In early January 2009, Johann S. Lee, author of Singapore's first gay novel Peculiar Chris, held the launch party for his third book "Quiet Time", regarded by some as Singapore's best gay novel to date, at DYMK. Lee had been inspired to write it after witnessing the parliamentary debate on Section 377A in 2007, even including a character modelled after Nominated Member of Parliament, Siew Kum Hong.
On 7 January 2009, Fridae, Shaw Organisation and Crocodile presented the fundraising gala premiere of "Milk" at Shaw Lido 1, Shaw Centre, Scotts Road which raised $14,000 for IndigNation, Singapore's gay pride season, Pink Dot SG and Loo Zihan's new short film, "Threshold". The movie was a biopic about gay rights icon Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn, who found himself becoming a community leader and drawn to political office as he got tired of being treated as a second-class citizen even in the supposedly liberal city of San Francisco in the 1970s. It garnered 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and won 2 - for Best Original Screenplay (by David Lance Black) and Best Actor (Sean Penn). During the live telecast of the Academy Awards on Channel 5 on 22 February 2009, Black and Penn made speeches in support of gay marriage. However, viewers who watched the repeat telecast reported that entire chunks from their speeches referencing Black's growing up gay years and gay marriage rights were cut.
In early January 2009, the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival commissioned the permanent exhibition, "Raised as a Pack of Wolves" which continued Singaporean lesbian artist Genevieve Chua's explorations of queer visibility and sexuality. The work revolves around a family of youths in the form of androgynous or masculine-presenting females whom the then 24-year-old Lasalle College of the Arts graduate Chua refers to as "wolves" and whom she had met in the wild - on the streets, through blogs or friends, over a period of 2 years. They come together in this inventive photographic series which presents a new, fantastical spin on the awkwardness of adolescence and the hunt for familial ties, and answers.
On 5 February 2009, Singapore's Mandarin-language daily LianHe Zaobao reported that 6 men were charged on 29 January 2009 for sexual acts against the order of nature and gross indecency with the same 15-year-old boy in 2006 and 2007 whom they had met while chatting on the Internet. They were charged under the old Section 377 as the offences occurred before the Penal Code (Amendment) Act took effect on Feb 1, 2008. One of the men, a 42-year-old former travel agent, pleaded guilty to one charge under Section 377A and was sentenced to 4 months' imprisonment. The maximum penalty is two years.
From 13 to 15 March 2009, a popular entertainment icon organised the Lah! Mardi Gras Festival at St. James Power Station's Powerhouse, inspired by the world famous event in Sydney. It featured Singapore's own DJ Big Kid alongside gay circuit favourites - Australian DJ Jake Kilby and American DJ/ Producer Tony Moran.
From 19 to 21 March 2009, Dream Academy presented 'Kumar: Stripped Bare and Standing Up' at the Esplanade Theatre. In a Fridae article shortly before the performance run and during the shows themselves, drag icon Kumar came out as a gay man for the very first time after denying the fact several times before.
The 22nd Singapore International Film Festival was held from 14 to 25 April 2009, during which Boo Junfeng's short film "Tanjong Rhu" and Kan Lume's "Female Games" premiered. The latter work advertised itself as "the first contemporary Singaporean film to boldly portray female homosexuality," telling the story of a young Singaporean model, Alexia, and her female friend who leave for Kuala Lumpur to meet a casting agent. The two eventually find themselves falling in love after a number of pitfalls on the road. Kan Lume who directed and wrote the screenplay expected the movie to be banned in Singapore for its lengthy, explicit sex scenes between two women.
In April 2009, 5Degrees, Singapore's gay networking and business group launched Pink Month, an initiative to rally the community to support over 60 gay and gay-friendly businesses during the economic downturn.
On 18 April 2009, the LGBT community and its allies were urged to come out and be counted at what organisers call "the first-ever official LGBT public gathering in Singapore." Organised by a group of Singaporeans calling themselves Pink Dot SG, a reference to Singapore being frequently referred to as a little red dot, the event was scheduled to take place on May 16 at at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park, the only locale where outdoor demonstrations were permitted. Pink Dot evolved from an initiative by Roy Tan, who registered with the National Parks Board to stage an LGBT pride parade on 15 November 2008 to set a precedent which would make subsequent such events easier. As part of the grassroots pre-event publicity, acclaimed writer Alfian Sa'at went around Singapore with a Pink Dot placard persuading people to pose with it and shared his thoughts about acceptance, diversity and community in a Fridae article.
On Friday 10 April 2009, The Straits Times reported that more than 100 people, the majority of whom had joined only in recent months, challenged and eventually won 9 out of 12 executive committee spots at the annual general meeting of Singapore's main women's advocacy group, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) held on 28 March 2009. Observers described it as "nothing short of a leadership grab" by anti-gay Christian fundamentalists. Ordinarily, the meeting would be attended by no more than 30 or 40 members. Nearly every position was challenged by new faces who won by wide majorities. The purported reason for the blitzkrieg takeover was the usurping regime's concern that AWARE was becoming a pro-gay organisation. This marked the beginning of the AWARE saga.
In reaction to the coup, AWARE's founding members and former committee members called for a no-confidence vote against the new Exco at an extraordinary general meeting to be held on Saturday, 2 May 2009 from 2 - 5pm at the First Choice Auditorium, 3 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh #01-01 HSR Building. The venue was later changed to Suntec Convention Centre as the Toa Payoh one was deemed not large enough. Towards the end of April 2009, anti-gay Christian lawyer Thio Su Mien, mother of renowned anti-gay NMP Thio Li-ann, came out spectacularly to the media as the motive force behind the takeover.
On 2 May 2009, a vote of no confidence was passed after a 7-hour face-off, attended by some 3,000 people, at AWARE's extraordinary general meeting at Suntec Convention Centre. A new committee with diverse representation was elected to lead Singapore's largest women's activist group. It was hailed as a pivotal moment in the history of local civil society.
On Thursday, 14 May 2009, in the wake of the AWARE saga, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng told the media that the government’s position on homosexuality was clear and it would not be pressured into changing it, reiterating Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s message in Parliament in October 2007 that Singapore was basically a conservative society and the conventional family, a heterosexual stable family, was the norm and building block of society. However, he warned Singaporeans against mixing religion with politics.
The signature local LGBT event of the year took place on Saturday, 16 May 2009, when 2,500 people, straight and gay, turned up at Hong Lim Park to support the “freedom to love” regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only was it the first-ever public rally to show support for LGBT people in Singapore, the turnout was also the largest since the government eased a ban on public demonstrations in September 2008. Roy Tan, a co-organiser of the event, said the success of the event was a “milestone in the development of civil society in Singapore” and “a testament to the fact that the Government sincerely wants us to be a more open society".
In June 2009, even though figures from the Ministry of Health showed new HIV cases among MSM in Singapore to be at an all time high, Prof. Roy Chan, President Action for AIDS (AfA), told Fridae that the latest 2008/9 MSM community testing project revealed that the prevalence of HIV was 2.6%, down from 3.1% a year earlier. Some 1,200 men were tested in the latest project compared to 960 the year before. The voluntary, free and anonymous testing service was made available at selected MSM frequented venues including bars and saunas in late 2008.
On 12 June 2009, Fridae published the first of a series of 6 articles on living with HIV/AIDS - an intensely personal account of what it was like to be gay and HIV-positive, written by Singaporean SL Yang, who had lived with the virus for more than 10 years,,,,,.
On 20 June 2009, Anthony Yeo, aged 60, widely regarded as Singapore's "Father of Counselling", passed away from complications of leukaemia, leaving behind his brother, wife and two children. He was the founder and clinical director of Counselling and Care Centre. Yeo had numerous letters published in the press on social issues including calling for more understanding and acceptance of lesbians and gays in society. A memorial service was held on Friday, 24 July 2009 to celebrate his life and to honour his contributions and support of the LGBT community.
In early July 2009, in the wake of India's Delhi High Court ruling on 2 July 2009 that consensual sex acts between men in private were legal, Law Minister K Shanmugam said Singapore would not repeal its laws criminalising gay sex although the law will not be enforced. The minister was quoted in The Straits Times as saying that the law would remain as the Government "cannot move ahead of public opinion" and has to "be careful of being ahead of public opinion."
Also in early July 2009, a group of gay and lesbian students at New York University’s law school sent an e-mail to all students last week drawing attention to the homophobic comments made in Singapore's parliament in 2007 by Dr. Thio Li-ann, a visiting professor from the National University of Singapore. She was slated to teach Human Rights Law in Asia during the Fall 2009 semester. Thio had supported the continued criminalisation of “acts of gross indecency” between males and likened anal sex to “shoving a straw up your nose to drink."
On 22 July 2009, Dean Richard L. Revesz of the NYU School of Law, in a statement published by The New York Times said, "I am writing to let you know that Professor Li-ann Thio informed me today that she is canceling her Fall visit to NYU Law School as a Global Visiting Professor as a result of the controversy surrounding her views regarding homosexuality and gay rights. She explained that she was disappointed by what she called the atmosphere of hostility by some members of our community towards her views and by the low enrollments in her classes. The Law School will therefore cancel the course on Human Rights in Asia and the seminar on Constitutionalism in Asia, which she had been scheduled to teach."
From 8 to 25 July 2009, theatre company Wild Rice staged "Own Time Own Target" a double-bill of comedies at the Drama Centre. They dealt with the Singapore army and included a musical about a gay soldier.
From 30 July to 30 August 2009, Singapore's 5th gay pride season, IndigNation, was held. It featured some 32 events including art exhibitions, talks, film screenings, book launches, parties and forums.
On Saturday, 1 August 2009, former Nominated Member ofParliament, Siew Kum Hong, was named the winner of the 2009 Dignity Prize, a biennial award presented by LGBT advocacy group People Like Us, at the opening reception of Indignation 2009. The prize served to recognise the contributions of individuals in Singapore who had spoken up for equal rights for LGBT people.
From 6 to 8 August 2009, Leona Lo, possibly Singapore’s best known transsexual, performed her one-woman play, "Ah Kua Show" at The Substation. It was directed by Emeric Lau and was based on her 2007 memoir "From Leonard to Leona: A Singapore Transsexual's Journey to Womanhood", written over a course of 11 years. The book traces the major milestones in the 34-year-old PR consultant’s life from suffering a nervous breakdown while performing compulsory military service, surviving a suicide attempt at 19 to using his tuition money for her sexual reassignment surgery in Bangkok in 1997 whilst she was a first year student at the University of York in the UK. The play was Lo’s latest attempt to bring transgender issues to the forefront.
Just days before 2 short films, "Tanjong Rhu" by Boo Junfeng and Loo Zihan’s "Threshold", were to have their world premieres on Saturday, 15 August 2009 at the 6th annual Singapore Short Cuts festival, they were withdrawn by the organisers - the National Museum and the Singapore Film Commission. The latter operates under the auspices of the Media Development Authority. Both films were partially funded by Fridae and loosely based on true life incidents of police entrapment of a gay man in one film and 12 gay men in another.
On Tuesday, 11 September 2009, Prof. Roy Chan, President of Action for AIDS was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Gold Medal for Public Health by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health in London. The Straits Times reported that he was nominated by Singapore's Ministry of Health for his outstanding work on HIV and STI issues, and where his “dedication has contributed to significant improvements in the prevention, care and control efforts.”
In September 2009, Karen Lee, who had Burmese and Chinese ancestry, released her self-published autobiography, "No More Daddy's Little Girl" - the first by a gay person in Singapore. It chronicled her journey coming out as a lesbian and finding acceptance from God, her family and herself. Lee left Singapore for Perth, Australia at the age of 16 to attend pre-college and university. She had just returned home after being away for 14 years.
On Wednesday, 30 September 2009, Fridae held its 7th movie fundraiser - The Taking Woodstock Fundraising Gala Premiere – at the Lido Cineplex on Scotts Road. The event raised S$6,000 for LGBT-related community projects in Singapore. Speakers Dr. Stuart Koe, CEO of Fridae; Alex Au of People Like Us/Indignation; Jack Yong and James Koh of Pink Dot and filmmaker Boo Junfeng addressed a packed house.
In early October 2009, openly gay poet, playwright and winner of the Singapore Literature Prize in 2008 for his poetry anthology "Last Boy", Ng Yi-Sheng was dropped by the Ministry of Education as a mentor in the Creative Arts Programme one month into his mentorship. Ng himself believed that it had something to do with "his involvement with political and gay rights activism."
On 10 October 2009, openly gay director Glen Goei's quirky, murder mystery film, "The Blue Mansion" held its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea. Goei, of "Forever Fever" fame, completed his labour of love after an 11-year hiatus from filmmaking. Goei got his big break playing the title role in the Tony award-winning play M. Butterfly opposite Anthony Hopkins in London's West End. For his role, he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Newcomer in 1990. He soon after established Mu-Lan Arts, the first Asian theatre company to be established in the United Kingdom and was its Artistic Director from 1990 to 1998.
From 9 to 29 November 2009, theatre company Zebra Crossing staged the musical "Victor/Victoria" for the first time in Asia at the Esplanade Theatre. It starred famed jazz singer Laura Fygi in the title role as a woman who impersonates a man to become a female impersonator. It was directed by Loretta Chen, possibly Singapore's most outspoken lesbian and former Young PAP member.
In late November 2009, Fridae received the Friend of the Arts award from the National Arts Council for the 2nd consecutive year after having received the lower-tiered Arts Supporter Award for 3 consecutive years. The Friend of the Arts award was bestowed upon companies who contributed S$100,000 to S$299,999 in in cash or in kind in 2008.
On Tuesday, 1 December 2009, Action for AIDS organised the “LOVE: Live.Laugh.Life” special gala event to commemorate World AIDS Day. The event raised over S$100,000 for the NGO and screened the premiere of "Anniversary", a specially commissioned short film directed by Royston Tan and written by Alfian Sa’at. The themes of the film were gay relationships, sex, orgies and drugs and formed part of AfA's safer-sex education programme. It was rated R21 without cuts by the Media Development Authority.
In late December 2009, Fridae's 2009 MSM Sex Survey revealed, amongst other things, that 31% of respondents did not using condoms consistently with a regular male partner, and 21% did not use condoms consistently with their casual male partners.