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Sayoni's Letter to ST Forum on Sexual Abuse Article
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by alina   
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 00:00


This is Sayoni's unpublished letter to the Straits Times Forum following its report on a transgender man who sexually abused a minor ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"). We feel strongly about this issue and hope that the mainstream media will strive for more accuracy and respect in its reports about LGBTQ persons. Thanks to all who contributed to the writing of this letter.

Using incorrect pronouns for transgender people reinforces stigma

Sexual abuse is a serious crime. We at Sayoni, a community of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, condemn it regardless of age and gender. The emotional and psychological effects of abuse can last many years. However, we find that the language used in the recent report ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"; Dec 8) is damaging to transgender people, reproducing negative stereotypes.

Firstly, describing the accused’s gender identity as ‘a bogus identity’ is inaccurate. According to the article, he has already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and should, therefore, be identified using male pronouns or by his name.

Failing to do so misrecognises a transgender person’s chosen identity. It does not acknowledge that transgender people may have good reason not to reveal their sex at birth, such as facing potential rejection by partners or family members or discrimination and violence from members of society.

The choice of words also undermines the legitimacy of a transgender person’s family life. For instance, scare quotes are unnecessary when referring to the accused's partners and daughter. Diverse families that go beyond the traditional heterosexual structures are being formed every day. But these families lack the state assistance given to the conventional family unit, such as Personal Protection Orders against abusive partners.

Furthermore, is the accused’s gender identity relevant to a case of sexual assault of a minor? The real issue is the act of abuse, the harm to the child and the power imbalance between the minor and the adult.

Transgender people already face a disproportional amount of discrimination and violence in their lives. In our move to become an inclusive society that seeks to build strong families and communities, we caution against reporting that disparages transgender individuals. We hope that the media can present gender identity fairly and avoid further stigmatising an already marginalised group of people.

 

Edit 18/1/16: Sincere apologies for committing the same mistake ST did and reproducing the word 'woman' instead of 'man' in the blurb.

 
UPR Statement by Sayoni at UPR Pre-Session
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by sayoni   
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:30

Sayoni's Jean (right) with We Believe in Second Chances at the UPR Pre-session.

 

STATEMENT by SAYONI
On behalf of the LGBTQ communities in Singapore
UPR Pre-Session, Geneva, 16th December 2015


Dear representatives of the Permanent Missions,

1- Presentation of the Organisation

This statement is delivered on behalf of SAYONI, a queer women’s group which works to organise and advocate for the human rights of all LGBTQ persons based in Singapore. Sayoni submitted two UPR reports to this session. First, together with a coalition of 10 civil society groups named the ‘Alliance of Like-minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS) as a civil society stakeholder to highlight the intersectional discrimination of LGBTQ individuals in the civil and political space. Second, with a coalition of international LGBTQ organisations and national groups to point out the systematic discrimination faced by LGBTQ persons in Singapore


2-
National consultations for the drafting of the national report

There were one grassroots open consultation held in January 2015 by Sayoni and about 30 individuals and groups attended. There were two national consultations held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which approximately 20 NGOs attended. A third subsequent dialogue session was arranged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the civil society coalition I am part of, ALMOS.


3-
Plan of the Statement

The statement will address:

I. Criminalisation of consensual sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore

II. The right to freedom of expression - Media censorship, disallowing neutral or positive portrayal of LGBTQ persons

III. The right to freedom of association - To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations with the authorities as a Society or Non-Profit Organisation

IV. The right to family life for LGBTQ persons

V. Rights of Transgender people

VI. Workplace discrimination


4-
Statement

I. Section 377A of the Penal Code

A. Follow-up to the first review

In the first cycle of the UPR, France raised the question of the abolishment of the provisions of the Penal Code related to private relations between consenting adults, which was noted by the state of Singapore. Similarly, the issues related to sexual orientation were raised by the UK, and in advance by Canada, Ireland and The Netherlands.


B.
New developments since the last review

In reply, the state has consistently stated that there is no discrimination towards LGBTQ persons in Singapore and Section 377A has not been proactively enforced. We think that the state is being misleading and ignoring the cascading and intersectional effects of 377A.

Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code criminalises "acts of gross indecency" between men, including sodomy, and imposes a term of up to 2 years' imprisonment. The section applies specifically to men, and may be applied regardless of whether those acts are committed in public or private spaces. The continuing criminalisation of sexual activity between men, together with the legislative and administrative framework of discrimination against LGBT persons, constitutes violations by Singapore of a number of rights under international human rights law, including the right to privacy and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

In October 2014, the Singaporean Court of Appeal ruled to uphold the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, international non-governmental organisations and Singaporean LGBT groups have expressed dissatisfaction at the Court's decision. Despite government claims that 377A will not be enforced, gay men continue to live under the threat of harassment and enforcement of this section. It also influences public policy formulation that discriminates against the entire LGBT community.


C.
Recommendations

Repeal legal provisions criminalising sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex

 

II. Right to Freedom of Expression - Media Censorship

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
Developments since the first review

The Media Development Authority Act, the Films Act and the Broadcasting Act empower the Media Development Authority (MDA) to ban, classify and, through licensing, restrict the content of various media. The MDA effectuates these powers through conditions attached to licences that it issues, and through published "guidelines" which include prohibitions and restrictions on material with LGBT characters and themes. E.g. film and free-to-air television classification guidelines say: "Films should not promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle. However, non-exploitative and non-explicit depictions of sexual activity between two persons of the same gender may be considered for R21" (R21 means viewings restricted to adults of 21 years and above).

In practice, these guidelines are treated as binding rather than advisory and are interpreted in risk-averse ways, with films and television programmes containing LGBT themes and characters censored or restricted even when no sex is involved, either by the MDA itself or by producers required to abide by the MDA's licence conditions.

Depictions of LGBT characters in a normal or positive light, or any speech that advocates for their dignity and rights are routinely cut out or barred. The result of this stereotypical, negative and skewed depiction is a perpetuation of prejudice and stigma to the public of the LGBT community. Such censorship policy also means that LGBT persons are deprived of positive role models in the media, reinforcing low self-esteem and rendering them accepting of discrimination and rights abuses.


C.
Recommendations

We therefore urge that the continued practice of state-sponsored censorship in the media to be raised during the upcoming UPR, and that the following recommendations are made. To:

· Remove all censorship policies/guidelines that allow for the discriminatory treatment of LGBT-related material and viewpoints

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 19 protects the right to the freedom of expression.


III.
The right to freedom of association. To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

The Societies Act gives discretionary power to the Registrar of Societies to approve or disapprove a society (defined as any group with ten or more persons), with appeals against his decision directed to the minister in charge. The Societies Act does not require the Registrar or the minister to give reasons for whatever decision they make. Section 14 of this Act defines any unregistered society as an "unlawful society" whose leaders and members are liable to criminal prosecution.

LGBT groups were denied registration by the Registrar of Societies and given reasons like "contrary to the national interest" as response. No elaboration was given on how LGBT interests could be contrary to the national interest. In recent years, LGBT organizations have also not been allowed to register as non-profit organisations and given the same reason. Thus, LGBT groups operate under the threat of arrest and prosecution. Even without such clampdowns, the lack of legal status means an inability to self-actualise, organise or raise funds in any organised way, and denial of access to mainstream media as well as other public or private services wary of giving legitimacy to unregistered groups.


C.
Recommendations

· Allow registration of LGBT-related groups under the Societies Act or as non-profit organisations.

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 22 protects the right to freedom of association.


IV.
The right to family life - Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter that defines marriage as between a man and a woman

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

Neither the law nor the state recognises same-sex relationships. Even marriages contracted in other jurisdictions between same-sex partners are specifically not recognised in Singapore. Under Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, this has been a major cause of discrimination and lack of protection as experienced by same-sex couples and those in transnational same-sex marriages in Singapore. In particular, legally married transnational same-sex couples have not been able to stay in the same country as their legal spouse.

Consequently, many benefits and rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples are denied to same-sex couples. These include employee benefits that extend to spouses, medical visitation and next-of-kin rights, rights to purchase subsidised public housing from the state and tax breaks for married couples.

Children born in same-sex families do not enjoy the same rights, benefits or tax breaks as other children since the legal standard is applied to them as a single parent. These children do not enjoy the same legal rights and hence have no way to be legally cared for and maintained by the non-legal parent, the right to have guaranteed continuity in the event of separation of the same-sex couple or the death of the legal parent, or even to acquire kinship with the non-legal parent.


C.
Recommendations

· Amend Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter and permit registration of same-sex marriages.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights and duties of same-sex partners.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights of children from same-sex households.

 

V. Rights of Transgender people

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

The National Registration Act requires each citizen to be issued with an identity card and to have recorded such details as the Commissioner of National Registration requires. This includes one's sex and race.

The administrative practice is that a transgender person has their sex at birth recorded on the identity card even when the person clearly identifies with and presents themselves as someone of the opposite gender. The “sex” entry on the identity card, and by extension the passport, is not changed unless the individual can prove that he or she has undergone the full scope of sex-reassignment surgery.

For the majority of transgender people, this is neither affordable, practicable, nor wanted. The result is a life lived in contradiction, between their documented sex and lived gender. The state issued identity card thus becomes an instrument by the state and others to inflict social humiliation. Furthermore, while transgender people have been identified as a key affected population by UNAIDS and the WHO, statistics on HIV/AIDS in Singapore are not disaggregated for transgender people. This results in policies and services not being sensitised to the particular needs and behaviours of transgender men and women.


C.
Recommendations

· Issue Identity Cards that correctly identify the chosen sex for the transgender person without proof of surgery through an effective and fast administrative procedure.

· Focus on more targeted public health interventions for transgender men and transgender women by first identifying and disaggregating the national HIV data for this specific group.

 

VI. Workplace discrimination

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B. New developments since the last review

  • Workers face significant widespread employment discrimination on the bases of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status and disability. With limited exceptions, there is no legal duty for employers not to discriminate and workers facing discrimination have no legal right to redress.
  • The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) and the Ministry of Manpower may receive complaints from workers, but TAFEP has no enforcement powers and the Ministry acts on a purely discretionary basis.


C. Recommendations

  • Enact legislation
    • (i) to prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or disability;
    • (ii) to form a specialised employment tribunal to adjudicate complaints arising under this legislation; and
    • (iii) to prescribe that contraventions of this duty of non-discrimination carry civil liability for compensatory damages.

 

Supported by:



Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 22:16
 
Silent Protest at EEAS Human Rights Seminar
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by sayoni   
Thursday, 04 December 2014 14:29

And this is what happened at the actual event, a day after the civil society statement. Thio Li-Ann, law professor and anti-gay rights crusader, was there to speak on the topic of international human rights law.

 

 

Activists stood in front of the stage with their placards and taped-up mouths, while two others positioned themselves with a rainbow flag in Thio's line of sight. Notably, they kept their silence, and their protest carried on alongside Thio's speech.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 April 2015 09:40
 
Statement of Concern on EEAS' Human Rights Day Seminar
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Thursday, 04 December 2014 03:06


Thio Li-ann


Sayoni and nearly a hundred
civil society individuals and organisations issued this statement, dated 3 December 2014, in response to the EU Delegation to Singapore's invitation to Thio Li Ann to speak at a seminar commemorating Human Rights Day in Singapore.

The Straits Times: Civil society members protest law professor's invitation to speak at human rights seminar

The Online Citizen: Statement of concern on Thio Li-Ann as speaker at EU human rights seminar

---


We, the undersigned, write to express our disappointment at the choice of Prof Thio Li Ann as a speaker for the Human Rights Day seminar hosted by the EEAS European Union Delegation to Singapore.


It is a matter of public record that Prof Thio: -

1. believes the LGBT community is not entitled to the protections of human rights with respect to issues of sexuality, even between consenting homosexual adults.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 December 2014 15:33
 
Violence and Discrimination: Share Your Story With Us
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Sunday, 20 April 2014 03:52



Sayoni is conducting a research study to document cases of human rights violations against LBTQ (lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer) women in Singapore because of gender or sexuality. This information will be gathered through semi-structured face-to-face interviews.

If you meet the following criteria, we invite you to participate:

-    Identify as female and LBTQ
-    Have experienced discrimination and/or violence in Singapore as a result of your gender or sexual orientation
-    Aged 18 and above
-    Have lived in Singapore for more than a year

The data collected will be kept anonymous and strictly confidential. We will do our utmost to protect the privacy and safety of respondents.

Your participation is important to help us understand the community’s needs and drive advocacy work to meet these needs. The findings will also fuel our other efforts to improve the day-to-day experiences of LBTQ women and enable their inclusion and participation in Singapore society.

We would be happy to provide more information. Please email us at [email protected] to sign up or find out more.

 
Advancing Our Rights in ASEAN
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Saturday, 22 March 2014 13:14

ACSC APF 2014
[Photo by Rainbow Rights Project]


Sayoni is participating in the ASEAN Civil Society Conference, or ASEAN People’s Forum, again this year – this time in Yangon, Myanmar. It’s a huge civil society gathering, larger than before, with some putting the numbers at 1800 activists from all over ASEAN.

In the words of ACSC/APF,

http://aseanpeople.org/about

Every year before the ASEAN Summit, a conference known as the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) is held independently, paralleled to the official ASEAN Summit. Myanmar’s bid for the rotating ASEAN chair was granted, so it is responsible as well to host the ASEAN People’s Forum where hundreds of civil society actors from the ASEAN region will gather to represent voices of civil societies.

This year’s theme is “Advancing ASEAN Peoples’ Solidarity towards Sustainable Peace, Development, Justice and Democratization and address issues around Peace; Justice and Human Rights; Development and Democratization; and ASEAN.”


 
To Singapore’s LGBT Community and Friends
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by jean   
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 10:32

 

To Singapore’s LGBT Community and Friends,

Recent events have caused much grief to many of us. Issues surrounding being LGBT are once again cast in the limelight and being discussed in the media. Hateful words have been used, disinformation has been spread as fact, and our leaders' positions do not appear to be evolving. While many of us are understandably hurt, even angered, by some insensitive comments that have been made, and there is fear that justice and equality may not prevail, it is important that we stay rational and keep calm.

There will be little to be gained from responding to vitriol with more vitriol. In the words of Gandhi, “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” Let us not devolve into the very image of the angry and intolerant, whose hearts and minds we ought to win over through love and kindness. Misinformation is best countered rationally, with facts.

At times like this, it is especially difficult for those of us who are not yet ‘out’ and feel like we are living with stigma on our own. The issue may be debated among our peers – at the workplace, in school or in National Service – or even with family members at home. It may be placing undue pressure on those of us who fear being ‘outed’ if we simply took a stand.

Remember, you are not alone. There is a strong community of people – straight and LGBT – who understand what you are going through. It is important that we lend support to one another at this difficult time. While the resources are few, they are available, thanks to the efforts of our own community. You can find links to some of them below.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 June 2014 03:46
 
A Conversation with K Shanmugam on LGBT in Singapore
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by jean   
Sunday, 30 December 2012 02:53

Meeting with K Shanmugam

It all started on the 6th of October 2012 when, out of sheer frustration about the state of institutionalised discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Singapore, I left a note on the Facebook Page of the Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, K Shanmugam.

I wrote of friends leaving and the National Conversation making no effort to remember that we are Singaporeans too. I highlighted our trip to the United Nations last year to present our shadow report detailing the kind of discrimination that the government so often denies. As I wrote, I got a little bolder and said that if LGBT citizens are not wanted, please tell us, so that we can all forget this struggle and move on to wherever we need to be.

Minister Shanmugam kindly replied, “There can be no suggestion that LGBT citizens are not wanted.” The bigger question is, with the diverse viewpoints in our society and often held strongly by various groups, the government is often caught in the middle trying to decide what would be acceptable to the majority.

I replied by speaking about retaining laws like 377A, which in turn informs or influences policies, creating a cascading effect felt deeply by every LGBT person in Singapore. The exchange went on a few more times and Minister Shanmugam suggested that we meet for a proper chat for him to hear us more on the issues.

 
Fresh Challenge to S377A
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Sunday, 02 December 2012 03:48

Two men have filed a new challenge against Section 377A of the Penal Code. I'm sure most of us will be following the developments anxiously, to see if this law that signals that same-sex relationships are wrong will be overturned one day.

We reproduce the press release below.

--

30 Nov 2012 (Singapore) – A fresh challenge has been made today against s 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes physical relations between two men. Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, partners for 15 years, filed the challenge following a recent landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal in Tan Eng Hong v Attorney General (“Tan Eng Hong”) that clarifies that the very existence of an unconstitutional law in the statute books may suffice to show a violation of an applicant’s constitutional rights.

Singapore is the only one among thirty-five advanced economies [1] in the world that criminalises physical relations between men, and one of only four countries in East and South East Asia [2] to do so. Though the Prime Minister stated in parliament 5 years ago that s 377A would not be ‘pro-actively’ enforced, there have been cases since where individuals have been threatened and charged with s 377A by the police, which was remarked upon by the Court of Appeal.

“I don’t live in fear every day that I will get caught by the police because of my relationship with Gary but I know that s 377A labels me a criminal,” said Kenneth.

Gary adds: “While lawmakers have stated in Parliament that s 377A will not be ‘pro-actively’ enforced, this is not enough because it leaves the possibility of ‘passive enforcement’, should someone decided to make a complaint against us one day.”

Last Updated on Friday, 27 June 2014 03:46
 
Statement from the ASEAN LGBTIQ Caucus
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by sayoni   
Friday, 16 November 2012 01:10

For immediate release


Statement from the ASEAN LGBTIQ Caucus

ASEAN Human Rights Declaration Refuse to Protect LGBTIQ Rights!


This week November 18, 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) heads of state adopted the first ever ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD).  To the grave disappointment of representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) peoples through out the region, the declaration did not include protections for this highly vulnerable group.


We, the ASEAN LGBTIQ Caucus  are outraged and disappointed by the decision of the ASEAN Head of States to adopt the AHRD that excluded sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Despite countless attempts and demands by the members of civil society, including LGBTIQ groups, to push for its inclusion, ASEAN have remained reticent to the attempts. This AHRD not only shows a lack of respect to LGBTIQ people but also makes a mockery of the international human rights values and principles that all nations and citizens abide by and are held accountable to.

“Evidently, the numerous failed attempts to engage with AICHR and the recent adoption of ASEAN Declaration with no mention of SOGI, sends a clear message that the human rights of LGBTIQ people are irrelevant to them,” explained Vien Tanjung, founder of Her Lounge.

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 December 2012 03:41
 
AWARE Roundtable on SOGI Issues
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by editor   
Sunday, 16 September 2012 03:53

AWARE posted a good overview of recent changes in the Asian LGBT landscape over the past few months. It included some info from a roundtable discussion held on Aug 16 where Sayoni's Jean Chong and Kelly Then spoke.

Here are some relevant parts, but I recommend reading the entire post.

From Beyond 377A:

Pressure from prevailing social attitudes are not countered by any significant State support. While there is no data for Singapore, the worldwide rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide are higher for LGBT youths; they are often teased and bullied in school because of their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. There is no information on safe sex for gay teens in the current sex education syllabus, and no state-sponsored institutions that have expertise in providing counselling for those grappling with LGBT issues.

Jean also mentioned that a study that has shown that many gay people go back into the closet when they grow old, because old folks’ homes are not open to the idea of same-sex relationships.

In the absence of decriminalization and State recognition, it is therefore crucial to include LGBT perspectives in areas such as research, advocacy, and social services, said Kelly. These include the Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), sex education, maternal and paternal leave, violence in relationships, singles, de facto relationships (where couples may cohabit for extended periods but not marry), ageing, poverty, and sexual harassment – all issues that impact the LGBT community.

How do you think our invisibility in the state mechanism affects you personally?

 
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