'First step on a long road towards full equality': Relief from LGBTQ groups over intention to repeal Section 377A
LGBTQ groups cheered the Government's intention to repeal Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men, and said the repeal would benefit everyone, including those outside the LGBTQ community.
SINGAPORE: LGBTQ groups have expressed relief at the Government's intention to repeal Section 377A in the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, calling it the "first step on a long road towards full equality" for LGBTQ people in Singapore, in a community statement signed by 22 LGBTQ groups.
Issued on Sunday (Aug 21), the statement stated that the repeal would be "a significant milestone and a powerful statement that state-sanctioned discrimination has no place in Singapore".
The groups include Action For Aids Singapore, Free Community Church, Pink Dot SG, Young Out Here, Project X, and Oogachaga, among others.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced in his National Day Rally speech earlier on Sunday evening that Singapore will repeal Section 377A, bringing the law into line with current social mores. He hoped that the news would provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.
REPEAL MEANS "SOMETHING DIFFERENT" TO EACH INDIVIDUAL
The "demise of Section 377A represents something different" to each individual, the statement pointed out.
For some who have experienced bullying, rejection and harassment enabled by the law, repeal would enable the beginning of a process of healing. For others, however, repeal would have arrived "far too late".
"For those that long for a more equal and inclusive Singapore, repeal signifies that change is indeed possible. And for our friends and family who have stood by us, repeal is proof and encouragement that your allyship makes a difference," it said.
"To the past victims of Section 377A and its cascading effects, including those who have faced threats of police entrapment, raids and criminal charges, repeal will never be able to fully right the historic wrongs that you faced. To others whom we have lost along the way, we have not forgotten the heavy toll that this law has exacted on you and your loved ones."
The statement also acknowledged the "generations of activists, community groups and allies". Their advocacy "often came at great personal cost" – but paved the way for policy and societal change, as well as kept hope alive for many.
In his National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee also said the Government will amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage – currently recognised by law as taking place between one man and one woman – from being challenged constitutionally in the courts.
He added that the Government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or national policies on public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards and film classification, signalling that it will maintain “prevailing norms and values” of Singapore society.
"Any move by the government to introduce further legislation or constitutional amendments that signal LGBTQ+ people as unequal citizens is disappointing," said the statement from the LGBTQ groups in response to Mr Lee's speech.
IndigNation SG noted that "marriage has never been on (its) agenda".
"As an organisation, IndigNation is far more interested in undoing the harms caused to our communities by keeping an archaic law on the books for far too long. Unequal housing laws, discriminatory employment practices, media censorship and so much more needs to be undone," it told CNA.
A media statement issued by Oogachaga's chairman Bryan Choong and executive director Leow Yangfa also urged Members of Parliament to "avoid conflating the repeal of 377A with other issues".
"LGBTQ Singaporeans have families, have children, have committed relationships and are already married. Many LGBTQ Singaporeans may also have no desire to marry. There is no need for families and marriage to be protected from the LGBTQ community, as many of us are already in them," it said.
"A WIN FOR HUMANITY"
The statement from the LGBTQ groups suggested that the Government's intention to repeal Section 377A is only the start.
It noted the immediate priorities would be to tackle the areas of discrimination at home, in schools and in workplaces, as well as in housing and healthcare systems.
"The true impact of repeal will be determined by how the people of Singapore respond to it, and treat each other, in the days and months to come. It must be accompanied by the rejection of hate, of stigma, of discrimination, of erasure. It must be the beginning of us finding common ground and having open conversations about our collective futures," it said.
"We cannot allow this to polarise us, deepen fissures, or make an already vulnerable community more susceptible to contempt. We must, in the face of potential backlash, strengthen ties within our community and look out for one another."
Echoing similar sentiments, IndigNation told CNA separately that "public discourse is likely to become more heated and toxic" as Singapore heads towards a repeal.
"We wish to remind the members of our community that you are not alone in these trying times. Our community has a long history of weathering hostility. Look out for one another. Practice care and compassion, both for yourself and your fellow queers. Reach out to your local queer organisations if you need to," it said.
Reminding the LGBTQ community to engage in "meaningful discussions" with those who matter, Mr Choong and Mr Leow from Oogachaga reiterated that these discussions should be done in a "safe and respectful manner", with "facts and evidence, not opinions and misinformation".
The statement from the LGBTQ groups added that the repeal would be a "hard-won victory" and a "triumph of love over fear".
"As we celebrate this historical milestone, we urge the community, and indeed all Singaporeans, to continue to imagine and work toward a better future for all," it said.
"A society without Section 377A is a society that is more progressive, not just for LGBTQ people, but for everyone. No one is free until everyone is free. This is a win for humanity."
"When Section 377A is repealed, it will not only improve the lives of LGBTQ Singaporeans and their families, it will also bring other benefits to business, trade, and boost our international reputation as a progressive, developed economy," added Oogachaga's Mr Choong and Mr Leow.
INTENTION TO REPEAL CHEERED BY OTHER GROUPS
Meanwhile, other groups championing LGBTQ issues expressed support for the intention to repeal Section 377A.
Action for Aids (AfA) Singapore believes the repeal would result in more effective and safer sex education.
"This has been a long-awaited decision on a law that has been a structural barrier to more effective safer sex education for gay and other men who have sex with men in Singapore," said the organisation.
"With the abolition of Section 377A, AfA will work to increase and strengthen efforts to eliminate the stigma and discrimination faced by gay and other men who have sex with men, and the wider LGBTQ communities in accessing early diagnosis and care for HIV infection, STDs and other health challenges."
The organisation looks forward to "more inclusive sexuality education programmes in schools", and "fairer portrayal" of men who have sex with men in the media that can facilitate treatment and prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
"AfA has long believed that removing Section 377A will significantly strengthen HIV and STD control programmes in Singapore, not just for gay and other men who have sex with men, but indeed for everyone," it said.
SAFE (Supporting, Affirming and Empowering our LGBTQ+ Friends and Family) Singapore, which is made up of friends and family members of LGBTQ individuals, told CNA that the news was "truly joyful".
"As parents, family members and friends of gay and queer people, we have suffered and struggled with them while they stayed in the closet or feared being criminalised for who they are and who they love due to Section 377A," it said.
SAFE sees the announcement as "the start of healing for many families". It hopes to see more parents willing to "support and uplift their gay sons and daughters who come out to them", and for "dialogue with other members of their (extended) families, neighbourhoods, communities, workplaces to foster greater understanding for gay men and women, and their families".
The group also urged schools to "take particular care around the safety and well-being of LGBTQ students and students who are marginalised in any other way".
"Our LGBTQ friends and family members have always been a part of us. We love and support them. We are extremely glad that our gay sons, brothers, family members and friends are no long considered criminals for loving who they do," said SAFE.
"We hope that they will be treated as equally valued and respected members of our society, as they have always been for our families."