Although being gay is still a crime on the island nation of Singapore, the gay community there has made huge strides toward gaining acceptance
“Majulah Singapura” means “Onward, Singapore” in Malay — a motto the local LGBT community is truly living. Homosexuality is still illegal in this island city-state, but in recent years, gays and lesbians have made great strides toward not just tolerance, but acceptance.
You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful city to visit. Singapore is clean and easy to navigate. It’s also culturally diverse, with several official languages: Citizens speak English, Indian, Malay, Chinese and Indonesian. A cosmopolitan city, there are many exquisite museums, parks, cafes and restaurants to explore and enjoy. If you love to get your shop on, the world-class malls (featuring high-end retailers) won’t disappoint.
A sightseer’s delight, gay Singapore offers several unique tourist attractions. Jurong Bird Park is a fabulous, romantic spot, a quick subway and connector bus trip outside of the city center, and you’re sure to love it. It’s a great opportunity to see thousands of colorful, exotic birds flying in their natural environment. Singapore’s Botanical Garden is also a beautiful refuge for lovers of flora and fauna. Scientists working on-site breed orchards for the gardens and name their blooming creations after famous dignitaries like Nelson Mandela and Laura Bush.
For foodies, Singapore is heavenly — its melting pot of cultures is reflected in the cuisine. Banana Leaf Apolo is always packed, but while it lacks elbow room, it makes that up in its dishes. If you’re a fan of curry and North Indian dishes, the portion sizes are huge, the price point excellent and the flavors satisfying.
Mexican cuisine lovers and gringos alike will adore Cafe Iguana, known for its delectable burritos and margaritas (the bar serves a variety of blue agave tequilas). The restaurant is located on Singapore River, offering a breathtaking view.
Although it’s a chain, seafood fanatics will adore Jumbo! Chili crab, their signature dish, is out of this world. Other recommended dishes are fried pawns with cereal, bamboo clams with minced garlic and donuts with seafood paste.
Along with a growing tolerance of homosexuality has come an influx of gay bars, clubs and other LGBT venues. That said, there are still no protections to keep the queer community and travelers safe against homophobic attacks, so enjoy with caution. Still, tourism is huge and many businesses are vying for the pink dollar. The amazing nightlife, cruisy gay beaches and impressive infrastructure make Singapore a wildly popular gay destination.
You’ll find many of the popular gay clubs are in Chinatown, easily accessible by public transportation. Backstage Bar is one of the hottest clubs catering to queer patrons, with classic movie-themed décor, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Oklahoma. Sweat to the beats or head outside to cruise or light up. The house is packed each weekend and it’s a great place to meet hot locals and other out of towners.
DYMK (Does Your Mother Know) — a double-story retro bar with an S&M night every Thursday — is another place to get your dance on. You’ll find a common theme with the naming of a lot of the venues. DYMK, Taboo and other clubs are named to reflect the “don’t ask, don’t tell” atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a break from all of the hustle (and modern conveniences), head to Tanjong Beach in Sentosa, one of Singapore’s most popular gay beaches. Tanjong is the furthest beach from Beach Station opposite of Siloso Beach. You’ll find a range of sun seekers here from young twinks to bronzed older gents donning Speedos. Unlike many other gay beaches, you’ll find some shops, bars and cafes. This beach is also close to Palawan, a stretch of coast where you’ll find a lot of straight families and teens but it’s still a great place to get some rays.
In 2005, Singapore hosted their first LGBT Pride festival, sponsored by IndigNation. This year marked the sixth season. Unlike most Pride festivals, you won’t find the local queer community participating in parades or other flamboyant events because organizers cannot get permits from the government. Typically the schedule includes LGBT lectures and film festivals but few if any outdoor celebrations.
Despite efforts to quiet Singapore’s gay and lesbian community, it’s easy to hear the roar of The Lion City’s ‘mos. Gay travelers will revel in the city’s modern appeal and queer scene that’s not just growing but bursting at the seams.
— Jon Fairbanks
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2012.