Activist Kirsten Han has hit out at Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, calling a recent Facebook post he published expressing sympathy for a gay couple who were assaulted in the UK “little more than opportunistic political BS”.
Last week, two women were attacked by homophobic bullies who left the women covered in blood after they refused to kiss on a bus.
Revealing that he saw the BBC report covering the incident, Mr Shanmugam wrote on his Facebook page: “Gay couple got beaten up because they stood up to bullying, in the UK. I understand suspects were arrested.”
The Minister continued, in his post published on Saturday (8 June): “Everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, must feel safe in society. And in Singapore, I have said that Government has a duty to ensure that.”
Sharing a screenshot of the Minister’s post, local activist Kirsten Han wrote that while she agrees that LGBT people should be able to feel safe in society, she feels this incident and the Minister’s response is a reminder that the PAP Government “is resolutely retaining a law that, while not actively enforced, sets the tone for mainstream responses and treatment of LGBT people in Singapore.”
The Singapore Government has retained a law that criminalises gay sex, despite widespread calls to repeal it. While the British colonial-era legislation is very rarely enforced here, a man found to have committed an act of “gross indecency” with another man could be jailed for up to two years under Section 377A.
Citing a recent report that “presents evidence of physical and emotional violence committed against LBTQ women in private and public spheres,” Ms Han said that there is also evidence that “policies and practices in Singapore discriminate against gay men.”
She also cited other examples in Singapore where LGBT people are not treated in the same manner heterosexual people are, before asserting: “So while it’s nice that our minister denounces violence against LGBT people, if all we are concerned with is whether LGBT people get physically beaten up on public transport, then we need to ask ourselves why we set the bar so damn low.
“And if the government doesn’t take action to repeal laws and change policies/practices that discriminate against LGBT people in Singapore, then FB posts like this are little more than opportunistic political BS and should be read and received as such.”
While the PAP Government has been resistant to repealing Section 377A, in spite of calls from even establishment figures to do so, this is not the first time Mr Shanmugam has expressed sympathy for the LGBT community.
Last year, Mr Shanmugam said that the LGBT community are “under served” and that organisations that “help reduce HIV, help reduce drug abuse, give emotional support and so on – in my view – should be helped.”
The ruling party politician made the comments after he was approached by representatives of Oogachaga – a non-profit that has been working with the LGBTQ+ community for nearly 2 decades – approached him for financial assistance.
Snippets of the Minister’s interaction with the Oogachaga representative were captured in his second “Day in the Life of a Minister” video, published last Wednesday. After the video was released, Oogachaga Executive Director Leow Yangfa wrote to the Minister on social media:
“Thank you Minister for meeting with and featuring 2 of our staff in your video, and allowing them to share with you about our work with the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore.”
Earlier, in August 2018, Mr Shanmugam said that Singapore society must decide which way to go when it comes to legislation on gay sex. He told reporters:
“Singapore…on this issue, it is a deeply split society. The majority oppose to any change to section 377A – they are opposed to removing it. A minority – I have to say, a growing minority – want it to be repealed. The Government is in the middle.
“This issue relates to social mores, values – so can you impose viewpoints on a majority when it so closely relates to a social value system?”
When asked about his personal views on whether the statute should remain or be repealed, the Minister said:
“Speaking for myself, if you ask me, in a personal capacity, personal view – people’s lifestyles, sexual attitudes, (we) really should be careful about treating them as criminals or criminalising that.
“But again it will be wrong for me to impose my personal views on society or as a policymaker. We live our lives, live and let live. If one side pushes, you will expect a substantial push back.”
Mr Shanmugam also recalled Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s stance on the issue, noting that the late elder statesman had been “sympathetic” and “expressed his understanding for those who are gay,” as he said:
“The law is there but generally there have been no prosecutions for private conduct. People openly express themselves as gay, you got the gay parade. Police even approved a licensing for it, no-one gets prosecuted for declaring themselves as gay.
“So really when was the last time someone was prosecuted?”
I agree with the minister that LGBT people should be able to feel safe in society. But… this is also a reminder…
[Gay couple beaten up in London]I saw this report.Gay couple got beaten up because they stood up to bullying, in the…