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An Honest Opinion (Singapore)

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Lee Hsien Loong has spoken, echoing both his predecessors in his views on homosexuality. It is interesting how the Father, the Holy Goh and the Spirit all seem to come down on the same side of the fence, willing to decriminalise but seeming to hold back for the fear of the “conservative majority”1

As of this moment, I will not deny that my morale is pretty low. It does not seem likely that the decriminalisation will take place in this penal code review. We neither have the time, nor the political climate, or rather, weather, on our side, given that the second reading is just 1 month away. In the first place, the announcement of the first reading took us by surprise, as it was originally slated to take place next year. By the time we learnt about it, it was too late.

Or was it? We’ve had one year from the time the penal code amendment draft was released. At that time, we tried very enthusiastically within the one month we had to put forward our views. I myself went for the focus group discussion, wrote letters to everywhere I could and all. And much has happened between then and now, from MM Lee’s remarks to Indignation to Otto Fong’s coming out. We’ve had every opportunity to raise and sustain this debate in the public arena, to change people’s minds, to tell our MPs how we really feel.

We have had time. So what has happened, for us to feel we don’t have the time to effect any changes? Firstly, I believe we have been procastinating. We have not acted in a timely manner to strike when the iron was hot. We have been REACTING to events, rather than create them. Obviously, when you operate in a reactionary manner, you will not have time or the resources to mount a suitable campaign.

I got to thinking about why we have been acting this way. I asked myself why I was acting no better, only responding to external stimuli. What was stopping me from going out there and campaigning for this, MM Lee or no MM Lee? The answer was blindingly simple: I was too tied up with my current obligations, with Sayoni, PLUME, (until recently, AFA) and with everything else in my life. Too involved in the day-to-day running and administrative tasks to focus on the 377A issue.

I don’t imagine things are better for other community helpers. The queer activism scene is a fragmented landscape, with each of us tied up with our individual organisations to pay attention to the bigger picture. By writing this, I do not disparage the work done by my peers… they have done so much with so little, they have stood up bravely when much of the gay community prefers to cower. Neither am I implying they have done nothing to push the decriminalisation issue – I’ve seen their efforts and applaud them for it.

But it is not enough. We are trying, but we are too fragmented, too disconnected, too demoralised. We have different visions of how we want to do this, some preferring a softer approach, others wanting to push the envelope. We don’t work well together, quite naturally. We have an advocacy group, PLU, but they, by their own admission, is not a formal institution. They are not exactly ACLU, but an aggregrate of community leaders, who, as I have said earlier, are all engaged with their own organisations and obligations. As a community, our committment to legal rights is seasonal and responsive, when it rightly needs to be perennial.2

At the same time, we have individuals who are eager to help, who genuinely want to do something about the legal issue, but do not belong to any recognised queer groups. Their options are extremely limited, if not non-existent: PLU does not accord them a place, not being community leaders, and other queer groups, being community-builders, do not give them any opportunity for legal advocacy. Some of these people are straight, and are extremely passionate about the issue, but see absolutely no avenue for them to help.

Synthesising these two issues, it is easy to see why we are so disorganised, so non-functional. We cannot keep reacting to situations, trying to spread awareness of the issue only when it is raised by someone else. There needs to be a body of people whose sole objective and obligation is to tend to the legal issue, who can be counted on to keep up a constant campaign on the issue, whether or not events happen that spark debate. Very importantly, these people cannot be tied down by obligations to other groups – though it would be highly helpful for current community leaders to maintain close ties with this group, providing it support. We have a huge advantage compared to other countries, due to our small size – it is not difficult to reach each other and coordinate.

I am putting forth this idea now, hoping that some people will read it, maybe debate about it and hopefully try to make it work. It can be a GSA of some sorts, only on a national level. (Please, for goodness’ sake, stop excluding straight folk. They are valuable allies.) Never before have I commented on the state of the activism scene in Singapore, preferring to hold my tongue in order to avoid stepping on toes. I give my honest assessment knowing that I’ll inevitably be flamed, but that is a small suffering to bear, if fruits do eventually bear out of this.

To end with an extremely cliche quote, but one that has been proven time and again: United we stand, Divided we fall.

And I, would much prefer to stand.


  1. I’ve argued plenty on this conservative majority issue and so have others, so I shall not repeat my arguments here. Go read if you really want to know. [back]
  2. Here, I must make an extremely important distinction between the two types of activism as I see it: legal advocacy and community-building. The first focuses on our legal rights, not just decriminalisation at the moment, but in the long-term, marriage rights and so on. Community-building is what most groups engage in, at the moment. These are the groups which offer counselling services, provide discussion platforms, run support groups etc, geared towards helping queer people adjust and find others like them. We have no legal advocacy groups to speak of, with the possible exception of PLU. [back]

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