Time to make Singapore a more inclusive space

kirsten han
SingaporeScene
Participants dressed in pink perform cheerleading stunts before taking part in the forming of a giant pink dot at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. The annual Pink Dot Sg event promotes an acceptance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore, according to organizers. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: SOCIETY)

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.

Ireland – a largely Catholic country which only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and divorce in 1995 – voted resoundingly to amend their constitution and approve same-sex marriage last weekend. They have become the first country in the world to approve gay marriage by popular vote, and at a count of 62 per cent to 38 per cent, no less.

This piece of news stood in stark contrast to another development circulating on social media in Singapore: that the Media Development Authority (MDA) had apparently banned from radio and TV a song and music video by Jolin Tsai, presumably because its pro-gay message would encourage a push for same-sex marriage here.

It feels a bit as if the MDA has jumped the gun; there *is* no push for same-sex marriage in Singapore, mostly because everyone is still wondering how to shift the supposedly-not-enforced-but-somehow-still-important-to-keep Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men. On top of that, many in the LGBT community find themselves struggling against the fact that some Singaporeans don’t even recognise that discrimination exists.

That conservatives exist in every country is beyond doubt; I’m sure there were some fundies praying for the Lord to chuck rain down on gay people in Ireland too.

But while we’re riding high on the inspiration generated by Ireland’s stellar example, it’s time to think of how our own country could be so much better for everyone living in it. To not just dwell on hate and fear, but on love.

The repeal of 377A would have little to impact on the lives of heterosexual – or even religious – people. It would, however, mean a lot for LGBT people in Singapore, all of whom have parents, siblings, relatives and friends who would in turn be affected. It would be a strong signal that Singapore’s government will no longer be in the vanguard of discrimination against LGBT people, that it will no longer support the symbolic legislation that validates countless forms of bullying, dehumanising language and prejudice.

It would be a step towards telling young LGBT persons that they *are* accepted in Singaporean society; that they don’t have to be ashamed of who they are and that they can have a future without stigma and fear in Singapore. It would tell the parents of these LGBT persons that they are not alone, that they don’t have to worry about their children being branded as deviants and criminals. Conservatives aren’t the only ones who care about family; gay people have families too. Love, even familial love, is not exclusive to heterosexuals.

The court has rejected the constitutional challenge to 377A, essentially pushing the responsibility back to the legislators. Yet legislators have often pointed to Singapore’s conservatism as a reason for maintaining the status quo. As we see from the MDA’s move, the state is not only unwilling to change, but actively restricting the conversation. 

Ireland has done something wonderful and historic in this past weekend. Let us Singaporeans not be caught on the wrong side of history; let us not wait for court cases or politicians to bring us the equality that we should have.

Make it to Hong Lim Park for Pink Dot. Write to your MP about LGBT rights and the need for anti-discrimination legislation. Talk to your friends about acceptance and diversity. Reach out to LGBT people around you who might need support. Do what you can to create a safe space for them to be who they are and say what they need to say.

377A continues to loom over us all – a symbol of prejudice and discrimination. Yet we cannot simply wait for it to disappear; we as Singaporeans can do our part to start making Singapore a more inclusive place. Today.