Dear Straight People,
Singapore has finally repealed Section 377A!
After years of failed attempts, many in the LGBT+ community have started to give up hope at ever seeing the repeal of Section 377A; the archaic law that criminalises consensual sex between men.
But on 21 August 2022, the Singapore government has finally done what it should have done years ago; abolish a law that propagates stigma and prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community by legally framing same-sex attraction as immoral and criminal.
The road to repeal has been a long and arduous one. In a bid to pay tribute to those who fought tirelessly for this historic day to come, here is a timeline of some key events that led to the repeal of Section 377A.
SECTION 377A: ORIGINS
Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore was a law implemented under British colonial law that specifically criminalises consensual sex between adult men. It was part of Section 377, which criminalises sex deemed to be ‘against the nature of nature’.
- This included consensual oral sex, even among heterosexual couples.
The earliest documented case of prosecution under Section 377A reportedly happened in September 1938, when Lim Eng Kooi and Lim Eng Kok were imprisoned for 7 months each.
According to a blogpost by pioneering gay activist Alex Au on his popular website Yawning Bread, there were reportedly 185 convictions under Section 377A between 1997 to 2006.
SECTION 377A: BIRTH OF THE REPEAL MOVEMENT
2006: Annis bin Abdullah v PP
The movement to repeal Section 377A can be traced back to the Annis Abdullah case, a police sergeant who was imprisoned for 2 years for having consensual oral sex with a 16-year old teenage girl.
Seeing as the girl was of legal age and the act was consensual, his case sparked a public outcry as many were shocked that consensual oral sex was a criminal offence in Singapore.
The public outcry prompted the Ministry Of Home Affairs to review the Penal Code. After a year, many laws under Section 377 of the Penal Code of Singapore were removed, but Section 377A remained.
The retention of Section 377A sparked an outcry within the LGBT+ community, birthing the repeal movement.
2007: Early Calls For Repeal Of Section 377A
- August 2007: International movie star Sir Ian McKellen called for a repeal of Section 377A during a visit to Singapore.
- October 2007: Pink Dot committee member Alan Seah, theatre director Ivan Heng and actress Pam Oei delivered a letter with over 8,000 signatories to the Prime Minister’s office calling for the repeal of Section 377A.
- October 2007: Lawyer George Hwang, media mogul Dr Stuart Koe and housewife Tan Joo Hymn organised a parliamentary petition to repeal Section 377A. This led to a parliamentary debate over Section 377A. Politicians who supported a repeal included PAP MPs Charles Chong and Baey Yam Keng. Eventually, the decision made in parliament was to retain Section 377A but that the government would not actively enforce Section 377A.
LEGAL CHALLENGES TO REPEAL SECTION 377A
2010: Tan Eng Hong v. Attorney-General
The first person to file a constitional challenge against Section 377A was massage therapist Ivan Tan Eng Hong.
In September 2010, lawyer M. Ravi filed a legal challenge to Section 377A in the High Court on behalf of his client Tan Eng Hong, who was charged for having consensual oral sex with another man in a public toilet.
Tan’s case was initially dismissed by the High Court, due to “a lack of a real controversy”.
The landmark ruling came in 2012 in Singapore’s Court of Appeal, who overturned the High Court’s verdict, thereby allowing Tan his day in court.
In 2013, Tan’s case was combined with Lim Meng Suang and another v. Attorney-General (see below).
2012: Lim Meng Suang and another v. Attorney-General
Gary Lim Meng Suan and Kenneth Chee Mun-leon, a gay couple who have been together for 15 years, filed a constitutional challenge to Section 377A.
Justice Quentin Loh ruled against their challenge on 9 April 2013, but the couple filed an appeal on 30 April 2013.
Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, renowned lawyers Deborah Barker and Lord Peter Henry Goldsmith were hired to take on the case.
But on 29 October 2014, the Court of Appeal rejected Lim and Kenneth’s challenge to repeal Section 377A,
2018: Challenges Against Section 377A
When India decriminalised sex between people of the same sex, it ignited hope of the same in Singapore. Notably, esteemed diplomat Professor Tommy Koh voiced his encouragement for a constitutional challenge against Section 377A.
This prompted three separate challenges against Section 377A:
- Johnson Ong, popularly known as DJ Big Kid, filed a challenge against Section 377A on 10 September 2018. (Read our feature on Johnson here)
- Activist Bryan Choong filed a challenge against Section 377A in November 2018. (Read our feature on Johnson here)
- Retired doctor Dr Roy Tan filed a challenge against Section 377A in September 2019. (Read our feature on Roy here)
On 30 March 2020, Justice See Kee Oon combined the three challenges into a single case, and ruled against them.
Appeals were filed on 31 March 2020 but the Court Of Appeal ruled against the appeals on 28 February 2022.
NON-LEGAL MOVEMENTS TO REPEAL SECTION 377A
2009 to current: Pink Dot
Founded in 2009, Pink Dot is an annual movement that is organised in support of the LGBT+ community in Singapore.
The repeal of Section 377A has consistently been a key focus of Pink Dot. Notably, Pink Dot 2019’s edition featured the message ‘REPEAL 377A’.
2018: Ready4Repeal Petition
Spearheaded by theatre director Glen Goei and Johannes Hadi, Ready4Repeal is an online movement that organised a petition for the repeal of Section 377A.
The petition collected over 50,000 signatories, including notable figures such as Professor Tommy Koh.
2018: Reasons4Repeal Photoshoot by Dear Straight People
In November 2018, Dear Straight People organised a photoshoot #Reasons4Repeal, calling for the repeal of Section 377A.
Photographed by Audi Khalid, the photoshoot featured over 70 participants from all walks of life, including public figures such as actor Julian Hee and Paralympic medalist Theresa Goh.
The resulting photo album garnered over 1,000 shares on Facebook alone. You can view the photos here.
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO FOUGHT THE HARD FIGHT
Here’s a big thank you to everyone who fought to repeal Section 377A!
The road to repeal was a long and complicated one. This article is not meant to be a comprehensive timeline of every single event that contributed to the abolishment of Section 377A.
This article is meant to merely illustrate just how long it took for Singapore to reach this historic movement, and also pay tribute to those who paved the way.
Here are some additional readings to illustrate the complicated journey it took to repeal Section 377A:
- Section 377A of the Penal Code (The Singapore LGBT encyclopaedia Wiki compiled by Dr Roy Tan)
- I on Singapore (Blog posts on matters related to Section 377A)
- Yawning Bread (Blog by pioneering activist Alex Au)
- Section 377A of the Penal Code Wikipedia entry
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