19 January 2007 – Fridae
Half of singapore youths find homosexuality ”acceptable,” says survey
by Sylvia Tan
In the city-state which has a thriving gay scene despite gay sex being outlawed, half of the 800 survey respondents aged 15-29 found homosexuality acceptable. Exactly half of the 800 young people asked found homosexuality acceptable, according to a survey of young people aged 15-29. Conducted by students from Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Business over two months, 42 per cent of the respondents who found homosexuality unacceptable although no further details are available.
Containing only one question on homosexuality, the survey respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with he statement, "I find homosexuality acceptable." Giving their views on various aspects of life, 45 per cent of the respondents disapproved of premarital sex while 46 per cent found it acceptable. More than half of respondents survey said that they would migrate overseas if they had the option.
Lecturer Kwa Lay Ping, who oversaw the survey, was quoted in Today newspaper attributing the youths’ liberal views to the use of the Internet. "They’re more liberal in their outlook and more accepting of alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality, and sex before marriage. As they go on the Internet, they’re a lot more exposed to more liberal programmes about alternative lifestyles, than youths were in the days before the Internet," said Ms Kwa.
A youth said in a television interview, "To youths, it’s common knowledge that homosexuals exist in Singapore. In fact, if you ask any youth, he’ll say that he knows at least one homosexual friend." An earlier survey conducted by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports in 2001 however found that 71 per cent of the young people surveyed found homosexuality unacceptable.
Another survey conducted the same year by the government over a cross section of Singaporeans found that 29 per cent of Singaporeans under 30 years of age found homosexuality acceptable. Alex Au of gay advocacy group People Like Us said of the recent findings: “This finding isn’t coming out of the blue though radio and newspaper reports seem to make it so. It is part of a trend of increasing acceptance.”
Referring to the Social Attitudes Survey in 2001 (SAS2001) conducted by the government, he told Fridae in an email: “The most authoritative evidence was the Social Attitudes Survey in 2001 (SAS2001), conducted by the government over a cross section of Singaporeans which found that 29 per cent of Singaporeans under 30 years of age found homosexuality acceptable. That was six years ago. That it has further increased shouldn’t be any surprise."
Gay youths Fridae spoke to feel optimistic about the survey findings and for more youths to come out for their emotional well-being. Zee, the 20-year-old editor of gay youth web site PLUME (plume.sg) told Fridae: “I’m inclined to think that this figure is slightly higher than 50 per cent. Just because the remaining 42 per cent surveyed said it was not acceptable doesn’t mean all of them will reject gay people outright or think of it as ‘wrong’.”
“The results show that there is a larger acceptance of gay people; reflective of my personal experience. There are no hate crimes or outright discrimination though many straight guys in this age group use ‘gay’ to crack misogynistic and insensitive jokes. But when it comes to the real crunch, they’re not actually homophobic; they don’t condemn us to hell.” Nick of Queercast (www.queercast.blogspot.com) said: “It is encouraging that half of them find homosexuality acceptable. I think this is a good sign that with constant awareness we can change the mindsets of the youth to work towards a better future for us all.”
Zee added: “I encourage tertiary students to come out more for their emotional well-being than as a political act. Closets are very cramped places and mothballs are not very fun to play with. Politically speaking, schools are a microcosm of society and the young will inherit the country in future, if our peers weave through campus life exposed to other gay students, they’ll see living examples and eventually get used to it. Besides needing a support network, one of the biggest challenges to coming out, is always yourself. Fear, needing approval and validation is a big barrier to overcome; but once you do, you’ll be invincible.”
12 March 2007 – Fridae
Council of churches commends singapore government on anti-gay legislation, calls for criminalisation of lesbianism
by Sylvia Tan
As Singapore is looking at its first major review of its Penal Code in more than 20 years, the National Council of Churches has praised the government for its proposal to retain laws criminalising homosexual acts, and for the first time advocated the specific inclusion of lesbians in its scope. In a statement published in the March issue of the Methodist Message, the official monthly journal of the Methodist Church in Singapore, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) commended the government on its stance to not repeal Section 377 A which outlaws sex acts between men although laws that criminalise anal and oral sex between opposite-sex couples will be repealed.
The NCCS represents Methodists, Anglicans and Presbyterians, among other mainstream denominations in Singapore. Currently, Section 377A of the Penal Code (PC) provides for a 2-year jail term for “any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person.” The statement published on the Methodist Message web site reads: “We are aware that the proposed amendment to delete section 377 PC but on the other hand retaining section 377A PC may be controversial in some quarters.
Nevertheless, we consider homosexual acts to be sinful, abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not. The NCCS commends the Government on taking a clear, unequivocal and bold stand of neither encouraging nor endorsing a homosexual lifestyle and opposing the presentation of the same as part of a mainstream way of life.” Although the NCCS has in 2003 publicly urged the government to maintain current legislation concerning homosexuality, not permit the registration of homosexual societies or clubs and not allow the promotion of homosexual lifestyle and activities, this is the first time it has called for the criminalisation of lesbianism.
“Given that section 377A PC criminalises homosexuality whether done private or publicly, we are of the view that a similar prohibition ought to be enacted in respect of lesbianism, considering that lesbianism (like homosexuality) is also abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not.’” Said the statement. In a document released last year by the Ministry Of Home Affairs on the proposed Penal Code amendments, Section 377A will sit between new laws criminalising necrophilia and bestiality under the same rubric of “unnatural offences.” The proposed amendments are expected to be debated in Parliament in the next quarter.
22 March 2007 – Fridae
The truly abhorrent thing
by Alex Au
Should a recently circulated church statement, which called homosexuality "sinful, abhorrent and deviant” and for the criminalisation of lesbian sex, cause LGBTs to lose sleep? Fridae columnist and gay activist Alex Au weighs in on the issue.
(This column is in response to a statement issued by National Council of Churches of Singapore which commended the government on its stance on anti-gay legislation and called for the criminalisation of lesbian sex.)
A week ago, the Methodist Church in Singapore circulated a statement calling homosexuality "sinful, abhorrent and deviant." More specifically, the statement, which had been issued earlier by the National Council of Churches in Singapore (NCCS), expressed support for, inter alia, the government’s proposal to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code, which makes "gross indecency" between two men a criminal offence. In marked contrast to this bid to retain Section 377A, the government also proposed to repeal Section 377 which makes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" another offence (regardless of sex). The effect of this selective repeal of one law and the retention of the other would be to legalise anal and oral sex for heterosexuals while keeping the same criminal for gay men.
The Penal Code had never had any law specific to lesbian sex.
The NCCS statement had nothing significant to say about the legalisation of sodomy for heterosexuals even though for a long time this too was included within the scope of "unnatural sex" they had railed against. Instead, the statement narrowed the focus to gay people, and then, in a call for consistency, urged the government to criminalise "lesbianism" to the same degree as male homosexuality. The gutlessness in not taking on the government and the heterosexual majority over the legalisation of sodomy for the latter is striking. Perhaps the NCCS knew that despite putting up the proposed changes for public feedback, the government had essentially made up its mind. No use trying to move the immoveable?
In that case, is the call to criminalise lesbian sex just so much posturing? Should we just laugh it off?
Indeed, in many ways, the Singapore government is very watchful of its secular credentials. It pro-actively ensures that faith groups do not venture into politics, achieving this by various legal and institutional means (e.g. religious groups have to be registered under the law), together with the occasional behind-the-scenes warning to vocal clerics. Yet many LGBTs in Singapore felt that the NCCS statement should not be taken lightly. That’s because those who have been watching how Singapore really operates knows that while religious groups may not have much leverage over the government, the government is not loath to use religious groups for its own ends.
As it is, the Singapore government is far from gay-friendly. The fact that they would repeal anal and oral sex for heterosexuals while keeping it illegal for gay men – and not even be embarrassed by such blatant discrimination – proves it. Heretofore, they have justified this state of affairs – and the censorship that supports it – by the claim that "the majority is conservative." Over the years, they have not produced much evidence for this, except for a finding from the 2001 Social Attitudes Survey. In that study conducted by the government, 85 percent of Singaporeans said homosexuality was "unacceptable." Of those aged 15 – 29, a somewhat lower percentage (71 percent) too found it "unacceptable."
However, more recent data have begun to challenge those results. For example, the Singapore Polytechnic last year surveyed 800 Singaporeans aged 15 – 29 with exactly the same question as the government’s 2001 survey, and found that only 42 percent considered homosexuality "unacceptable." Clearly, there has been a marked change in the same age band’s opinion in just six years. This is where a statement from the NCCS is useful to the ministers and the bureaucrats. It refreshes their basis for claiming that Singaporeans are against liberalisation.
But why is a government that by policy is proud of its secular credentials, so unabashedly biased against GLBTs?
In a large way, it is not. Being anti-gay is not high up there among the government’s priorities. What is high up there are its authoritarian instincts, which tend to privilege stability and conformity over experimentation and diversity. On social issues, the status quo is automatically preferred over change. Controversy is to be avoided because authority is harder to impose in such conditions. Thus on the gay issue, there is a resistance to change simply because change is seen as destabilising. Yet Singapore is among the fastest-movers when it comes to economic restructuring. This is how the city-state keeps ahead of challenges. Economic restructuring, however, is painful, more so than ever in this age of globalisation. Lots of people resent the uncertainties and anxieties that result. There is more than a whiff of suspicion that the Singapore government tries to mitigate unrest against its economic policies, but offering a sop in the form of social conservatism.
Nonetheless, that the government and bureaucracy are prone to homophobia is well known, going by the numerous petty examples of censorship and denials of permits on flimsy grounds. Partly, it is due to the disproportionate representation of Christians in government and the civil service. Some of these individuals – though surely not all — are already homophobic due to their religious upbringing and affiliation, and they tend to assume that the rest of Singapore must be like them. That is why statements like what the NCCS issued are significant, serving to reinforce their pre-existing bias.
Contesting the statement
There is no need to get into a debate about scripture. However, it can and should be pointed out that that there are plenty of Christians who would disagree with the line taken by the NCCS.
In the first place, not all churches belong to the NCCS. The Singapore archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, does not, though that church is no less homophobic. But even those churches that are in the NCCS, e.g. the Anglican and the Methodist Churches in Singapore, would find their stance contested by Anglican and Methodist churches in other countries. That the local bishops’ positions are hardly the last word on the matter is worth bringing to the public’s attention.
The other thing worth pointing out is that Christians form a small minority in Singapore, at most 20 percent of the population. To this, the churchmen tend to respond by saying, "All major religions abhor homosexuality" – a stock phrase that comes from the fundamentalist churches of America. This is patently untrue. Buddhism and Taoism (about 50 percent of Singaporeans) have nothing to say on the subject. Nor does Hinduism, I am told, if one removes the Victorian prudishness that has blanketed it. Not least, let’s not forget that there are atheists and free thinkers among us. What this leads to is the charge that church leaders are expecting the government to impose Christian ideas of morality on non-Christians through law. This is the truly abhorrent idea. It is abhorrent to a secular state that promises freedom of religious belief and practice to its citizens to allow any religious group to dictate the laws of the land. That is why the NCCS statement must be resisted.
Alex Au has been a gay activist for over 10 years and is the co-founder of gay advocacy group People Like Us. Alex is also the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site.
May 9, 2007 – Fridae
New Zealand AIDS foundation’s new safe sex campaign targets asian gay men
“Be proud and strong – Renew your commitment to safe sex, no exceptions,” reads a campaign poster featuring five out and proud gay Asian men from Singapore, the Philipines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Tahiti.
The New Zealand AIDS Foundation’s Gay Men’s Health team is to launch its first resource aimed at raising HIV awareness among Asian gay and bisexual men on Friday May 11 in Auckland. The resource comprises a poster, featuring five out and proud gay Asian men – including Gay Men’s Health Promoter Valeriano (Val) Incapas – with the heading “Be proud and strong – Renew your commitment to safe sex, no exceptions.” http://www.fridae.com/newsfeatures/images/NZAFasianposter.pdf
“Gay men make up a significant part of the growing Asian migrant population, as many Asian countries are very vocal in condemning homosexuality,” Incapas says. “Gay men in Asian countries often are forced to move where they feel they can live and express themselves more freely, countries like New Zealand.” Asian gay men are also part of the wider community of men who have sex with men, who are the highest risk group for HIV infection in New Zealand. 70 new gay and bisexual diagnoses were recorded in 2006 – one every five days.
“Up until now, there has been a lack of visible role models for Asian gay and bisexual men to encourage open discussion about the importance of condom use in preventing HIV,” Incapas says. “Without the skills of handling themselves in a community with different social rules, and often coming to New Zealand with no condom culture, Asian gay men can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of.”
The poster features men from Singapore, the Philipines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Tahiti. All the men are profiled on an accompanying flier, along with individual messages about why they value safe sex.
“This is about standing proud and taking a leadership role in our own communities to help turn the HIV epidemic around,” Incapas says. “But HIV isn’t confined to one particular group or ethnicity – as gay and bisexual men, we are all susceptible because of the risk of transmission via anal sex. We must all renew our commitment to using a condom every time.”
Shanghai Lil’s Bar and Lounge
133 Franklin Rd
7pm, Friday 11th May
Source: New Zealand Aids Foundation press release
February 2007 – Law Society of Singapore
Retention of gay sex laws “cannot be justified”: Singapore’s law society to government
The Law Society of Singapore has released a statement disagreeing with the Ministry of Home Affairs’ proposal to retain the country’s laws against gay sex.
The Law Society of Singapore – at the invitation of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) last November to comment on the government’s proposed amendments to the Penal Code – has advised the government that “the retention of s.377A in its present form cannot be justified.” Last November, MHA announced their intention to retain gay sex laws although laws which criminalise anal and oral sex between consenting heterosexual adults will be repealed as part of Singapore’s first major penal code amendments in 22 years. Section 377A currently makes “gross indecency” between two males an offence punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment.
The Law Society, the professional association of lawyers in Singapore, which formed an ad hoc committee of 16 members to study the matter has issued a report which was reproduced in part by gay activist group People Like Us on its web site: “The majority of the Council considered that the retention of s.377A in its present form cannot be justified. This does not entail any view that homosexuality is morally acceptable, but follows instead from the separation of law and morals and the philosophy that the criminal law’s proper function is to protect others from harm by punishing harmful conduct. Private consensual homosexual conduct between adults does not cause harm recogniseable by the criminal law. Thus, regardless of one’s personal view of the morality or otherwise of such conduct, it should not be made a criminal offence.
“Moreover, the assurance given by [the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)] in the Explanatory Notes to Proposed Amendments to the Penal Code that were initially issued by MHA that prosecutions will not be proactively prosecuted under this section is an admission that the section is out-of-step with the modern world. The retention of unprosecuted offences on the statute book runs the risk of bringing the law into disrepute. “Council also recognised that the above view did not necessarily represent the views of its members collectively. A significant minority of Council members as well as members of the Society at large have an opposing view, and strongly support retention of s.377A in the Penal Code. They took the view that the criminal law can and should be deployed to define what the majority or a significant proportion of society believe to be unacceptable conduct even when it takes place in private between consenting adults, and that there are sufficient jurisprudential and logical grounds for this.
“Differing views were expressed on the constitutionality of s.377A. In other jurisdictions, legal discrimination based on sexual orientation has been considered against constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Council did not come to a concluded view on the constitutionality of s.377.”
21 May 2007 – Channel News Asia
Analysis: The gay debate and the breakthrough we need
No amount of print or pressure, or even persuasion, is going to change the Government’s stand on what is being described by some as an archaic and discriminatory law: A law that makes overt homosexuality a crime in Singapore. That is the only black-and-white certainty in the on-going debate on gays. The rest, as they say, is all grey. So why bother even talking about it, asked a friend exasperated with the glacial pace in the politics of change here. Over lunch, we tried to jog our collective memories on the number of occasions when the Government introduced a new law or changed a stand because of overt influence from the outside. Two stick out like sore thumbs: Former Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Woon’s push in 1995 for a law to force children to pay for their parents’ maintenance — the only Act passed by Parliament since 1965 not initiated by the Government — and the official embrace in 2001 of a group of nature lovers who wanted to save Chek Jawa from reclamation.
There have been instances of Government reversal (such as on the graduate mothers policy) and tweaking (to allow the restricted viewing of certain movies). But these have all originated from within, with no overt pressure or persuasion from without. The Jeremys of this world, as quoted in TODAY’s weekend report, need to know that this is a government that guards jealously its self-imposed change-from-within mandate. For every Jeremy and partner who want to pack up and go because of the legal discrimination against gays here, there is a Dennis and partner, who swear by Singapore’s enlightened attitude — covert though it may be — towards gay couples like them. I met Dennis, his partner and two other gays at a 31-year-old lady’s birthday a month ago. They led me into a world of highly-intelligent, highly-articulate and highly-successful people.
They have an opinion – a penetrating and alternative one, mind you — on nearly everything that is happening in Singapore and around the world. That is definitely refreshing in a place where debate and discussion, even in a dinner setting, is lacking. Even more refreshing was to see how the four gays took care of the two straight women at the table. They fussed over the women, talking about the latest fashion trends and bitching about nearly everything and everybody under the sun. The dinner ended with one of the women whispering into her husband’s ear: “They are God’s gift to women!” I am sure many of the 62.3 per cent of the heartlanders who said, in a TODAY survey, that they are against legalising homosexuality would have a different view if they got to mingle with these people more often. That is what happened with Britain’s Ministry of Defence which allowed gays to serve in the armed forces.
Today, seven years later, the ministry’s verdict: None of its fears of harassment, discord, blackmail and bullying have come to hot news newscomment pass, according to an International Herald Tribune report. If it can happen in a macho and tightly-regulated environment like the armed forces, then Singapore society in general should pose no great barrier. Singapore needs gays, not just because of the pink dollar and the economic value they bring, but also because they add a colourful and intellectual vibrancy to our city. With the law and the politics on gays unlikely to change for sometime, the next best thing is for us all to get to know them better.
They have the same emotions we have. A teacher friend once told me, misty- eyed and all, about the pain he suffered after breaking up with his partner. Another, a doctor, spoke of how he is consumed by guilt every time his parents ask him why he is not getting married. Yes, gays are normal people and they should be treated normally. That is the breakthrough we need to achieve in this gay debate.
June 2007 – Yawning Bread
Teacher unaccountably terminated
I heard from Alfian Sa’at on 15 May 2007 that he had lost his relief teaching job. On receiving a telephone call from the Ministry of Education, his school terminated him at once. No reason was provided. That night, he was extremely upset and swore he would "get to the bottom of this". Privately, I suspected it would be an uphill task, though I’m sure that he too was not so naïve as to think it would be an easy thing to achieve. All I could do was to encourage him to document every step of the process. Documentation has a power that is often underestimated.
I am glad that he has done so. You can see his exchange of letters with the Ministry of Education on his blog. He tells of how his work had been much appreciated by East View Secondary School to the extent that they had asked him to confirm that he would be staying on for a few months more. Yet within hours of that, his head of department would tell him they had been told to terminate his contract. Alfian wrote, "When I queried him as to whether this was based on my performance in school, he assured me, in his own words, that ‘professionally and pedagogically, we had no problems with you’."
They required such an immediate departure that the school was left scrambling to find another relief teacher with no notice. Midyear exams were approaching for the students; where exactly are our educators’ priorities? Perhaps it’s only a neighbourhood school, not one that serves the children of the elite? As Alfian himself noted in an earlier blogpost, "Some of these classes have had up to four relief teachers in the space of half a year. Every new relief teacher …. also meant abandonment."
So what was the reason for terminating him? In reply to Alfian’s letter to the Ministry, they wrote,the Ministry of Education sets stringent criteria in the recruitment of relief teachers. This is understandably so when we strive to achieve a high standard in Education. With keen competition, this Ministry has an arduous task of considering each applicant based on several factors. MOE needs to determine which applicants most appropriately meet its organisational needs. In the registering of relief teachers, we look at each applicant in view of the specific requirements of the Ministry at the time, considering each application as a whole, on its own merit. While many capable candidates apply every year, only those that best meet the organisation’s requirements will be considered for appointment.
109 words saying abosulutely nothing. No, I take that back. They do say something: "We don’t want to tell you why." And to cap it all, the letter from the Ministry ended by referring Alfian to their HR policies. For more information on HR matters, please refer to our HR Online at http://intranet.moe.gov.sg/hr_online/circulars01.htm. Did you notice that it was an intranet address, not accessible to the public? Isn’t that being bloody helpful? Or intelligent? And we are paying how much to our ministers and civil servants?
Alfian is not an unknown quantity. He is a highly-regarded poet and playwright. However, in this instance, what comes to mind is the fact that he is also very outspoken about the marginalisation of Malays, and gays. Both impinge on current government policies. But he is not an extremist by any stretch of the imagination, and it would be a sad day if we expected teachers to have no passionately-held opinions of their own. It would also be a very sad day if teachers did not inspire our students to have the courage of their convictions.
If the ministry’s real reason for terminating his services was that he had been vocal about the marginalisation of Malays, then that act itself proves the complaint. It would also make an utter mockery of racial equality in Singapore. More likely, he is being penalised for being gay. I say this because we in People Like Us have been hearing other similar cases where gay teachers have been shunted out or into dead-end non-teaching jobs. Each time, no reason is provided. But unlike Alfian, they have not documented their cases and made a public issue of their treatment.
In a way, we understand their situation. They needed a job. Perhaps they had families who depend on them, or loans to pay back. Going public would make things much harder. But I would speculate that it’s precisely because the earlier cases have not gone public, that the witch-hunt continues. So I am personally glad that Alfian has demanded an explanation from the government. If there is such a secret policy, how is that fair to the many gay men and women who invest years (and dollars) at university or the National Institute of Education preparing to be teachers, only to be denied the chance to fulfill their calling soon after joining the teaching service?
So hiring policies cannot be secret. But if the ministry lets it be known that they will discriminate against lesbians and gays, then people will no doubt ask: What about Goh Chok Tong’s statement in July 2003 about not discriminating against openly gay civil servants? Alfian has been as open as they come, and the school had no problems with him. If Goh and the government does not want to be accused of bad faith in making such public statements in order to falsely entice people to join the civil service, then they had better come clean.
Once again, this shows how badly Singapore needs a Freedom of Information Act, such as the one that the UK has . Such a law would oblige the government to provide substantive information — not the opaque whitewash that the ministry gave Alfian — in response to specific requests.
More and more developed countries are enacting such laws because they realise that good governance is not served by ministers and bureaucrats being able to hide what they are doing. With power must come accountability. If the public can be prevented from knowing how decisions are made or what policies are in effect, then all sorts of abusive — and corrupt — practices can fester. How did this ministry award a contract to a company owned by the minister’s brother-in-law?
We have stringent contract-awarding procedures in place, the spokesman will say, and all contracts so awarded would have been assessed by our in-house committee of experts to be the optimum among the offers received by us, an assessment based on checklists that have been rigourously developed so as to cover all relevant aspects of the project in question. How much money did that statutory board promise the foreign university to entice them to set up here; what were the assumptions used in the business plan, and how were those assumptions assessed to be realistic?
What projections were made such that the maternity hospital ended up with more wards than they needed, eventually having to mothball some of them , while other hospitals were shortchanged on expansion such that they overflowed with patients, with emergency cases turned away?
Alfian’s case is not an isolated issue. It points to a much larger weakness in governance in Singapore. Opacity is a potent tool for those who wish to oppress us. It denies citizens the information they need to judge for themselves how good the government is in its job, and whether they live up to their promises (e.g. non-discrimination). It allows them to hide mistakes that they have made. It gives them the power to do what they please to ordinary citizens, leaving the small guy with no recourse. For the sake of those larger issues, we must take this case as far as we can. The government must not be allowed so easily to get away with it.
July 18, 2007 – ABC News
Recognise gay rights, McKellen urges Singapore
See YouTube video of McKellen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abcQulpjxDM
British actor Ian McKellen has urged tightly-governed Singapore to loosen up and repeal its archaic laws barring homosexual acts. McKellen indicated the laws, which are remnants of British colonial rule, may affect a vibrant business city like Singapore, which is vying with other Asian cities to draw more foreign talent and professionals. The gay actor was in Singapore as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s world tour to stage William Shakespeare’s King Lear and Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Esplanade, South-East Asia’s most modern performing arts centre.
"Just treat us with respect like we treat everybody else and the world will be a better place, I think," McKellen said in a live interview on the Class 95 radio station, part of the state-linked MediaCorp group. Coming to Singapore where unfortunately you’ve still got those dreadful laws that we British left behind … it’s about time Singapore grew up, I think, and realised that gay people are here to stay," he said.
In a separate interview on MediaCorp’s Channel News Asia television station, the 68-year-old McKellen said: "I have been looking for a gay bar [in Singapore] if there is such a thing … so that’s what I have been looking for." Homosexual acts are still outlawed in Singapore under laws dating back to British colonial days, despite the city-state’s status as one of Asia’s most advanced economies. Singapore has in recent years eased social restrictions in a bid to shake off its reputation as a culturally sterile and ultra-conservative society.
Some clubs are allowed to open all night, while skimpily-clothed bar top dancers and service staff work in some establishments. The Government said last year that oral and anal sex in private between consenting heterosexual adults would be legalised under Singapore’s first major penal code amendments in 22 years. However, the penal code’s section which criminalises "gross indecency" between two males will remain.
Nevertheless, gay-friendly establishments like pubs and saunas are doing a roaring trade catering to both locals and foreigners. While battling for gay rights, McKellen – who played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy – has compromised on one thing during his Singapore stay. For his starring role in King Lear, he will not remove all his clothes during a key scene in which the king is forced into exile. The scene has been performed nude at Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, and could have been repeated in Singapore with an R18 restricted rating, which meant students younger than 18 years would have been turned away.
July 18, 2007 – Fridae
People Like Us announces IndigNation 2007 gay and lesbian Pride season line-up
by News Editor
Held in its third consecutive year, Indignation is the gay and lesbian Pride season in Singapore.
Organised by People Like Us, Indignation – Singapore’s GLBT pride season – comes around again with a series of events including exhibitions, talks, poetry, film, outdoor and social events. Fridae is proud to be a main and media sponsor of the event.
Message from People Like Us: Indignation is the gay and lesbian Pride season in Singapore, reaffirming our participation in the intellectual and cultural life of this country, reminding all that we are as much a part of Singapore as anyone else. Each event is separately organised by by different people, who as a gesture of solidarity, are contributing their events to the joint calendar. It is never easy organising gay-related events in Singapore. Many kinds of events require licences from various government departments, which tend to be react with suspicion towards anything that is gay-themed. Even when licences are given, past experience has shown that intimidatory tactics from the police can still be expected.
Funding is another area affected by the political climate; hence the organisers are particularly grateful to those who have bravely stepped forward with sponsorships. Indignation 2007 is the third in a row and every year that we pull one off, it boosts the community’s pride and increases our visibility a little bit more.
Things are changing in Singapore. So far this year, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has publicly spoken about how Section 377A of the Penal Code must “eventually” go. PAP MP Baey Yam Keng and NMP Siew Kum Hong have also said they support repeal. An increasing number of heterosexual Singaporeans are speaking up too. Indignation seeks to capture this mood. Change is possible. We are not passive victims of ignorance and prejudice in an unchanging landscape. We are active citizens playing our part in making Singapore a better place.
The event will open on Wed, 1 Aug 2007 with Idiosyncracies, an art exhibition. For more info, please visit www.plu.sg/indignation.
Note from activist Alex Au: I think you’ll love the story of how the name IndifNation came up. As you know, for many years, a gay circuit party was held in Singapore each year in August (coinciding with National Day), organised by Fridae.com. It was called the Nation Party. When it grew too big for the government’s comfort level, they clamped down and banned it. (It was successfully held in Phuket, Thailand.)
The following year, People Like Us decided that there was no way we would concede the word "Nation" back to the authoritarian state, nor their exclusive use of National Day. So we started a gay pride season comprising that events they would permit and called it "IndigNation". We’re now in the 3rd year. We told our gay constituents that we’d be using the name Indignation until the law is repealed. Then we’ll have to scratch our heads and think of another name.
August 1, 2007 – PinkNews
Singapore censors reject photo exhibit because the photographs "promote a homosexual lifestyle"
Singapore censors denied the organisers of a Pride exhibition a licence because the photographs "promote a homosexual lifestyle," Alex Au, founder of Singaporean gay rights group People Like Us, told AP. According to Au, who shot the photographs, ‘Kissing’ is a selection of 80 shots of fully clothed, same-sex couples. " It’s absurd to think that gay people do not also kiss, and that representation of such a reality would be subversive," said Mr Au. The exhibition was to be part of a fortnight of Pride events, including film screenings, forums and lectures. Mr Au said organisers have planned a lecture with a slide show of the photographs instead, as indoor gatherings in Singapore do not need a permit. Singaporean authorities have banned gay films and public displays of homosexuality such as Pride events.
Despite this there is an open gay scene, with pubs and saunas. The government said last year that oral and anal sex in private between consenting heterosexual adults would be decriminalised under Singapore’s first major penal code amendments in 22 years. However, the penal code which criminalises "gross indecency" between two males will remain, the government said.
Last month, Sir Ian McKellen urged the country’s government to ditch the draconian colonial-era laws. Sir Ian was in the country with the Royal Shakespeare Company to stage William Shakespeare’s King Lear and Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.
In a promotional interview with a local radio station, he said: " Just treat us with respect like we treat everybody else and the world will be a better place, I think… Coming to Singapore where unfortunately you’ve still got those dreadful laws that we British left behind… it’s about time Singapore grew up, I think, and realised that gay people are here to stay." (See #7 above)
Male homosexuals in Singapore face a maximum of two years in prison for gay sex.
August 3, 2007 – The Washington Post
Singapore Bans Gay Rights Forum
by Gillian Wong, The Associated Press
Singapore – Authorities in Singapore on Friday banned a gay rights forum at which a retired Canadian law professor was to speak, the second time in a week the city-state has forbidden an event that touches on gay issues. The forum was to feature Douglas Sanders, a professor emeritus in law at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, the event’s organizer, Alex Au, told The Associated Press. But because the Aug. 7 forum, titled "Sexual Orientation in International Law: The Case of Asia," was deemed contrary to public interest, police canceled the event’s license Friday and immigration authorities rejected Sander’s visa application, Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry said.
"Our laws are an expression and reflection of the values of our society; the discourse over a domestic issue such as the laws that govern homosexuality in Singapore must be reserved for Singaporeans … foreigners should refrain from interfering," the statement said.
But Au, the forum’s organizer, said Sanders had no such intention.
"He was going to do a lecture in Singapore about international trends. He is not an expert on Singapore and had no intention of talking about Singapore," Au said. Singapore’s censors earlier in the week banned an exhibition of photographs depicting gay men and women kissing, also organized by Au, saying the images "promote a homosexual lifestyle, and cannot be allowed." The prohibitions have come amid a debate in the city-state on whether gay sex should be decriminalized. Singapore’s founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, a few months ago questioned the ban on gay sex, saying the government should not act as moral police. Under Singapore law, gay sex is punishable by a maximum of two years in jail. Authorities have banned gay festivals and censored gay films, but despite the official ban on gay sex, there have been few prosecutions.
August 03, 2007 – news.sawf.org
Singapore bans gay story reading during pride event…Singapore authorities have banned a story reading during the city-state’s gay pride festival, saying the text showed disrespect to public officials.
Singapore (AFP) – The ban comes after the Media Development Authority (MDA) said it would also not allow a photo exhibition of gay kissing during the two-week pride event, which began Wednesday. In a statement late Thursday, the MDA said it received a licence application for an event called "Tall Tales and Short Stories," which included a text by author Ng Yi-Sheng. MDA approved the event on the condition that Ng’s text was not read.
"Ng’s text was disallowed as it had gone beyond good taste and decency in taking a disparaging and disrespectful view of public officers," said Amy Tsang, MDA’s deputy director for arts and licensing. Ng confirmed he has been denied a licence to read the work, which was about a young man’s fictional sexual adventures with older men including military officers and government officials. I was expecting it, to a certain extent," said Ng, whose text made reference to an imaginary politician named "Lee Low Tar."
Alex Au, an organiser of the Indignation festival, called MDA’s decision self-serving.
"Public officials should likewise be equally subject to scrutiny and the text has many layers, and to only read the superficial layer accusing it of vulgarity clearly shows no understanding of the work," Au told AFP. Au’s photo exhibition "Kissing" has also been banned by MDA. "The proposed exhibition which focuses mainly on homosexual kissing is deemed to promote a homosexual lifestyle, and cannot be allowed," Tsang said.
Despite being one of Asia’s most advanced societies, homosexual acts are still outlawed in Singapore under law dating back to British colonial days. The government said last year that oral and anal sex in private between consenting heterosexual adults would be legalised under Singapore’s first major penal code amendments in 22 years. However, the penal code section which criminalises "gross indecency" between two males will remain, the government said. Despite the law, gay-friendly establishments like pubs and saunas are popular with both locals and foreigners.
August 8, 2007 – International Herald Tribune
Singapore park forbids gay-rights picnic, jog; says politics not welcome in green spaces
Singapore – Singapore banned a gay rights group Wednesday from holding a picnic and fun run at a popular park, saying politics were not welcome in the country’s green spaces. Gay rights group People Like Us had planned a picnic at the downtown Botanic Gardens on Thursday and a 5-kilometer (3.11-mile) run the following day as part of a series of activities marking gay and lesbian pride month. The National Parks Board wrote to the events’ organizer, Alex Au, to say the activities were not permitted by authorities, Au said.
"The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a premier botanical institution. We do not want it to be used as a venue for interest groups to politicize their cause," a board spokesman said in an e-mailed response to questions. Established in 1859, the 52-hectare (128-acres) Botanic Gardens is a popular tourist attraction and venue for picnics, jogs and outdoor concerts. The park features more than 10,000 types of plants. "It is our policy to keep such activities out of our parks and gardens. Let’s keep our green space as areas for relaxation and recreation," the spokesman said.
Au said the events were intended as social gatherings to commemorate the city-state’s National Day, which falls on Thursday. "It was never meant to be political, and this testifies to the paranoia of the government," Au said. "They automatically assume that anything gay is a political challenge to them. It speaks volumes about the political climate in Singapore." The prohibition follows bans last week on a gay rights forum and an exhibition of photographs depicting same-sex kissing. The curbs have come amid a debate in the modern, conservative city-state on whether gay sex should be decriminalized. Under Singapore law, gay sex is deemed "an act of gross indecency," punishable by a maximum of two years in jail. Authorities have banned gay festivals and censored gay films. Despite the official ban on gay sex, there have been few prosecutions.
31 August 2007 – Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches
Singapore Bans Speech by LGBT Activist Rev. Troy Perry, Founder of Metropolitan Community Churches
"There’s a saying that when a door closes, God opens a window. That’s also true of LGBT activists," says Perry, who found creative ways to share the message of LGBT rights in Singapore.
Los Angeles — During 40 years of LGBT activism, Rev. Dr. Troy D. Perry, founder of the predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Churches, has been picketed, taunted by Right Wing extremists, and arrested for civil disobedience. Perry knows what it is to be the target of hate mail campaigns and the recipient of death threats. Occasionally, a church or organization has canceled a speaking engagement by the outspoken gay rights leader. But recent actions by Singapore marked the first time an entire country had banned Perry from public speaking engagements.
Rev. Perry was part of a recent six-member delegation to Southeast Asia from Metropolitan Community Churches. The delegation, led by Rev. Pat Bumgardner, chair of the Moderator’s Global Justice Team of MCC, was scheduled to conduct speaking engagements, workshops, and worship services in Malaysia and Singapore, and to meet with LGBT rights groups. "I’ve had enough experiences for three lifetimes," said Perry, "but this was the first time an entire country banned me from public speaking. I was allowed to enter the country and told that I could speak one-on-one with individuals, but I was banned from delivering my public speech." Perry was scheduled to deliver a speech, "Metropolitan Community Churches and the Gay Christian Witness" before a coalition of LGBT rights and LGBT pride groups.
Gay male homosexual sex is illegal in Singapore, though lesbian sex in private is not criminalized. Penalties for male homosexual acts, while seldom enforced, are severe. "All over the world I’ve observed it time and time again: the LGBT community always finds creative ways to make our voices heard in spite of oppression and intimidation. We always find ways to get out the message that all people deserve equality under the law, and that all of God’s children, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons, are worthy of dignity and God’s love."
Despite the intimidation, the public event took place as scheduled in Singapore City on August 8 — with Rev. Perry and Rev. Bumgardner in attendance. Organizers identified three plainclothes police officers in the audience. "The Singapore government may have banned me from delivering my speech, but the event’s organizers saw to it that my voice was heard," said Rev. Perry. LGBT activists had prepared a PowerPoint presentation of Rev. Perry’s life with photos from the pictorial book, "Troy Perry: Pastor and Prophet," including pictures of Perry with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, and other religious, political, and social leaders.
Then they read aloud passages from four books authored by Rev. Perry. "They used the words from my writings to give me voice and to share my beliefs about human rights for LGBT people," said Perry. "But what happened next was simply a stroke of genius," he enthused. "The organizers announced that, while I couldn’t deliver my public speech, I had been told I could answer one-on-one questions from individuals. So for the next three hours, from 9 PM to midnight, I answered one individual question after another. Of course, I was answering them out loud in front of the audience, so I was actually able to share far more information than if I had only delivered my speech," said Perry.
"There’s a saying that when a door closes, God opens a window. That’s also true of LGBT activists," said Perry. "When Singapore officials closed a door, Singapore’s LGBT activists opened a window. I am so proud of LGBT activists across Singapore and Malaysia. They are working to secure the human rights of LGBT people in their countries and are doing so in the face of great cultural and political opposition," added Perry."And let me also say how thankful I am for spiritual activists such as Rev. Pat Bumgardner, senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of New York, and Rev. Boon Lin Ngeo, the first openly gay clergyperson in Malaysia, who were part of the recent MCC team. They are working hand-in-hand with national and regional activists to further social and spiritual justice across Southeast Asia."
Rev. Dr. Troy D. Perry founded Metropolitan Community Churches in 1968, one year prior to the Stonewall Riots. Today Metropolitan
Community Churches(MCC) is the world’s largest and oldest Christian denomination with a primary, affirming ministry to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons. Known as "The Human Rights Church" for its commitment to social justice, MCC has almost 300 local congregations in 28 countries. Additional information on MCC can be found on-line at _www.MCCchurch.org_ (aoldb://mail/write/www.MCCchurch.net) or by writing to_info@MCCchurch.net_(mailto:info@MCCchurch.net) .
To Arrange Media Interviews With
Rev. Dr. Troy Perry or Rev. Pat Bumgardner,
Contact: Jim Birkitt
MCC Communications Director
P. O. Box 691728
West Hollywood, California 90069
Tel. (310) 625-4177
Prepared in conjunction with the Moderator’s Global Justice Team of
Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Chair.
September 10, 2007 – google.com
Singapore transsexual battles culture of shame
Singapore (AFP) – She loves children and her lifelong dream is to be a wife and a mother, but the raspy voice and masculine frame betray the fact that Leona Lo was born a man. Unlike many other transsexuals in Asia who prefer to live privately because of the social stigma of sex change, the British-educated, Singaporean transsexual woman has chosen to live a normal life, but in public. Smart, confident and articulate, the communications specialist who heads her own public relations company has embarked on a mission to help turn around the "culture of shame" surrounding transsexuals in Singapore and the region.
"Somewhere out there, not just in Singapore but throughout Asia, there are lots of young people who are suffering the way I suffered years ago," Leona, 32, tells AFP in an interview. In her former life as a man, she was called Leonard. These days, she draws on her experiences of gender identity crisis, rejection and discrimination to challenge social mores on behalf of the so-called silent community. "It’s this entire culture of shame that gets under your skin. It’s not something that you can isolate and demolish because it is so much a part of our culture," she says.
While a few transsexuals are gaining prominence in Asia — notably China’s Jin Xing — most continue to live in silence. In May, a 32-year-old South Korean transsexual entertainer, whose sex alteration led the country to change its family registry laws, married her rapper boyfriend. Parinya "Nong Toom" Charoenphol’s rags-to-riches story was made into a movie, "Beautiful Boxer." Former Chinese People’s Liberation Army colonel and now woman Jin Xing is a prize-winning dancer and choreographer. Slim and taller than the average local woman, Leona packs charm and gets animated when talking about children. But her lipsticked mouth creases into a pensive smile when she says: "I can’t bear children. I have to be on hormones for life and I have this body structure of a guy."
The hormone treatment has "feminised" the former man. While traces of masculinity are evident, Leona says she has already come to terms with being a woman — although a transsexual one. "I can’t deny that biologically I’m different," says Leona, wearing a blue dress, the muscles on her shoulders and arms clearly visible. Discrimination is the biggest challenge faced by transsexuals, she says, recalling repeated rejection by prospective employers in Singapore despite her academic credentials. "Singapore may be a cosmopolitan city, but many things are still swept under the carpet," Leona says.
No reliable figures on the number of transsexual men and women in Singapore, or the region, are available, mainly because those who feel they have been born in the wrong body prefer to endure their situation in silence rather than embarrass their families, Leona says. "It’s because a lot of transsexual women face discrimination at work and experience failure of relationships that a lot end up in suicide, depression. They end up on the streets as prostitutes," she says. This is why she has taken time away from her thriving public relations consultancy promoting beauty products to wage her campaign.
After much persuasion, one local university allowed her to speak to an audience of students but she is finding it hard to pry open a window to share her thoughts in the corporate world. On September 14 she is to launch her autobiography, "From Leonard to Leona — A Singapore Transsexual’s Journey to Womanhood." From Singapore, Leona plans to travel across Asia to bring her message for greater tolerance of gender diversity. Medical experts on gender believe transsexualism is a medical condition, and that transsexuals are different from transvestites and homosexuals.
In contrast, transvestites are always males and do not dislike their genitalia although they may derive sexual arousal through dressing as women, Goh said. For transsexuals, dressing as a man or a woman for one year before a sex change operation is part of the transition process and is not related to any sexual pleasure, the experts say. The surgery is "the finishing touch," Goh wrote. Leona says the association of transsexuals with prostitution in Singapore harks back to the 1960s when there was a flourishing culture of drag queens, including some transsexuals, on Singapore’s Bugis Street. As Singapore transformed rapidly into a modern Asian business centre, the government cracked down on Bugis Street. Transsexuals were lumped together with homosexuals, transvestites and prostitutes.
It was in this environment that the young Leonard — Leona’s original identity — grew up. As early as age 10, Leonard had already started developing feelings for boys. But he was forced to remain silent because of a dearth of information about transsexualism and for fear his traditional Chinese family would be scandalised. "I did not think I was gay. I just felt that I was a woman trapped in a man’s body," says Leona, who has a younger sister.
At age 15, Leonard discovered a book about transsexualism, which sowed the seeds of his eventual decision to undergo a sex-change operation in 1997. "I discovered that book in the library and I said ‘Oh my God! There are actually people like me!’" she reminisces. That changed my life and I discovered that I could go for the sex change operation." As an able-bodied man, Leonard entered Singapore’s compulsory two-year military service at around 19. Pressures of being forced to be "macho" during the training led to a nervous breakdown and drove him to attempt suicide by drug overdose, she says.
After military service, Leonard in 1996 went to study in Britain, where a more tolerant university environment allowed him to cross-dress for a year as part of his preparation for sex-change surgery. In 1997, Leonard flew with his tuition money from Britain to Bangkok, where he walked into a clinic for the life-altering operation. "I was afraid. I could go in and I could die. But I knew at that point that I was going to change my life forever," she recalls. "I had carried that burden within me for so long and I couldn’t live anymore without doing it."
Leona endured a lot of pain during the procedure, which took 14 days, but the feeling of having a new identity was "wonderful, euphoric!" She warns other transsexuals who might be considering sex change surgery that getting a new identity "is not a magic wand" and they will have to live under a culture of shame and discrimination. Family support is crucial. Her mother was the first person she told after the operation, and her father had already learned to accept her for who she is. "By that time, they had already decided that they would rather have me as a woman than lose me as a child," she says.
What is her dream now? "To be a wife and a mother," she says. "I look forward to a fulfilling relationship with a loving man, getting married and adopting three children. I’ve also reached a critical juncture where I’m more self-assured and finally able to lay to rest the painful aspects of my past and move confidently as a woman."
Q&A: Sir Ian McKellen on Fighting Bigotry
In any country, bigots must be fought with well-reasoned arguments and reliable research, says Sir Ian McKellen.
by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Newsweek International
Sir Ian McKellen has been a vocal gay-rights advocate since making his own homosexuality public in 1988. The following year he cofounded the gay-rights lobbying group Stonewall UK. Best known for his roles in "X-Men" and "The Lord of the Rings," the Oscar nominee was recently in Singapore with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in the title role of "King Lear." He talked to NEWSWEEK’s Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop about his lobbying experience in the United Kingdom and in South Africa. Excerpts:
KOLESNIKOV-JESSOP: In the United Kingdom, attitudes toward homosexuality have changed fairly rapidly recently. In 2000, the British government lifted the ban on lesbian and gay men in the armed forces. In 2001, it lowered the age of consent to 16. And in 2005, it allowed the first civil partnerships to take place. But in many countries around the world, homosexuality is still outlawed. How can similar social changes happen?
MCKELLEN: The change happened very quickly in the U.K. once the government was able to say there had been a change in the public mood. Tony Blair’s New Labour did not campaign for new legislation. Indeed they defended the status quo until they were told by the European Court of Human Rights to admit gays into the military and to equalize age of consent. Europe was of great help to us. The sky didn’t fall in, the die-hards began to look like extremists and the government was emboldened. With the approval of the mainstream press, they felt able to introduce not marriage but the next best thing: civil partnership that the state recognizes. So looking back on his legacy, what Blair can be most proud of is the advancement of gay rights.
How do you further change public opinion?
In the U.K. there is still work to be done, particularly in schools, stopping the homophobic bullies in the playground and introducing unbiased discussion on gay issues in the classroom. In countries that need reform, the bigots have to be countered by measured arguments and reliable research so that government can respond to reason and not prejudice. Public figures’ coming out and declaring their homosexuality certainly helps the move to change.
What worked in the U.K.?
In any human-rights campaign, everybody must do what they can. I was criticized by some gays as being too soft on the government when I made a private meeting in a very public way with John Major, Blair’s predecessor as prime minister. Major was sending signals to his supporters at a time where most gay people, including myself, had stayed very quiet. Some people argued that the best thing was to go to the streets and frighten the horses, disrupt the state opening of Parliament, or interrupt the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Sunday sermon. That’s not my style: I already have enough theater in my life!
But do you think people should be upfront and protest, or take the quiet way?
Both are valid and work well in parallel—think of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. In Singapore, Malcolm X type of activity would be extremely difficult because the government can be very harsh on lawbreakers. I wouldn’t presume to tell what people should do.
Some argue that some societies, like Singapore’s, are too conservative for such changes.
There is nothing special about their situation. We heard it all before: "Gays should respect the views of those who condemn them." "Government is powerless to move until society is ready for change." "The law here that outlaws love between two grown men was left behind by the British." I would have thought any self-respecting ex-colony would want to get rid of the colonizer’s laws. When I went to lobby Nelson Mandela while the postapartheid constitution was being drafted, I asked him to endorse making it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexuality. I’d been warned that he might giggle if I mentioned homosexuality. But he got the point immediately and just said, "Yes, of course." Perhaps a winning slogan might be: "What’s good enough for Mandela is good enough for us all."
Do you think pragmatism will change the world?
Perhaps. When I went to talk recently to Lehman Brothers in London at a meeting of their LGBT members, the managing director declared that every member of his staff, of whatever sexuality, needs to feel the support of company as a whole. Singapore’s current laws would discourage gay foreigners from working there. Maybe big business can help change laws by explaining the problem.
11th September 2007 – PinkNews
Calls for greater tolerance of gender diversity in Singapore
by Gemma Pritchard
A transsexual woman from Singapore has embarked on a mission to help turn around the "culture of shame" surrounding transsexuals in Singapore. Unlike many other transsexuals in Asia who prefer to live privately because of the social stigma of sex change, British-educated Leona Lo has chosen to live a normal life, but in public. Leona, a 32-year-old communications specialist who heads her own public relations company, told Agence France-Presse (AFP):
"Somewhere out there, not just in Singapore but throughout Asia, there are lots of young people who are suffering the way I suffered years ago."
These days, she draws on her experiences of gender identity crisis, rejection and discrimination to challenge social mores on behalf of the so-called silent community. "It’s this entire culture of shame that gets under your skin. It’s not something that you can isolate and demolish because it is so much a part of our culture," she says. While a few transsexuals are gaining prominence in Asia , notably China’s Jin Xing , most continue to live in silence.
In May, a 32-year-old South Korean transsexual entertainer, whose sex alteration led the country to change its family registry laws, married her rapper boyfriend. Parinya "Nong Toom" Charoenphol’s rags-to-riches story was made into a movie, Beautiful Boxer. Former Chinese People’s Liberation Army colonel and now woman Jin Xing is a prize-winning dancer and choreographer. Discrimination is the biggest challenge faced by transsexuals, Leona says, recalling repeated rejection by prospective employers in Singapore despite her academic credentials. "Singapore may be a cosmopolitan city, but many things are still swept under the carpet,"
No reliable figures on the number of transsexual men and women in Singapore, or the region, are available, mainly because those who feel they have been born in the wrong body prefer to endure their situation in silence rather than embarrass their families, Leona told AFP. "It’s because a lot of transsexual women face discrimination at work and experience failure of relationships that a lot end up in suicide, depression. They end up on the streets as prostitutes," she says. This is why she has taken time away from her thriving public relations consultancy promoting beauty products to wage her campaign.
After much persuasion, one local university allowed her to speak to an audience of students but she is finding to find a way share her thoughts with the corporate world. On September 14 she is to launch her autobiography, From Leonard to Leona: A Singapore Transsexual’s Journey to Womanhood. From Singapore, Leona plans to travel across Asia to bring her message for greater tolerance of gender diversity. Leona says the association of transsexuals with prostitution in Singapore harks back to the 1960s when there was a flourishing culture of drag queens, including some transsexuals, on Singapore’s Bugis Street. As Singapore transformed rapidly into a modern Asian business centre, the government cracked down on Bugis Street. Transsexuals were lumped together with homosexuals, transvestites and prostitutes.
It was in this environment that Leona grew up. "I did not think I was gay. I just felt that I was a woman trapped in a man’s body," says Leona, who has a younger sister. At age 15, Leona discovered a book about transsexualism, which sowed the seeds of her eventual decision to undergo a sex-change operation in 1997. "I discovered that book in the library and I said ‘Oh my God! There are actually people like me!’" she reminisces. That changed my life and I discovered that I could go for the sex change operation."
As an able-bodied man at the time, Leona entered Singapore’s compulsory two-year military service at around 19. Pressures of being forced to be "macho" during the training led to a nervous breakdown and drove her to attempt suicide by drug overdose, she says. In 1996 Leona went to study in Britain, where a more tolerant university environment allowed her to cross-dress for a year as part of her preparation for sex-change surgery.
In 1997, she checked in to a Bangkok surgery for the operation. "I was afraid. I could go in and I could die. But I knew at that point that I was going to change my life forever," she recalls. I had carried that burden within me for so long and I couldn’t live anymore without doing it." Leona endured a lot of pain during the procedure, which took 14 days, but the feeling of having a new identity was "wonderful, euphoric!" she told AFP. She warns other transsexuals who might be considering sex change surgery that getting a new identity "is not a magic wand" and they will have to live under a culture of shame and discrimination.
Family support is crucial. Her mother was the first person she told after the operation, and her father had already learned to accept her for who she is.
"By that time, they had already decided that they would rather have me as a woman than lose me as a child," she says. She hopes now to become a wife and mother. "I look forward to a fulfilling relationship with a loving man, getting married and adopting three children. I’ve also reached a critical juncture where I’m more self-assured and finally able to lay to rest the painful aspects of my past and move confidently as a woman."
17th September 2007 – PinkNews
Singapore reforms laws but gay sex still illegal
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
A bill introduced to the Singaporean parliament today will legalise oral and anal sex in private between consenting straight adults. However the ban on "gross indecency" will remain in place and male homosexuals still face a maximum of two years in prison for gay sex. The new legislation will also create new offences relating to sex tourism and child prostitution. The authorities have not brought anyone up on charges of gross indecency for several years. The city state of nearly five million people is renowned for its draconian legislation. Chewing gum is illegal and the police keep a close watch on public behaviour.
In July veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen urged the country’s government to ditch draconian colonial-era laws on gay sex while touring the country with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In a promotional interview with a local radio station, he said: "Just treat us with respect like we treat everybody else and the world will be a better place, I think. Coming to Singapore where unfortunately you’ve still got those dreadful laws that we British left behind… it’s about time Singapore grew up, I think, and realised that gay people are here to stay."
In April one of the most influential politicians in Singapore spoke out against laws banning sex between men. Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990, and remains a powerful figure in the country. In an interview with the Straits Times, Mr Lee talked about the theory that homosexuality is genetic. "If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual – because that’s the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes you can’t help it. So why should we criminalise it?"
Under his premiership and the two Prime Ministers that succeeded him, the Singaporean authorities have banned gay films and public displays of homosexuality such as Pride events.
October12, 2007 – Agence France-Presse
Singapore celebs rap to make gay sex legal
Singapore – Singaporean celebrities are rapping for repeal of a law that makes gay sex a criminal offence. The celebrities appear in a video posted on the YouTube website in support of a Singaporean legislator’s push to repeal a law making gay sex a criminal offence, activists said Friday. "Repeal it!" the celebrities urge in the video which ends with the words: "It’s not just a gay thing. It’s about equality."
Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong will present a petition on October 22 to coincide with debate on the most extensive amendments to the city-state’s penal code in 22 years. The petition urges abolishing part of the penal code that makes sexual acts between males a crime punishable by up to two years in jail. A bill introduced last month in parliament proposed making amendments to the code that legalize oral and anal sex in private between consenting heterosexual adults. But the legislation does not address a ban on acts of "gross indecency" between men, which dates back to British colonial rule.
Activists argue in the petition that the proposed amendments discriminate against gay men, violating their constitutional rights to be treated equally. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month that heterosexuals should set the social tone in the island republic. But activists say the petition will raise the level of debate, said Johnson Ong, a spokesman for the campaign to repeal the law. "As to the actual repeal … we really don’t know," he said, adding he did not know how many people have signed the petition.
Ong said most of the celebrities in the video are heterosexual.
It is not clear how much weight the petition will carry, but dissent is rarely voiced publicly in Singapore. Singapore has in recent years eased social restrictions in a bid to shake off its reputation as a culturally sterile and ultra-conservative society. Gay rights activists say authorities have not laid criminal charges in recent years, and gay-friendly establishments are popular with both locals and foreigners.
19th October 2007 – PinkNews
Singapore gay rights drive meets opposition
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
A group calling itself "The Majority" has set up a website asking the government of Singapore to retain laws outlawing homosexual sex. An online letter to the country’s Prime Minister asks him to "do what is right and retain Section 377A for the future of our children and our nation." Laws established during colonial times mean that same-sex relationships are punishable by fines and jail time. Thousands of Singaporeans have signed an online petition calling for the government to decriminalise homosexual sex, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the first overhaul of criminal law in Singapore in a quarter century. Parliament is expected to discuss a motion next week tabled by MP Siew Kum Hong repealing the laws that make gay sex a crime.
Mr Siew told The New Paper that he is not gay, and said the issue was larger than gay rights. "I truly do believe that Section 377A is unfair, unjust, and plain wrong," he said. "It is contrary to principles of equality and non-discrimination, and it seeks to use the criminal law to enforce a specific moral view which is contrary to accepted fundamental precepts of criminal law."
Mr Martin Tan, who organised the pro-Section 377A website, told Today newspaper. "What the gay community does in private is their private space. We just do not want our country’s legislation to change just for a small minority who are vocal."
Earlier this week local celebrities created a YouTube "propaganda rap" to take a stance against draconian laws and to get voters to get involved to help repeal law 377A. Singapore is a country known for its ultra conservative laws and social activism is not very common in their society making the statements all the more compelling. Since the start of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s regime from 1959 to 1990, there has been an open ban of gay films, art, theatre and public displays of homosexuality such as Pride events and gay sporting tournaments.
Lee, who remains a prominent figure in Singaporean politics, has since changed his tune about gays and is now advocating a repeal of some of the laws that make homosexuality illegal. Last month, he helped sponsor a petition that would abolish laws forbidding oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual adults. However, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a local university forum last month that while Singapore recognises and respects homosexuals, changing the law would be "a very divisive argument. We will not reach consensus however much we discuss it.
"The tone of the society, the public, and society as a whole, should be really set by the heterosexuals and that’s the way many Singaporeans feel," he added. "Our view, as a government, is we will go with society … What people do in private is their own business; in public, certain norms apply."
The government has assured the local gay community that it would not actively prosecute them but gay rights advocates say that it is not enough. Iconic British actor Sir Ian McKellen has not waned in his determination to keep gay rights on the agenda in Singapore. During a morning television interview this week to promote a pantomime he is starring in, he asked the male presenter if he could recommend any decent gay bars. "I looked at the playback of the programme afterwards and I’ve never seen the credits come up (on the screen) so quickly," he said.
October 20, 2007 – Fridae
Repeal: a Well-Fought Campaign with Huge Gains
by Alex Au, Singapore
”It was a beautiful campaign, and while it eventually failed, there is a lot to celebrate,” says Alex Au, Singapore’s pioneer gay activist, as he points out the significance of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary speech.
No one behind the campaign to repeal Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code seriously thought that their chances were high anyway. On the other hand, the anti-gay camp’s victory will prove to be a Pyrrhic one. They threw in everything they had and all they have to show for it is a complete loss of credibility. In particular, their spokesperson, law professor Thio Li-Ann, who is also a nominated member of parliament, may have forever destroyed their case by a speech that a respected Straits Times journalist described as "ghastly." Another senior columnist in the same, usually pro-establishment, newspaper, told me, "More speeches like hers will turn off the majority."
These journalists have a very acute sense of hearing when it comes to political messaging. The latter journalist has enough experience to know how the political leaders of Singapore think. Thio nailed her colours to the mast by saying 377A should never be repealed "in any event." That’s forever. By saying so, she has positioned her camp in direct opposition to Singapore’s political strongman Lee Kuan Yew, who just a few months ago had said the law needs eventually to go. Adopting this diehard position will alienate the decision makers rather than win them over. Further wrecking her side’s credibility, she employed some extraordinary arguments, even if couched in seemingly erudite language.
She argued that "there is no such thing as `sexual minorities’ at law," suggesting that a fixed trait is a necessary condition for such classification as a "legally recognised" minority. "Race is a fixed trait," she offered as an example. She ignored the way law protects religious minorities, when an individual can change his religion at will. Certainly, however incomplete the scientific data is, it is widely acknowledged by researchers that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, and there are jurisdictions that have effectively treated sexual minorities as a protected class.
"Singapore law only recognises racial and religious minorities," she said, but such a statement adds nothing to the debate.
The issue isn’t about what Singapore currently does, but what Singapore law should do. The spectre of AIDS was also raised, and incredibly, she used this argument to justify why it was all right to allow heterosexuals to engage in anal sex, yet ban it for gay men.
"Opposite-sex sodomy is harmful, but medical studies indicate that same-sex sodomy carries a higher price tag for society because of higher promiscuity and frequency levels." It’s like saying, driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous, but since ethnic group A tends to drink more than other ethnic groups, so the drinking-and- driving law should only apply to ethnic group A.
Distancing his government from the anti-gay camp
"Actually, I think PM is a potential ally in this issue," said the Straits Times columnist to me. At first, I thought she was exaggerating, but after scrutinising his speech, I can see where she draws this observation from. Basically, when speaking to parliament, he had two main points to make: firstly to concede that things are hardly happy for gays and lesbians though he kept reiterating that there would be "space," secondly, to explain why the government could not move to repeal 377A. In this, he mostly referred to the symbolism of repeal. "Singapore is basically a conservative society. The family is the basic building block of this society," he pointed out. "If we abolish [the law], we may be sending the wrong signal that our stance has changed and the rules have shifted."
However, what was noteworthy was that for the first time, he spent time demolishing some of the arguments of the anti-gay side, thereby distancing his government from their agenda. In so doing, he was accepting the points made by the repeal campaign. Listen to this: "… there is growing scientific evidence that sexual orientation is something which is substantially inborn. I know some will strongly disagree with this, but the evidence is accumulating. You can read the arguments and the debates on the Internet. And just to take one provocative fact: Homosexual behaviour is not observed only amongst human beings, but amongst many species of mammals."
Then, with reference to the anti-gay camp’s claim that they represent the majority, "And speaking candidly, I think the people who are very seized with this issue are a minority… I would say amongst the Chinese-speaking community in Singapore.
Chinese-speaking Singaporeans, they are not as strongly engaged either for removing 377A or against removing 377A. Their attitude is live and let live." It’s a point that I have repeatedly made in previous writings myself.
About a flood of emails to ministers demanding that the law be retained, PM Lee said: "I have received e-mails too in my mailbox.
Very well written, all following a certain model answer style. So it’s a very well organised campaign."
"Model answer style"? Not exactly praise, is it?
Lee revealed that there were also people showing up at parliamentarians’ constituency offices to suck up to the members of parliament "to congratulate the MP on what a good government this is that we are keeping Section 377A." The prime minister described it as a "well organised pressure campaign." Keeping the door open to further liberalisation, he said: "We are a completely open society. Members have talked about it, the Internet, travel, full exposure. We cannot be impervious to what’s happening elsewhere. As attitudes around the world change, this will influence the attitudes of Singaporeans. "
The incoming tide
Elsewhere in his speech, a small reference sounded very significant to me. Agreeing with a statement from the repeal campaign’s open letter to him, he noted that gays and lesbians "include people who are responsible, invaluable, highly respected contributing members of society. And I would add that among them are some of our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, or some of our children."
Way back in early 2004, just weeks after the Minister of State for Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee first mooted the idea that oral and anal sex be repealed for heterosexuals only, People Like Us wrote an open letter to every single member of parliament pointing out how discriminatory such a move would be. "What if your own son or daughter were gay?" the letter asked. Gay activists were slammed as being overly confrontational and too personal. It will set you guys back rather than win anyone over, the detractors said. Members of parliament themselves bristled at the idea that their children could be gay.
Now, we have the prime minister acknowledging this reality. Social change behaves like an incoming tide. The water does not rise gradually, but comes in waves, each surge going a little higher than the previous. Every time a wave comes rolling in, the sand is churned up. It’s not welcome; it’s disruptive to repose of the beach. Likewise, during the latest repeal campaign, there were even gay people opposed to the attempt. They don’t realise that that is what it takes to erode the shore. Surge after surge after surge. Even now, they see only failure. "What did you achieve, in the end?" they would ask.
Look closely, feel the vibes in society, and you’ll see we achieved a lot. Countless straight men and women stood up to be counted, some making even better arguments in their blogs and speeches than gays themselves. Three ruling party MPs spoke up for repeal when previously, we all assumed the People’s Action Party was monolithic on this question. Thousands of ordinary Singaporeans, faced with the headlines, have had an opportunity to think about the issue and clarify their thoughts on it. Most, I am convinced, came down on the side of non- discrimination.
The more optimistic among us would even point to the fact that when PM Lee made his speech in parliament, he chose to wear a pink shirt. Well, I’m not sure about the significance of that, but this much I am sure: The end of 377A is in sight.
[Alex Au has been a gay activist for over 10 years and is the co- founder of gay advocacy group People Like Us. Alex is also the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site]
23rd October 2007 – PinkNews
Singapore rejects decriminalisation of gay sex
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
Gay people have a place in Singaporean society but they cannot be part of the "mainstream way of life," a senior government minister told the country’s Parliament yesterday. Ho Peng Kee, a Law and Home Affairs minister, was responding to a motion tabled by MP Siew Kum Hong calling for the repeal of laws that make gay sex a crime. Last week Mr Siew told The New Paper that the issue was larger than gay rights. "I truly do believe that Section 377A (gross indecency) is unfair, unjust, and plain wrong," he said. "It is contrary to principles of equality and non-discrimination, and it seeks to use the criminal law to enforce a specific moral view which is contrary to accepted fundamental precepts of criminal law."
A bill before the Singaporean parliament will legalise oral and anal sex in private between consenting straight adults in the first changes to the penal codes in more than two decades. The new legislation will also create new offences relating to sex tourism and child prostitution. However, Mr Ho said yesterday that the ban on "gross indecency" will remain in place and male homosexuals still face up to two years in prison for gay sex. "Repealing section 377A will be contentious and may send a wrong signal that the government is encouraging and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as part of our mainstream way of life," he said, according to AFP.
He added that the push for decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the city state of nearly five million people had been contentious and that the majority find them "offensive and distasteful." Thousands of Singaporeans have signed an online petition calling for the government to decriminalise and local celebrities created a YouTube "propaganda rap" to get voters to get involved to help repeal 377A. Last week group calling itself "The Majority" set up a website asking the government of Singapore to "do what is right and retain Section 377A for the future of our children and our nation."
The authorities have not brought anyone up on charges of gross indecency for several years and the country has an active gay scene. During the summer a gay poetry reading during Pride celebrations was banned as was a picnic and fun run from the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The authorities also banned an exhibition of 80 shots of fully clothed, same-sex couples which they said "promote a homosexual lifestyle." Singaporean authorities have previously banned gay films and public displays of homosexuality. In July veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen urged the country’s government to ditch the colonial-era laws on gay sex while touring the country with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In a promotional interview with a local radio station, he said: "Just treat us with respect like we treat everybody else and the world will be a better place, I think. Coming to Singapore where unfortunately you’ve still got those dreadful laws that we British left behind… it’s about time Singapore grew up, I think, and realised that gay people are here to stay."
23 October 2007 – Channel News Asia
S’pore to keep balance between conservative society and gays: PM Lee
Singapore – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore should strive to maintain a balance between conservative citizens and giving space for homosexuals to live and contribute to society. Mr Lee was among the many MPs in Parliament who spoke in support of keeping Section 377A of the Penal Code, which deems sex between men a crime. The passing of the amended Penal Code concluded two days of debate on the most comprehensive review in more than 20 years. Section 377A may be the hot button issue in Singapore, but whether homosexuality is debated here or in Western countries, it would remain a contentious topic, said PM Lee. He said abolishing 377A would not end the argument because there are deep concerns of moral values among the majority of Singaporeans. Repealing the law would also not give gay activists what they want, which is acceptance.
The prime minister said gays in Singapore do have space and they are not harassed. He said abolishing Section 377A could send the wrong signal and push gay activists to ask for more, such as changing what is taught in schools and advocating same-sex marriages and parenting. He said: "Homosexuals work in all sectors, all over the economy, in the private sector as well as in the civil service. They are free to lead their lives, free to pursue their social activities. But there are restraints and we do not approve of them actively promoting their lifestyle to others or setting the tone of mainstream society."
Many MPs support keeping 377A, citing moral concerns among Singaporeans. MP of Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng said: "My own view is a simple one: I would be the mother who loves her gay son, I would be the man who loves his gay brother, I would be the first to stand up for a gay man’s rights, to be treated as an equal under the law. "Yet I am an MP who believes that as a nation, our families are not ready to have an open acceptance of the gay lifestyle, including same-sex marriages and gay adoption of children. I believe key institutions would be weakened by the repeal of 377A."
MP of Tampines GRC Ong Kian Min said: "The majority of Singaporeans have unequivocally rejected this cry to decriminalise homosexuality. The overwhelming sentiments of Singaporeans are that they are not prepared to compromise their conservative family values by opening up to alternative sexual behaviour or allowing it to permeate across time-honoured boundaries into the conventional family sanctity."
Some of the MPs said even though 377A is not strictly observed, questions remain about enforcing it. Tanjong Pagar GRC Baey Yam Keng said: "With no proactive enforcement, should anyone be a good citizen and report private gay sexual activities to police or should they simply ignore (them)? "Will there be ramifications of this legislation when someone rents his apartment to a gay couple? Would he be charged with abetting an accomplice to a crime under Section 5 of the Penal Code? Besides valid immigration and employment papers, should landlords now ask for confirmation of the tenant’s sexual orientation?"
Mr Lee believes it is better to accept legal untidiness and ambiguity over 377A, adding that it is unwise to force the issue definitively one way or the other because there are strong views on both sides, and the debate will change few minds. He said: "I should therefore say, as a matter of reality, that the more gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push back from conservative forces in our society. As we are beginning to see in this debate in the last few weeks and months, the result will be counterproductive because it’s going to lead to less space for the gay community in Singapore."
The prime minister said it is better to let the situation evolve gradually while observing the impact of how it is worked out in other countries. Singapore will have to remain one step behind the frontline of any change on this issue.
October 25, 2007 – Fridae
Song of Victory
by Dr Tan Chong Kee
Despite the Singapore governement’s decision to keep gay sex laws in its books, civil society activist Dr Tan Chong Kee explains why he feels this is one of the biggest victories that the gay community and civil society have had so far in its modern history.
"And so my king died. And so my brothers died. Barely a year ago. Long I pondered my king’s cryptic talk of victory. And time proved him wise. From free Greek to free Greek spread the word that bold Leonidas and his three hundred, so far from home, laid down their lives, not just for Sparta, but for all Greece… and the promise our country holds. Our country, our nation, inspired now, united – setting aside past rivalries, joining forces to drive the scourges of hatred from our shores." – Frank Miller in 300
On Monday, Oct 2, 2007, a little history was made in Singapore. For the first time, true voices of gay Singaporeans were heard spoken in parliament. It was spoken through the mouth of a courageous straight man. And that voice was heard and silently cheered by a cross section of gay and straight Singaporean men and women in the public gallery, and countless other homosexual and heterosexual men and women all across the land. Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong stood up in parliament like a David facing Goliath. Sure-footed and well prepared, appealing to Singapore’s founding principles of justice and equality. He even found surprise allies in PAP MPs Charles Chong, Baey Yam Keng and Hri Kumar. MP Kumar debunked that Section 377A reflected “Asian values” and underscored the need for parliament to legislate on secular not religious ground.
Rising up in a charge against him was NMP Thio Li-Ann, who argued against having an open mind about homosexuality by saying, “like an open mouth, an open mind must eventually close on something solid.” Hmm… The less said about that comment, the better. No prize for guessing which side won. That’s right. Parliament voted along with NMP Thio and the penal code amendments passed without a repeal of 377A. But I too would speak of victory. In fact, this is one of the biggest victories that we, and in fact civil society in general, have had so far in modern Singapore. Here are the reasons why:
1. We have pioneered new ways to get our voices out.
Three pioneering things were done: One, a video was created, put on Youtube, and it generated huge traffic and awareness. Two, a parliamentary petition was put together which was almost unprecedented. Through the parliamentary process, we ensured that the case for repeal had to be heard and our voice entered into the Hansard (the traditional name for the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the UK and Commonwealth Nations). Three, an open letter to the Prime Minister was written and signed by thousands of Singaporeans. This exercise galvanised countless individuals who would otherwise have done nothing.
2. We have demonstrated it is possible to broach tabooed subject with dignity and verve, and in the process destigmatised homosexuality more than we probably realise.
Can you imagine how much good it did when the whole parliament had to think through and debate homosexuality, not by condemning it out of habit, but by holding any natural prejudices in check long enough to operate in a rational public policy debate? For example PAP MP Indranee Rajah likened decriminalising homosexuality to elimination of slavery: once slavery was the norm, but eventually social mores changed and it disappeared. Even though she affirmed that social mores in Singapore is not there yet, no one can rule out the possibility that, like slavery, it will be there one day.
Can you imagine how much easier it is now to come out to your family, to speak about it with your friends and colleagues, or to persuade a sympathetic ally to now become a more active supporter?
3. We have solidified allies and made allies that we didn’t even know existed.
The many things that needed to happen before Siew could present a parliamentary petition was achieved by the hard work of many individuals.
They include women’s group, artists, business owners, professionals, civil society activists, and countless individuals who spontaneously helped in many different ways. Through such broad-based collaboration, a nascent broad-base partnership is now taking shape. People now understand in a very personal way that prejudices are inter-linked: If we willy-nilly allow any group to hold prejudices against a minority group, they will feel more emboldened to hold prejudices against other groups. Contained within the same penal code criminalising homosexuality, are provisions that give considerable immunity to marital rape. Thus, this nascent partnership is united not so much by their individual causes as by their larger goal of equality for all. We are truly at a cusp where we, inspired now, can set aside past rivalries to join forces and drive the scourges of hatred from our shores.
4. We have forced the homophobes to display their ignorant and bigotry in full view for all to see. This is the start of their demise.
The many comments in keep377a.com inciting hatred against homosexuals and the performance of NMP Thio Li-Ann in parliament are there for all to see. Here are some examples from keep377a.com, quoted verbatim:
Deepblue, signature no. 962
Why cant you keep your skeletons in the cupboard?? Stop your soliciting. If i know my son’s gay, i’ll disown him. In case he brings diseases home.
Bill Ding, signature no. 4848
Mr Prime Minister. Do not incur the wrath of God – you are his servant and only his will will you do.
Poopoomary, signature no. 5427
Homosexuality is wrong, that’s why our God Almighty send AIDS to kill all the gays. AIDS only attack gay people, straight people will never have AIDS.
Haters like these cannot last in the glare of the light of day. But the greatest victory of all goes to the countless brave souls who became empowered: from the core group of organisers, to the many helping hands behind the scene, to the thousands who gather and signed the petitions. Each one and all faced up to their inner fears and took a stand for equality and justice. The road to decriminalisation may still be long and arduous, but one cannot hope for a more auspicious start.
But what now, you might ask. Where is our hope? Let me suggest that Oct 22 be Singapore’s national coming out day. From this day forth, we have one year to prepare ourselves. In one year’s time, we will follow the example of courage shown on this day and come out to our families and our friends. We will tell people we love our stories. We will build stronger families and friendship and bring the country one step closer to the day when homosexual Singaporeans will no longer be enslaved by an unjust law.
“The enemy outnumbers us a paltry three to one. Good odds for any Greek. This day, we rescue a world from the old dark, stupid ways – and we usher in a future that is surely brighter than any we can imagine.”
Dr Tan Chong Kee holds a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Stanford University in the United States and is one of Singapore’s best-known figures in civil society activism.
25 October 2007 – channel News Asia
Gay debate takes ugly turn
by Ansley Ng
The Parliamentary debate on the law against gay sex will be remembered for its fiery, heart-felt spirit. But outside the House, passions — among both supporters and opponents of Section 377A — have, at times, degenerated into spite. There were threatening, expletive-laced emails. One parliamentarian had his sexuality questioned. Another academic was flamed in blogs and had her phone number circulated. And the employer of one gay professional was questioned about their hiring him.
The ugly turn of events, some may say, is only to be expected given the emotional nature of the subject matter — one that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had warned on Tuesday could polarise society. But a bigger question being asked is: What do such instances say of Singaporeans’ ability to debate issues maturely, and without hostility?
In Parliament on Monday, Nominated MP Thio Li-ann recounted how a colleague received threatening emails following the publication of an article in The Straits Times in May, after reforms to the Penal Code were mooted. Assistant Professor Yvonne Lee had commented that it was wrong to decriminalise homosexual acts. For a month after, people, including young lawyers and students, wrote to the dean criticising her. Her photo was posted on blogs and her phone number circulated. She received emails — "80 per cent of them abusive" — asking if she was a "fundamentalist" who would discriminate against homosexual students.
"It was a professional attack, intimidation and harassment," Asst Prof Lee told Today. Professor Thio herself was "shell-shocked" and made a police report after receiving an abusive email in August from an unnamed stranger who threatened to defile her grave on the day Section 377A was repealed. "If it was just a rude letter, I’d let it slip. But this really overstepped things," the law lecturer told Today.
In the opposing camp, fellow NMP Siew Kum Hong, who presented a public petition to scrap the law against gay sex, had his sexuality questioned. "When you are a public figure taking a position on a public issue, you have to accept that some people will not be mature enough to refrain from such things," said Mr Siew, a lawyer. "It bothers me but I just got past it and carried on. I don’t want to dignify their comments."
The organisers of the Repeal377A.com campaign — who, in a statement yesterday, said they were "deeply disappointed" by the decision to keep the law — told Today that hate messages were posted on their website. "That’s what the gay community experiences as part of their lives —derogatory slurs," a spokesman said. Indeed, one employee at a large government-linked company learnt, a few months ago, that an anonymous letter had been sent to senior management, asking why they employed a gay person. "I was really shocked. I’m not a closet gay but I don’t show off my sexuality at work. I’m there to work, not advocate gay rights; I’m a professional. Honestly, I felt very violated," he said.
To him, the incident suggests there is "a lot of fear" that legalising consensual gay sex would cause societal disintegration. "When there is fear, it can lead to viciousness." MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Baey Yam Keng, however, said that while some were not pleased at his speaking up for homosexuals, no one had been outright abusive so far.
One email sender vowed not to vote for him in the next election. Another asked if he was "naive or blind". Said Mr Baey: "For these kind of emotional issues, there will be skewed positions taken. But it’s healthy to have these two opposing views —albeit some being extreme about it — rather than not talk about the issue." He feels such debates raise awareness among the uninformed, which feeds into an even more robust discussion. But Prof Thio asked: "Can we promise ourselves that we will not resort to deception or shouting at each other, but focus on facts and issue? Even if we disagreed, can we disagree in a civil fashion?"
On Sunday, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts), had called for tolerance of differences on Section 377A. The challenge, he had warned, was in preventing diversity from descending into "divisive antagonism", as it has in the United States. Such polarisation was unlikely to happen in Singapore, said Dr Terence Chong, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Citizens by and large have shown that they are capable of civil and passionate debate – both in and outside of parliament – despite the actions of a few anonymous "black sheep" in cyberspace, he noted. "The overall tone of the debate has been civil. It would be naïve for anyone to want passionate debate without any name-calling at all. And it would be very unfair to point to a small group of people who send hate mail and say we are not capable of a mature debate," said Dr Chong.
November 7, 2007 – Fridae
by Douglas Sanders
In the academic setting of an Asian studies conference, Malaysian Muslim women academics could talk about sex and homosex. But any references in mainstream media remain taboo. Doug Sanders recalls impressions of the recent conference held in Kuala Lumpur.
In the academic setting of an Asian studies conference, Malaysian Muslim women academics could talk about sex and homosex. But any references in mainstream media remain taboo. Doug Sanders recalls impressions of the recent conference held in Kuala Lumpur. Some of us queer academics have been flaunting our respectability at the International Convention of Asia Scholars’ biennial conferences – Singapore 2003, Shanghai 2005, Kuala Lumpur 2007. These big academic parties are co-hosted by the International Institute of Asian Studies in the Netherlands and a local university or research body.
Singapore was our first try at inclusion. Would we be banned in Singapore in 2003? No! Why not? Who cares what is said by boring academics to other boring academics in an event hosted by the very respectable National University of Singapore? The same proved true in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur (where the support staff was 90 percent women in Muslim headscarves from the host Universiti Kebangsaan).
Headscarves and new fiction
The high point of the KL conference for me was a session on Aug 3 titled Mapping Malay Sexuality in Malay/Malaysian Texts. The four academics making presentations were all Muslim women, three in plain long dresses and white headscarves. The chair, also a Muslim woman, had no headscarf. (She’s of Arab descent, I was told.) One panelist commented that when she was an undergraduate she was told that the only graphic description of sex that was permissible was something like: “I embraced her and she became a mother.” But, we were told, there had been a boom in popular commercial fiction in the 1960s, depicting very graphic sex. The books are remembered as “dime novels.” The stories were heterosexual and usually had some return to religion at the end.
This literature was part of the “swinging sixties.” Authorities closed it down in the 1970s and 1980s. It restarted around 1999. Now there is a literature in English that is seen as quality writing, with significant sexual content. The first paper dealt with a novel by Shahnon Ahmad, a “Malay laureate”, a leading author. According to the author it is a “novel of ideas.” Or is it just a story of bedhopping? The heroine at 27, with bravado, goes about having sex with 19 men. In the end she asks herself whether she has done the right thing. Some remorse or at least some self-questioning restores a moral sense at the end. Another paper dealt with Malaysian Women bloggers. Two-thirds of bloggers in Malaysia are women, compared to 56 percent worldwide. Currently there is a “war on bloggers” and two individuals have been charged.
So far all the sexual references had been hetero. Then Washima Che Dan, Lecturer, Department of English Language, Universiti Putra Malaysia, presented a paper “Language, Gender and Sexuality in Dina Zaman and Karim Raslan’s Works.” She focused on the story “Neighbours” in Karim Raslan’s collection of short stories entitled Heroes. A middle-aged, middle class, overweight, bored housewife is charmed by the handsome husband who is moving into the house next door with his wife. She spies on the neighbours from the upstairs balcony where she takes her morning coffee. Oooops. She discovers that the neighbour’s wife, under the Muslim dress, is a male. And the wife is the active partner in sex. The housewife is not so much shocked by what she has learned as filled with guilt over her intrusion. Her improper behaviour has led to her discovering what she did not want to know and had no right to know. The shock of it all is her fault, not that of the neighbours. She has disrupted the public façade of normality that the neighbours have carefully maintained.
One of the Muslim academics gave me her copy of Karim Raslan’s book. It has another story of gay sexual repression by a Malay Muslim playing a colonial role in Sabah in Eastern Malaysia. The stories are beautifully written. It seems you can get away with more in Malaysia if you write in English, not Malay. The conference panel was seen by the women academics as a bold venture. One, after reading a passage from a novel, said almost reflexively: “I actually read that out – and on a Friday!” (Mosques hold a congregational prayer weekly on Fridays and is considered to be obligatory for men.)
Malay, Chinese, Indian
At the conference, the Malaysian government stated and restated its basic national line: Malaysia is multi-ethnic, stable and peaceful. It is a successful example of “unity in diversity.” It can teach other countries about how to live together in peace and harmony. None of the Malaysian academics, off the record, took the governments line seriously. They all know of the race riots of 1969 and the long controversies over the affirmative action programs designed to boost the economic status of Malays (in relation to that of the Chinese).
For Malaysians at the conference, their sense was that the races were drifting further apart, each becoming more insular. Separate religious and educational systems had much to do with this. The legal system is part of the problem, with rigid rules against conversion and intermarriage enforced on Muslims. Shortly after the conference there was a national controversy over whether Malaysia was a Muslim state or not. Prime Minister Badawi had to intervene to kill the debate, declaring that the country was neither Muslim nor secular.
Sex in Malaysia
There are a few gay bars in Kuala Lumpur and a number of gay saunas. But there is no public discussion of sexual diversity, no discussion of the criminal law still in place (good old 377). The New Straits Times, Wed, Aug 8, 2007, had an expose on prostitution entitled “The dark side of sex in the city.” It told the tragic story of three female prostitutes, sick or diseased, working in the Chow Kit area of Kuala Lumpur. There was no mention of the transsexual prostitutes working in the same area, much less of any male prostitution. On a “crisis” in the spread of HIV, the article quoted “Pink Triangle chairman Hisham Hussein,” without noting that the organisation is a gay focused group that works on HIV prevention with transgender prostitutes. Prostitution was depicted as sordid and apparently exclusively heterosexual.
There were a few sensual images on public view – on the posters outside a mainstream video store – and on the cover of the Malaysian edition of FHM, an internationally printed men’s magazine with mostly Caucasian models and stories. In August, 2007, the Thai gay film Me… Myself was playing in KL. It is a pleasant romantic comedy, which treats the causes of homosexuality as inborn (for the lesbian character) and the result of being raised by kathoeys (for the male hero). Neither find their fate a happy one, which presumably made the film suitable for Malaysian eyes.
In the trendy Life&Times section of the New Straits Times on Aug 10, 2007, we got images of “an interior designer’s home.” Thirty-nine-year-old Jason Mah’s home had an eclectic mix – Asian and western, antique and contemporary. “His home doubles up as an interior design office for him and his partner Bernie Lee.” Both are seen smiling and casually dressed in the lead photograph. A nice couple, I thought. Perhaps conscious of the lack of reference to female companions in the pictures or the story, the last paragraph has Jason Mah referring to his home as a “bachelor pad.”
As in the sex novels, some sense of propriety is inserted at the end of the article.
Doug Sanders is a retired Canadian law professor living in Bangkok. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
15th November 2007 – PinkNews
Singapore bans game over lesbian scene
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
An X box game has been banned by state censors in Singapore because of a lesbian love scene. The authorities in the city state are among the most repressive in the free world. Computer games are not allowed to "feature exploitative or gratuitous sex and violence, or denigrate any race or religion." The game, Mass Effect, will be launched across the world next week. The deputy director of Singapore’s Board of Film Censors said that because of "a scene of lesbian intimacy" the game has been "disallowed." This is not the first time that lesbians have fallen foul of the authorities.
In October 2006 Singapore’s main cable operator Star Hub Cable Vision was fined 10,000 Singapore dollars (£3,390) for showing a scene involving lesbian sex and bondage. The Singapore Development Authority deemed the television show "sexually suggestive and offensive to good taste and decency." During the summer the authorities banned a gay photo exhibition, a gay poetry reading during Pride celebrations and a picnic and fun run from the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Last month the Singaporean parliament legalised oral and anal sex in private between consenting straight adults in the first changes to the penal codes in more than two decades. However the ban on "gross indecency" will remain in place and male homosexuals still face up to two years in prison for gay sex.
November 18, 2007 – USAToday
Singapore censors lift ban on video game with lesbian scene
Gamers in Singapore will be enjoying Mass Effect after all. Censors had banned the game because of a lesbian sex scene between two characters, but The Straits Times says officials announced today that they will let retailers sell the futuristic Xbox title in Singapore. It will carry an M18 rating, the paper says. "The Board of Film Censors (BFC) said in a statement on Friday evening that it will selectively use games ratings to ‘enable highly anticipated games to be launched in Singapore’ until it puts in place a games classification system in January," the paper reports. "The statement said that ‘this will allow such games to enter the market with immediacy and give the industry and members of the public a better understanding of the benefits of the proposed games classification system.’"
What’s the big deal? You can watch a clip here. If that’s not your cup of tea, an Australian newspaper describes the offending sequence: The scene starts with a conversation between two females, one human and one alien. As the music swells, the human places her hand on the alien’s cheek. There is a close-up of them leaning in towards each other, then a Titanic-style shot of a hand pressing up against a window.
Joystiq, a gaming blog, says you won’t find any male characters having sexual relations with each other in Mass Effect because: players using a female character can initiate a sex scene "between her and male human or a female humanoid alien." Male characters, on the other hand, can only initiate sex "between him and a human woman or a humanoid female alien." If we’re reading that right, it means the game allows for alien lesbian sex, but not any type of male-on-male sex. Furthermore, all non-alien sex has to be heterosexual. USA TODAY’s Brett Molina says Microsoft’s Mass Effect is expected to be a popular title in the USA this holiday season.
26th November 2007 – PinkNews
Gay pop couple allowed to perfrom in Singapore
An American gay pop duo previously barred by Singapore authorities have been given permission to perform at an HIV/AIDS awareness concert. Jason Warner and deMarco DeCiccio, a couple in real life, were stopped from performing their act Jason and deMarco in 2005 when a similar event was being organised by Safehaven, a ministry of the equal rights for all Free Community Church. At that time, the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore said: "Based on the duo’s performance in the United States and information from the website, the couple have used their musical performances and their own example as a gay couple to promote a gay lifestyle" and as such would be "against the public interest."
Jason & deMarco
Amy Tsang, the MDA’s director for arts and licensing said that the 2005 concert had been prohibited because it was "open to general members of the public", according to Fridae.com. This time round, Safehaven has assured the MDA that the concert, which is for over-18s only, "is targeted at the high risk groups" and that its aim is "AIDS education and HIV prevention."
Commenting on their decision to ask the authorities to allow the duo to perform for a second time, the event’s co-organiser Peter Goh said: "We want to give ourselves as well as the authorities another chance to prove that together we can create more space to move the community towards healthy living."
Mr Warner and Mr DeCiccio, who met in 2001, have released five albums and a single. Both Christians, the pair has starred in a documentary entitled We’re All Angels about the anti-gay Christian fundamentalist abuse that they have received. Mr Goh told Fridae.com: "Jason and deMarco are openly gay and we hope the HIV message will go so much further coming from people who are gay themselves.
"The fact that they are a gay duo makes them really unique. There are many openly gay artistes around, but you don’t see many gay duos who partner in life as well as in their music careers." The concert is being organised to tackle the rise in HIV infection rates amongst gay men in Singapore. According to Action For Aids, 26 per cent of the 357 new HIV diagnoses reported in 2006 were from gay men.
AFA believes, however, that most cases are unreported and that the true figure is closer to 60 per cent. Director Paul Toh said: "It is critical that gay men in Singapore realise that safe sex is not an option. It is totally non-negotiable if we do not want the HIV epidemic to devastate the community as it did in the US in the late 80s and early 90s. If we do not intensify our prevention work today, we certainly will find ourselves in the same situation sooner than we think."
Last month the Singapore parliament legalised oral and anal sex in private between consenting straight adults in the first changes to the penal codes in more than two decades. But the ban on "gross indecency" will remain in place and male homosexuals still face up to two years in prison for gay sex. During the summer the authorities banned a gay photo exhibition, a gay poetry reading during Pride celebrations and a picnic and fun run from the Singapore Botanic Gardens.