“Singapore is basically a conservative society… The family is a basic building block of this society. And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit,” says Prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong. LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in Singapore encounter challenges not faced by non-LGBT residents due to overly broad and unfair laws. The gay men in Singapore come from many different social classes and different neighborhoods, some might be poor, rich, open about sexuality or private, but many of them are poor or just getting by, most of them still cannot afford to take part in celebration or donate to the cause, however, a growing minority Singaporeans are doing their part in the battle for LGBT rights in Singapore.
According to the corpus of Singapore’s laws, Section 377A of the penal code in Singapore is a legislation which criminalizes “any act of gross indecency” between mutually consenting adult men. This legislation is oppressive and tyrannous towards the LGBT community restricting some of their human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression. Same-sex sexual activity between men is illegal, even consensual and privately. The penalty may extend to 2 years in jail, fines and canings. In Singapore, every male is required to go for NS (national service) but openly gay men are restricted to limited duties. In 2007, sexual relations were legalized for heterosexual and lesbians making them no longer offenses. Sexual relations between men still remains a criminal offense, there is still no protection against discrimination.
Throughout the history of Singapore, not a single protest has been conducted for the rights of LGBT members, the laws about public assembly are so strict there only 3 protests have been conducted. All of them were charged under Section5(4)b chapter 184 of the Miscellaneous Offenses (Public and Nuisance) act. Now people are only allowed to congregate in the Speaker’s Corner, an area created and designed for such events, one would also need a police permit before beginning to the event. However, there are some spots in Singapore where no permit is required for public assemblies, such as Hong Lim Park, every year thousands of people gather in Hong Lim Park to celebrate the Pink Dot festival, it is a parade which happens every year over 26,000 LGBT members congregate to celebrate gay pride, this is the closest thing Singapore has to a gay pride parade. This celebration has slowly helped the community as over the past 5 years, Singapore has changed to a more accepting society, now Chinatown now hosts a great variety of LGBT bars, clubs and saunas. Contrasting vastly to before when in the past, according to a personal account from my parents, were widely unaccepted and being gay was treated like a disease, they were ostracized and shamed for their sexuality.
There are some activists in Singapore who have been making a stand against gay oppression in Singapore. Four years ago, marketing professional Nicholas Lim, made a Facebook account called “GLBT Voices Singapore”. It was a safe haven for LGBT members and space for closeted people to share stories and confessions anonymously. He shut down the account, and he says due to “personal losses”. He closed down the account in 2017, July 1st. He says, “he has spoken to hundreds of readers” and “have personally written over 40,000 stories”. In his final Facebook post, he ends it in an inspiring finale
“So to my fellow readers, the many of you who have been silent, the time has come to step up. To be heard, to be seen. It’s time to stop letting others fight on your behalf, because even the most stalwart need support and may flag from fatigue.” Said Nicholas Lim.
On September 6, 2018, a veteran Singaporean diplomat Tommy Koh challenged the laws against gay sexual relations, he called upon the gay community to help him. He filed a class action lawsuit but sadly was shot down as the majority of Singaporeans votes to keep the law, he then addresses the people who vote against the law as a “growing majority”. Even the Chief of Government Communications Janadas Devan supported the cause by saying “it is a bad law” and “Sooner or later, it will go. Pray sooner than later.” In only two other occasions, people have applied to repeal the law, in fact, most gay men do not expect the law to change in their favor unless they are lawyers, the fees for them are truly too high and they cannot afford to repeal the law. This reveals how powerless gay men are in the laws regarding them.
Pre-2000, gay people were banned from serving in the Singapore Armed Forces. They adapted the law from the Category 302 from the International Classification of Diseases (9th revision) and before enlistment, they inquired the sexual orientation of the men. The specific clause views the “exclusive or predominant sexual attraction for persons of the same sex with or without physical relationship” as a sexual aberrance or disorder. Once declared as a homosexual or transgender, they are classified under the ‘302’ category and undergoes a psychological inquiry. Once they are put into the ‘302’ category, their vocation and reporting hours are immediately affected, they are now given non-commissioned positions and are not allowed to stay overnight. They are also immediately excused from two out of five physical tests, this is similar to some factories and cooperate organizations in Singapore, no matter their abilities, gay men are put into worse jobs, in the workspace, there is still no protection from discrimination. In 2014, a gay man Lawrence Wee experienced discrimination in the workspace and was forced to resign, as a result.
LGBT members have been barred from many things in the past, but this is the most outrageous, they are stripped of their right to housing. In Singapore, housing is split into private and public housing, the private housing is extremely expensive, so most LGBT members will choose public housing, such as HDB flats, LGBT families are not recognized by the HDB policies, therefore they cannot apply for larger or custom-built flats. Living space is planned then built, planed with the ‘ideal’ family in mind, as said by our prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, “family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit.” Most housing policies aim for the most idealized family, which excludes LGBT members, making public housing almost exclusive to heterosexual families.
In Singapore, the education curriculum does not include any topics regarding gay people or topics, apart from the definition and legal restrictions. They leave out many important topics, such as attachments and abuses, coming out as gay, and sexual health. A teacher at a renowned school, Raffles Institution, came out as gay on his blog, and sadly was harassed to resign. The school supported him throughout the process, but pressure from the Ministry of Education led to the removal of his blog, once again because of the conservative society, another gay man was silenced. Many sources of information about the LGBT community and positive portrayal of members are cut off from the youth of Singapore. Films or shows with LGBT themes are automatically barred from anyone under 21 and are classified as unsuitable. Many people choose to go to places like Thailand and Taipei, because of American influences, gay people are widely accepted there.
Despite paying the full amount of taxes, gay men only receive a miniscule amount of state benefits compared to the heterosexual families. They cannot rely on inheritance unless directly left for them, and almost all medical expenses have to be generated by themselves. A study in 2005 has shown that the life expectancy for gay men is shorter compared to a straight one, as most gay men with symptoms for deadly diseases are afraid of going to their doctor with fears of getting reported to the authorities. However, now there is a charity called Action for AIDS, an anonymous service for STD checks. Since this charity opened, the number of recorded cases of STDs tripled in number. The costs are also subsidized by the state according to the income of the patient. There are also social workers working with gay men, ensuring their mental health and counseling them, growing up homosexual and getting discriminated against can bear a heavy emotional strain. A victim of extreme abuse, Faliqh Abdul Rahman, faced many death threats and went through forced conversion, however his biggest fear is the judgment. He is relatively open to friends and family but reserved when opening up to strangers. He faces subtle and sometimes experiences outright prejudice.
In the future, Singaporeans can inform the public and improve the school curriculums to help people understand and sympathize with LGBT members. They can also convince the public that all people are equal and should not discriminate against the LGBT community. The future of homosexual men in Singapore will be bleak if people do not change the social norms and treat them as outsiders. Many lives have been affected by the massive injustices and prejudice against homosexual men, many have been forced to resign from their jobs and are silenced from voicing their opinion. This is literally putting the life of gays in jeopardy, a survey from Reuters Health, gay adolescence are six times likely to commit suicide compared to a heterosexual one. However, many gay men has accepted that the laws would not change anytime soon and have decided to accept it, thereby giving consent to the discrimination, making the law even harder with less support.