A CCTV footage of a man ripping a small Pride flag off the counter of a food outlet has surfaced on social media, sparking shock and outrage among many commenters.
Grain bowl restaurant SMOL Singapore on Monday (18 January) took to Facebook to share the footage of the incident, which took place at its Lau Pa Sat outlet in the afternoon the same day.
Upon entering Food Folks, the retail space in which SMOL is located, the man proceeded to stop before approaching staff at the counter.
According to SMOL, the man had asked the staff member what the flag represents, to which the staff member replied that it is a sign of support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
The man then momentarily left the counter in a disgruntled manner before walking back and angrily telling the SMOL staff that “not everybody supports LGBT” and questioning them how they could display the Pride flag at a “public food court”.
He then ripped the flag off the counter and had forcefully flung it against one of the staff members. The man had allegedly told the staff: “You are the kind of people who are destroying Singapore! Go to hell!”
Charmaine Low, who owns SMOL, in the Facebook post yesterday said that the incident with the man “was an unfortunate incident with someone who was not interested in having a peaceful conversation, but who believed that he had the right to abuse and use force against our staff”.
“It is also a reminder that discrimination against LGBTQ people in Singapore is well and alive, and there is so much more work to be done to promote understanding, love and tolerance for this community,” she said.
Despite the incident, Ms Low said that it “will not stop displaying our little pride flag” at its outlets to support the LGBT community, in line with utilising the business as “as a platform to amplify the voices of those who are not heard”.
She also called on other homegrown small and medium enterprises to show their support for the LGBT community “in their own ways”.
Many commenters urged SMOL to report the incident to the police, saying that the man’s actions were a form of assault and harassment.
One commenter questioned how “a flag and a show of solidarity to a marginalised group of people” will “destroy our country”.
They added that the man has the choice to not patronise a private establishment if he does not support its policies.
One commenter said that people should not “resort to violent antics and bad behavior” even if they disagree with certain individuals and establishments’ policies.
“I am against straight parents letting their children run wild and behaving unruly in public spaces. But hey, I don’t go around picking them up and throwing them down the recycle bins,” they quipped.
One commenter urged the public to “constantly call out such homophobic behaviour” as such behaviour might go beyond targeting the LGBT community in the future.
There “could very well be” other minority groups that could be subject to scorn and discrimination such as people of different religions, interracial couples, single mothers and even the underprivileged, they said.
The commenter, like several others, also said that they will begin to frequent SMOL from now on for their strong stance on supporting the LGBT community.
While it is not known what prompted the man to initiate the abusive actions seen in the footage, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in March last year had announced new amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act which protect LGBT persons against religiously-motivated violence.
In a Facebook post regarding the matter, Mr Shanmugam said: “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,” he added.
While Mr Shanmugam in June last year topped NGO Sayoni’s Rainbow Scorecard for his engagement with LGBT groups, activists have criticised Mr Shanmugam and other top leaders in government for a seeming lack of urgency in enacting laws that guarantee legal and social protections for LGBT people such as housing and marriage rights.
Journalist Kirsten Han opined that the praise handed to Mr Shanmugam by certain segments of Singapore society regarding LGBT issues serve 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 Mr Wham.