It wouldn’t go unnoticed, though whether the (Singapore) Straits Times editors fully realised the significance of what they were doing is an open question. Channel NewsAsia’s report, by contrast, didn’t have a photo showing David Furnish though he was mentioned in the text. It’s entirely in keeping with the general observation that Channel NewsAsia is more politically timid. Facebook had several postings by gay men pointing out the printed photograph of singer Elton John with his husband David Furnish and baby Zachary, among which was this posting by Alan Seah:
In brief, what the hubbub was about was this: At the 20th World Orchid Conference organised by the National Parks Board and the Orchid Society of South East Asia, Elton John got a hybrid created at the Singapore Botanic Gardens named after him. He joins a long line of visiting state dignitaries and celebrities, but he’s perhaps the first openly gay person to be given the honour. The Straits Times mentioned that Ricky Martin also had an orchid named after him some years back but it is not clear if that was before or after he came out as gay.
Apparently, Marina Bay Sands had initiated the idea of naming an orchid after Elton John, probably because they are hosting John’s concert, but whether this is a correct sequence of events is not clear to me.
Adding to the significance, John, whom we can expect to be aware of the situation in Singapore with respect to gay rights, very shrewdly invited his partner David Furnish and his son Zachary on stage to share in the honour. This was in front of all the media, cameras, video, etc. Furnish and Zachary had been placed right at the back initially and had not been invited to take part.
“It might very well be the first time a same sex family unit has been on stage in an official function in Singapore ever!” said an eye-witness to the occasion.
One thing we should not do is to read in the editors’ decision any grand scheme to shift the debate on gay equality. It’s not as if it’s part of a larger plan preparing the ground for and heralding a forthcoming government decision. Nor is it even a trial balloon to see how Singaporeans react.
On the gay issue, the government has given up governing. They don’t know what to do, they are paralysed and they are just hoping the issue will go away. Ask them what their responsibility is towards basic principles of justice and equality, and they will try to look away and pretend not to have heard your question. Thus, to imagine that media editors are the advance guard to test or prepare for future moves by the government is to give the government too much credit.
Editors at the Straits Times are no Neanderthals. They know where the world has gone on the gay issue; and most of them — though there are some remarkably antediluvian exceptions — know that Singapore is embarrassingly behind the curve. They also have a sense that saying it like it is and publishing the photo is going to get little more than a shrug among their readers. Thus, all we can read from this media decision is that, yes, the Straits Times too has come to believe that it’s largely a non-issue. Singaporeans, by and large, are not going to reel in shock that there is homosexuality in the world, there is same-sex marriage and that there are gay-coupled families. Now with children.
Of course, that recognition itself is an significant milestone, so it’s not as if this news story has no importance.