PM Lee says LGBT people welcome to work in Singapore — but netizens point out absence of marriage equality, apparent reluctance to repeal homophobic law

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are “valued members of society” in Singapore and are thus welcome to work in the republic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (18 November).

Speaking at a question-and-answer session at the Singapore Tech Forum yesterday as reported by Bloomberg, Mr Lee said that despite that, it would be “unwise to force it, because there will be a push back and you’ll end up with polarization and be in a worse place than we are”.

While it is unclear what “it” refers to, it is believed that it refers to the repeal of laws such as Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises consensual sexual relations between adult men.

Singapore-based LGBT meetup and support platform Prout co-founder Kyle Malinda-White in a string of tweets on Thursday highlighted the problem with giving sheer economic opportunities in the absence of access to other material and institutional rights.

“The money in my pocket is not a replacement for the right to spousal visas, the right to legal recognition of queer relationships, the right to anti-discrimination protections at our borders, workplaces, hospitals and media,” he wrote.

LGBT people often “work hard” and “toil so much” because “we know there is no other choice for us to survive”, said Mr Malinda-White.

Such hard work, he added, is borne out of the hope that “money can buy them out of structural inequalities”.

Social and economic justice must thus go hand-in-hand, as offering career opportunities and trying to attract labour “while not giving rights is cold comfort at best” to people from such marginalised communities, said Mr Malinda-White.

Prout in a statement on Mr Lee’s remarks said that “[o]ne cannot choose to parade the country’s prosperity as a ticket for LGBTQ+ folk to earn a living” and simultaneously deny them of certain fundamental rights.

Such rights, said Prout, include the following:

– The right to a legal recognition of union which is a precedent for various other rights in Singapore;

– The right to own public housing under the couples’ scheme;

– The right to not be discriminated from entering Singapore if they are HIV-positive and undetectable;

– The right to bring in same-sex partners to Singapore under spousal visas; and

– The right to allow companies’ employee resource groups to sponsor LGBT initiatives.

Commenting under a post by Pink Dot–another Singapore LGBT movement–which shared Prout’s statement, netizens pointed out that the Government’s apparent reluctance to repeal certain laws and grant LGBT people rights signals that it only seeks the economic contributions of professionals from the community.

A couple of commenters argued that the Government has not abolished Section 377A as it may be polarising to do so, yet it would “open the floodgates” to more migrant professionals despite backlash from the Singaporean public.

One commenter pointed out that Employment Pass holders in straight marriages are allowed to bring their spouses and families. They questioned if the partners of migrant professionals in same-gender relationships would similarly be allowed to have a dependent visa.

Mr Lee received similar reactions to his comments in June last year on the Government’s position on repealing Section 377A.

The prime minister said that while the government does not intend to repeal Section 377A, the legislation has not prevented individuals to whom the legislation might apply from “living”, and has not hindered the influx of talent into Singapore’s technology industry.

Responding to a question from a member of the audience at the Smart Nation Summit at Marina Bay Sands regarding making Singapore’s legislation more inclusive for individuals who are not heterosexual, Mr Lee said that Section 377A “remains on our legislation, and it will for some time”.

However, he stressed that retaining the particular piece of legislation does not mean Singapore is hostile towards the LGBTQ community, as Section 377A “has not stopped Pink Dot from having a gathering every year”.

“You know our rules in Singapore. Whatever your sexual orientation, you are welcome to come and work in Singapore.

“It is the way this society is: We are not like San Francisco, neither are we like some countries in the Middle East. (We are) something in between … And I think in this framework, it is completely possible for us to have a vibrant tech and cultural scene,” added Mr Lee.

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