Dear Straight People,
I was recently asked by the founders of the Pink Dot movement to write something to commemorate the tenth edition of Pink Dot.
It was 6 years ago that I wrote Some Day, a short essay on the gay rights movement in Singapore. I related it to my own experience with the civil rights movement in America in the 1960’s, when I was a student at Stanford University, and the refrain “Some Day” was a rallying cry to change the world. I expressed my hope that someday, Section 377A will be repealed and gay sex between consenting men will be decriminalized.
Well, six years on, Some Day remains elusive. Arguably, social space for the LGBTQ community in Singapore has not narrowed; the rapid integration of their counterparts all over the world with the rest of their societies has inevitably rubbed off, no matter how slightly, into Singapore society. But there is not much else to cheer the LGBTQ community here. Witness these examples:
• LGBTQ organisations cannot register as a society or company because they are considered “likely to be used for unlawful purposes” and/or “contrary to the national interest” under the Societies Act and Companies Act. LGBTQ organisations are thus not able to obtain licenses or IPC status, making fundraising extremely difficult.
• IMDA’s broadcast and publishing codes prohibit content which “promotes or glamorises the homosexual lifestyle”. This means positive (or even neutral) portrayals of LGBTQ people are prohibited. Healthcare services providers are affected by this too, as they cannot run campaigns to meet the needs of the community.
• All these and other anti-LGBTQ guidelines result inevitably in official-dom having to support even quite silly complaints from anti-gay hate groups. For example,in 2016, a member of one of the more vocal hate groups “We are against Pink Dot in Singapore” (WAAPD) complained about a scene in the ‘Les Misérables’ musical where two men shared a quick kiss. IMDA ordered that scene to be cut.
And of course, there is the sorrowful, shameful fact that Section 377A remains in our statutes. As a society, we are signalling to the world and to our own people, that while we tolerate gay men in our society, we are not bold enough to redress a historical injustice of barbaric proportions. The stated promise to not prosecute anyone under 377A is not just cold comfort to gay men; it is in today’s world, an anachronistic affront to basic human rights.
Some people argue that the repeal of 377A will open the flood-gates to legalizing same-sex marriage, which they disapprove of. My honest response is that it may, and it may not, but that is simply not relevant. An analogy is that of slavery: did the abolition of slavery (which many 18th century white men agreed was over-due) lead eventually to universal suffrage (which many of the same men opposed)? The answer is maybe yes, maybe no; but the legalisation of slavery is so repugnant, as is the criminalisation of gay sex, that both must be abolished regardless of the social consequences.
I am personally inspired by how the Pink Dot movement has blossomed to become much more than a narrowly gay rights campaign.
It has become the metaphor for inclusiveness, and the fact that young families with children chose to celebrate the ideal of an inclusive society with picnics and games on Hong Lim Green, gives hope to me as a senior citizen with a three-year old grandson (and more on the way), that Singapore will Some Day set a shining example to a divided, hate-filled and fractious world that our vision of cohesive diversity can be real and thriving.
Written by Ho Kwon Ping – Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings