Dear LGBT Couples,
The next time you find yourself stumped by a legal issue, there’s no need to trawl through Google in search of answers. Chances are, you’ll be met with lengthy legal jargon that you wouldn’t understand anyway.
In an effort to address this gap in resource, a team of LGBT friendly lawyers led by Indulekshmi Rajeswari aka Indu, have taken it upon themselves to create a layman friendly legal guidebook specially catered to LGBT couples and families in Singapore.
A labour of love that took almost 2 years to complete, the idea for this project first occured to Indu back in 2011 when she was fresh out of law school.
I frequently had my friends ask me questions about the law and their relationship, questions I often could not answer immediately because I had not done the research.
I attempted to bring together a team to (create a legal guidebook) but for various reasons, it never took off, so it remained buried for a while.
Although her ambitious plans to create a legal LGBT guidebook back then didn’t materialise, she found ways to contribute to the LGBT community through other means.
Together with a group of queer women based in Singapore, Indu co-founded Sayoni; a volunteer-run social organisation that aims to empower queer Asian women. She remained active in Sayoni for the next 5 to 6 years, during which she helped to pioneer the Sayoni Survey and organise events ranging from a forum on bisexuality to functions that aimed to bridge the gap between queer men and queer women.
She was also a part of the team that challenged section 377a of the penal code and more recently, she participated in a fundraising video for Oogachaga; Singapore’s only community based counselling centre for the LGBTQ+ community.
By the end of 2015 however, circumstances permitted Indu to once again revisit the idea of fulfilling her dream of creating a legal guidebook for LGBT couples.
I left the big firm I was working in and I decided it was time to do it.
This time, I had more experience, more contacts and more time to focus on this.
Indu managed to pull together a team of lawyers, law students and academics and for the next 1.5 years, they worked tirelessly in bringing their shared vision to life. By February 2016, their groundbreaking project was complete and they launched a fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 to cover the printing costs.
Within 24 hours, the overwhelming support from the LGBT community not only helped them hit their initial target of $10,000, they even managed to meet their extended target of $15,000 by the following day!
I am happy that both LGBT people and allies understand how important this project is, and have donated accordingly.
I have been moved and humbled by the outpouring of support we have received and it has really encouraged and affirmed all the effort of the team.
Currently in the midst of preparation for the book’s launch in May 2017, Indu has very kindly taken time out to answer our Q&A!
1. Why did your team decide to go with the costlier route of printing books instead of just providing all of the information online?
Actually we are also putting out an ebook for free distribution, along with the print copies.
As to why we chose this dual strategy, we knew there were going to be people whom we could not reach with a purely online medium.
Then there was the pure convenience factor. While some people are okay with ebooks, the amount of information we were putting into this guide made ebooks a little unwieldy (at the moment, the guide is around 170 pages), and it would be much easier for a lot of people to refer to a print copy.
We also wanted this to be an easily available resource in libraries and other organisational points of contact (such as counselling agencies). A printed copy was necessary for all these purposes.
2. What was the toughest part about getting this project going?
This was a slow-burn project (1.5 years and counting), and with slow-burn projects, it is tough to keep everyone on track and schedule. All of us on the team have day jobs and other commitments, and this was something that needed to be done in our spare time with no remuneration.
Then the research itself was tough because for many areas of the law, there was no publicly available laws or regulations or the applicable regulations were hazy, eg, ICA does not list what the official requirements to change gender legally are. There are many areas which are untested in Singapore law, so we had to make many tough calls about what we could or could not say with reasonable accuracy.
3. What has been the greatest reward for you personally since embarking on this project?
Many complete strangers, including our donors have written to me personally and told us how important this project is, and how much they support it. It is very heartening knowing that this project will help many people.
4. What kind of impact are you hoping to achieve with the publication and distribution of your Legal Guidebook?
What this guide is meant to do, is to bridge the gap between LGBT people and access to legal information. While the book cannot replace lawyers, it is a starting point for people so that they would then have the information necessary to approach a lawyer if necessary, or take steps themselves. This to me, is the first immediate legal goal – to empower people.
Then there is the psychological goal. Lack of information and support mean that LGBT couples often linger within a limbo of never taking the next step in their relationship or life. I know a lot of LGBT couples who have been together for years but never try to start a life together, because the impetus or incentive is not there.They do not even contemplate having children, because they know it is too hard (and it is indeed difficult, but not impossible).
Hence, the legal barriers have psychological ramifications. I want to give people hope that, even though there is no legal recognition, there are steps that can be taken to protect yourself under the law, and that it is possible to be a family despite not being married or heterosexual.
My final advocacy goal is that I want people to push the boundaries of the law with the information they find in this book. I hope that the law will be challenged by couples and families seeking certain outcomes, on multiple fronts. If we want rights, we have to demand it, push for it, challenge the authorities for it – not merely sit back and wait for it to be handed to us.
5. What project(s) are you hoping to work on next?
At the moment I am committed to this project.
If I have the resources, support and time, I would like to continue work on this, and maybe start thinking about future revised editions and even one that covers law that relates to LGBT individuals.
6. Is there anything else you like to add?
It is important for us to represent diversity in the LGBT community in the project, but always there are limitations on how much detail we could go into (especially when many areas of the law are rather unclear). The book will not answer every single question you have, and it is not meant to.
Meanwhile, all of us also have the responsibility to collectively and individually challenge the status quo. Without small or big acts of resistance, of coming out, of claiming your rights, we will never see any progress. The key to equality lies with everyone, not just a few activists.
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