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SAYONI: Vicious cycle of pretence on discrimination of LGBTQ in Singapore

SAYONI, a local non-government organisation, remarked that the Singapore government has not shown a willingness to address the daily discrimination and violence against LGBTQ persons perpetuated and justified by state mechanisms and policies as seen in the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Singapore went through its second cycle of  its UPR in Geneva on Wednesday (27 January). Under the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the UPR reviews the human rights policies and practices in all 193 UN Member States - a process that rolls around once every four and a half years, where 14 Member States are reviewed at each session. The UPR's second cycle began in 2012, and Singapore last took part in 2011.

The queer women’s group which works to organise and advocate for the human rights of all LGBTQ persons based in Singapore, had submitted two UPR reports together with a coalition of 10 civil society groups named the ‘Alliance of Like-minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS) to the recent session. In the coalition, SAYONI took up the role to highlight the intersectional discrimination of LGBTQ individuals in the civil and political space.

Apart from taking part with ALMOS, it also joined with a coalition of international LGBTQ organisations and national groups to point out the systematic discrimination faced by LGBTQ persons in Singapore

During the UPR session, 15 nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Sweden and United-States have recommended Singapore to cease discrimination against LGBTI community, and also to repeal section 377A of the penal code, the legislation that criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men. 6 nations filed advance recommendation on the same points.

In response to the nations' recommendations, Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee maintained that Singapore is a largely conservative society and that Section 377A is not proactively enforced.  She also pointed out that the ability for the LGBTI groups to hold an event such as Pink Dot as an example of the LGBTI’s freedom and stated that they are given the space to rally, demonstrate freely and free to stage plays about LGBTI issues.

SAYONI did not agree with Prof Chan's clarifications and commented that the continuing criminalisation of sexual activity between men, together with legislative and administrative framework of discrimination of LGBTQ persons, constitute 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.

It further added that depictions of LGBT characters in normal or positive light, or any speech that advocates for their dignity and rights are routinely cut out or barred. The resulting stereotypical, negative and skewed depiction of such censorship is a perpetuation of prejudice and stigma to the public of the LGBT community.

SAYONI also questioned the reasons for why LGBTQ groups are not allowed to register as societies or non-profit organizations.

Below is the statement expressed by SAYONI in the press conference held on Thursday (28 Janurary)

In the pre-session conference last month (December 2015), Sayoni made a speech to missions in Geneva addressing issues of:

  1. Criminalisation of consensual sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore
  2. The right to freedom of expression - Media censorship, disallowing neutral or positive portrayal of LGBTQ persons
  3. The right to freedom of association - To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations with the authorities as a Society or Non-Profit Organisation
  4. The right to family life for LGBTQ persons
  5. The rights of Transgender people
  6. Workplace discrimination

First of all, we will like to highlight that there are a total of 21 questions asked on LGBTQ rights, pertaining to 377A, protection of the human rights of LGBTQ persons, civil and political rights of LGBTQ persons, protection against discrimination in employment, censorship on LGBTQ content and registration of LGBTQ groups as societies and non-profit organizations. This is a huge increase from just 5 in 2011.

What came forth overwhelmingly was that at least 16 questions were fielded on 377A alone and the diversity of intersectional issues on LGBT rights. Many countries recognized the core and systemic problems that come with keeping 377A in the legal system.

In reply, the Singapore government claimed 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 at the same time ignoring the cascading and intersectional effects of 377A.

We like to repeat that, even though 377A is targeted specifically to gay 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 legislative and administrative framework of discrimination of LGBTQ persons, constitute 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.

Secondly, on media censorship, the reality remains that the depictions of LGBT characters in 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.

Lastly, according to Ambassador Chan, the Singapore government treasures us as citizens and firmly oppose discrimination and harassment. In return, our question is that why then are LGBTQ groups not allowed to register as societies or non-profit organizations?

In reality, the government has not shown a willingness to address the daily discrimination and violence against LGBTQ persons which are often perpetuated and justified by state mechanisms and policies.

Ambassador Chan also claimed that Singapore is a conservative country, but surely for the sake of human interest, LGBTQ people should not just live but thrive as useful citizens and residents of Singapore.

What we have instead is a vicious cycle of pretence, that as long as we let gays have fun in bars, meet in Hong Lim Park, things are actually ok. But at the end of the day, it is our fundamental right and need to be human, to be treated equally as citizens and to live without oppression in our lives.

Sayoni will continue to engage the government, and we ask that the government listen to us and not just hear us. Together with the coalition (ALMOS), we will continue to highlight the discrepancies to the government and to the public, monitor our country’s progress and work towards a better future for Singapore and all who live here.