Monday, April 28, 2008

Singapore Sins

The island nation of Singapore has a population of about four-and-a-half million people. The country's media watchdog is resolved that not one of those people will see homosexuals on TV.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) just spanked a television station for showing the unthinkable: a gay family.

At 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 13 of this year, MediaCorp TV Channel 5 ran an episode of "Find and Design," a home and d├ęcor series. In the episode a gay couple wanted to transform their game room into a nursery for their adopted baby.

Being the person I am, I can't help but wonder if the host wisecracked about the guys going from darts to diapers, pool cues to carpools.

Being the regulators they are, the MDA folks saw a bending, folding and mutilating of the rules.

On its Web site, the authority griped, "The episode contained several scenes of the gay couple with their baby as well as the presenter's congratulations and acknowledgement of them as a family unit in a way which normalizes their gay lifestyle and unconventional family setup."

Oh dear. Singapore is sure to sink into the sea now.

The episode violated the "Free-to-Air TV Program Code," which forbids shows that "promote, justify or glamorize gay lifestyles." MDA decided to levy a fine, penalizing MediaCorp TV roughly $11,000, because of "the severity of the breach."

It was severe all right. "Find and Design" treated gay people like normal people. What if that wild idea took root in Singapore? Gay Singaporeans would want to have babies! Straight Singaporeans would want to have game rooms!

The authority got tough with the station for two more reasons as well. The episode ran early Sunday morning, when children could be watching. If Singaporean households are anything like American, nobody BUT children would be watching at that hour.

Also, this was the station's second breach. MDA's statement didn't describe the first infraction. Perhaps Channel 5 slipped in a show featuring gay dolphins.

I assumed at first that the statement referred to an incident that gained international headlines a few weeks before this one did. But in that case it was a cable operator that received a fine.

The authority required StarHub Cable Vision to do financial penance for airing a commercial twice last November that showed two lesbians kissing. The ad ran on MTV's Mandarin-language channel, and promoted a song by Mandarin pop singer Olivia Yan.

I don't know who Olivia Yan is, but if she's running ads with kissing lesbians, I better find out.

MDA's statement on the matter averred, "Within the commercial, romanticized scenes of two girls kissing were shown and it portrayed the relationship as acceptable. This is in breach of the TV advertising guidelines, which disallows advertisements that condone homosexuality."

On this occasion the authority took into account "the severity of the breach," and the fact that the ad ran on a channel aimed at youth, and that StarHub Cable apparently gave an unsatisfactory explanation. All of it added up to a fine of $7,200.

So in a matter of weeks, Singapore's media regulator has handed out fines for breaching the TV Advertising Code and the Program Code. The offense in both cases was normalizing gay people. Perhaps this should be called pink-collar crime.

These two incidents suggest that Singaporean broadcasters have either been careless lately, or they're deliberately pushing the local envelope. And regulators are making a point of sealing it right back up.

In Singapore gay sex is illegal, but rarely prosecuted. Last year several Pride events were disallowed. Singapore is experiencing an internal push-pull over gays. The conflict is in the air—and on it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Referendum Rascal

Michael Heath is so anxious to go back in time you'd think he expects to earn frequent flier miles for the journey.

Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, has initiated a referendum that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, and prohibit same-sex couples from adopting. It would also remove sexual orientation from the Maine Human Rights Act's list of protected classes, and strip the funding for civil rights advocacy in the state attorney general's office.

In short, Heath wants to return to an era when the only right gays had was the right to hate ourselves.

If the secretary of state's office approves his wacky proposal, then Heath will start gathering signatures. He'll need about 55,000 of them to put the referendum on the state ballot.

"The question that he has submitted to the secretary of state is so broad that it's ridiculous," said Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, to the Bangor Daily News. "I don't even know if it's legal to put a question like that on the ballot. He basically wants to repeal any rights gays have gotten."

Yes, Heath is certainly a greedy fellow. I'm surprised he isn't also trying to outlaw gay bars and hair product.

Heath isn't a crusader-come-lately. When in 2005 Maine legislators made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing and education, Heath and his Christian Civic League spearheaded a referendum to restore each Mainer's god-given right to discriminate. But 55 percent of voters in the Pine Tree State disagreed with Heath, the law stood, and he has been girding his loins ever since for the next fracas.

Shortly before filing the paperwork for the latest referendum, Heath laid out his intentions on the Christian Civic League's Web site: "It is time for another referendum on gay rights. We have been licking our wounds long enough. I'm not going to sit by doing nothing really meaningful and watch either the courts or the legislature further advance special rights for homosexuality."

Okay, so don't watch. Kidding! In his editorial Heath used the word "special" more often than the Church Lady.

He also wrote, "Everyone has the right to marry already. Nobody should have legal rights that are premised on being sexually promiscuous! NO SPECIAL RIGHTS FOR HOMOSEXUALITY! PERIOD!!"

Lordy. The special rights argument is tired. The statement that everyone can marry is a slap in the face. The sentence about legal rights for being sexually promiscuous I don't even understand. Is he saying gays are people who are so lustful we sleep with each other because heterosexual coupling doesn't satiate our gargantuan appetites?

This much I know: Maine has a zealot on its hands.

Considering that state seems to go through a battle royal over gay rights every six minutes, average citizens must be getting awfully sick of it. And those whose lives and livelihoods depend on fair treatment don't relish another bloody round.

"I'm tired of trying to have to justify my right to maintain my employment," Sarah Parker-Holmes, who's fought in five major campaigns since 1992, told the Portland Press Herald. "I'm tired of fighting."

Maybe Heath is counting on his opposition being exhausted. Or maybe he hopes voters have had it with the issue of gay rights, and will stay home.

I'm starting to think he chose to make his potential referendum so sweeping because he knows this could be his last hurrah. He's throwing the kitchen sink at this one--before Mainers decide to hold a referendum on him.