Singapore - Thousands of people gathered in Singapore on Saturday for an annual gay rights rally celebrating sexual diversity in the city-state, despite fierce opposition from religious conservatives.
Straight and homosexual Singaporeans turned Speakers' Corner, a government designated free-speech park, into a sea of pink - the colour chosen by organisers to represent the freedom to love.
Revellers wore everything from neon pink-rimmed spectacles to tube tops and even facial hair dyed in the colour while dogs were spotted in pink clothing and leashes for the “Pink Dot” rally.
Organisers said they expected the final turnout to top last year's record of 20,000, making it one of tightly-controlled Singapore's biggest public rallies in recent times.
The name of the event is a play on Singapore's nickname - “The Little Red Dot” on the world map.
Rally spokesman Paerin Choa stressed it was not a protest but aimed to “promote inclusiveness and diversity and to make LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Singaporeans feel that this is a place we can all call home”.
The rally has grown in stature since its first edition in 2009, when 2 500 people attended. It now enjoys the support of local celebrities as well as internet giant Google and financial firms Barclays and JP Morgan.
The four-hour, carnival-like rally features musical performances by Singaporean artists, and will culminate with the crowd forming a giant pink dot after dusk by holding LED lights.
Participants brushed off countermovements by Christian and Muslim conservatives opposing the city-state's growing gay rights movement.
“Those guys can raise hell if they want, but they cannot put a stop to the increasing number of Singaporeans, gay and straight, who are coming out to say that the LGBT community is very much welcome in Singapore,” said Stefanie Toh, 36, attending the event with her lesbian partner.
Twenty-five year-old student Ravindran Thanapal said: “We need to get rid of that old narrative that Singapore is deeply conservative and thus gay people don't have a place here and shouldn't have equal rights.
“Where's the evidence for that? Surely it's not this annual Pink Dot event.”
Lawrence Khong, a senior pastor, with the 10 000-strong Faith Community Baptist Church, had led the charge to ban Pink Dot, saying it was an affront to morality and “family values”.
Khong is a longstanding opponent of a campaign to repeal Section 377A, a provision in the Singapore penal code that makes sex between men a crime.
The provision dates back to British colonial rule and carries a maximum penalty of two years, but it is not actively enforced by authorities.
Khong on Friday chastised the Singapore government for “giving Pink Dot public space to push their agenda and grow their movement”.
“I would like to see our government leaders draw a clear line on where they now stand with regard to this moral issue,” he said in a statement.
The pastor has professed support for a separate peaceful protest led by Ustaz Noor Deros, a Singaporean Muslim teacher seeking to encourage “a return to values as guided by Islam”.
Noor's “WearWhite” campaign has called on Muslims to shun Pink Dot and instead wear white garments to mosques later Saturday to attend special prayers usually held on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadaan.
Officials have avoided taking sides and have instead urged Singaporeans to practice restraint in debating LGBT rights.
Even though it is not enforced, the government, led by the long-ruling People's Action Party, says Section 377A has to stay on the books because most Singaporeans are conservative and do not accept homosexuality.
A survey of 4 000 citizens by the government-linked Institute of Policy Studies earlier this year found that 78.2 percent of the local population felt same-sex relations were wrong.