Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s views on gay rights are recirculating online, after an old interview clip featuring his views was posted on the Singapore subreddit.
Officially, sex between mutually consenting men is criminalised in Singapore. While Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code – a 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 the authorities remain reluctant to strike down Section 377A, establishment figures – including top members of the ruling party – have expressed support for LGBT issues.
Mr Lee, who passed away in 2015, was perhaps the most prominent ruling party politician who 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.
The late statesman’s famous comments on the topic was when an interview titled “Youthful Concerns” was released alongside his book ‘Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going’. A two minute clip from the interview was cut and posted on the Singapore subreddit.
The clip that was posted on Reddit features an interviewer asking Mr Lee about his personal view on being gay and whether he thought being gay is a lifestyle or genetic. Mr Lee responded:
“No, it’s not a lifestyle. You can read the books all you want, all the articles. There’s a genetic difference, so it’s not a matter of choice. They are born that way and that’s that. So if two men or two women are that way, just leave them alone.
“Whether they should be given rights of adoption is another matter because who’s going to look after the child? Those are complications that arise once you recognise that you could actually legally marry, then you say I want to adopt.
“Vivian Balakrishnan says it’s not decisively proven. Well, I believe it is. There’s enough evidence that some people are that way and just leave them be.”
The interviewer also asked how Mr Lee would you feel if one of his grandchildren came out to him as gay. Mr Lee responded: “That’s life. They’re born with that genetic code, that’s that.”
He added: “Dick Cheney didn’t like gays but his daughter was born like that. He says, “I still love her, full stop.” It’s happened to his family. So on principle he’s against it, but it’s his daughter. Do you throw the daughter out? That’s life. I mean none of my children is gay, but if they were, well that’s that.”
The Reddit post, which was published on Wednesday (12 Aug), quickly began trending and garnered close to 2,000 upvotes. Netizens commenting on the post speculated that Mr Lee might have known that one of his grandsons was gay when he made these comments back in 2011 and that this knowledge could have caused him to take a personal interest in LGBT issues.
Just over three years after Mr Lee passed on, his grandson Li Huanwu publicly came out of the closet as gay. The next year, in mid-2019, he married his longtime boyfriend in an intimate ceremony in South Africa that was attended by their immediate families.
Lee Hsien Yang, Li Huanwu’s father and Lee Kuan Yew’s youngest son, later told the South China Morning Post: “I believe my father would have been thrilled to know this.”
Mr Lee went into more detail about how he views gay rights in the same interview. When asked what he considers an obstacle to gay couples adopting children, he responded:
“Who is going to bring them up? Two men looking after a child? Two women looking after a child, maybe. But I’m not so sure because it’s not their own child. Unless you have artificial insemination and it’s their own child, then you have a certain maternal instinct immediately aroused by the process of pregnancy.
“But two men adopting a boy or a girl, what’s the point of it? These are consequential problems, we cross the bridge when we come to it. We haven’t come to that bridge yet. The people are not ready for it. In fact, some ministers are not ready for it.
“I take a practical view. I said this is happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. Life’s like that. People are born like that. It’s not new, it goes back to ancient times. So I think there’s something in the genetic makeup.”
He added that he came to his views on homosexuality by his observation and “historical data,” not just through scientific reasoning alone.
In another interview, Mr Lee talked about the Singapore approach to LGBT issues. Surprising those who saw him as a champion of conservative “Asian values”, Mr Lee called homosexuality “a genetic variation” and said:
“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 persisting aberration, but is it an aberration? It’s a genetic variation.
“So what do we do? I think we pragmatically adjust…”