Worker’s Party (WP) Sec Gen Pritam Singh, in a speech delivered at University Town NUS, announced the Central Executive Committee (CEC)’s renewed and updated public stance on Section 377A of the Penal Code. Following the speech, a WP member shared his opinion on the party’s renewed stance on his Facebook post, which was made public.
Mr Yudhishthra Nathan said he found it difficult to wrap his head around the speech, describing the WP’s stance as ‘intellectually irresponsible’ and ‘highly problematic’ for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Mr Nathan pointed out that it is “disingenuous for a politician to praise his LGBT friends for being upstanding citizens of Singapore, only to refrain from standing up for their genuine interests and rights politically.”
Making a comparison to recent remark made by Finance minister Heng Swee Keat who said Singapore wasn’t ready for a non-Chinese Prime even though the Mr Heng’s party, the ruling PAP openly champions Singapore as a multi-racial national where race shouldn’t matter.
He continued, ‘It is also, incredibly patronising by way of tone, to say the least, whether intentional or not.”
Moving on, Mr Nathan highlighted that WP’s stance as laid out by Mr Singh’s speech ‘ironically reduces our society into conservatives and liberals on the matter’ and creates a third group in the middle. Conservatives are ‘implicitly assumed’ to be religious while liberals are thought of as having ‘singularly judged’ the religions ‘instead of considering the tremendous contributions people of faith have made on society’.
Mr Nathan postulates that the key problem with WPs narrative is that it glosses over the existence of LGBT folks who are religious or those who come from religious families though they may not be religious themselves.
People in these communities are the once who often face implicit and explicit discrimination not only from society at large but from their own friends, families, religious leaders, and public institutions as well, sometimes to the detriment of their own mental health.
Mr Nathan says, “What about religious LGBT Singaporeans who are able to reconcile their faith with the sexual orientation with which they were born? Or, indeed, non-religious LGBT Singaporeans? At what point exactly do we begin to recognise and consider these citizens as valuable or at least human enough to deserve to not have something constitutive of their existence criminalised and kept in statute for nothing more than the purpose of discrimination, even if there is no popular consensus on the matter amongst others in society?”
Mr Nathan goes on to argue that by avoiding being involved and taking part in substantive consultation and debate on the arguments for and against the repeat of Section 377A, WP risks reneging on ‘what must surely be the duty of any political party – to seriously consider the matters of public interest which affect the lives of citizens’.
The argument for not wanting to ‘politicise’ the issue is ‘inherently illogical’ says Mr Nathan. For one, Section 377A is part of the Penal Code which Members of Parliament have a constitutional duty to scrutinise, debate, and vote on as a piece of legislation. Forgoing debate on the issue just to ‘rise above the culture war’ is, says Mr Nathan, an evasion of basic duty of law making.
He also notes that 377A is a political issue because even if the party doesn’t want to ‘politicise it’, the people at large will see even that move as a political one. Basically, there’s no two ways about it.
The WP risks ‘disregarding and underestimating the better sense of the Singaporean voter at the ballot box’ if they lean on the argument of ‘not politicising’ the issue merely because they think voters will reduce the complex political landscape into one singular issue.
Mr Nathan said that while Mr Singh was spot on about having the moral courage to listen to one another and bridge gaps in the fault lines of society, moral courage is also required to stand up for the idea of equal rights, in this case for the LGBT community, just as how past generations have stood up to the then-contentious issues of race and religion.
“The way forward, therefore, is not to step away from the table and, in the same breath, call for more dialogue amongst other groups of people when we as a party have done precious little to facilitate meaningful dialogue,” wrote Mr Nathan.
He continued, “We, too, need to have the moral courage to stand for a Singapore where LGBT citizens can live their lives with dignity (read: that means repealing S377A), and where those of us who are religious (straight or gay) continue to live in harmony with one another whilst having our religious rights reasonably protected under law and in social practice.”
He described these ‘latest developments’ as deeply disappointing but noted that he will continue to believe that WP plays an important role in Singapore’s Parliamentary democracy.