Former ST editor highlights the importance of standing up for secularism in the face of religious pressure

A former senior editor in the country’s biggest newspaper who played a role in The AWARE Saga of 2009 has chimed in his thoughts about the current debate involving Section 377A of the Penal Code, the law that criminalizes sex between men in Singapore.

Mainly, he brings up how The Straits Times weathered a beating by the public over the landmark case for Singapore’s feminist, human rights and LGBTQ history — and how society should be resolute in doing away with the archaic law in the face of overwhelming pressure by the powerful religious right.

But first, what is the AWARE Saga? In 2009, women’s organization the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) faced a sudden takeover by a group of people with strong anti-LGBTQ and right-wing Christian inclinations. These people had joined AWARE a few months before the group’s annual general meeting (AGM) in March when the voting for executive committee members would take place. When the AGM came around, the intentions of the new members were clear — they were there to take over the executive positions and run AWARE with their own anti-LGBTQ agenda. Fortunately, the old guard was reinstated after months of intense scrutiny and exposé by the media, and the saga ended with a new diverse, progressive committee on board. You can read the whole fascinating sequence of events here.

“I remain proud of that story, because it uncovered how self-righteous people in our midst will take it upon themselves to force their beliefs and values on everyone else, and they will use all means possible,” wrote John of his time as editor during that period. But as noted in his viral Facebook post, ST was accused of having a “gay agenda” for its part in exposing the story about the AWARE saga. This, he pointed out, is the same tactic that the anti-LGBTQ segment of Singapore is using against veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, who recently called for the abolishment of Section 377A in an ST column.

“Some of the same people who figured in the stealthy takeover of AWARE appear to be invested in current efforts to retain this bad law,” wrote Alan, hoping that Singapore’s courts “will do the right thing” this year to maintain secularism.

“They learned nothing in 2009, they remain as steadfast, maybe even more so, in their desire to protect all of Singapore from sin and sinfulness as defined in their holy book.”

John’s Facebook post deserves a full read below.

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