite and was performed at the DBS Arts Centre, 20 Merbau Road, Robertson Quay.

In October 2003, Subaru Singapore, represented by MotorImage Enterprises Pte Ltd, signed a 12-month marketing campaign with Fridae just months after being a major sponsor of Fridae's Nation party in August[55]. It was believed to be the biggest campaign a multinational company had undertaken to advertise to gay consumers in Singapore and Asia.

From 25 to 28 November 2003, a conversion/reparative therapy seminar entitled, "Homosexuality: Myths and Truths" was organised by the Singapore chapter of the US-linked Focus on the Family despite having received protest letters from local gay activists and a statement issued by the AFFIRM Network[56]. The latter was a US-based group of psychologists who highlighted "serious ethical and scientific concerns" about "reparative therapy" for lesbians and gay men.

On Saturday, 6 December 2003, Singapore's first-ever LGBT community centre, Pelangi Pride Centre, held its opening party from 6pm to 9pm in its premises at 22A Rowell Road[57]. It featured live tribal drumming & flame throwing, food and drink, music, a film screening as well as safer-sex demonstrations. Opening hours of the resource centre would be on Wednesdays from 7pm to 9pm and Saturdays from 3pm to 7pm.

On Saturday, 27 December 2003, Fridae's third annual year-end party, "SnowBall" was held at Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre followed by the Meltdown Recovery party at China Black on Sunday, 28 December[58],[59].