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Meeting between Law Minister K Shanmugam and Oogachaga Representative Bryan Choong (Photo - Oogachaga)

Oogachaga holds conversation with Minister of Law and Home Affairs on LGBT issues

Oogachaga recently invited the Minister for Law and Home Affairs, Mr K. Shanmugam, to have a conversation on issues important to Singapore’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The Minister visited the Oogachaga office in Chinatown, and agreed for the meeting to be recorded on film.

Oogachaga is a community-based, non-profit, professional counselling support and personal development organisation working with LGBT+ individuals, couples and families in Singapore since 1999.

Two issues were discussed during the meeting; Oogachaga’s work with those affected by drug use in the LGBT community; and public criticism of Pink Dot. During the meeting, Oogachaga was represented by professional counsellor and former executive director, Bryan Choong. The organisation stated that there was a frank exchange with the Minister on the Singapore Government’s views regarding these issues.

The Pink Dot 2017 which is to be held this coming 1 July at Hong Lim Park, has a number of changes implemented due to the amending of laws in Parliament. Foreigners are no longer allow to participate in the event and the organisers have to take responsibility for ensuring no foreigners is to take part in the event, spurring the need to erect gantries for security checks. Also foreign donors are no longer allowed to sponsor events such as Pink Dot as the Minister argued in Parliament that there should be no room for foreign intervention on domestic issues. Fortunately, hundred over local companies have stepped up to bear the financial burden of the event, ensuring that the annual LGBT event can be carried out.

While the video interview between the Minister and Oogachaga is to be released a later date, the Minister had posted a Facebook post detailing what have been discussed during the meeting, such as the Government’s position on Pink Dot, why are there rules requiring the organisers to put up barricades and take other security measure.

Update: The video is live on Youtube. 

Oogachaga's anti-drug abuse work

The Minister noted that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) works with many organisations, across all racial, religious and other communities, to get the messages on anti-drug abuse out. The organisations include Churches, Mosques, Hindu organisations, as well as other community organisations. As Oogachaga is active with the LGBT community, therefore it makes sense for CNB to ask Oogachaga to help spread the anti-drug abuse message to the LGBT community.

The Government’s position on Pink Dot

The Minister informed Bryan that the Speakers’ Corner rules allow the Pink Dot event to be organised, and that should be respected. Likewise if anyone wanted to organise an event opposing the LGBT cause, they will have the right to do so, in Speakers Corner. He states that the Government is neutral about the underlying causes. and that people have the right to organise for whatever cause they wish, as long as the Speakers’ Corner Rules are complied with.

Security Requirements

The Minister wrote, "We also spoke about the increased security rules for Speakers’ Corner (like conducting bag checks). The rules apply to everyone and every group. In view of the current security climate, increased security measures are absolutely required. We have seen terror attacks overseas, at rock concerts, festive markets and sporting events. Any large public gathering, with high profile, will be an attractive target. Pink Dot event will attract a large crowd and it would be irresponsible not to take security measures seriously at such events. The security requirements will also be imposed at other events, even outside Speakers’ Corner, depending on the estimated crowd size, amongst other factors. These points were explained in Parliament."

Editor's note - The main reason for the barricades and gantries to be erected at the Pink Dot event is mainly for the purpose of checking if there are non-Singaporeans.

Harassment

The Minister noted that he is being informed by Bryan that sponsors of the Pink Dot event have been harassed. The Minister emphasized that the Government is strongly opposed to any harassment of any group and that the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) offers civil remedies to those harassed. If the harassment crosses the line, and is criminal, then the Government will not hesitate to take action.

He wrote, "People will have strong views on LGBT issues. The way to deal with the issue is to discuss, persuade. Harassment, either of LGBT activists or anti LGBT activists, is not acceptable."

The Minister also noted that he also met with other people, some of whom are opposed to LGBT lifestyles.They raised with him the issue of harassment by LGBT groups against those who don’t support the cause.

"I gave them the same answer: harassment is not acceptable. If a line is crossed, action will be taken. And POHA offers civil remedies. They also said that in foreign financial institutions, young people who are opposed to LGBT causes are subject to a great deal of pressure to go out and support the LGBT cause, despite their personal beliefs. I asked them to give me some details." wrote Mr K Shanmugam

Online comments made in response to the Minister's statement on his Facebook post

After the Minister posted his statement on Facebook, a number of Facebook users shared their opinion on the matter.

Siva wrote, "I find it utterly unacceptable that anti-LGBT protesters will be allowed to voice out 'Hate speech' via government facilities."

Mike Veltman wrote, "It is ironic that a minister of law claims that the government is neutral. While in one statement connecting LGBT with drugs use, calling it a lifestyle and ignoring 377A. I am impressed. But not in a positive way."

Martin Piper wrote, "However, telling people who are bullying LGBT people that it is wrong to discriminate and harass others is not itself "harassment".
This is in line with education about dealing with racism, that is to say it's not "harassment" to tell people to not be racist."

Boyang Chew wrote,

"Frankly speaking, I am repulsed by the "fair is fair" self-righteousness that is dripping from your statement, as if I'm supposed to agree that equally supporting discriminatory and non-discriminatory viewpoints is a reasonable stance to take. If one wanted to hold an event opposing the "Chinese cause" or the "Malay Cause" or the "Disabled Cause" or an event opposing the equal treatment of any number of minority groups, does the government also sanction that? Please, I would appreciate a more logical argument, or failing that, just silence. I don't need to hear half-assed excuses for not doing what is right. I also don't need to hear that loving someone is considered a "lifestyle" by the government, as if LGBTQ people don't have real families impacted by the continued insistence in criminalizing relationships between consenting adults. It is great that you feel comfortable enough to reiterate your indefensible arguments on video.

But let me know when you have answers to the real questions like why MDA disallows positive (heck, i'll take neutral) portrayal of gay people on TV when you claim that "the way to deal with the issue is to discuss". How are we supposed to have a conversation about something you refuse to acknowledge?

No one is asking for special treatment - I urge you to keep in mind that all the Singaporean LGBTQ community is asking for is to be treated EQUALLY. There would be no need for activists to even exist if there were no discrimination. Do you truly think that's too much to ask?"

Gladys Tenn wrote,

"Using the 'reason' of STDs and 'health problems' to discriminate LGBT groups as so many have said in the comments, it's only because of discrimination that prevents the community from seeking proper medical help as often 'how' they got the disease has to be disclosed for proper diagnosis.

Not to mention, straights get more HIV on a regular basis than LGBTQ groups ever since sexual health education has been expanding to more and more people. To stop STDs and 'health problems' the solution is to educate, not discriminate. Many countries have shown how successful this is, especially when the society is more open about discussing such things, preventing transmission etc. Conservative culture is not always good, even when we respect traditions.

You don't see people making smoking illegal now do you? We still have laws against LGBTQ instead. Outside of family/marriage laws, what right does a 'secular' government have in meddling with people's private affairs?

Bigotry is bigotry.."