March 8, 2024

Singaporean LGBTQ+ community still faces a ‘long road ahead’ despite constitutional changes

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June 28, 2014. Pink Dot in Hong Lim Park in Singapore.

Picture by: Jnzl's Photos

Two years since the repeal of Singapore’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws and the community claims there is still a long way to go.

A Pink Dot (non-profit organising annual pride events in Singapore) spokesperson announced that it was “a step in the right direction” but there are still struggles to overcome.

On August 21, 2022, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared the repeal of Article 377A during his yearly National Rally Speech. He made this announcement with the intention to “reflect evolving social values and norms.” Yet, he reinforced Singapore’s position as a “traditional society” by defining marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman which must be protected constitutionally.

Article 377A, introduced under British colonial rule in 1938, criminalised sexual behaviour between two homosexual men, even if it was both private and consensual.

The law reflected the domination of conservative values in Singapore with the recent repeal of Article 377A serving as a ‘political accommodation’ between the increasingly progressive stances in society and the status quo.

The Ministry of Home Affairs noted that for the 17 individuals who have been convicted under 377A between 1988 to 2007, they can apply to have their criminal records treated as spent.

Despite a shift in governmental policies towards the LGBTQ+ community, discrimination still exists. The government continues to advocate for family units as strictly heterosexual.

The Ministry of Education maintains that education policies will be ‘anchored on prevailing family values’ with ‘the family as the cornerstone of our social fabric, and marriage between a man and a woman.’

Similarly, laws systematically disadvantaging the LGBTQ+ community prevail. Given the government’s social policies to promote marriages, most heterosexual couples are granted earlier access to public housing, while LGBTQ+ couples or individuals can only buy flats from the age of 35.

Not only is equity of housing an issue, affordable housing is also a major quandary –  77% of the Gen Z LGBTQ+ respondents reported this being a barrior.

LGBTQ+ couples also lack access to adoption rights and healthcare benefits, preventing them from starting a family in Singapore.

The LGBTQ+ community itself however has been more welcomed by Singaporeans, especially the younger generation.

A Junior College student told Harbingers’ Magazine: “In General Paper1, a lot of my friends cite the plight [of the] LGBTQ+ [community] as case studies for their essays, and schools also covered 377A in the curriculum rather holistically.”

The student noted that this encouraged a “healthy discussion” around LGBTQ+ issues in classrooms, which is essential for representing the community. Annual events like Pink Dot SG’s pride have also culminated in thousands of gatherings, as well as notable Singaporean politicians championing the inclusion of non-traditional family units.

Some, however, hold more mixed views. “It’s not all that rosy,” another student told Harbingers’. “Most parents can tolerate the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, but they can never stand the idea of their child having to walk this alternative path.”

She further added: “It’s still hard to come out, and many do not have the courage to bear its costs.”

History indicates that the LGBTQ+ community can expect changes in their favour.

In 2007, during a parliament debate about repealing or retaining the law, many ministers argued that a repeal would endorse a homosexual lifestyle, which would undermine ‘public order’ and ‘divide society’.

The consensus of the public did not act too favourably, as the 2007 online petition to repeal 377A was met by the counter-petition Keep 377A with a similar number of signatures.

Since then, on multiple fronts, legal and social resistance against the law has burgeoned. An Ipsos survey documented that while more than half of Singaporeans believed 377A ought to be retained in 2018, that number dropped to 44% in 2022.

And gaining media attention a few years previously was a viral post on subreddit r/SGExams about transgender discrimination in government schools sparked a five-person protest organised by young people outside of the Ministry of Education.

Singapore’s LGBTQ+ laws are considered moderate with respect to its Southeast Asian neighbours. While some countries like Malaysia criminalise homosexual activity given its predominantly religious population, more progressive countries like Thailand are prospective pioneers for legitimising same-sex marriage.

Given the cultural diversity of the Southeast Asian region, the unique social landscape of each country also determines public attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community, thereby affecting the governments’ policies on LGBTQ+ rights.

Written by:

author_bio

Chenxi Zhang

Contributor

Singapore

Born in 2005, Chenxi lives a relatively comfortable life in Singapore and wishes to pursue Mathematics in her university studies.

Despite being a pure science student, she enjoys reading books extending from political nonfiction to epistolary novels, with 84, Charing Cross Road being one of her all-time sentimental reads.

During her free time, she may be found watching movies, playing table tennis, or playing chess.

Edited by:

author_bio

Sofiya Suleimenova

International Affairs Section Editor

Geneva, Switzerland

human rights

Footnotes

1.

In the Singapore-Cambridge A Level Syllabus, General Paper is a subject that explores a range of key issues of global and local significance.

1

In the Singapore-Cambridge A Level Syllabus, General Paper is a subject that explores a range of key issues of global and local significance.