A Conversation with K Shanmugam on LGBT in Singapore
It all started on the 6th of October 2012 when, out of sheer frustration about the state of institutionalised discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Singapore, I left a note on the Facebook Page of the Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, K Shanmugam.
I wrote of friends leaving and the National Conversation making no effort to remember that we are Singaporeans too. I highlighted our trip to the United Nations last year to present our shadow report detailing the kind of discrimination that the government so often denies. As I wrote, I got a little bolder and said that if LGBT citizens are not wanted, please tell us, so that we can all forget this struggle and move on to wherever we need to be.
Minister Shanmugam kindly replied, “There can be no suggestion that LGBT citizens are not wanted.” The bigger question is, with the diverse viewpoints in our society and often held strongly by various groups, the government is often caught in the middle trying to decide what would be acceptable to the majority.
I replied by speaking about retaining laws like 377A, which in turn informs or influences policies, creating a cascading effect felt deeply by every LGBT person in Singapore. The exchange went on a few more times and Minister Shanmugam suggested that we meet for a proper chat for him to hear us more on the issues.
On the 27th of November, Kelly, Irene and I met Minister Shanmugam. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He is a soft-spoken man with eyes reflecting his intelligence and who listened closely to what was said to him. For privacy, selected parts of the conversation are reported here.
Minister Shanmugam started out by describing what he saw of the diversity of views in our society and how different segments of the population see the LGBT community. This is an issue of personal conduct and different people will have their own take on such conduct. It is not easy for the government to tell citizens what viewpoint to take – many people will have strongly held views based on religious and other beliefs. He went on to say that the debate won’t stop at the repeal of 377A. Debates on same-sex marriage and other issues would follow. All the culture wars which are being fought in the USA might be brought to Singapore. The government has been saying we should leave things be by letting people carry on with their lives and be tolerant. Even though 377A is kept on the books, charges have not been proactively brought on 377A.
Irene asked why a government that has made unpopular decisions when it felt the need to stays ambivalent on this subject.
The Minister replied that the government cares deeply about citizens’ viewpoints and that public opinion does matter very much. Precisely because of its focus on what people need and feel, the government has been successful. He went on to say that the state cannot govern without the consent of the people.
We described to the Minister experiences in the lifespan of an LGBT person and obstacles we faced from young to old age. The Minister paid close attention when we outlined the kinds of discrimination we face in a wide spectrum of areas, from employment, education, housing and social benefits to violence. We linked the cascading effects of laws and censorship that justifies the discriminatory policies and how they translate to simple day-to-day living circumstances.
Minister Shanmugam listened intently to what we explained and said that for there to be change, there has to be a majority’s social acceptance, which we agreed that we are working on. However, we countered that it is difficult with censorship looming over our media, banning neutral or positive portrayals of LGBT persons.
We noted that the LGBT community would prefer not to have an adversarial relationship with the government. If there are no concrete actions taken on these issues, it is very difficult for us with or without our children to justifying staying in Singapore. The practicality of life demands a solution.
When our time was up, we thanked him for hearing us out. The meeting was a good opportunity to establish mutual understanding. He offered to meet again, with a larger group of us.
Editor's Update: This meeting was picked up by the Straits Times and their report was published on 5 January with the photo used here.
All the films disappointingly only portray the sexual side, which is irrelevant, it is akin to heterosexual films just throwing sex at you, which is merely porn.
Ellen Degeneres and her wife are great ambassadors because they respond kindly to criticism from the straight community.
When there is ignorance, let us sow information.
Where there is name calling...remind people that we are loving and kind individuals and remind them to be kind to all.
Just realize that more and more countries are sanctioning gay marriage...Singapore is looking on and taking note.
We cannot challenge people on religious beliefs, but we can demand justice in the laws of the land.
From what I understand being gay is completely natural. Happened throughout several civilizations, homosexuality occurs in the animal kingdom too. True, it may not be procreative, but so are a lot of infertile heterosexuals, and a lot of other hetero sexual practices.
To deny what others are born with is the same as discriminating against one's skin color, natural deficiencies, and such.
I am a lesbian who married my partner legally in Canada.
The "sky did not fall," and the family was not destroyed. People need to know that gays/lesbians have "family values." Afterall, family values are honesty, kindness, love, tolerance, obeying our country's laws, etc. etc. I express these opinions and validate the wonderful past and presence of lesbians on my site
stories4hotbloodedlesbians.com. Come and visit.
Many mothers are abandoned by their husbands, leaving children to be brought up by one parent.
Canada introduced same sex marriage in 2004 (I think) Anyway, this allowed gays/lesbians who have children, to adopt or to raise their children (often born in a previous heterosexual union
that did not last).
Where countries have same sex marriages, families with kids are just as stable as those raised in heterosexual families. Statistics from experts state that LOVE is the foundation of family life.
Family values are common to most humans regardless of sex:
honesty, love, gentleness, tolerance, anti-racism, etc.
Where there is same sex marriage, schools recognize this change in society and books and teaching shows the different family dimensions. People in Singapore may want to keep "things as they are," but this comes at the cost of depriving gays/lesbians of equality and it then becomes a human rights issue, an not a religious issue.
And it is demeaning and insulting to imply by your last sentence ("Every citizen is duty bound to do their best to protect their country / nation.") that the LGBT people are destroying the nation because we love our country and nation too and believe that it deserves as much protection from us as its citizens.
A country is only as good as it serves the poor or minorities.
A country belongs to all its citizens. Change is coming.
There is such a thing as SELF-righteousness that thinks that everyone is less than, or a sinner, etc. Jesus likened the Pharisees to self-righteous individuals who judged others, while having many sins buried "In white tombs." See New Testament.
A principle means nothing if it is an unjust principle, if it does not provide equality, if it reduces humans to be lesser members of society. When mentioning "prosperity" remember that gays/lesbians work, pay taxes, and add to the prospertity of every nation.
First of all, what do you mean by "will LGBT exist if the parents have take the same path?" I don't quite get what you are trying to say. Anyway, LGBT persons will always be around, no matter if the parents are hetero or homo.
Also, as the government, they need to pay attention to all of society, not just the minority but, as I have said before, when it comes to basic human rights, the minority cannot be subjected to the tyranny of the majority. It is as simple as that because every human being is entitled to such basic human rights.
And I do not know how the declining birth rate is related to the LGBT community or how it sends conflicting and contradicting signals to the majority. Would you care to enlighten me?
As far as I know, the declining birth rate is due to the fact that married hetero couples are not having enough babies due to a myriad of reasons such as expensive costs to raise a child, etc. So, again, I do not see the link between this and the LGBT community in any way.
Also, if you are concerned about procreation, what about infertile straight couples? Elderly couples? Couples who do not want babies? Shouldn't the government pay attention to them too in this nation of declining birth rate? Also, do read about LGBT couples with children. You might be surprised to know that LGBT couples have kids together too, especially in this modern age of science & technology.
Gays/lesbians do have family values; remember that gays/lesbians often have custody of their children, and what agencies REPORT is that LOVE is the foundation to raise children, and children raised by gays/lesbians are normal in every way and do not grow up to be gay. Please either state the internet reference or agency that has reported what you state, or retract and apologize. This is hateful and hurtful misinformation.
Truth always wins out.!
There are now 14 countries that do not feel threatened TT as you do in your comments. I am a lesbian and married legally in Canada. No family has suffered because I married.
I respect the fact that you have the right to say what you want but I think you should remember that the minority does not live under the tyranny of the majority when it comes to the accordance of basic human rights or else, all hell will break loose.
What I am most appalled at is the fact that many who demonize do not seek to talk or understand who and what the LGBT community is all about. Why is it that every time the topic of homosexuality is brought up, all you can think about is the sex related to it and how it is "unnatural" or "deviant". Do we always talk about just the sex when we talk about heterosexuality? No, right?
And arguments against LGBT is always either the strawman or slippery slope variety - "If we remove s377a, free uninhibited public sex between people of the same gender will then happen! And it will then be the end of the world!"
Look, many countries have decriminalized sodomy laws and a few have already legalised same sex marriage - look what happened to them? Did the seas open up and swallow them whole? Did their country break apart? Did they suffer one catastrophe after another? Nope, business went on as usual.
Again, I respect your view on this issue but I just feel that you should at least have the common decency to treat LGBT persons as human and not reduce them to the sex perverts you always think they are.
the proper word is not 'discriminate'
but discern. to discern means to know the good from the bad.
@MN84 agree with you!
The sex act is there to add value to our life. We bond, both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Bonding is the 99% of life that is left over after sex. Contrary to popular belief, gays/lesbians don't have sex 24:7 (sorry to disappoint).
Furthermore, the "human body" is designed to be loved; the mind/psyche needs to feel love, caring, companionship.
We say goodnight, knowing that the person sleeping with us loves us. We pay bills, plan holidays, laugh, cry and need the person we love to hold us in good and bad times.
I am sorry that your comments can only focus on "sexual intercourse" this sounds so cold and just a function and not a life of love.
However if I may imagine changing the scenario - if my children enter into same-sex relationships instead, which are against mother nature, there will only be confusion, sadness, guilt etc...
Look at the mother-nature, they are silent but they teach and show us what life is if you watch them carefully. Anything that is against mother-nature brings destruction in the end, I'm sure you know!
The debate won't stop at the repeal of 377A. Debates on same-sex marriage, adoption of children, other issues would follow. All the culture wars being fought in USA might be bought into Singapore. These debates as you can see are not constructive but very destructive to our society.
For example, in the US, young kindergarten children are taught that it is normal to have same-sex relationships. Young children are not spared (just imagine!). The little ones would be confused. There is no option. Either you accept their teachings and stay in school. Otherwise you have to leave school. Is this called "freedom in the society"? One can see the level of aggression once you submit to them.
Please….. The penal code 377A must stay. It is not for ourselves. It is for our children. Do not let our children lose their freedom. Protect them. Let them decide.
Did Mother-Nature teach you that it is natural to perform fellatio, cunnilingus or anal penetration? I'm pretty sure it's an act of gross indecency as well, no?
So why did they reform the sex law to make oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples legal?
Please, don't use Mother Nature in vain.
I do not think you understand North American kindergarten children. There are many books to address the question of who loves you at home. They are not confused and only will be if adults confuse them. Kindergarten children know if they are loved. So many children in heterosexual familes are not!
There has to be options and laws changed when people are not treated the same. Hey, kindergarten children know if someone is being "unfair" in their class.
Children will always have freedom, it is the adults (gays and lesbians) that don't have it. But, thank God, there are 14 countries, soon to be 16 (and not American) that are living out the Christian faith...i.e. love everyone...do not judge...
I live in Canada and children are graduating...and not one of them has openly said, in their graduating speech or on their year book pictures, that they have been ruined by homosexuals marrying. To you, Evelyn, I say, Live the Faith..Live the Words of Jesus, or Buddha..These were men of Love
I'm not confused, sad, or guilt-ridden because I'm gay. My mum probably used to feel that way but she's more enlightened now, seeing that I'm generally happy and a well-adjusted adult. She told me once that her greatest worry for me would be that I would suffer a lifetime of discrimination. Discrimination perpetuated like people like you who not only spread irrational messages of fear (we need to save our children from the gays!) but also actively support the continued discrimination of gay people.
Our children lose their freedom because we adults continue to choose to discriminate and make others feel bad about themselves because they are different, not because gay people are accepted as they are and accorded the same rights as everybody else.
I really hope you would take some time to consider what kind of society you want your child or grandchild to grow up in -- should he or she be gay. One that may drive the child to suicide, depression or one that will treat him or her the same as everyone else, which is really what gay people are asking for.
Again, and again, comments wrongly state that somehow a union or marriage of gays/lesbians will result in a loss of values/morals, etc.
What 'standard' are you speaking about?
Fourteen countries have changed the 'standard' which means looking at discrimination and realizing that marriage of same sex, which began in Holland in 2001 has not resulted in a destruction of society. This is fearmongering. Why not base your facts on countries that have made marriage available to same sex couples. Not country has disappeared in the sea.
Please, enough with those insidious acts. You are the epitome of contradiction, and with failure to understand the obvious no less.
How a discriminative law such as 377A is able to be perceived by an individual as a moral standard in our soeciety itself is questionable.
I would like to know your basis for alleging that 377A is a discriminatory act? In what way is it discrimnatory?
If I may use an analogy (which may not be perfect): I love speed and I drive a sports car. But the traffic law limits my speed to 70km/h on major road and 90km/h on highway. I have to really take care not to because a mere step on the accelerator would take me beyond these limits easily. Frankly, I find the traffic law discriminatory to a person like me who enjoys speed, owns a fast car and I am a trained driver so my likelihood to be a public harm is low.
In the same way, is 377A discriminatory to because it disgagrees with your choices and views? Any laws can be discriminatory if so.
Firstly, your analogy. You can't compare people to driving. People are people, and as such we all have human rights, and are all equal in the sense, among others, that we should receive equal protection. The fact that 377A criminalises the actions of homosexual men--which are consensual choices of two adults--shows that it doesn't respect the right of these men to make their own personal life choices.
That, I hope, answers your question about discrimination. Discrimination (n.): the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things. (Webster-Merriam dictionary) In terms of sexual preference, LGBTs are a different category of people (although I resent this labelling; but that's another argument), and the fact that we have a law that selectively disallows them from engaging in sexual acts is discriminatory. Here, I'm highlighting it for you: selectively; separating them from the rest of society. That, my friend, is discrimination.
If you believe in heterosexual as a standard of your moral uprightness, I accept that you have the right to your own views. But what you're doing is taking your views as law and using an opinion--your opinion--to discriminate against a group of people whose values are different from yours.
We can agree to disagree, but it's not okay to put legally outlaw the actions of others who hold beliefs different from your own. That is discrimination. And that is one of the many things that are misguided in 377A.
You are comparing a car to a human. The car has to obey rules and it is the SAME RULES for cars owned by heterosexuals and cars owned by homosexuals. The 'playing field is level."
Now, if there were harder rules for heterosexuals and easier rules for homosexuals, you and (your fast car) would feel discriminated against! Your analogy is imperfect and it is sad to use a non-living thing (car) in an argument against giving HUMANS the same rights.
Everyone does it. And they certainly have been doing it since forever. It's not like abolishing 377A will cause a surge of sexual promiscuity. Or hetero teenagers having a go at it cause its legal now. Moreover, it's a bedroom affair. How is it in the government's interest to ban something that personal between two consenting adults behind closed doors? It's not like incest where the baby may end up abnormal.
As for the speed driving..... You're not the only one on the road dude. What if you hit someone, genius? I hate to break this to you but the chance of you hitting someone increases when you SPEED.
I think you're being very stingy in your willingness to understand others. Here's a takeaway for you. Did you know it was considered immoral for blacks to marry whites in the past? Did you also know that it was morally sound to have blacks as slaves, discriminate against women, hang people for petty crimes?