SINGAPORE — The W Hotel in Singapore has found itself at the centre of the latest instance of the culture war over LGBTQ rights in the country.
On Monday (14 September), five-star luxury hotel, W Singapore at Sentosa Cove, posted a photo of gay influencer couple, fashion model Andee Chua and Taiwanese YouTuber Hugo Liu, on their social media. The hotel was promoting its staycations as travel restrictions remain in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, W Singapore was also affirming its support for the queer community. “Celebrate (love)... Fab #staycations await at W Singapore!” said the hotel’s caption for the jolly photo of Andee and Hugo sharing a drink in their room.
The photo drew thousands of reactions and hundreds of comments from netizens on Facebook and Instagram. Comments ranged from the homophobic to the supportive ones. Netizens on both sides of the divide argued with each other over the issue of LGBTQ equality.
W Singapore told Yahoo Lifestyle SEA, “We are in the business of welcoming all and occasionally feature guests with their permission on our social platforms.”
The spokesperson added that the image posted on the hotel’s social media platforms is not an advertisement but is “user-generated content of guests”.
Andee, 30, one half of the couple featured, told Yahoo Lifestyle SEA that the two stayed at W Singapore in mid-March this year, before Singapore went into lockdown mode, to celebrate Hugo’s birthday. The hotel had invited them for a stay in return for using their images in its social media content.
Andee, who is also a co-founder of start-up Kampung Collective, said, “It’s commendable that W Singapore shared this on their IG page, knowing the backlash they might potentially get. They’ve always been very inclusive, and our stay with them was great – no signs of discrimination and in fact, really welcoming and warming.”
Responding to reactions by netizens, some of which have been homophobic, Andee said that while Singapore seems like a progressive country on the surface, in reality, it is still a pretty conservative society where bigots exist.
“A big part of it (the stigma against LGBTQ people) is because of the existence of 377A. Education is key for subjects like this,” said Andee.
A scroll through W Singapore’s social media shows that the hotel has posted several photos of Andee and Hugo over the past few months, most of them featuring them individually – but another image featuring both of them was posted back in June. It’s not clear why that post didn’t generate the same level of attention that the latest post has.
This isn’t the first time that local brands have showed their support for the local LGBTQ community. Every year, home-grown companies sponsor the annual pride rally, Pink Dot. In 2018, jewellery chain Poh Heng included gay couples in its photo campaign to celebrate love in various forms.
Homosexuality in Singapore remains illegal through Section 377A of the Penal Code. Three different legal challenges against 377A were dismissed by the High Court in March this year. Younger generations are more accepting of queer people, but conservative resistance against LGBTQ equality persists among the population.