Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has 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.”
The Minister’s comments come 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.
After India’s landmark ruling against 377A, ex-President Tan’s son-in-law to congratulate his friends in India for the change. The NUS Law Faculty dean, Simon Chesterman, wrote on Facebook: “India’s s377 is struck down. Kudos to my old classmate Menaka Guruswamy (and many others)!”
Going a step further than Chesterman, prominent Singapore diplomat Professor Tommy Koh responded to Chesterman’s post and called on Singapore’s gay community to band together and challenge Section 377A here.
The veteran diplomat wrote: “I would encourage our gay community to bring a class action to challenge the consitutionality of Section 377A.” When reminded that past legal applications challenging the constitutionality of the law have failed, Prof Koh encouraged from his verified account: “try again”.
The Ready4Repeal petition that circulated online and garnered over 50,000 signatures, was also signed by Koh and other prominent establishment figures like:
- former Attorney-General, Nominated Member of Parliament and Legal Advisor to the President of Singapore and Council of Presidential Advisors Prof Walter Woon; and
- Senior Advisor (University & Global Relations) of NUS, former Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, former Singapore Ambassador to the United Nations, and former President of the UN Security Council, Prof Kishore Mahbubani.
While such establishment figures are calling for change, the leaders of the nation appear hesitant to repeal the statute.
The nation’s 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 this year 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.”
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?”
Earlier this year, Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson Li Huanwu publicly came out of the closet as gay, with a photoshoot with his partner that was published in a pro-LGBT website.
The son of Lee Kuan Yew’s youngest child Lee Hsien Yang, Li Huanwu is the younger brother of Li Shengwu who is presently facing a lawsuit brought on by Singapore authorities over a Facebook post.
The late Lee Kuan Yew, himself, was supportive of people in same-sex relationships in Singapore. He had consistently stated in interviews his belief that homosexuality is a genetic variance and that homosexuals should not be persecuted.
In perhaps his most famous interview on the topic, Lee Kuan Yew frankly shared his thoughts on homosexuality at a PAP Youth Wing event in 2007:
“This business of homosexuality. It raises tempers all over the world, and even in America. If in fact it is true, and I’ve asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual, because that is the nature of genetic random transmission of genes. You can’t help it. So why should we criminalise it?
“But there is such a strong inhibition in all societies – Christianity, Islam, even the Hindu, Chinese societies. And we’re now confronted with a persisiting aberration, but is it an aberration? It’s a genetic variation.
“So what do we do? I think we pragmatically adjust…”