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When oppressors feel oppressed

protest at EU seminarBy Kirsten Han

Singapore’s top court recently ruled that it was constitutional for a minority group to be singled out and criminalised. This ruling means that section 377A of the Penal Code will be retained, and that every sexually active gay man is a criminal yet to be arrested (because of some “Scout’s honour” promise that the law won’t be enforced).

It also means that discrimination against LGBTQ people remain enshrined in our legislation, legitimising a whole host of other homophobic policies and mindsets that flourish in aspects of life in Singapore.

Yet conservatives would have us believe that it is them who are the victims here.

The silent protest during Prof Thio Li Ann’s speech at the EU Human Rights Day event was small and, as the name would suggest, silent. Four people stood by the stage, their mouths taped up, holding placards. Another two unfurled a rainbow flag. They stood quietly as Prof Thio delivered her speech to an audience of civil society members, civil servants, foreign diplomats and political officers. When the speech was over, everyone took their seats. There were some questions on LGBTQ issues during the Q&A, but only the utterly clueless would have been surprised to see Prof Thio challenged on the subject at a human rights event.

The professor was quick to portray herself as a victim for having “incurred the wrath” of activists. She portrayed LGBTQ rights advocates as bullies, and herself as a besieged innocent who had even “lost a job”.

Her supporters swiftly rallied to that narrative, issuing a petition that accused the protesters of practising censorship and being anti-free speech. Unfortunately, they failed to explain how free speech had been suppressed in this instance: Prof Thio had already delivered her speech in full.

The petition was sent out today to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the EU Delegation. The protesters were further condemned for using “bully tactics, public shaming and mob intimidation” as the petitioners complained about how Prof Thio had been treated at the event.

It’s bad enough that the marginalisation of LGBTQ people has been affirmed in Singapore. But it is galling that those who champion that oppressive law would then turn around and cry victim themselves. “Help, help, we’re oppressed!” they shout, as they actively express their support for the criminalisation of others.

LGBTQ people in Singapore are criminalised, discriminated against, subjected to punishment in schools and bullied. They are subjected to hate speech that denigrates their existence. Their right to be who they are and love who they want to love are still considered a matter for debate, as if their humanity is up for discussion. There are LGBTQ people who are unemployed, abused and cast out of their families because of homophobia in society.

And yet it is the treatment of Thio Li Ann – the Thio Li Ann who was given a prestigious slot as the only solo speaker at the event, the Thio Li Ann who was a Nominated Member of Parliament, the Thio Li Ann who still holds a coveted position as Provost’s Chair Professor at NUS Law, the Thio Li Ann who is basically getting what she wants since S377A is still on the books – that these people are worried about?

Cry me a river.

You don’t get to claim oppression when you’re oppressing others. You don’t get to play the victim when you are called out for your homophobia and bigotry.

When Thio Li Ann makes an offensive, hateful speech in Parliament, she should expect to be shamed for it. The same goes for anyone who promotes the oppression of others. This is “viewpoint diversity”, to borrow a phrase from Prof Thio herself. And it’s time some people got the memo.

This article first appeared on spuddings.net.