At a private town hall discussion on 30th September, members of the ‘Ready4Repeal’ movement said that Singapore’s anti-gay law will be repealed in due course. The question is when, not if.
The petition which was authored by filmmaker Glen Goei and legal trainee Johannes Hadi called for the removal of Section 377A of the penal code which criminalises sex between men. The petition closed with over 44,000 signatures.
Lead signatories of the Ready for Repeal petition include many notable names such as Banyan Tree Holdings Executive Chairman and Board of Directors Chairman How Kon Ping and Clair Chiang, social activist Constance Singam, Former PAP politician Darius Cheung, MP Kok Heng Leun, former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, many high-profile businessmen and women, academics. lawyers and doctors. The petition is also support by a number of various pro-LGBTQ+ NGOs and non-profit organisation such as Action for AIDS, Pink Dot SG, MARUAH, and Humanist Society of Singapore.
The Ministry of Home Affairs have acknowledged their receipt of the petition from Ready4Repeal. However, they have also stated that there are no plans at the moment to repeal that particular law.
The key to change, say Mr Hadi, is for both the LGBT and heterosexual communities to start public engagement now by sharing their personally stories. “Talk to your MPs (Members of Parliament) - educate them, encourage them to listen.”
Other speakers at the event also stressed the importance of making your voice heard. “Share your stories on what it’s like to be LGBT in Singapore, and how 377A affects you,” said Mr Clement Tan of Pink Dot SG who was also at the town hall.
Another speaker and signatory, lawyer Remy Choo, addressed the legal challenges of repealing 377A. He pointed out that even the British from whom Singapore inherited this law knows that it is a bad legislation, having decriminalised gay sex in the 1960s. Mr Choo said that 377A ‘belongs in the dustbin of legal history’, adding that “The defence of marriage; the slippery slope; religious freedom - these are red herrings. What we are trying to repeal is bad colonial legislation.”
Also present were former Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) President Constance Singam, also a signatory of the repeal petition. She urged the audience to continue fighting for a change in the value system of Singaporean society. It is not only about signing petitions, but to affect change means to be an activist every day.
After the town hall, which was held at SMU, Mr Hadi said “It’s a matter of when 377A will change, not if. But when it does, we hope Singaporeans will be ready for it. We don’t want them to be unprepared or alienated by it.”
So far, the National Council of Churches in Singapore (NCCS), Alliance of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches of Singapore, and the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Singapore have all come out against repealing 377A, citing the preservation of traditional family values and the sanctity of marriage as God intended.
From the government, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam noted that while Singapore is divided on the issue, the laws have to be in line with societal views and it is up to Singapore society to dictate the direction.
Also, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung came out to say that there was no discrimination against the LGBT community in the areas of work, housing and education.
However as stated in a letter by Action for AIDS President Roy Chan, the LGBT community does in fact experience homophobia, both internal and external, which stems from laws like 377A that perpetuate this singular idea of sexual orientation. So even though on the surface it may seem that the LGBT community is being embrace in Singapore thanks to the annual Pink Dot rallies, the existence of 377A itself promotes homophobia which in turn leads to rampant discrimination.