South Korean tech giant Samsung has pulled an online advert in Singapore that featured a hijab-wearing Muslim woman hugging her drag queen son after it sparked a backlash from socially conservative corners.
LGBTQ rights remain a sensitive topic in the prosperous city-state, where a rarely invoked colonial-era law banning sex between men was upheld by the country’s High Court only two years ago.
The ad, part of a campaign called “Listen to Your Heart” for wearable tech like noise-cancelling earbuds and smartwatches, showcased the warm relationship between the mother and cross-dressing son.
But it touched off a wave of online criticism, with one group labelling it “an unfortunate attempt to push the LGBT ideology into a largely conservative Muslim community”.
“We are against the ideology of mainstreaming homosexuality and transgenderism into a conservative society,” said “We are Against Pinkdot”, a group that opposes Singapore’s gay rights movement.
Other criticism took a similar tack, with one social media user bemoaning the negative impact the ad’s message of “unlimited openness” could have on future generations of the religious community.
Ethnic Malay Muslims represent a sizeable minority in the city-state, which is majority ethnic Chinese.
Following the backlash, Samsung said it was pulling the ad from all public platforms as it “may be perceived as insensitive and offensive” to some members of the local community.
“We acknowledge that we have fallen short in this instance,” it added in a Facebook post earlier this week.
But Pinkdot, one of Singapore’s main gay rights groups, hit back at the “vocal conservatives” whose protests got the ad removed.
“To date, it is still unclear what these people were offended by – the fact that LGBTQ+ people exist in Singapore or that we are deserving of loving relationships, or both,” it said.
While support for gay rights is growing in some quarters, there is still resistance to greater acceptance. In 2020, more than 25,000 people signed a petition demanding that a live stream of Pride celebrations be restricted to adult viewers.
Singaporean authorities are frequently criticised for their attitude towards gay rights, but officials have defended their stance, saying the city-state remains largely conservative.
Last May, the government warned the US embassy “not to interfere” in local matters after it hosted an online gay rights forum attended by Singaporean activists.