On 24 September 2010, Mr M Ravi, a lawyer acting for Mr Tan Eng Hong, initiated a constitutional challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code. This is the law that makes “gross indecency” between two men a crime in Singapore, punishable with up to two years’ imprisonment.
Mr Tan had been charged under Section 377A in connection with an alleged incident of sex in a shopping centre toilet.
People Like Us is not a party to this case and the associated constitutional challenge that Mr Ravi initiated. Moreover, as the matter is now before the courts, it is not appropriate for us to make any comments about the specifics of the case.
That said, People Like Us do not condone sex in public spaces where conflict with other members of society can occur. At no time do we say that these should not be prosecutable offences. We have however long held the view that should the State wish to prosecute, it should do so using gender-neutral laws, so that whether the specifics are same-sex or opposite-sex, there is parity in treatment.
It so happens that there is such a law — Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. This law makes “indecent behaviour” in public an offence and is written in a gender-neutral way. It is regrettable that prosecutors have chosen to use Section 377A instead of this one, especially since the penalties are dissimilar. Section 377A mandates a prison sentence, but Section 20 gives the judge a choice of imposing a fine of up to $1,000, or a prison sentence of up to one month, or both, for the first offence.
Given the disparity in penalties, any decision to use Section 377A precipitates discriminatory treatment, and it is for this reason that People Like Us consider it an inappropriate law to use. Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (public Order and Nuisance) Act being available, it is hard to understand why prosecutors are still choosing to use Section 377A; or what beliefs underlie the decision to perpetuate the use of this law.
Furthermore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared in October 2007 that Section 377A will not be “proactively enforced”. The current prosecution of Mr Tan raises questions about what the Prime Minister meant when he said that. Even if the State does not actively seek out men who have sex with men to prosecute but rely instead on private security guards to report, such an argument ignores two important facts:
1. the State has discretion whether to charge them under Section 377A or another law;
2. the continued existence of Section 377A legitimises homophobia and the private vigilantism of security guards, who then take it upon themselves to do the proactive work that the State says it does not do.
Mr Tan should not have had to face a charge of Section 377A. Better yet, the government should take immediate steps towards legislative repeal. In the meantime, the Prime Minister’s October 2007 promise not to proactively enforce this law should be honoured through a total moratorium.
Do lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters have exactly the same concerns as the general public? Are there concerns that are important to the community, yet are neglected by political parties vying for votes?
A general election is widely expected in Singapore sometime in the next 6 - 12 months. LGBT citizens will have as much a chance to express their wishes through their vote as other citizens.
A cursory glance at various media will indicate that leading issues currently include the economy, housing prices and polices, transport, foreign workers and immigration. These tend to hog the headlines because many people have anxieties or strong views about them.
There is, however, the risk that these issues, because of their wide following, are crowding out the concerns of other sections of the population. There is always the tendency for the non-LGBT majority to universalise their concerns as everybody’s concerns, and to dismiss issues unimportant to them as issues unimportant to everybody. Throughout history, it is a common conceit of the privileged or the majority.
What People Like Us would like to know is to what extent Singaporean LGBT voters share these aforementioned concerns, as well as what other concerns relevant to their lives they might have. What are their priorities going into this election?
We encourage all Singaporean LGBT voters and friends to participate in a survey: What concerns LGBT voters? It’s an online, anonymous survey, to gauge the community’s priorities. It consists of only 10 questions and should take no more than 3 -4 minutes of your time.
The survey will be kept open till at least 10 October 2010.
We recognise that no online poll can be rigourously accurate. Nonetheless, we are hoping that with wide participation, the thrust of the LGBT community’s concerns will be apparent even if the exact figures should be treated with caution.
Results will be publicised on this site and shared with other LGBT and mainstream media, after we have done an analysis.
To go to the survey: Link or http://www.plu.sg/society/
I heard someone remark, one day, that there "were too many gay plays" during a certain year, perhaps 2007 when Asian Boys Vol. 3 was running. I sought his reasons for saying so, and was satisfied at the time that he posed it as an opinion. But I also stewed over it after the incident.
I wish I had said the following three things to him:
(1) Would he have said the same about a play of another minority group? How would it sound to say, "Oh, there are far too many plays about race now. Having one or two is okay, but it was just too much."
The thing about being a minority group is that we are perpetually underrepresented in popular discourse. We don't have the luxury of being able to pop into a cinema every day and be able to see queer-identifying men and women living lives with their partners, pets and kids. Trying to balance out that ratio and having you squirm just means that you are used to the imbalance, not that it is in the natural or right way to go.
(2) To be fair to those who share his perspective, there may be a disproportionate amount of queer content in theatre compared to mass media meant for public consumption. However, a feature of the medium and of art in general is to push boundaries and to deal with the marginal issues of the day. If being gay were one day considered a normal facet of human life, and if power relations were somehow to equalise, I'm pretty sure it would become a far less interesting topic to depict in theatre. I hope we are moving towards that.
(3) With the presence of so many queer individuals in the theatre scene and the liberal slant of the arts community, it's surprising that there aren't more so-called gay plays around. Not that anyone, gay or straight, is obliged to address the topic in their art. But the stark absence of LGBT characters in plays and films, when they are the very people we know and love in everyday life, may just be reproducing the invisibility people with straight privilege are so used to. It's why I like to be pleasantly surprised by subtextual hints that protagonists have had same-sex attractions in their pasts. These things happen.
(July 19, 2001) On July 19, 2010, the full United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) voted in favor of a US-led resolution to grant the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) consultative status. IGLHRC is only the tenth organization working primarily for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) human rights to gain such status at the United Nations.
"Today's decision is an affirmation that the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have a place at the United Nations as part of a vital civil society community," said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC Executive Director. "The clear message here is that these voices should not be silenced and that human rights cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."
The resolution passed with 23 in favor, 13 against, and 13 abstentions and 5 absences.
This victory is particularly significant, coming as it does after a prolonged 3-year application process in the sub-committee that makes initial recommendations on status. Despite full compliance with all procedures IGLHRC faced deferrals, homophobic questioning, and procedural roadblocks in the ECOSOC NGO Committee.
Today's decision overturned a "no-action" vote in the NGO-committee that threatened to establish a dangerous precedent and the possibility of organizations deemed controversial being continuously denied the opportunity to have their application put to a vote even after undergoing the required review.
The vote also signals a recognition of the important role of a diverse and active civil society at the UN. In support of progress on IGLHRC's application, a group of over 200 NGOs from 59 countries endorsed a letter to all UN Member States, demanding fair and non-discriminatory treatment and supporting IGLHRC's goal of amplifying LGBT voices in the international arena.
"As human rights defenders and LGBT people living in countries where homophobic discrimination is a daily reality, we celebrate the accreditation of IGLHRC at the UN," said Frank Mugisha, Chairperson of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), one of 13 NGOs from Uganda to publicly call for IGLHRC to be accredited. "IGLHRC's access to the UN means that we too will have greater access to international human-rights mechanisms that can prove invaluable to LGBT people's lives."
The government of the United States stood strongly behind IGLHRC's application, calling for a vote in both the NGO Committee and ECOSOC. Ambassador Susan Rice, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, publicly supported IGLHRC's application. Additionally, 14 members of the US House of Representatives and 4 Senators sent letters of support to all UN Member States for IGLHRC's application. Among them were Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Congressman Howard Berman, Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The victory continues the upward trajectory for LGBT rights at the UN. It allows IGLHRC to participate in a more formal way through attending meetings, submitting statements and collaborating with the UN and governments in the international human-rights arena.
"We celebrate this decision," stated Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian LGBT group, Associação Brasileira de Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis e Transexuais (ABGLT) – that in 2009 was the last LGBT organization to receive status. "It is crucial that LGBT NGOs have the opportunity to participate in the UN human rights debate – though in future, organizations should receive full and fair reviews before the NGO Committee itself."
Despite the limited opportunities offered to non-accredited NGOs, IGLHRC has a long history of advocating at the UN for the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization advocated for sexual rights to be included in the official discussions at the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing; spoke at the first UN General Assembly meeting on HIV and AIDS in 2001; and in recent years has been part of a collaboration between NGOs and supportive States that resulted in the groundbreaking 2008 UNGA Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, signed by 67 UN Member States.
In 2009, Sayoni began a new initiative, an overseas vacation “camp” specifically for queer women. The inaugural run in Batam was a great success, attended by a large number of participants hailing from different walks of life. Bringing together a blend of personal development workshops and outdoor activities with ample bonding time, the 3-day camp was an uplifting experience for its attendees, providing a valuable space for fun, growth and connection with other queer women. A life-changing time for some, the camp has allowed its participants to forge enduring bonds beyond the camp itself and given others an opportunity to expand their own boundaries with new experiences.
The Sayoni Summer Camp team is gearing up for its second camp this year, titled SSC’10 for short. We hope to share the SSC experience with new and former participants alike. We welcome you to join us from 4-6 September this year for an all-inclusive vacation at a beach resort in Thailand.
Early Bird Special until 24 June! Registration ends 15 Aug.
These are some of the comments from participants of SSC09:
"I did take something away from the camp. Something positive, chief among which is AWARENESS. Of the community, of the commitment of those who work so hard to make life and/or transition a little easier, of the quality of leadership and the quality of the people who are a part of our lives whether wittingly or unwittingly – TOP NOTCH, OUTSTANDING WOMEN. I have never before in my life, been surrounded by so many wonderful women, on an island no less. Thank you for that experience."
"As quickly as ‘team’ surfaced from the diversity, the spirit of ‘family’ soon emerged by the 2nd day of the camp. You could say we played our way into each other’s hearts. Water polo matches, meal times, BBQ dinner, late-night symposiums and even on the ferry back, these were all dear moments of playful fun, hearty laughter, good conversations, and explicit sharings. We found ourselves to be different yet so similar in our struggles, challenges, discrimination, hopes and dreams."
"Best thing abt ssc09 is of course the most incredible organizers I've met! And i did learnt more abt myself and those around me. I also loved the sharing sessions because that would definitely help others if not yourself too. I am happy that I am better equipped with knowledge and friends who CAN be really open abt their experiences."
For the very first time at the Esplanade Concert Hall, an all-female, all-star line-up will join forces in an unprecedented evening of music, song and laughter to celebrate women and 25 years of AWARE!
This one-night-only blockbuster extravaganza includes the delicious Dim Sum Dollies, the legendary Rahimah Rahim, “Bowling Queen” Grace Young, national-squash-player-turned-music-director Belinda Foo, rock goddess Wendi Koh, trail blazer Beatrice Chia-Richmond, rapturous Rani Singam, dedicated theatre mothers Tan Kheng Hua, Karen Lim, Petrina Kow and their daring daughters, distinguished Constance Singam and her violin, saxophonist and singing wonder Kuo Po, singer-songwriter Michaela Therese and vocal sensation Ann Hussein.
The feeling of falling into a deep pit is how Yiap Geok Khuan, 67, would describe her state-of-mind when she first received word that her daughter, Eileena Lee, 38, is gay. Tears filled her eyes before she even heard the words. She had been in denial for years and her greatest fear was about to be confirmed – that the daughter she once dressed up in her own image – would turn out to be lesbian.
Coming out of the closet is seldom easy. Just ask DJ Big Kid (otherwise known as Johnson Ong), a prominent name at dance parties across Asia.
Big Kid is Singaporean, gay, and closeted to his family. In fact, this story might be his way of leaving the proverbial doors open for future conversations with his loved ones. “I grew up in an environment where I was told being gay is wrong; that I needed to cast out the demons,” he said.
To face the prejudices he encountered growing up, Big Kid said ‘yes’ to being a Pink Dot 2010 ambassador, along with GLBT-supportive celebrities Tan Kheng Hua and Adrian Pang.
He says: “Last year’s Pink Dot was a fantastic effort… and it’s a simple thing that we can do once a year to say that LGBT people are a part of the Singapore family.”
Pink Dot is a one-day event celebrating the freedom to love, regardless of their sexual orientation. Last year, 2,500 people turned up at the pink picnic held at Hong Lim Park to celebrate Pink Dot day. The high-profile event also received attention from local and international media, like the International Herald Tribune and the BBC.
This year, Pink Dot honours kinship and family – in support and in recognition of our parents, siblings, relatives and friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Singaporeans. Come join in the fun on May 15, 2010 at Hong Lim Park.
Big Kid suspects some members of his family might be aware of his sexual orientation. But so far, none of them have confronted him. He’s pretty certain that this same dynamic applies to many gay Singaporeans – a code of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ within families, so as to avoid difficult conversations.
This picture reminds me of never-ending questions, and conversations that go in circles...
While having dinner with a Christian gay friend, she asked, ‘Anj, i have a question to ask you...’ Over my piping hot ramen, i took a deep breath and placed my chopsticks neatly at the side of the wide ramen bowl. And i studied her carefully for a few seconds as she began the conquest of her spicy minced pork ramen. She has been my friend for some years now and has asked me the darnest things. Sometimes i wonder how it is possible that a friend of mine would hold such values.
Gay people around me ask questions like... • ‘Don’t you think there’s something wrong with lesbians who dress like men? Why don’t they just be FTMs?’ • ‘Don’t you think there’s something wrong with butches? They are born like women therefore they should behave like women.’ • ‘Bisexuals cannot be trusted. They shouldn’t be in the community.’ • ‘Gay people who are promiscuous should just be shot because they are bringing the community down.’ Christian struggling gay friends ask me additional questions like... • ‘Wasn’t Sodom destroyed because of homosexual activity? My church friend told me so.’
And i find myself defending the right to be masculine, to choose one’s partners, to change one’s sex and to choose one’s faith. That’s not onerous part. This is worse: typically, it takes multiple repeats before anything makes an impression. It’s almost like they are so rooted in what they believe, they find it hard to digest contrary evidence.
I never truly understood what femme privilege was till the time I walked down the street with a butch-seeming friend and felt the looks change, became conscious of being different.
But I hadn’t changed at all, I declared to myself, shocked. I could have walked this path two days ago and not merited a second glance. The visibility actually came as a shock, which says a lot about how much I’ve been in the straight world lately.
The fact is, in this society it’s not hard to pass (as straight), especially when you’re happily single, with no fetching woman on your arm, and dress in fairly feminine attire. I probably could get by the average straight person’s gaydar without a second glance.