Man seeks court’s declaration against discrimination of homosexuals at work

Singaporean and former Robinsons employee Lawrence Wee Kim San Bernard made an application to the High Court on Friday, for a declaration that the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore prohibits discrimination against homosexual men on account of their sexual orientation in the course of employment.

In the application, Mr. Wee, who had previously brought a suit against his former employer in February 2012 for constructive dismissal, described the biased and prejudiced treatment he faced at the workplace apparently as a result of his sexual orientation. Mr Wee stated, in his court application, that his only wish was to be “allowed to prove my worth at work, without fear that an immutable characteristic of mine becomes a millstone around my neck.”

The current lack of guarantee by the courts for equal treatment under the Constitution for homosexual men directly affects him and all other homosexual men, said Mr. Wee, and as such he seeks the assistance of the Court to declare that Article 12 of the Constitution applies to provide all persons with equal protection of the law, regardless of sexual orientation.

It states in the affidavit that Mr. Wee is unable to seek recourse from his employer for his alleged arbitrarily treatment at work because Singapore does not have any legislation that prohibits employment discrimination against male homosexuals. Given that Singapore has signed both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“UNCRPD”) and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”), this lack of protection for homosexuals seem to deviate from the belief of anti-discrimination.

Both conventions do not carry protection against the LGBT community.

On the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website, employers are advised against discriminating against  age, race, gender, religion, family status or disability. However, sexual orientation is not one of the items listed.

Mr Wee’s lawyer, M Ravi, when approached by The Online Citizen, said:

“A number of gay men have approached me recently on such cases of discrimination in employment but they are afraid to come out publicly to fight for their rights and hence suffer in silence. With this case my client is seeking to take a significant step to secure equal rights for all homosexual men. Even if the court of appeal strikes down section 377A, it does not guarantee equal protection for gay men who face discrimination in employment. This constitutional challenge seeks to achieve quality and dignity for homosexuals.”

Section 377a is the law which criminalises sexual acts between two adult males. The Singapore government has stated that it does not “proactively enforce” this law.

In January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, when asked about why the government continues to retain section 377a, said:

“Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it.”

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