Singapore's LGBTQ voters call on election candidates to end silence on queer issues

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - JUNE 27: A group of friends pose for a portrait holding up the Progress Flag to show support to the LGBTQ community on June 27, 2020 in Singapore. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this years Pink Dot SG rally has gone online. (Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images)
A group of friends holding up the Progress Flag to show support to the LGBTQ community on June 27, 2020 in Singapore. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year's Pink Dot SG rally went online. (Photo: Ore Huiying/Getty Images)

by Teng Yong Ping

SINGAPORE — As Singaporeans prepare to vote on Friday (10 July), the LGBTQ community has called on politicians to hear their concerns even as electoral candidates have been mostly silent on such issues during the campaign trail.

LGBTQ rights have increasingly become a topic of concern among Singaporeans, but advocates here say that politicians tend to shy away from commenting on the subject for fear of alienating either conservative or liberal voters.

Ahead of GE2020 campaigning, queer women’s advocacy group Sayoni had compiled a research report documenting local politicians’ track records of gay-friendliness. A spokesperson said that when Sayoni reached out to political parties, most of them were unresponsive or non-committal when asked about their current positions on LGBTQ issues such as Section 377A, “conversion therapy”, and LGBTQ-affirming healthcare and education.

Queer activists have called for Section 377A of the Penal Code, a law which criminalises sex between men, to be repealed. Three separate legal challenges against 377A were dismissed by the High Court in March this year. The court said Section 377A was intended to safeguard public morals and enable enforcement and prosecution of all forms of gross indecency between males.

Major parties contesting this election are mixed in their positions regarding 377A.

The incumbent People’s Action Party’s position on 377A is to retain the law to maintain “traditional heterosexual family values” without enforcing it.

The Workers’ Party said the party would not call for the repeal of 377A because there was no consensus within the party’s leadership on the issue.

Both the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Progress Singapore Party support the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

However, although SDP officially supports the repeal of 377A, during an online dialogue session with netizens on Reddit, the party’s candidates Dr Paul Tambyah and Alfred Tan did not answer several questions about 377A and LGBTQ issues.

Paerin Choa, spokesperson for the annual LGBTQ rally Pink Dot, said, “All we want is for a politician or party to acknowledge their LGBTQ constituents during this election campaign and demonstrate some leadership for us. To date, none of the parties running for the General Election have even touched on LGBTQ issues in their manifestos. Any omission or sidestepping of this topic – especially when people have explicitly asked them about it – is now glaring in this day and age.”

Teo Yu Sheng, 29, who sells pride products under his queer brand Heckin’ Unicorn, said, “I hope that politicians can have the moral courage to stand up against discrimination, not only with words, but with real action.”

Sayoni said, “We hope that politicians will increase their awareness and understanding, as well as take action in protecting the LGBTQ community. Taking action requires speaking out for the LGBTQ community in Parliament, in the media, and in everyday life.”

Teo pointed out that the queer community is disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. “Many are forced to stay in hostile family environments, many are financially impacted, many no longer have access to quality psychological help.”

Choa hopes that queer people will be able to hear from candidates, even after the election, on how they meaningfully include LGBTQ constituents in their plans for the future. “As we navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic together, it is all the more important for us to know that we will have compassionate leaders who will truly include everyone, including the LGBTQ community, in their policies and vision.”

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Homes across Singapore light up in pink as annual Pink Dot rally goes online

LGBTQ communities in Asia hit hard by pandemic restrictions

High Court dismisses 3 constitutional challenges to Section 377A

80% of Singaporeans say LGBTQ community faces discrimination: survey

COMMENT: As pop culture gets more inclusive, Singapore's LGBT censorship isn't sustainable