1 Fridae.com launches Asia’s largest-ever Internet gay sex survey 01/10
2 Putting the gay back into Chingay 2/10
3 Pink Dot: Singapore’s second public LGBT-supportive event…15 May 3/10
4 Can gay relationships last? 3/10
5 4,000 attend Singapore’s second LGBT-supportive public rally 5/10
7 Entrapment and implied consent of police decoys 7/10
8 Singapore gay advocacy group questions use of Section 377A 9/10
9 Singapore gay group highlights poor gay rights record ahead of UN review 11/10
10 Singapore’s first It Gets Better video 12/10
11a China announces high-speed rail link to Singapore via Vietnam 1/11
12 Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew will accept if grandchild is gay 1/11
13 Singapore censors limit screening of lesbian-themed ‘The Kids Are All Right’ 2/11
14 What’s more terrifying than (gay) sex? (Gay) Family 2/11
15 Singapore’s first gay dating guide 3/11
16 "What is being criminalised is not gay Singaporeans but homosexual acts" 5/11
17 Retired High Court judge: Gays keep it ”quiet” due to gay sex law 6/11
18 Gay equality helps fight HIV, but don’t oversell it 6/11
19 YouTube video for Singapore Pink Dot Celebration 6/11
20 LGBT-affirmative rally draws record turnout of 10,000 6/11
22 Singapore’s seventh LGBT pride season, Indignation, 5-13 Aug 8/11
23 A specialised clinic for each group 8/11
24 Court of Appeal to hear section 377A constitutional challenge 9/11
25 I Will Survive: Leow Yangfa 10/11
1 January 2010 – Fridae
Fridae.com launches Asia’s largest-ever Internet gay sex survey in 10 languages
by News Editor
If you are a man who has sex with other men, or a transgendered person, we invite you to participate in our community-driven survey. Participation is open to all those living in Asia. Asia’s leading gay website Fridae.com will launch the 2010 Asia Internet MSM Sex Survey (AIMSS) on January 1, 2010. Offered simultaneously in English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Cantonese, Japanese, Thai, Tagalog, Hindi, Melayu (Bahasa Malaysia) and Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), the the 2010 Asia Internet MSM Sex Survey (AIMSS) is expected to be the largest and most comprehensive pan-Asian Internet surveys of MSM and TG.
[MSM (men who have sex with men) is an inclusive public health term used to describe sexual behaviours, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity; and includes self-identified gay, bisexual, or heterosexual men, as well as transgendered people (TG).]
The 140-question survey will focus on sexual and social behaviour of MSM and will query respondents about their HIV testing history, knowledge and attitudes towards HIV, drug and alcohol use, and travel history. It will take about 10 minutes to finish, and is completely anonymous and confidential. The information gathered will be used to design and improve the programs and interventions to reduce HIV and STI transmission among MSM and TG Internet users.
“With broadband Internet penetration growing exponentially throughout Asia, more gay men are citing the Internet as the most common ‘venue’ through which to meet other men,” said Dr Stuart Koe, principal investigator of the 2010 AIMSS. Dr Koe is also the founder and CEO of Fridae.com. “By offering AIMSS in different Asian languages, we hope to have a much deeper understanding of the social contexts and sexual behaviours of gays on the Internet, especially non-English speaking ones, which in turn gives us the much needed strategic intelligence to address the rapidly rising HIV infections in this demographic population.”
AIMSS is a community-initiated study primarily self-funded by Fridae.com, with partial supporting funds from the Hong Kong Department of Health. Logistics and marketing support is being provided by a coalition of community partners including community based organisations, academic researchers, and gay-friendly business owners in major cities across Asia. In 2009, a similar survey conducted by Fridae (in English) attracted almost 8,000 respondents majority of whom live in Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand and China. The 2009 MSM Sex Survey Final Report which was released to the public on Dec 24, 2009 can be downloaded from http://www.msmsexsurvey.com/report.pdf. (Key findings and conclusions are attached below.)
The 2010 Asia Internet MSM Sex Survey will run from Jan 1-Feb 28, 2010.
25 February 2010 – Fridae
Putting the gay back into Chingay
by Sylvia Tan
Two gay Singaporean men will go down in history as the first gay ‘contingent’ to march at Singapore’s Chingay parade last week. With a huge rainbow flag in hand at the annual Chingay Parade last Friday night, two gay Singaporean men have literally put the gay back into Chingay as despite its name, the Chingay Parade is not a gay parade. The two-day event, which was held in conjunction with the Lunar New Year Celebrations, kicked off at the F1 Pit Building in Marina Bay last Friday night, in front of an 18,000 to 60,000-strong audience (according to numbers reported in various media) which included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Roy Tan, a well known member of Singapore’s gay community, posted a message on a local newslist about his intent to march in the parade in January. “The idea is to have fun and to get Singaporeans used to the idea of people in pink and waving rainbow flags marching along a public thoroughfare. It is not a protest, nor is it intended to have any political or gay message. Once we’ve softened public opinion after they see how harmless the whole exercise is, applying for a permit to have a dedicated LGBT pride parade along a main road will be so much easier.”
He was joined by Kim, a Singaporean who was visiting from Australia where he currently resides; and according to Tan, the pair was apparently the only two members of the public who signed up on the same day to march that night. Tan, a 52-year-old healthcare professional, was also the first to moot the idea of a gay pride parade at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park in August 2008 when rules on public speaking and demonstrations were relaxed. His idea and determination eventually became the foundation of the PinkDot campaign and first-ever official LGBT 2,500-strong public rally held on May 16 last year.
He told Fridae:
“We decided to participate in the Chingay because we wanted to take advantage of the invitation to the public, by the government (specifically, the People’s Association which comes under the purview of Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) to march, or rather dance the samba, in a contingent for the very first time in the history of Chingay.
“We wanted to show the government and the Singaporean public what a harmless exercise it was for a contingent, dressed in pink or rainbow colours and waving a rainbow flag, to march in a parade along a major thoroughfare. We hope it will soften attitudes enough for the authorities to eventually approve of the organisation of an LGBT pride parade along a main road, instead of merely restricting it to Hong Lim Park. We also wanted to publicly demonstrate our pride in being gay and to set a precedent to encourage other LGBT citizens to take part in future marches. But most of all, we took part because we thought it was going to be fun… and it was!
“Yes, we were disappointed that no one else joined us. There were three people who expressed interest initially but they eventually backed out. I hope more LGBT Singaporeans will take part next year and that the government does not take steps to curb our participation. After all, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the guest-of-honour that night and he applauded as we marched past, just as he did all the other contingents.”
2 March 2010 – Fridae
Pink Dot: Singapore’s second public LGBT-supportive event to be held 15 May
by Pink Dot
Come 15 May 2010, Singaporeans are invited to celebrate the Freedom to Love with Pink Dot once again.
The following is a message from the organisers of Pink Dot:
This year, Pink Dot honours kinship and family – in support and in recognition of our parents, siblings, relatives and friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Singaporeans. Growing up gay is never easy. But it is through the unconditional love, support and understanding of family members and friends that they are able to pull through; with the care, kindness and concern that sustains over periods of anxiety and hardship.
We believe that everyone inherently wants to feel accepted – like they belong. This is why family values matter greatly to Pink Dot. Beyond the emotional and psychological well-being that strong familial ties can provide, family values also go towards affirming who we are as a community and as a nation: cohesive and compassionate. Yet, every family is different. No two grandparents, parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunties, etc, can be exactly the same.
We relate to everyone differently precisely because we recognise and appreciate, quite naturally, that every person is unique. So what happens when "sexual orientation" is a trait that makes a loved one unique? Will you continue to love your gay parent, child, grandchild, sibling, cousin, nephew or niece unconditionally?
Come make Pink Dot with us on 15 May 2010 (Saturday) at Hong Lim Park! More than 2,500 people came last year and had a wonderful time. Help us enlarge the Dot this year to show the world that Singapore is a great place for everyone, straight or gay. Bring your families, friends and colleagues! To keep up to date with the latest information, befriend Pink Dot and join our Facebook Page.
19 March 2010 – Fridae
Can gay relationships last?
by Otto Fong
A common opinion is that gay relationships are less permanent than straight ones… but do or should we aspire towards having committed lifelong relationships? Openly gay Singaporean man Otto Fong shares his views in response to a recent article on Time.com. “Couples, gay or straight, are not statistics and are not subject to what the majority of their groups do in studies and analyses. They are people who deserve the support and encouragement to succeed in their relationships and to have the best possible chance at a long and healthy life together.” – Chris Shultz
I wrote this in response to a Time.com article “Are Gay Relationships Different?” by John Cloud. He wrote the article after his first relationship of over seven years ended.
This article prompted some discussion amongst my Facebook friends about gay relationships. A common opinion is that gay relationships are less permanent, and that straight relationships are often successfully anchored by children. In that article published by Time.com, Cloud mused that if he was in a straight relationship, he would “almost certainly have had children” and his relationship would still be intact. A Facebook friend commented that “death or heartbreak, all relationships come to an end eventually." So, he concluded that the “length of time as a yardstick for measuring the quality of a relationship would be a poor yardstick indeed.”
I found it understandable why some gay folks will see it from that perspective. My personal experience was that when my relationships failed, it would be hard not to have that nagging feeling that what some said about gays is correct: we can’t conduct personal relationships well. I went through that after several of my relationships ended in my twenties. I told myself that men aren’t meant to stay together – only women held the keys to a lasting relationship.
16 May 2010 – Fridae
4,000 attend Singapore’s second LGBT-supportive public rally
by Sylvia Tan
Over 4,000 people turned up and turned Hong Lim Park pink as a show of support for their LGBT friends, family and community, and made it the largest event ever held at the urban park. It broke last year’s record and made prime-time news the same night – marking the first time a gay (supportive) event received coverage on local television.
The 30-second clip on Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia showed participants in a carnival-like atmosphere and cultural performances at Hong Lim Park where over 4,000 people turned up to show their support for the gay community by forming a huge pink human dot on Saturday. The record turnout makes Pink Dot 2010 the largest public gathering at Speakers’ Corner, Singapore’s only government-designated venue for public assembly and free speech where a police permit is not required. The inaugural Pink Dot event, held at the same venue last year, was attended by 2,500 people. Roy Tan, one of the organisers of Pink Dot, told Fridae, "I think it is groundbreaking in that this is the first time Singapore television has reported on a local LGBT-supportive event in positive terms."
The 50-year-old health-care professional said he considers "the use of the phrase ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Singaporeans’ to be a milestone" [on local television] because it "raises public awareness of the existence of our community and our struggle for equality in the face of misconceptions, prejudice, discrimination and hate." Although laws against oral and anal sex (and along with it lesbian sex) were repealed in 2007 after an extended public and parliamentary debate, Singapore continues to criminalise sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code.
Gays and lesbians in Singapore have often been accused by anti-gay "pro-family" groups of being anti-family, and acceptance of gay and lesbian individuals to be against societal and moral values. With that in mind, organisers say the campaign seeks to "underscore the importance of celebrating diversity in its myriad forms amid social prejudices that continue to exist today." The event date, organisers said in a statment, was chosen to coincide with the International Day of Families and aims to "raise awareness and foster deeper understanding of the basic human need to love and be loved, regardless of one’s sexual orientation."
"The bond between family members is unique and irreplaceable – yet, there are those who choose to deny themselves this privilege that many others take for granted. Many LGBT Singaporeans choose not to reveal their sexual orientation to their loved ones, worried that their honesty will push family members away." A series of videos released weeks before the event had several sets of parents and family members of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals talk about their journey towards accepting and supporting their loved ones.
Yiap Geok Khuan, 67, mother of Eileena Lee who’s openly lesbian, told the crowd why she was there: "This (homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism) is God’s gift to them (gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people) and is a natural trait. It’s is not an easy journey for them and as parents, we should stand by them and overcome society’s prejudices." Lee, 38, founder of Singapore’s oldest lesbian newslist Redqueen! and co-founder of Pelangi Pride Centre and Women’s Nite, added, "Mum says she knows that there are a lot of people who are still not accepting of LGBT people and so in order for us to live in light, my mum decided to come out together with me."
Actor and father of two Adrian Pang, one of the three ambassadors who appeared in a publicity video and present at the event, said: “Pink Dot carries a meaningful message about the belief that we all have a right to love and be loved. These values about love and harmony are ones that I would want to impart to my two boys – to teach them that life is so much happier when we live with love, understanding, generosity of spirit and compassion. “This is why Pink Dot is significant. Things and views won’t change overnight, and the wider society will take some time to understand LGBT issues. But it is a start to building positive attitudes to a more open, inclusive and loving society.”
Agreeing with his sentiments is Ivan Heng, the founding Artistic Director of theatre company Wild Rice – who cheered the crowd on at Hong Lim Park alongside Glen Goei, both of whom wore white and pink-polka dotted dresses by Frederick Lee – told Fridae: "Too often we are told that the GLBT community are the anathema to ‘family values’; as if we don’t have families, as if we don’t love our families. "Today we proved the detractors wrong. Today we glimpse Singapore as a city of possibilities."
19 May 2010 – Fridae
by Ng Yi-Sheng
Fridae talks to outspoken Singaporean transgender artist Marla Bendini, who first came out as a gay man at 17, about activism and art. Her current show Conversations Between Father and Son – a multimedia installation performance with paintings – pays tribute to her late father. In the past few months, we’ve heard a lot about Marla Bendini. This 24-year-old Singaporean university student first came into the media spotlight when she was thrown out of a nightclub, China One on 29 April – a bigoted act by the manager, based solely on the fact that she’s a transgender woman. Marla didn’t just go to the media with her story. Approached by well-known transgender activist Leona Lo, she co-founded Sisters In Solidarity (SIS), a group centred on countering discrimination against transgender persons in Singapore.
And boy, do they have their work cut out for them. Transgender people here face prejudice in the workplace, in society and in the press (in fact, all printed news sources referred to Marla as “he”, and occasionally “Mr Bendini”), even in the gay community itself. In this article, however, we’re also going to look at another side of Marla: her career as an artist. Since last week, she’s been holding a solo show in the Substation Gallery, titled Conversations Between Father and Son, featuring her photography, installation works, video art and performance. There’s some good stuff – her self-portraits, for instance, are blurred photos of herself writhing half-naked between pride and vulnerability, with paint spattered across the image: rainbow flecks bursting from her hair, a storm of white particles threatening to engulf her.
Her video work is also pretty moving: it shows a Buddhist ceremony with her family by the seaside, followed by a sequence of her digging in the wet sand with her hands in commemoration of her father. What really gets people talking, however, is her performance art – she strips down to a flesh-coloured G-string and transparent stiletto heels, showing off her flat “masculine” chest, then binds herself in a corset of clear sticky tape. After crawling through dried flowers and smashed glass, she cuts herself free, leaving two halves of a hollow cocoon behind as an installation.
(Personally, I thought the piece needed more tension structurally, and better linkages to the video work. Still, she’s still a very young artist – I expect her to develop.)
One of the greatest pleasures of the exhibition, however, is the chance to talk to the artist herself. Our full interview covered a swathe of topics: her family; her two major inspirations, the writer Quentin Crisp and the painter Francis Bacon; her comfort as a pre-operative transsexual (who has no intention of having sex-reassignment surgery); her ex-boyfriends; her early experiments with genderfucking (i.e. mocking gender stereotypes through costume and performance); and her status as a being a “bad feminist” and a “chor lor” (Hokkien for rough or crude) transsexual.
Though I can’t agree with everything she says, it’s clear that she’s the kind of the uncompromising, outspoken young person this country needs more of. I’ve condensed what I can below. Turn up to Marla’s exhibition if you can, and buy a photo or print – she’s trying to save up to buy herself a pair of breast implants. Also, click here to sign the Sisters In Solidarity petition, telling local nightclub owners to stop discriminating against transgender people. Trans folk are the most visible and most persecuted meMarlaers of the LGBT community – we owe them our support.
Read Interview and More
13 July 2010 – Fridae
Entrapment and implied consent of police decoys
by Alex Au
Prominent Singapore blogger and gay activist Alex Au notes that the police is back to entrapping gay cruisers after not having done so in 16 years, and explains how the police decoy in such instances could be said to have given consent (even if non-verbal) to be approached. Together with some others interested in the same issue, I have been trying to keep a record of press reports of prosecutions related to gay sex. One thing I have noticed is that police entrapment of gay cruising has not been reported for at least 12 years, probably 16. Until now. A recent report in the New Paper thus comes as a serious break in the pattern. A Malaysian was entrapped by a constable at a well-frequented cruising ground off busy Victoria Street.
The New Paper (Singapore) reported on 11 June 2010:
Man gropes cop in cemetery
by Elysa Chen
On May 4, the police conducted an anti-vice operation at the old cemetery along Jalan Kubor, an area known for vice. The police declined to to give details of the vice activities. A plainclothes policeman was standing alone in a poorly lit spot when he was approached by Jagadiswaran Krisnan, 32, a coffee house supervisor, at about 10.40pm. Jagadiswaran struck up a conversation with the undercover cop.
Two other police officers were stationed a short distance away, ready to provide help. While talking to the officer, Jagadiswaran, a Malaysian, moved closer to him. He told the officer that he was there “to have fun”. Then, he suddenly raised his hand and stroked the officer’s chest and private parts. That was when the undercover cop identified himself and, with the help of his colleagues, arrested the man. Jagadiswaran was charged with behaving in an indecent manner in a public place. He was fined $1,000 on Tuesday.
Entrapment is a very problematic tactic in law enforcement; this is true whether we’re referring to drugs, espionage or sex. It always begs the question of whether the crime would have been committed if the undercover officer was not there in the first place. Entrapment generally starts from potentiality and converts it to reality, triggering an actus reus (action) when only the mens reus (intention) might have existed. For example, we advise people to be careful and not flash jewelry when walking around areas with poverty, high unemployment or crime. Why do we feel such advice is pertinent? Because we can see the role that temptation plays in precipitating crime. When someone is foolish enough to walk about, dazzling others with bling-bling and then get robbed, many of us would ascribe partial responsibility to the person advertising the potential loot.
How different is this from an entrapment operation? What is the police’s responsibility in creating the crime?
More troubling is the possibility, mentioned in Alan Shadrake’s book, Once a Jolly Hangman, that undercover officers posing as narcotics buyers are known to prompt their sellers to supply larger and larger amounts of heroin till it gets above 15 grams, triggering the mandatory death penalty when caught. The book cites an unnamed insider source for this disclosure.
… that so angered the former CNB officer who assisted in some of my enquiries. ‘Encouraging the less fortunate to commit more serious crimes that result in them being hanged or jailed for impossibly long terms really appalled me’, he said…
– Once a Jolly Hangman, page 132
What this means is that even if we argue in certain cases that actus reus would have occurred without entrapment, it still begs the question of degree. Giving non-verbal consent: The “language” of cruising grounds The individual was quite right to assume that the officer had given consent, at least to the initial approach. This consent is based on the “language” of cruising grounds. The cruising ground in question is a thickly foliaged, secluded area with nobody else passing through. It is populated at night by men who cruise for sex. If someone enters by accident (which almost never happens), it would be quite clear that cruising is taking place by simple observation; it’s not as if he will be pounced upon within seconds. One has plenty of minutes to take stock of the situation and choose whether to stay or leave.
The principle here is that entrance + choosing to stay indicates consent. It’s like the way we sometimes land up on a porn website. When we see initial indications that it’s a porn website, we cannot deny we consciously make a choice whether to proceed deeper into the site or leave. That decision is ours to make, if we stay and navigate further in, it’s a decision that indicates consent. The constable stayed. Others in the area would quite fairly read that act as indication of consent. There are two levels of consent in gay sex: (a) consent to be approached and (b) consent to have sex. By staying, the first level is considered by other gay men to have been given. It’s like saying “I am open to receiving offers” without guaranteeing that any offer will be accepted in full.
And that’s what the Malaysian guy did on seeing the officer. He proposed. Let’s not think of proposals as solely verbal negotiations (some heterosexuals might because rape precedents tend to treat consent as a verbal matter?), but in gay sex, consent negotiations are usually physical. It’s based on touch, then waiting for a reciprocal touch, and another touch and so on. If in the process neither side refuses an escalation of touch, then consent (b) to have sex is considered as given. The Malaysian observed the standard protocol. He started verbally. The officer did not break off the conversation. Then he touched the chest. Again the officer did not say no; did not move away. Then the Malaysian touched his crotch.
At each stage of the proposal, the officer indicated he was willing to let it go to the next stage. By any reasonable measure, consent was given to let his crotch be touched.
Alex Au has been a gay activist and social commentator for 14 years and is the co-founder of People Like Us, Singapore. Alex is the author of the well-known Yawning Bread website.
27 September 2010 – Fridae
Singapore gay advocacy group questions use of Section 377A
by News Editor
Despite the Prime Minister’s promise not to proactively enforce Section 377A which criminalises sex between men, a man is facing charges under the law while another two were convicted last week. A 47-year-old Singaporean man identified in the media as Tan Eng Hong has been charged with Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sexual acts between men. If convicted, the accused faces up to two years imprisonment.
Tan is alleged to have committed the offence in March with another consenting male inside the toilet cubicle of a popular shopping mall. Last Friday, Tan’s lawyer M Ravi filed an application in the High Court to challenge the legality of Section 377A. According to Today newspaper last Friday, Ravi said in his eight-page application: "The continuance of Section 377A on the statute book operates to brutalise a vulnerable minority segment of the citizenry for no fault on its point. A section of society has been thus criminalised and stigmatised to a point where individuals are forced to deny the core of their identity and vital dimensions of their personality."
In a statement published on its website on Monday, gay advocacy group People Like Us declined commenting on the constitutional challenge that Ravi initiated on behalf of his client as the matter is now before the courts. PLU stated that while the group does not condone "sex in public spaces where conflict with other members of society can occur” and it does not disagree that such acts may be prosecuted, the state should do so “using gender-neutral laws, so that whether the specifics are same-sex or opposite-sex, there is parity in treatment."
The statement pointed out that Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act which makes “indecent behaviour” in public an offence and is written in a gender-neutral way could be used instead of Section 377A. Section 377A mandates a prison sentence, but Section 20 gives the judge a choice of imposing a fine of up to S$1,000, or a prison sentence of up to one month, or both, for the first offence. "It is regrettable that prosecutors have chosen to use Section 377A instead of this one, especially since the penalties are dissimilar," the statement read.
"Given the disparity in penalties, any decision to use Section 377A precipitates discriminatory treatment, and it is for this reason that People Like Us consider it an inappropriate law to use. Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (public Order and Nuisance) Act being available, it is hard to understand why prosecutors are still choosing to use Section 377A; or what beliefs underlie the decision to perpetuate the use of this law."
PLU quoted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who declared in October 2007 that Section 377A will not be "proactively enforced".
"The current prosecution of Mr Tan raises questions about what the Prime Minister meant when he said that. Even if the State does not actively seek out men who have sex with men to prosecute but rely instead on private security guards to report, such an argument ignores two important facts:
1. the State has discretion whether to charge them under Section 377A or another law;
2. the continued existence of Section 377A legitimises homophobia and the private vigilantism of security guards, who then take it upon themselves to do the proactive work that the State says it does not do."
The group further called on the Singapore government to take immediate steps towards legislative repeal of Section 377A, and that the Prime Minister’s October 2007 promise not to proactively enforce this law should be honoured through a total moratorium.
Last week, two men identified in the media as Muhammad Noor Izuan Sa’ad, 23, and Timothy Ang Ah Sai, 49, were jailed for four weeks yesterday for gross indecency and giving false information to the police, and two weeks in jail last month for gross indecency respectively. Gross indecency refers to Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men. The court heard that the pair was seen behaving suspiciously and entering a toilet at Mustafa Centre on Nov 14 last year. They were detained after a security officer alerted security. When Muhammad Noor was interviewed by the police, he lied that Ang had molested him but eventually admitted it was he who committed an indecent act on Ang.
1 November 2010 – Fridae
Singapore gay group highlights poor gay rights record ahead of UN review
by News Editor
Pioneer gay group People Like Us and other civil society groups in Singapore have submitted reports on the country’s human rights track record ahead of Singapore’s first review by the UN as part of a periodic review of all UN member states.
This is the first time Singapore’s human rights record will come under scrutiny by the United Nations as a part of the Universal Periodic Review of all UN member nations. The mechanism, which started in April 2008, involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years with the objective of improving the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur. 128 reviews have been completed to date. United Nations – Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. More about the Universal Periodic Review. The review covers the five categories of human rights – civil, political, social, cultural and economic.
Gay advocacy group People Like Us is among eight civil society groups which has submitted a joint report collated by MARUAH, the Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. Many of the reports were released at a media conference on Sunday, one day before the deadline for their submission to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In the 10-page joint report which covers a wide range of issues such as media regulations, preventive detention without trial and the death penalty, gay-related issues were mentioned twice under Registration of societies and Discrimination against homosexuals:
13. Registration of societies. Any association of 10 or more persons must be registered under the Societies Act, failing which it becomes an unlawful assembly, membership of which is a criminal offence. The Registrar of Societies has some discretion on whether to refuse registration. There are at least two publicly documented instances where this discretion was exercised, in an arbitrary and unconstitutional manner, to deny the registration applications of the gay rights group People Like Us in 1997 and 2004.
19. Discrimination against homosexuals. Section 377A of the Penal Code criminalises private consensual sex between adult men. However, the same acts by an opposite-sex heterosexual couple are legal. Section 377A is therefore discriminatory and violates Articles 7 and 12 of the UDHR, as well as Article 12(1) of the Singapore Constitution. Despite the Government’s public promise not to “proactively” enforce Section 377A, as at the time of writing of this submission, there is at least one active prosecution under Section 377A before the courts.
From the joint report by Coalition Of Singapore NGOs (COSINGO).
Aside from PLU, the other groups are Association of Women for Action & Research (AWARE), Challenged People’s Alliance and Network (CAN!), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Federation, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, MARUAH (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore), Singaporeans for Democracy, and Transient Workers Count Too.
Singapore will be reviewed in May 2011. Following the review, an “outcome report” will provide a summary of the actual discussion and recommendations made by States to the country under review, as well as the responses by the reviewed State. Although the report is not legally binding, it will form the basis of future reviews.
24 December 2010 – Fridae
Singapore’s first It Gets Better video
by Sylvia Tan
Spearheaded by Otto Fong, a former teacher who made the news headlines in 2007 when he came out as gay on his blog, this video is described as a "gift for GLBT youths from the GLBT community in Singapore." The 10-minute video features some 20 members of the gay community including theatre director Loretta Chen; Roy Tan, co-organiser of Pink Dot; Bryan Choong, Centre Manager of Oogachaga, a gay and lesbian affirmative counselling agency in Singapore; and Gea Swee Jean who appeared in Women who Love Women and co-organiser of Women’s Nite, a group for lesbian, bisexual and questioning women.
The director of the video Otto Fong, a former teacher who resigned from his teaching job to become a full time author and illustrator of the Sir Fong series of edutainment comic books, told Fridae that he and his friends were inspired by the Trevor Project that started in America and hopes for the video to make a difference to local LGBT youths. "It would make a very nice present to our youths – we never had anything like this when we were growing up. So, a few days of our time before Christmas in exchange for some smiles and comfort is totally worth it!"
He added: "When I announced the project on Facebook, a few people volunteered immediately. I even posted a notice on the Sgbutterfly Forum for Transgender people to speak, but I’m open to making a video with whoever offers – if it wasn’t perfect, it can even inspire others to do a better one. A friend who couldn’t speak gave me a whole bunch of keychains to give to the participants as a token of his own thanks to them. Ultimately, thanks to Eileena, we were able to find a good mix of guys and girls. Desmond, the Eurasian man in the video, told his partner Onn, ‘you can consider doing the video together, but I really want to do this!’
"I insisted on shooting outdoors in a HDB [public housing] estate. I want people to see that we’re ordinary folks out and about in Singapore. So while the background noise was there, I think the sharings are powerful and candid enough to deliver our message."
24 December 2010 – Fridae
Meet Psychic Jack
by Nigel Collett
Often a subject of criticism for their apparent distance from the gay community, Lawrence Ho and Steven Khouw – the publicity-shy Directors of Propaganda, the territory’s longest-standing gay bar and its new offshoot, Psychic Jack – reveal more about their history and community involvement in an exclusive interview with Fridae.com’s Nigel Collett.
I have been entering the darkened portals of Propaganda, Hong Kong’s principal gay club, since well before the ’97 handover to China, but it wasn’t till early this year that I chanced to meet one of the two directors of the place, Steven Khouw, one late night there weaving between the bar and the dance floor. Had it not been for the fact that I was that night with broadcaster and music director Brian Leung, who knows just about everybody in Hong Kong, I would never have got to meet Steven then. I knew, of course, as almost every gay man who’s been out on the town in Hong Kong does, that there were two partners running the organisation, but I had never knowingly even set eyes on the second, Lawrence Ho. I confess I am not Hong Kong’s most gregarious of clubbers, so was not surprised I had not met them personally, but I had always wondered why they were so invisible. So when, in November this year, they opened Psychic Jack, their new wine and champagne lounge on Wyndham Street, I took the chance to go and see them, to talk with them about themselves and their new venture.
Not surprisingly, in the light of the above, I found them rather shy, certainly not about to blow their own trumpets, definitely not interested in exposing much of themselves to public view (they would not, as you can see, give me their photographs, and they haven’t got a website) and modest about what they had achieved over the nearly twenty years in which they’ve provided the principal sites where Hong Kong’s gay men could enjoy themselves, be themselves, meet themselves and, yes, one has to say it, spend a good deal of their disposable pink dollars fatiguing themselves in the pursuit of hangovers that last an entire weekend. No, this interview was going to be about their clubs, they insisted, for that is what they wished to be known by, not about themselves personally. I managed, nevertheless, to do a little personal delving.
Psychic Jack is their newest venture in a line that goes back to 1991. Lawrence and Steven’s partnership, though, goes back a lot longer than that, for they were at school in Hong Kong together at La Salle College. After that, they went separate ways to further education abroad, Steven to Seattle in the States and Lawrence to Edmonton, Canada. They graduated then came home in 1989, Steven to work as an account executive for an advertising agency, Lawrence as a banker. Neither of them, though, was very interested in their careers. When they got home, they found Hong Kong going through the throws of the struggle that was to lead at last to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in July 1991. There wasn’t much of a decent gay scene.
On Hong Kong side, Disco Disco had folded sometime before and the Yin Yang Club that had succeeded it was to fold shortly thereafter. Both had been, in any case, members clubs, so not open to all. Across the harbour, Wally Matt was there, but still for some years to come in its early, charmingly grotty, phase. Lawrence, who is gay, and Steven who is straight, thought there was an opportunity to provide gay men with a place that had no restricted access and that would enable them to take advantage of what was shortly to become their liberated status. So it proved to be. They opened Propaganda on the corner of Wyndham Street and Glenealy in November 1991, and have been going ever since.
I put it to them both that this was a courageous step back then, both as the initial planning stages for their venture were well under way before the law changed and as there was not even the slightest guarantee that the community would support the venture. “It didn’t feel brave at all”, Lawrence replied. “Back then we didn’t think a great deal about it, we just followed our hearts and we didn’t have much to lose. We just wanted to create a social platform for the gay community to enjoy themselves”.
I suggested to Steven that taking on a gay partner and opening a gay bar was a pretty amazing thing for a straight guy to do in 1991. “Not really,” he said. “We were best friends, I had no homophobic hang-ups and it never crossed my mind I was doing anything out of the ordinary.” They seemed surprised by the question; my turn, then, to be surprised.
19 January, 2011 – CNN
China announces high-speed rail link to Singapore via Vietnam – Construction of a section of railway linking Nanning to Vietnam will China has announced plans to build a high-speed railway linking the southern Chinese Guangxi Zhaung autonomous region with Singapore via Vietnam, according to China Daily.
The first stage of construction will link the Chinese city of Nanning with Pingxiang, a city near China’s border with Vietnam. Work on this section will commence in the second half of 2011, China Daily reported, citing the regional government’s development and reform commission. The construction of the high-speed rail will be the Nanning government’s main priority in the next five years. The line is meant to increase commerce and various trade between China and ASEAN nations.
"We will invest 15.6 billion yuan (US$3.05 billion) to build the railway linking Nanning and Singapore via Vietnam," said Long Li, director of the region’s transportation department. "This is extremely important for the construction of the Nanning-Singapore Economic Corridor." The corridor refers to the economic link between China and ASEAN nations, starting at Nanning in Guangxi and passing through Hanoi in Vietnam, Vientiane in Laos, Cambodia’s Phnom Penh, Thailand’s Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on its way to Singapore. China Daily referred to Guangxi as the country’s main foreign-trade center, with ASEAN being its largest bloc trading partner.begin later this year
May 2011 Update
12 May, 2011 – CNN
Shanghai-Beijing high-speed train trial begins – As the official launch date for one of China’s most anticipated new train lines nears, cutting travel time between Shanghai and Beijing in half, the new service tests the tracks
by Jessica Beaton
Flying between Beijing and Shanghai might soon be a thing of the past. The Shanghai-Beijing high-speed train began its one-month trial yesterday, testing the 1,318-kilometer route for the official late June opening, according to state media reports. The first train left Shanghai at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, according to Shanghai government-run news portal EastDay.com, although it didn’t carry any passengers. The line is opening ahead of schedule; it was originally set to begin operations in early 2012.
The train will connect two of China’s economic powerhouses with only one stop between them in Nanjing. The whole trip will take just under five hours — more than twice the flying time between the two cities — with average speeds of 300 kilometers per hour. The average train trip between the two cities is currently about 10 hours. "The initially planned operation speed was 350 kilometers per hour but we decided to reduce it due to safety concerns and prices," said Wang Yongping, spokesman for the Ministry of Railways, to state media reporters.
Currently the fastest train line in China connects Beijing with Tianjin, running at 350 kilometers per hour. Ticket prices have been yet to be released, although China.org.cn reports that the train will use an ID-based ticket booking system starting June 1 in an attempt to prevent ticket scalping. Shanghai may implement the system as early as May 22, due to its policy of releasing tickets 11 days before a trip.
The construction of the 1,318-kilometer line was started in April 2008 with total investment estimated at RMB 220.9 billion. The new line is part of China’s increased investment in its high-speed rail network, which reached 8,358 kilometers at the end of 2010 and is expected to exceed 16,000 kilometers by 2020.
28 January 2011 – Fridae
Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew will accept if grandchild is gay; discusses homosexuality in new book
by Sylvia Tan
In his new book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, the former PM gave his views on several gay issues including being accepting if his grandchild were gay, homosexuality not being a “lifestyle”, whether Singaporeans are ready to accept a gay Member of Parliament and gay parenthood. Malaysia’s The Star newspaper proclaimed in a headline on Jan 25: “LKY [Lee Kuan Yew] will accept it if grandchildren are gay”.
What Singapore’s former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor actually said about the issue in his new book was: “That’s life. They’re born with that genetic code, that’s that. [Former US Vice President] Dick Cheney didn’t like gays but his daughter was born like that. He says, "I still love her, full stop." It’s happened to his family. So on principle he’s against it, but it’s his daughter. Do you throw the daughter out? That’s life. I mean none of my children is gay, but if they were, well that’s that.” He was responding to a question about how he would feel if one of his grandchildren were to come out to him.
While some might argue that his comments – if read carefully – sound less accepting than what the headline mentioned above would suggest, others unreservedly welcome his comments. Rev. Oyoung Wenfeng, a Malaysia-born, New York-based ordained Christian minister, author and an openly gay man, told Fridae in an email: “I am so glad Lee Kuan Yew has said those things. It is interesting and uplifting to observe that an old man can also be open-minded and willing to learn.” He likened Lee’s remarks on homosexuality to a coming out statement. “Of course he didn’t come out as a gay man, but he came out as a gay friendly and reasonable person, and it has made some significant changes in people’s view on homosexuality.”
One such person is Rev. Oyoung’s mother in Malaysia who phoned her son, who was already living in the United States at the time, when she found out that Lee was not anti-gay. In 2007, Lee was quoted as saying in the International Herald Tribune that it’s a “matter of time” before gays are recognised in Singapore, and that Singapore is behind China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in this aspect.
“My mom was really excited a couple years ago. To her, is an eye-opening experience, and it makes her feel better about herself, because she finally realises that she is not alone in thinking that being gay is ok and homosexuality is not wrong. It is important to have some smart people to come out to say something like that, to educate the public.” Said Rev. Oyoung who is a columnist for Fridae’s Chinese section, and doctoral candidate in both sociology and theology.
Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, a mother of two gay sons and co-founder of SAFE Singapore which was set up to provide support to friends, parents, and family members of LGBTQ persons, also hopes that MM Lee’s comments will inspire others who have gay family members and friends to be just as openly accepting. “As a mother of two gay sons, I am glad that MM Lee will continue to love his children/grandchildren even if they are gay. I think he has the right attitude. Being gay is not a choice or a ‘lifestyle’. Why should gays be lesser members of our family because of who they love?”
Highlighting his statement “if two men or two women are that way, just leave them alone”, Dr Khoo also called on the government to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalises sexual relations between men.
16 February 2011 – Fridae
Singapore censors limit screening of lesbian-themed ‘The Kids Are All Right’
by News Editor
The Board of Film Censors rated Oscar-nominated drama The Kids Are All Right as category R21 and limited its release to one single print. Not content to just slap a R21 rating on The Kids Are All Right, Singapore’s Board of Film Censors has imposed an additional condition on the film’s distributors in that the film can only be released on one print – effectively limiting the number of screenings. The film is scheduled to next Thursday with no cuts.
Above: Lisa Cholodenko. Bottom pic: Annette Bening (left) and Julianne Moore star in The Kids Are All Right
Directed and written by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art and Laurel Canyon) who is herself a lesbian and biological mother of her son whom she raises with her partner, the film centres on a lesbian couple played by Annette Bening and Juliane Moore who used the same anonymous sperm donor to each give birth to their two children. In their teens, the children track down their biological father played by Mark Ruffalo. It has received four Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Annette Bening), Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), and Best Original Screenplay.
According to the Singapore Straits Times today, the move is said to be the "first time an R21 film will be screened under such a condition outside of a film festival". The report quoted the explaination provided by the censorship board to the co-distributor Cathay-Keris Films in rejecting its appeal: "The majority of the members agreed with the board that the film normalises a homosexual family unit and has exceeded the film classification guidelines which states that ‘Films that promote or normalise a homosexual lifestyle cannot be allowed’."
Under the board’s film classification guidelines, films should not "promote or normalise a homosexual lifestyle. However, nonexploitative and non-explicit depictions of sexual activity between two persons ofthe same gender may be considered for R21." The board also said in the letter quoted by the Straits Times that the fact that the film is allowed for release in Singapore at all was already a concession. It said: "Imposing a condition of one-print serves as a signal to the public at large that such alternative lifestyles should not be encouraged."
Other gay-themed movies including Brokeback Mountain and A Single Man were rated R21 without further conditions imposed. The Kids Are All Right is however the first to portray a same-sex parental household. Low Yuen Ping, managing director of co-distributor Festive Films, was quoted as saying that the condition was one that he had not encountered before and had he known, he might have reconsidered acquiring the film. "As a distributor, it means that it will be extremely difficult to recover the cost of acquiring and releasing this film. Had I known this condition beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have been able to justify the cost of acquiring this film."
Prominent members of the local cinema industry were also shocked by the news. "I thought we had grown up. I am flabbergasted," said Lesley Ho, former director of the Singapore International Film Festival. "That’s ridiculous. I’m shocked, this has never happened before," the report quoted filmmaker Eric Khoo as saying. The Kids Are All Right is scheduled to open in Singapore on Feb 24, 2011. Click onto for more details.
21 February 2011 – Fridae
What’s more terrifying than (gay) sex? (Gay) Family
by Alex Au
Film Censors last week announced its decision to not only rate The Kids Are All Right R21, but also confined it to one print for the whole of Singapore, effectively making it impossible to screen the movie at more than one cinema at a time. Alex Au takes a closer look at the censors’ claim that the film “normalises” the “homosexual lifestyle”.
There are several scenes with naked bodies, consumed with lust. In every one of them, it was a male shagging a female. The Board of Film Censors (BFC) seemed to have no problem with that, not mentioning these scenes as among the reasons for the extra-restrictive condition they imposed on the film The Kids Are All Right. Not only did they rate the film R21, they confined it to one print for the whole of Singapore, effectively making it impossible to screen the movie at more than one cinema at a time. This is a never-before imposed condition outside of film festivals, said the [Singapore] Straits Times.
There’s even a scene where two women were having sex, but under a duvet. You don’t see any skin. The BFC seemed not to have any problem with that either, not mentioning it as among the reasons for their decision. Instead, they reason they gave was that the film “normalised” the “homosexual lifestyle”. Actually, the film contained no hint of the “homosexual lifestyle” as commonly signified by this strange term so beloved of Christian fundamentalists. It’s fantastic how the BFC considered the film could normalise the “lifestyle” when the “lifestyle” was not in evidence at all.
* * * * *
Lisa Cholodenko’s family comedy won praise from the New York Times for being “canny in its insights and… agile in its negotiation of complex emotions”, yet “outrageously funny without ever exaggerating for comic effect, and heartbreaking with only minimal melodramatic embellishment.” As mentioned in my earlier post, In Singapore, some thoughts are not All Right, the film was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. It was written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.
The point of departure from conventional family comedies comes from the tiny fact that the family in the film is headed by two women: Nic, a lesbian doctor (Annette Benning) and Jules, a bisexual homemaker and now landscape designer-wannabe (Julianne Moore). They have two children, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson), from the same anonymous sperm donor.
All the other characters around the family, including Laser’s friend Clay (Eddie Hassell) — the two boys snoop around Nic and Jules’ bedroom, finding porn — have no negative reaction to a same-sex household. It’s treated in a matter-of-fact way. The BFC and its Consultative Panel were probably outraged that such a family is premised as sober reality — which tells you nothing about such families, but a helluva lot about the closed minds in the BFC and the Consultative Panel.
Presenting it as sober reality won’t do. The BFC requires that Singaporeans be judgemental about it, preferably in an old-Testamental fire-and-brimstone way. With his sister turning eighteen, Laser asks her to use her new adult status to discover the identity of their sperm-donor father through the sperm bank, and when the sperm bank contacts Paul (Mark Ruffalo) to ask if they could release his name, he says Yes without giving it much thought.
The stage is now set for the introduction of someone, at once an outsider and yet very intimately an insider, into the family circle. Paul is a laid-back kind of guy, albeit a successful small-restauranteur; he is charming and easy-going where the two women are more uptight, even controlling. The dynamics of the family spins. Things get awkward at times, exacerbated by the teenagers beginning to assert themselves as they grow older. Unsurprisingly, the mothers feel a little threatened by Paul’s arrival. How much should Paul be allowed into the family? How free should each of the children be to decide for themselves their relationships with him? Meanwhile, there is a little ‘taking-each-other-for-granted’ malaise in the relationship between the two women, a scenario that is common in many marriages of long duration, thus adding more fragility to the situation.
In its own light-hearted way, the film leads its audience to think about issues that are now timely: families created by sperm and ovum donation (and increasingly, surrogate pregnancy) and how we deal with issues of supplementary parents, and same-sex couples settling down and raising children — which is a fact of life nowadays whatever cultural dinosaurs may wish to think. By putting roadblocks through censorship on examination of these issues, our government is doing nothing except to ensure that Singaporeans remain social illiterates when they have to confront these questions that now arise here and elsewhere. It’s like designing a school reading list that insists that children shall not be exposed to the idea that the earth is spherical.
9 March 2011 – Firdae
Singapore’s first gay dating guide
by News Editor
Oogachaga, a Singapore-based counselling and personal development organisation for LGBTQ individuals, has launched a 32-page dating guide for gay men. Available in print and online for download, Oogachaga’s Gay Men Dating Survival Guide is a dating manual that promises to offer "tons of useful, bite-sized information on courting protocol, sex and love."
Bryan Choong, Oogachaga’s centre manager and a long time volunteer since 2005, told Fridae the guide is a result of the feedback they had received after the centre conducted two runs of ‘Many Single Men’ workshops on 12 and 13 February 2011 and 29 May 2010.
"We realised that dating related workshops are very popular in Singapore and online forums are filled with questions related to dating and starting a gay relationship." However, many gay men are "at a loss when it comes to dating another gay guy", Choong explains. "They are often lost at where to find the right guys, how to strike conversation with someone they are interested in and when it is good to initiate sex. Of course, many people also do not know how to protect themselves physically and sexually, simply because men are often expected to know how to protect themselves."
The 32-page guide written by volunteers Eugene Quek and Jonathan Koh starts with dispelling some myths about gay relationships, and offers tips to find out if a guy is gay, information on dating safely online, dating violence, safer sex and dealing with rejection.
To download the PDF guide, click.
Oogachaga operates a hotline (Tel: 626 86 626) from Tuesdays to Thursdays, 7pm to 10pm; and Saturdays from 2pm to 6pm.
The following excerpted from the Gay Men Dating Survival Guide:
gay relationship: myths versus facts
You may have been conditioned by society and the media to accept what one should expect in a gay relationship. In fact, many gay relationships do not end in heartbreak and tragedy, a la Brokeback Mountain. Here are some commonly held myths that we think should be busted.
Myth One: There must be a top and bottom in a gay relationship.
Not true. Don’t worry if you think your date doesn’t fit the mold—a relationship can work outside of the traditional dominant-submissive model. Part of the joy of being gay is the fluidity and flexibility that comes with how you define yourself in a relationship. Of course, you may prefer playing a particular sexual role in bed, but remember that all relationships are unique and may evolve over time. Don’t be afraid of seeing someone you ordinarily won’t think of dating – it just might work!
Myth Two: Gay relationships don’t last.
While being in a gay relationship in Singapore presents its challenges, there are many gay couples who have withstood the test of time. Getting involved in gay support groups is an excellent way of meeting people in long-term relationships. Seek their advice. And hey, look at how many famous gay couples there are out there: Elton John and David Furnish, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, the list goes on. Take heart!
Myth Three: Gay relationships are doomed to fail because gays are promiscuous.
Monogamy is an issue which should be discussed frankly with your partner early in the relationship. Some healthy relationships are sustained on the mutual understanding that sexual liaisons with other people may happen. On the other hand, you and your partner may choose to remain monogamous because it is important to you. Again, each and every relationship is different. Trust and open communication with your partner will result in a committed and happy union.
11 May 2011 – Fridae
Singapore UN delegate: "What is being criminalised is not gay Singaporeans but homosexual acts"
by Sylvia Tan
When queried by France, UK, and other countries, the Singapore delegate at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva reiterates that the Singapore police will not take action "against consenting adult males… unless their conduct breaks other laws, for instance laws against indecent public behaviour or paedophilia."
On 6 May 2011, Singapore underwent its first-ever Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva – the only universal mechanism that reviews the human rights situation in all 192 UN Member States once every four years. A second hearing has been scheduled for September 2011. At the first hearing, only states have a right to question Singapore while civil societies can do so at the second hearing. As noted by Fridae’s legal columnist in "Will Singapore’s equal rights record withstand United Nations examination?", Singapore’s official national report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review did not mention section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code that criminalises sexual relations between men.
There were a total of 19 submissions, five of these were joint submissions. The number of parties which submitted numbered 27. Of these, 17 were by Singaporean organisations and 11 by international NGOs, like Amnesty International. Of the submissions by Singaporean civil societies, only People Like Us and COSINGO referred to s377A and discrimination of LGBTQ rights. (COSINGO is the acronym for Coalition of Singapore NGOs, spearheaded by MARUAH.) At the session on May 6, several countries including UK, France and Canada amongst others queried Singapore’s continuing criminalisation of male gay sex to which a Singapore delegate responded saying:
"The issue of sexual orientation raised by France and UK, and in advance by Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands. My delegation is aware that sexual orientation is also a controversial issue in UN bodies including the present one.
"In Singapore, people are free to pursue their interests and lifestyles. Recognition and success is based on merit and not on factors such as sexual orientation. In the area of employment, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices promotes and educates employers and the general public on fair and responsible employment practices. Our legislation also allows those who feel that they have been unfairly dismissed including on grounds of sexual orientation to appeal to the Minister for Manpower to be reinstated. Yet we recognise that much of Singapore society remains conservative social mores and mindset cannot be changed by legislation alone. In recent times we had robust parliamentary debates in Singapore on whether to decriminalise certain homosexual acts. On this let me assure the UK and clarify in particular that what is being criminalised is not gay Singaporeans but homosexual acts between men. Now an extensive public consultation was held and the matter was considered at the highest political levels, it was not taken lightly and in the end it was decided to leave things be. The Singapore police has not been proactively enforcing the provision and will continue to take this stance.
"To answer the delegate from Canada, no action is taken against consenting adult males who may have relations unless their conduct breaks other laws, for instance laws against indecent public behaviour or paedophilia. [Editor’s note: But how will any relations between ‘consenting adult males’ ever involve paedophilia?] The reality is that LGBT people in Singapore do not have to hide their sexual orientation for fear of losing their jobs or for fear of prosecution by the state. They have a place in our society and are entitled to their private lives."
Singapore’s national report, compilation of UN information, summary of stakeholders’ information, questions submitted in advance and soon to be released outcome of the review can be read here
2 June 2011 – Fridae
Retired High Court judge: Gays in Singapore keep it ”quiet” due to gay sex law
by Sylvia Tan
"I think it is important for it to be said here in Singapore that there are gay people everywhere and if suddenly all them stood up and said: ‘This is me. It’s like left-handedness, it’s no big deal. Get over it. Have an aspirin. Have a lie down. You’ll feel better tomorrow.’ And things will be different." The eminent Michael Kirby, a retired Australian High Court judge who’s openly gay, told an audience of about 200 legal professionals in Singapore that the country’s gay sex laws could have an adverse impact of the health of gay men who are at higher risk of HIV/AIDS, and it’s "important that they should have equality and dignity."
Speaking at the Singapore Law Society‘s Biennial Lecture on Tuesday night, Kirby covered three topics: setting up Australia’s Law Reform Commission in 1975, the case for judges to draw on human rights principles and Singapore’s section 377A which criminalises gay sex. The 72-year-old member of the UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV and Human Rights described the threat of HIV as a "very urgent problem" and that prevention is high on the UN’s priority list given that 2.6 million people are infected every year. The issue is exacerbated as there’s no vaccine, and the funding for anti-retroviral drugs has decreased since the global financial crisis. He will also be speaking at the 2011 UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York to be held 8-10 June.
"How can we get rid of the laws… that is a barrier in the minds of people getting the information that is necessary for their protection and the protection of society?" Kirby, who is an internationally known advocate against laws criminalising gay sex, described Singapore’s section 377A as a "problem" in the efforts of HIV/AIDS prevention and "burden" the country inherited as a British colony. He noted that the law society had proposed for the law to be repealed in 2007 as part of Singapore’s first major penal code amendments in 22 years but was not accepted by the parliament.
The "nasty little provision" or similar versions of it is in force in 41 of the 54 Commonwealth countries – including Singapore – today. He pointed out that the rate of HIV infection in Commonwealth countries is double that of nations that have laws influenced by the French (Napoleonic) legal system. Kirby, who told the audience that he’s been a relationship with the same partner for 42 years, drew a comparison between gays today and the way Asians in Australia were made to feel like outsiders who "were never quite accepted" during the ‘White Australia’ years. The policy, which was in place from 1901 to 1973, intentionally restricted ‘non-white’ immigration to Australia.
"In my own case I’ve a particular interest in this because of my own sexuality as a homosexual man. And I tell you that not to intrude a personal feature into what is a very dignified and agreeable occasion but because of this."
"We were very fearful of Asian people," he said as he recalled his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s in Sydney. That is until an Asian family moved next door to his. "My parents who had just an ordinary Australian upbringing came to know and to love them… It’s much harder to hate people if you know them."
"Now we all know in this room that there’ve always been gay lawyers and gay judges but generally speaking in societies which criminalise them, they are under tremendous pressure to keep it quiet. I kept it quiet. But I had the good fortune to have a partner for 42 years. 42 years, can you imagine it? It was harder to keep it silent," said Australia’s longest serving judge who spoke without referring to any notes throughout his entire speech.
[Kirby himself came out in 1999 in Who’s Who in Australia by naming Johan van Vloten as his long-term partner.]
"I tell it to you because I think to some extent gay people have conspired in their own second-class position and it’s not their fault; but it’s part of the facts that they’ve kept it quiet because they’ve been frightened. And I think it is important for it to be said here in Singapore that there are gay people everywhere and if suddenly all them stood up and said: ‘This is me. It’s like left-handedness, it’s no big deal. Get over it. Have an aspirin. Have a lie down. You’ll feel better tomorrow.’ And things will be different."
"And I hope that in saying that, I have made a little contribution to the understanding that gay people are human beings too, they are professional people, they are lawyers, they are judges, they are amongst you, and it’s important that they should have equality and dignity," he said. "And in the age of AIDS, they should be encouraged to know and to be reached to, to be informed and to save themselves and their societies from infection."
3 June 2011 – Fridae
Gay equality helps fight HIV, but don’t oversell it
by Alex Au
Prominent Singapore gay activist and social commentator Alex Au draws on two recent news stories and cautions against over-focusing on the health benefits and/or the power of the pink dollar in arguing for the repeal of gay sex laws. In his one-hour talk on 31 May 2011, Australian Justice Michael Kirby (retired) engaged the audience from the Singapore Law Society with three key issues as requested by Society president Michael Hwang: the advantages of a having a permanent Law Reform Commission, when and how to refer to evolving international jurisprudence in deciding domestic cases and the legacy of anti-gay statutes from the days of the British Empire. [Read Retired High Court judge: Gays in Singapore keep it ”quiet” due to gay sex law here.]
Kirby is perhaps Australia’s best-known judge from its apex court and is currently a member of the Commonwealth of Nations’ Eminent Persons Group looking into the future of the organisation. With humour enlivening a lucid discussion of the issues, at many points grounded on specific cases he had decided in the course of his long career, the hour flew swiftly by. In the main, his very talk validated a point he made right at the beginning: that early in his own career, he surprised himself by learning a lot through taking time off to attend esoteric talks and seminars once in a while.
There was however one weak argument. It bothered me that it alone could damage much of what he said in the third part — on anti-gay legislation. Referring to the fact that over forty of the 54 members of the Commonwealth have laws equivalent to our Section 377A of the Penal Code or our old Section 377, whereas non-Commonwealth countries do not (except those from the Arab World, drawing their legal tradition from Islam), Kirby pointed out that two-thirds of the world’s HIV cases are found in Commonwealth countries, when the Commonwealth has one-third of the world’s population.
He expanded this argument by explaining how criminalisation creates social conditions that compel gay people to remain invisible; this in turn makes it very hard for health information and services to reach them — and that is if governmental services are even prepared to try to do so. The world over, bureaucrats would not be keen to be seen condoning criminal behaviour. This is certainly a good description of the situation in Singapore and many other countries. This criticism of laws against homosexuality is not new; it has been made many times before by any number of organisations including UNAIDS.
The problem is that while anti-gay legislation does indeed have this adverse effect on the health of gay and transgendered communities, a cursory look at the pattern of the HIV epidemic in Commonwealth countries will reveal that most cases are transmitted heterosexually. Kirby did try to enlarge his point by saying that anti-gay laws are just one example of the kinds of laws and policies that marginalise people at risk, e.g. sex workers, or women generally, all blunting efforts at outreach to their respective segments of society, but this mention was so quick in passing, I was afraid people might not have digested it. And that all they were left with was the impression that he had claimed anti-gay laws were the cause of the much higher incidence of HIV in Commonwealth countries. In the general case, that claim does not stand, no matter how pertinent it is to HIV among gay and transgendered people.
June 2011 – YouTube.com
Promo YouTube video for Singapore Pink Dot Celebration, Singapore
Do you have friends and family members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?
What does it mean to support their freedom to love?
What does this support symbolize, and what can it translate to?
19 June 2011 – Fridae
LGBT-affirmative rally in Singapore draws record turnout of 10,000
by News Editor
An estimated 10,000 people turned up at Hong Lim Park on Saturday as a show of their acceptance of LGBTs in Singapore, and support for inclusiveness, diversity and the freedom to love. Singapore’s Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park turned into a sea of pink on Saturday as 10,000 people gathered at the third annual installment of Pink Dot – a reference to Singapore being often referred to as a "red dot" and the colour of its citizens’ identity cards. Organisers say this year’s turnout broke 2010’s record for the largest public gathering ever seen at the Speakers’ Corner since its opening in 2000.
For the first time, the event featured a concert hosted by Pink Dot 2011 Ambassadors, the Dim Sum Dollies, comprising Selena Tan, Emma Yong and Pamela Oei; and local performers including Sebastian Tan as Broadway Beng, Dave Tan from Electrico, Michaela Therese, Jill Marie Thomas, dance group Voguelicious and performer Rima S. The picnic and concert culminated in a massive human pink dot formed by LGBTs and their friends and family, and a sing-along of the Beatles’ classic "I want to hold your hand." Pink Dot co-spokesperson Paerin Choa said in a statement: "There are few words that can fully describe what we are feeling right now. To have this many people celebrating this event with us is a truly humbling experience, and we are greatly touched by this show of solidarity and support from Singaporeans.
"One of Pink Dot’s primary aims is to engender an appreciation of Singapore’s diversity – regardless of race, language, religion, and sexual orientation, we are all Singaporeans. We have come some ways in encouraging inclusivity and acceptance of all segments of society, and we hope that more continue to join us in helping to fulfil this aim." Pink Dot co-spokesperson, Rebecca Ling, said: "We are greatly heartened by this year’s turn-out, and it reaffirms our belief that we can make Singapore into a more loving home for all of us. Such immense support from over 10,000 people today is a clear and strong testament to the growing acceptance and awareness among Singaporeans of the LGBT community. Pink Dot 2011 was a milestone in many ways, and we look forward to setting even more milestones in years to come."
Otto Fong, a former secondary school teacher who made the headlines when he came out in 2007, and who was asked to adddress the crowd this year recalled that in his youth, the same park where the event is being held used to be where gay men met one another. "Do you know that 30 or 40 years ago, the Hong Lim Park area used to be the main gathering place for some gay men? Isn’t it ironic? Isn’t it coincidental? Or is it fateful? Many years ago, I was a frightened, lonely young man as I looked for love along the back alleys near here. It wasn’t easy, and how could it be? We met in the dark, we used fake names, gave out fake numbers because we were so afraid! Worst of all, we broke each others’ hearts because none taught us how to love. We had to learn about love the hard way."
He also noted that not only have things changed, the LGBT community is part of that change. Fong, a 42-year-old comic artist and writer, revealed that he has just celebrated his 13th anniversary with his partner and that many of his friends are in committed, long-term relationships with the support of family and friends. "As we stand here today, we are sending a strong message of love, acceptance and inclusivity. We declare that we are also a part of the Singapore family."
He told Fridae: "I would be happy if 6,000 showed up, but to make 10,000 is a testament that more Singaporeans are hoping for a more inclusive and open-minded society than some would like us to think. I believe more Singaporeans are willing to live and let live, and that this is simply a part of the global trend as more data and studies reveal how ordinary people from our extraordinary community really are!" The event has been widely covered in the local media including Yahoo Singapore, the Straits Times and on Channel Newasia, a Singapore-based news network.
Fridae has been a proud sponsor and supporter of Pink Dot since its inception in 2009.
2011 July – PubMed.gov
Go home, gay boy! Or, why do singaporean gay men prefer to "go home" and not "come out"?
by Tan CK. – a Centre of Social Media Innovations for Communities , Nanyang Technological University , Singapore.
Anglo-American ontologies posit that gay men should come out to match their outer selves with their inner ones. In Confucianized Singapore, however, gay men refrain from coming out to their parents to avoid shaming their families. Instead, they couch their homosexuality in kinship terms and "go home" with their boyfriends ( Chou, 2000 ). "Going home" gains familial acceptance, but it does not challenge mainstream discourses of homosexuality. By examining how Singaporean gay men negotiate their sexuality with their families, I question the validity of coming out and going home as both ontological discourses and strategies.
5 August 2011- Fridae
Singapore’s seventh LGBT pride season, Indignation, 5-13 Aug
Sayoni’s Sports Weekend, RetreAttack! art exhibition, IndigNation Film Festival, the unofficial Pink Picnic and more! It all begins this weekend! First held in 2005, the annual Indignation festival, which is held in the same month Singapore celebrates its National Day (Aug 8), kicks off today with an art exhibition and the Sayoni Sports Weekend, and will run to Aug 13.
05 August 2011 – Channel News Asia
A specialised clinic for each group
by Ng Jing Yng
Singapore – When it comes to public sexual health services, a majority of patients would prefer to have specialised clinics for individual groups such as youths and homosexuals, according to the findings of the first study on the subject here. The study also raised concerns about young people below 20 becoming sexually active at a younger age and men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM), citing the need for sexual health prevention and intervention programmes specifically tailored for them. The Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control (DSC) Clinic – which conducted the study two years ago – has since set up a Men’s Clinic on its premises, seeing between 30 and 40 patients every month.
The clinic, meant for MSM, has only male staff to make for a less intimidating environment for the patients. The setting up of the clinic in January is in line with the study’s results, which showed that more than 70 per cent of the 130 MSMs respondents felt the need to have a clinic to cater to their needs. As for having other dedicated clinics, 61 per cent of all 1,000 respondents said that it was essential to have a clinic catering to young patients. While setting up these specific services could encourage the targeted groups to come forward for screening and treatment, such moves may also be viewed by some quarters as sending out the wrong signals to society.
National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan noted that some conservative groups would argue that abstinence is the best prevention but the "truth of the matter is that there are these alternative lifestyles in the community". Citing past findings that homosexuals tend to be at a higher risk of contracting Aids, she said: "Having a dedicated clinic would reach out to them and promote control … to turn a blind eye would, in fact, result in unwanted consequences." While such a service could be beneficial, the challenge lies in getting a positive take-up rate, added Associate Professor Straughan.
As for youths, the Singapore Children’s Society‘s Dr Carol Balhetchet pointed out that information about sex is already widely available. Dr Balhetchet, its director of youth services, said that reaching out to youths would be best left to other youths "who have gone through the hard way" as adults will be deemed as judgmental. However, she added, a supportive family would strongly encourage youth to stay out of trouble. The DSC Clinic study, Patients’ Perception of Health Services for Sexually Transmitted Infections in Singapore, was published in the July edition of the Singapore Medical Journal.
Led by Dr Gavin Ong from the DSC Clinic, the study collected 1,000 individual responses from patients over a four-week period in May 2009. Dr Ong told Today that the findings were in line with international studies and anecdotal observations, where confidentiality and competency of healthcare workers were key concerns of patients. While the issue of stigma was not highlighted in the study, Dr Ong said this was one of the study’s limitations since the respondents were patients of the DSC Clinic. Still, he added, the study, being the first of its kind here, serves as a good reference point on patients’ needs.
26 September 2011 – Fridae
Singapore Court of Appeal to hear section 377A constitutional challenge application, Sep 27
by News Editor
The Court of Appeal will hear an appeal filed by human rights lawyer M. Ravi on behalf of his client Tan Eng Hong who is seeking to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code that prohibits sexual relations between men.The Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear an appeal filed by an openly gay man, Tan Eng Hong on Sep 26 at 10am. Tan is seeking to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code that prohibits sexual relations between men.
In a judgement dated 15 March 2011, High Court judge Lai Siu Chiu ruled that while Tan did have locus standi meaning he is affected by this law to have a legitimate interest or standing in the issue, she also ruled that there was no "real controversy" which required the court’s attention – meaning that it was not a matter of importance to be decided by a court.
The application was filed by prominent human rights lawyer M. Ravi on behalf of his client Tan, who was originally charged under Section 377A for allegedly having oral sex with another consenting male in a public toilet. The charge was later reduced to one under Section 294 which provides for a jail term of up to three months, or fine, or both for "any obscene act in any public place." Tan was fined S$3000 for committing an obscene act in public. Members of the public can attend the hearing at the Court of Appeal on level 9 of the Supreme Court Building.
11 October 2011 – Fridae
I Will Survive: Leow Yangfa
by Sylvia Tan
Leow Yangfa, an openly gay social worker in Singapore, has launched I Will Survive, a website to collect personal lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) stories to raise awareness about coming out for LGBT communities, and promote discussion around LGBT-relevant issues.
Leow Yangfa recalls that he was plagued with "guilt, questions, and a deep sense of helplessness" when his friend killed himself just a few days before his birthday. Leow, who himself struggled with suicidal thoughts as a teen and currently works for a social service organisation in Singapore, speaks to Fridae about what motivated his I Will Survive web project which he hopes to compile and publish as an e-book later this year. His proceeds from sales of the e-book will go towards supporting Oogachaga’s community services. Oogachaga is a counselling and personal development organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals.
Read compete article here