The LGBT movement in Singapore has come a long way. But no matter how far we’ve progressed, there seems to be a brick wall limiting how far more the movement can go.
Pink Dot has been painting Hong Lim Park with the colours of Gay Pride every year since 2009. More people are coming out with the help of advocates and media platforms that share their stories, like Dear Straight People. Despite the increase in visibility and conversations surrounding LGBT today, however, there’s still no real change.
We are stuck in a time where our society seem to be generally more progressive, but our constitution remains traditional, with many ‘LGBT things’ that are still illegal in the eyes of the law.
LGBT People Are Criminals?
While LGBT people can live normally among us without having to worry that they will be stoned to death if they were to walk down the street hand-in-hand, they still lack many of the legal rights that non-LGBT people have.
Same-sex relationships are not recognised under the law and it’s evident in many areas from not being able to be legally married (Section 12 of the Women’s Charter) and having kids to issues with housing and assets distribution after death.
In 2017, a couple lost their BTO because their marriage was voided. and all because the man went for a sex change, rendering their same-sex marriage invalid.
I personally know a gay man who had to go through the trouble of flying overseas, paying six-digit sums for assisted reproduction, marrying the surrogate mother then divorcing her, just so that he could be legally recognised as the father to his biological children. Such are the lengths that LGBT people have to go to for something that is so normal for non-LGBT people.
Then, there’s the much-contested Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code, which prohibits two men from having sex with each other, even if it’s done in private. Although this law hasn’t been actively enforced, with only nine people convicted under this provision between 2007 and 2013.
In case you’re aren’t aware yet, the Penal Code used to criminalise “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals” under Section 377. It was tabled for repeal during the the 2007 Penal Code Review, but not Section 377A. Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong presented a petition for the repeal of Section 377A but the Parliament opted to keep Section 377A, which criminalises male homosexual conduct specifically.
Authorities explained, “public morality does not target female homosexual conduct in the same way as it targets male homosexual conduct.” Also, “female homosexual conduct is either less prevalent or is seen as being less repugnant than male homosexual.”
In other words, the authorities have opted to keep it illegal for men to have sex with each other (but not women) because they felt that Singaporeans weren’t ready to completely accept homosexual behaviour, particularly homosexuality between men, and that the society is more unaccepting of gays compared to lesbians.
To be awfully honest, I agree with that notion.
Are We Really Ready?
Singapore doesn’t seem to be ready to accept the LGBT movement and community.
Look at the controversy surrounding Cathay Cineleisure’s advertisement of Pink Dot 2017. Someone had complained about the advertisement and its “supporting the freedom to love” tagline because to them, that goes against family values. That complaint had led the authorities to call for Cathay to remove the tagline but Cathay stood firm with their decision to run the ad in the end, and I applaud them for standing up against such complaints and the authorities.
It isn’t easy for big names or brands like Cathay to stand for a cause so controversial in Singapore’s society. In a society where discrimination lies even within certain laws, and where LGBT messages are still frowned upon by older generations and discussed in hushed exchanges among the more conservative.
Another good example of why it’s hard for renowned brands or names to stand up for the cause is when popular local influencer, Hirzi, became an ambassador for Pink Dot 2017.
Hirzi came under fire for standing for the LGBT movement for a myriad of reasons, mainly for going against his religion, Islam. In numerous interviews, he shared about how he had lost friends, been spat on his face, and been told not to associate himself with brands he was working for, after he became a Pink Dot ambassador.
“Brands have literally said, “We know it’s fashion week, and we already approved you guys already, wearing the outfits, but can you don’t tag us because we are a heterosexual brand.”
Quote taken from Studio AC’s interview with Hirzi
In the Studio AC video interview, Hirzi also shared a case where a friend of his was discriminated against because of her sexuality. Someone had wanted to hire her dance crew to perform at an event but had requested for her to not be part of the performance, just because she’s a transsexual.
It is pretty clear that the brand or event organiser was concerned about having a trans as part of the event or performance; That they felt that having a trans on their stage was too much of a negative association to have with their brand or event. And that shows exactly how closed-minded our society still is.
The organiser may have done that to prevent possible complaints from event attendees. But that is the problem.
Don’t leave it to political leaders to lift the weight
The authorities are waiting to see if Singapore and Singaporeans are ready for such ‘radical’ change. But brands and Singaporeans aren’t stepping up to stand for the LGBT movement because the law doesn’t favour the movement. It’s a vicious cycle.
We need to break that cycle. Every coming out story in the media and every brand representation in support of the LGBT movement add up. Brands and opinion leaders need to pave the way for more open conversations. It can be hard to start, but all it takes is one party to create the ripple effect.
It could be as simple as showcasing portraits of LGBT people, which is exactly what internationally renowned photographer Leslie Kee did. The Out In Singapore project, which culminated in an exhibition that opened yesterday, features 150 portraits of the “diverse faces of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and humanise what it means to be LGBTQ.”
By shedding a gentle spotlight on these LGBT individuals, the project was a way to create conversations and normalise LGBTQ. For some of the individuals, it was even a chance for them to come out.
As a non-LGBT millennial who grew up in a 100% heterosexual family (including extended family), we never outrightly talked about anything LGBT. However, it is an unspoken understanding that being LGBT ‘is not the way to go’ to my parents and their generation. I see it from the way they joke about gays and hear it from their derogatory tone when discussing LGBT topics.
There’s still a stigma surrounding this movement in the older generations and it is a longstanding battle. But it’s a battle that our generation, who are more receptive of the LGBT movement, have to help fight. If we continue to be accepting but apathetic, there will never be progress.
As such, more has to be done to also help our society to be more open-minded and receptive. Covering your child’s eyes or telling them not to become like ‘those LGBT people’ when they grow up isn’t going to help.
We need to be more open-minded as to being able to separate religion and sexuality. Some religions have strict beliefs in sexuality, and that’s completely fine. But just as everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, we should learn to agree to disagree. We need to be more willing to listen.
Take notes from these Christians who went to a pride parade to apologise for the way they or fellow Christians have been treating the LGBT community.
Also, as Hirzi shared in the interview with Studio AC, standing for a cause is a completely different narrative from the person you are.
If I were to pledge my support to the handicapped, it doesn’t mean that I am handicapped. Nor does it mean that I am promoting the handicapped. It merely means that I empathise with the handicapped people and am showing that I accept and embrace them as part of our society.
(Header Image Credit: Calvin IG@calvinavigator via Pink Dot 2017)
*Article Revised: We have corrected some of the facts that the writer has inaccurately presented on certain sections of the Penal Code. We are sorry for the mistake.