At the Singapore Tech Forum on Wednesday (18 November), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed the view that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are “valued members of society” and are welcomed in Singapore.
However, is this not completely disingenuous, given that LGBT people — whether migrants or locals — continue to face systemic hurdles for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in Singapore?
Beyond the question of repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code — which criminalises consensual sexual relations between adult men — LGBT people in Singapore grapple with the lack of concrete social and legal protections in areas such as housing and having legally recognised family units.
Earlier this year, the High Court rejected a bid for a man to name his same-sex partner as the guardian for his son and daughter despite the fact that the children are raised as part of the family unit formed by the man and his partner.
What this means is that if the man were to die before his partner, his partner who has raised the children alongside him will not have any rights on the children.
Is this fair?
This case had garnered much media coverage because of an earlier legal challenge mounted by this man to legally adopt his biological son — something that he was originally not permitted to do because he was not married to a woman.
Whatever Lee might have previously said about LGBT people having a space to live their lives in Singapore, the fact remains that a gay man had to go to court just to adopt his own biological child.
Should he predeceases his partner, their children together run the risk of being taken away from their family unit because his partner would have no legal rights over their children!
This is a fundamental denial of rights in Singapore and something that has no hope of changing until the Government takes the lead and abolishes 377A — among other forms of systemic reforms — to signal its intention to truly welcome the LGBT community to work and live in Singapore.
It is not as if there have been no attempts from activists and organisations to push for change through conversations and dialogues with the nation’s top leaders such as Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam.
Shanmugam in June topped Sayoni’s Rainbow Scorecard for his engagement with LGBTQ groups such as The T Project and Oogachaga to his comments on amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act which protect LGBTQ persons against religiously-motivated violence.
Journalist Kirsten Han, however, opined that the praise received from certain segments of Singapore society by Shanmugam serves as “a slap in the face to people” such as a trans woman she previously interviewed, who — together with her wife — lost their home after their marriage was declared void on the grounds of her gender transition.
The trans woman and her wife were also denied the BTO flat they had paid a deposit for as a result of the voided marriage.
“It is a slap in the face to people like her when politicians from the very party in power are feted for supporting trans people, while she’d been put through hell,” said Han.
Civil rights activist and social worker Jolovan Wham–among others–argued that People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians such as Mr Shanmugam need “to be held to a higher standard” as they have greater power “to change things” with regards to LGBT rights in Singapore with a smaller risk to themselves than those in alternative parties.
“The consequences of someone like Shanmugam or TCJ [Tan Chuan-Jin] making LGBT affirmative statements is significantly different from opposition party figures like Paul Tambyah or Kenneth Jeyaretnam. We cannot assume a level political playing field in evaluating their position on LGBT issues,” said Wham.
It must be noted that Lee’s comments on Wednesday were not the first in recent times — as recently as last year, the prime minister 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 LGBT 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 Lee.
Yet, a country cannot make use of the tech skills of LGBT professionals and in the same vein criminalise their sexual orientation and/or gender identity — doing so not only appears hypocritical but also illogical.
TOC Editor’s Note: We are aware of LGBT Singaporeans who emigrate to other countries because they do not feel accepted in the country. It is also telling that public servants do not dare to come out as LGBT individuals out of fear of possible discrimination.