SINGAPORE - Nov 14, 2004
In a speech on November 10, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts and Health, drew attention to the dramatically rising rate of HIV infection among gay men and singled out one of Singapore's well-known gay websites for special criticism.
Speaking to Doctors and officials at the Raffles Town Club, Dr Sadasivan referred to fridae.com stating, "It was started by a Singaporean and there was some hype about this site in the media. I was shocked by what I read. A "sexpert" called Alvin Tan was advocating a promiscuous and reckless lifestyle. In an interview with the Far Eastern Economic Review, the CEO of the web-site said 'Change at the grass roots is outpacing change at the policy level. But things are moving in the right direction.' However from a public health perspective, the lifestyle advocated in the website which is a life-style of reckless regard to sexual health and safety is dangerous. Those who follow such a lifestyle will run the risk of getting AIDS. There were also many advertisements for saunas. Why so many saunas? We are not Russians or Finns."
Without realizing that the horse has already left the barn, Dr Sadasivan went on to say that the "CDC must ensure that saunas in Singapore do not become San Francisco style bath-houses."
Also singled out for a scolding was Singapore's Action for AIDS, the county's only officially recognized organization especially targeting the health concerns of gay men. Dr Sadasivan found that AfA's message was, in his opinion, not sending a clear enough message and was offering "assurance when alarm would be more appropriate."
Fridae.com, well known for organizing gay circuit parties, responded that the rise in HIV infections among gays should not come as any surprise considering the "gross negligence" of the Health Ministry. "Singapore's public health service has systematically ignored and left MSMs [men who have sex with men] out of all their public health messages. Focusing instead on abstinence and monogamy, the Ministry has rarely advocated the use of condoms, and never once addressed MSMs directly since its first education program against HIV/AIDS in 1985".
Website spokesman, Dr Stuart Koe, also noted that police had prevented condoms and safe sex brochures from being passed out at one of their dance parties and that AfA had been stopped from circulating safer sex postcards by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore which objected to any reference to oral and anal sex on the grounds that such acts were illegal.
"Therein lies the conundrum," said Koe. "Since gay sex is illegal, how then, can any agency or organisation in Singapore promote safe sex amongst MSMs without being complicit in abetting illegal activity? How is the MSM community expected to mobilise itself to combat AIDS in the face of such blatant discrimination?"
In a chilling conclusion to his speech, Dr Sadasivan opined, "Many will oppose public health measures like contact tracing and compulsory testing arguing that the right of the individual over-rides the safety of society. In the end, we must convince these people that public health measures protect everyone and it is better to have living people complaining about their rights than dead people buried with their last rights."
Those who have fought and died for their rights around the world, including many PWAs, may disagree.