During a news segment about the Beijing Winter Olympics, two men barged into frame behind the reporter and shared a kiss. Image: Screenshots from TikTok user @starrie7777
As temperatures dip below zero in Beijing, two spontaneous men turned up the heat with a steamy kiss on television, in the background of a Singaporean news report covering the Winter Olympics. The video quickly made waves, but not just because of its sauciness. For many Singaporeans, this is the first time they’ve seen two men kissing on local television. And for many, the viral kiss is yet another reminder of the lagging LGBTQ acceptance in the city-state.
In the now-viral video showing a news segment, Channel News Asia reporter Low Minmin was reporting live from a Beijing pub on Feb. 4, where a “watch party” for the Olympic opening ceremony was taking place. As she described the scaling down of this year’s curtain-raiser due to COVID-19 restrictions, two men barged into the frame behind her, smooching passionately for the camera.The viral smooch in Beijing appears to have been removed from a version uploaded on the Channel News Asia website. When contacted by VICE World News, a representative at Channel News Asia said they had “no comments” on the news segment.Nonetheless, social media videos featuring the on-screen kiss have gone viral among Singaporeans on TikTok who noted the rare glimpse of gay affection on local TV—let alone on Channel News Asia, a news television channel run by mass media conglomerate and state-owned Mediacorp. As of writing, a recording of the broadcast has been viewed over 731,000 times on TikTok. The video has also racked up similar popularity on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, where users are tickled by the cheeky kiss. But besides the hilarity of the prank, many are latching onto the rare showing of queer representation. In both Singapore and China, where same-sex marriages are still not legally recognized, LGBTQ communities continue to face serious political challenges.
“Growing up with various social forces that paint LGBTQ+ identities and people as socially deviant, or otherwise non-existent, seeing the kiss between two masculine-presenting people on television, was an unfamiliar scene for many,” Elijah Tay, a youth LGBTQ activist, told VICE World News. “Although possibly unplanned, it was an objective portrayal of what romantic relationships between LGBTQ+ people could look like, an expression of love uncensored from local television.”
Just last year, Tay and two other activists were arrested outside Singapore’s Ministry of Education building for protesting against transphobia in schools.“This is actually an act of revolution,” another TikTok user said of the video. Regulations set out by Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) prohibit TV programs that “promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle.”
“Although possibly unplanned, it was an objective portrayal of what romantic relationships between LGBTQ+ people could look like, an expression of love uncensored from local television.”
The rules are strictly implemented. In 2008, a local television channel was fined for breaching these regulations after it broadcast an episode of Find & Design, an American home improvement series. In the episode, the host helped a gay couple transform their room into a nursery for their adopted baby. According to a statement explaining the fine, the IMDA said the show portrayed the family “in a way which normalises their gay lifestyle and unconventional family setup.”For Joshua Simon, a DJ and host of LGBTQ podcast The SG Boys, gay representation was something he had sought growing up, and something he could never quite find on Singaporean television.“Positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters and themes have been scratched out from mainstream media in Singapore for a really long time. You’d have to really look hard to find someone who looks like you and loves like you,” he told VICE World News. “I remember sneaking bootleg DVDs of Rupaul’s Drag Race and Brokeback Mountain long before Netflix came along. These titles were just a few that helped eradicate the immense shame I felt when coming into myself. It shouldn’t be that way.”While the rise of streaming sites has made LGBTQ content more accessible to Singaporeans, films that contain LGBTQ plot lines are often rated for mature audiences. On Netflix, even shows as wholesome as Queer Eye are rated for viewers 21 years old and above.
For years, Singaporeans have been calling for a repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes sex acts between men. However, authorities have expressed their desire to maintain the legal status quo, instead choosing to reassure its citizens that the anti-gay law will not be enforced. Despite the reticence of authorities surrounding LGBTQ rights and the social stigma that still plagues LGBTQ issues in the city-state, some think that Singapore society is actually largely accepting of queer couples.“This is going to be especially confusing to people outside Singapore, who hear a lot of news about anti-gay or anti-trans policies in Singapore… but don't see the fact that there's actually already a lot of tolerance and community,” said local writer and queer activist Ng Yi-Sheng.There are plenty of efforts to create space for a thriving LGBTQ culture in Singapore, notably through art. “Singaporeans have created plenty of queer-affirming films, books, plays, [and] social media content,” said Ng. “Even the newspapers feature some positive coverage of us. TV is unusual for its homophobia.”Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.