K Shanmugam ranks as top politician for being positively engaged on LGBT rights in Singapore

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin came in second in the Sayoni Rainbow Scorecard report

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, has been ranked top among politicians in Singapore who have engaged positively in discourse concerning the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the country.

Sayoni, a Singapore-based non-governmental organisation championing the rights of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, on Wednesday (24 June) released its report on Singapore parties’ and politicians’ positions on LGBT issues based on evidence from 2011 to 2020.

Findings from the report — titled Rainbow Scorecard: Review of the Decade — were based on research done on “statements made by politicians, in Parliamentary Hansard records, social media, mainstream and independent news”, said Sayoni in a Facebook post yesterday.

Mr Shanmugam is the only politician on the list to have met all five criteria, thus he topped the scorecard for his multiple public involvements in LGBT issues, from his engagement with LGBT groups such as The T Project and Oogachaga to his comments on amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act which protect LGBT persons against religiously-motivated violence.

“Everyone should feel safe in Singapore. We will not tolerate any threats made to physical safety. No one should threaten someone because they were LGBTQ; and likewise, no one should threaten someone else, because of religious affiliation,” said Mr Shanmugam in a Facebook post.

Parliament Speaker and former Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin came in second on the list. Mr Tan, in commenting on the HIV registry data leak last year, urged the public not to “drag these issues into the fray” as “heterosexuals do contract HIV too”, adding that LGBT people should be treated with “dignity and respect, care and compassion” as “fellow humans”.

The organisation added that it had also emailed more than 100 politicians for comments or updates on their positions.

Politicians were ranked and graded on the scorecard based on five criteria, namely:

  • Their engagement with LGBT groups in Singapore;
  • The consistency of their affirmative inclusion of LGBT issues in public discourse;
  • The frequency of their affirmative inclusion of LGBT issues in public discourse;
  • Their advocacy of non-discrimination or non-violence towards LGBT persons in Singapore; and
  • Their demonstrable awareness of challenges faced specifically by LGBT persons in Singapore.

Opposition party members Kenneth Jeyaratnam of the Reform Party (RP), Daniel Goh of the Workers’ Party (WP) and Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have been ranked third to fifth accordingly, although their scores were the same as Speaker Tan.

Last year, Mr Jeyaretnam in response to the HIV registry data leak wrote in a blog post that the fear of being on an HIV registry deters people from getting tested, and such fear “is compounded by the fact that Singapore criminalizes homosexuality and has no anti-discrimination laws”.

He advocated the abolishment of the HIV registry or at least making the registry anonymous, in addition to calling for the repeal of Section 377A, Sayoni found.

Asst Prof Goh, a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, in 2014 lauded the Health Promotion Board (HPB)’s frequently asked questions on homosexuality and bisexuality as “factual” and “objective”.

“Informing people about homosexuals actually helps promote the family as a basic building block of society, as it helps family members understand and accept homosexuality as a fact. This reduces discord and strengthens bonds, making for a stronger society where homosexuals do not feel ostracized and alienated through no fault of their own,” he said.

While deciding not to push for the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code due to conflicting views within the party’s leadership committee, WP’s stance on LGBT rights entails supporting legislation aimed at a non-discrimination/non-violence component for all communities in Singapore.

Prof Tambyah, the chairman of SDP, in 2015 stressed that SDP “has been very clear” that Section 377A — which criminalises sexual relations between consenting adult men — “should be repealed”.

This, he said when asked about the matter in an Inconvenient Questions interview, is “in line with the idea that there should be equality for all Singaporeans”.

“We also don’t believe that it makes sense to keep a law on the books if you have decided you are not going to enforce the law. So there has to be consistency in order for rule of law to be practised in Singapore,” added Prof Tambyah.

PPP chief Goh Meng Seng, PAP’s Lee Bee Wah among bottom five politicians on Sayoni’s scorecard

Among the NGO’s findings are that only 35 politicians have made statements on LGBT issues in S’pore, with the majority being “fence-sitters” or negative.

Politicians who made the bottom of the list are People’s Power Party (PPP) chief Goh Meng Seng, PPP chairman Syafarin Sarif, PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan, WP’s Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, and PAP’s Lee Bee Wah.

Their comments have ranged from Mr Goh and Mr Syafarin’s purported denial of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando to Dr Er Lee’s alleged flippant dismissal of concerns brought up by Ready4Repeal volunteers regarding Section 377A, according to Sayoni’s findings.

Sayoni concluded, based on its findings, that the lack of response from political parties “highlights how LGBT citizens cannot depend on party politics to represent their interests”.

“Political parties choose the politically expedient option of following the dogma of majority rule when canvassing for votes, causing them to pursue the interests of a majority they perceive to be “conservative”, at the expense of minority groups.

“Furthermore, as our scorecards of individual politicians have shown, politicians themselves have largely differing views on LGBT issues even within a single party,” the organisation added.


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