In a world filled with headlines about gay marriage, the launch of a magazine for gay men might not be expected to cause a stir. But in conservative Singapore, where criminal law still targets sex between men, Element magazine is so avant-garde that it plans to publish only in the digital world.
“Government licenses were a concern,” says Hirokazu Mizuhara, the magazine’s managing director and a former marketing manager at Harper’s Bazaar in Beijing. “They tend to be particularly conservative when it comes to this sort of content.”
Element launches later this month, billing itself as the “voice of gay Asia.” Its first issue features interviews with dancers at gay clubs in Thailand and profiles of gay-friendly luxury resorts in Asia, keeping with the regional focus of the magazine. Advertisers already include fashion label Paul Smith, and Avalon, a glamorous nightclub at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands casino resort.
The bi-monthly magazine will only be available online through the Apple and Android application stores. The application is free, but each issue will cost US$1.99 .
Published by Singapore-based independent media company Epic Media, the magazine aims to have 10,000 digital subscribers and possibly a Mandarin version to tap into the Chinese market next year.
Element is working around media rules in Singapore. Print magazines distributed in the city-state require a license through the government’s Media Development Authority, which regulates and censors media content. The online world, by comparison, is regulated with a “light touch,” circumventing many of the same license applications mandatory in printed content.
The website is also hosted in the U.S., meaning it is not subject to Singapore’s “codes of practice” regulating locally hosted websites.
But social disapproval of homosexuality in Singapore – and the chilling effect that has on gay people – also plays a role in the magazine’s decision to stick to online.
“Not many gay men would pick up a copy of a magazine like this on a newsstand – that’s just the culture here,” Mr. Mizuhara said.
Singapore has a thriving gay nightlife scene and a yearly gathering, Pink Dot, that promotes gay and lesbian rights. But legal, work and social barriers make it challenging for gay men and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation. Meanwhile, under Section 377A of the penal code — a holdover from British colonial rule that was repealed in the U.K. and other former colonies like India — a man convicted of committing “gross indecency” in public or private with another man can be imprisoned for up to two years.
Meanwhile, discrimination and harassment are common, according to a survey last year by Oogachaga, a gay help group. It found that more than 60% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Singapore report experiencing some type of discrimination or abuse because of their sexual orientation.
Mr. Mizuhara, who moved to Singapore three years ago, said he was “shocked” to discover Singapore still had discriminatory laws against homosexuals despite its cultural similarities with Japan and China, where he grew up.
“It is time for us to have a lifestyle magazine of this sort here,” he said. “It really is about awareness.”