Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam appreciated the work of the T Project on social media, yesterday. T Project is Singapore’s first and only social service for the transgender community and was founded by two sisters to address the gaps in the existing social service sectors and meet the needs of Singapore’s transgender community.
Besides connecting transgender individuals to social workers and counsellors and helping them find employment, the T Project also runs a shelter that serves as a temporary safe haven for those who are homeless in the community.
Revealing that he visited the T Project’s shelter, Mr Shanmugam wrote on Facebook yesterday (2 Oct): “I went to visit The T Project shelter. The T Project is Singapore’s first and only social service for the transgender community.
“The transgender community faces enormous challenges. The T Project offers help to those who have fallen through the cracks because of family issues.
“They provide counselling, job opportunities and most importantly a safe space. June, the founder of the T project, is devoted and commited to the cause.”
Inviting Mr Shanmugam to visit them anytime, the T Project responded on Facebook: “We are all really honoured and humbled to welcome Minister K Shanmugam Sc to our shelter. Words cannot express our gratitude Minister and everyone who made this possible.
“This is a very big step forward in having better social support for the transgender community in Singapore. We will continue to do our best to serve our community and bridge the gap with society. Look forward to bigger and better news in the near future!”
[ The T Project ]I went to visit The T Project shelter.The T Project is Singapore’s first and only social service…
This is not the first time Mr Shanmugam has spoken publicly about the work social service organisations are doing to help those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Last year, he 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 two 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 in November. 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.”
The Minister’s comments in November came just a few months after the LGBT community and its straight allies pushed for the Government to repeal Section 377A in Singapore law that criminalises gay sex.
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.
While calls to repeal the law have been resounding in Singapore for years, the latest “Ready4Repeal” movement that pushed for legal reforms was especially notable since prominent establishment figures came out to signal their support for the cause, for the first time.
Despite accumulating about 50,000 signatures and support from prominent figures like veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, former Attorney-General Walter Woon and former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, the petition failed to effect change.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong previously said that the majority of Singaporeans would want to keep the statute and that Singapore society “is not that liberal on these matters”.
Echoing his party head’s views, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in August 2018 that Singapore society must decide which way to go when it comes to legislation on gay sex. Labelling the group calling for change a “growing minority”, the Minister 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?”
In June this year, PM Lee Hsien Loong quashed all hope that Section 377A will be repealed in Singapore anytime soon, as he asserted that the law criminalising gay sex will be around “for some time.”