Singapore—At a speech at the National University of Singapore’s Political Association Forum 2019 last Thursday, April 4, Pritam Singh, the head of the Workers’ Party (WP), said that it would not call for a repeal of Section 377A, which considers sexual intercourse between men a criminal act. He said that within WP’s leadership, there is “no consensus” on the matter.
Mr Singh published a link to the transcript of his speech, entitled One Singapore Family – Rising above the Culture War on his Facebook page, and received a considerable amount of criticism online over it. Many were disappointed that the opposition party would not fight against Section 377A.
One such criticism came from a student activist, who pointed out in an article on Medium how similar Mr Singh’s views are to those of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, citing a speech PM Lee made in 2007.
Daryl Yang, a final-year student reading a double degree in law and liberal arts at Yale-NUS College and the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore, co-founded and served as Executive Director of the Inter-University LGBT Network. He responded in Mr Singh’s speech in an article called, When Pink Is Political: A Response to Pritam Singh’s Speech on 377A.
Similarities between Mr Singh’s and PM Lee’s speeches
Mr Yang’s main concern with the WP head’s speech is its similarity with what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in 2007, during the debate in parliament on the repeal of S377A.
Note: all brackets in quotes were placed by Mr Yang.
First off, he acknowledges that Mr Singh has a more inclusive definition of family, although there is no mention of LGBTQ families in his definition.
However, Mr Yang points out that when Mr Singh begins to talk about the LGBTQ community, what he says does not differ much from what PM Lee had said in 2007.
Mr Singh: [W]e must consider homosexual friends who are coming out and their family members who [are] coming to terms with their sexuality too. Can they not be better supported if they face prejudice and depression?
PM Lee: We should not make it harder than it already is for them to grow up and to live in a society where they are different from most Singaporeans.
The next point of similarity is when Mr Singh talked about his LGBTQ friends.
Mr Singh: I know faculty at NUS who are gay. Those who taught me were some of the finest intellectual minds I have ever come across… I know more than a handful of civil servants who are gay… some of the most even-handed and respectful people I know.
PM Lee: [Homosexuals] include people who are responsible and valuable, highly respected contributing members of society. And I would add that among them are some of our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, or some of our children.
My Yang then points out a third similarity between the two speeches.
Mr Singh had emphasised the need to “rise above the culture war,” saying, “I think we should agree that we cannot let these culture wars [from America] represent the Singapore way. We should not fight over who is more right than the other — we should listen, discuss and debate with the suspicion that we may be wrong, and look for common ground to overcome our differences.”
He showed how similar this is to PM Lee’s words from 2007. “If you try and force the issue and settle the matter definitively, one way or the other, we are never going to reach an agreement within Singapore society.”
However, the author of the article gives Mr Singh credit for sounding “much warmer towards queer people than PM Lee.”
Mr Yang also pointed out the differences between what the two leaders said.
Mr Singh says he believes that Singapore will “one day… get to that place where the uneasy compromise we see today transfigures into a unifying consensus marked by a tolerance and understanding”.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister had no such views, “People on both sides hold strong views. People who are presently willing to live and let live will get polarised and no views will change, because many of the people who oppose it do so on very deeply held religious convictions. Discussion and debate is not going to bring them closer together. And instead of forging a consensus, we will divide and polarise our society.”
At the end of his article, Mr Yang made the point that for the LGBTQ community in Singapore, “change will not come from our political representatives.”
Ultimately, while it was disappointing to read Pritam’s speech, us queer folks in Singapore are not unfamiliar with feeling disappointed, let down and forgotten.
This is only a reminder that change will not come from our political representatives. It might come from the courts one day, but it will not come easy. The disappointment perhaps comes from that unspoken hope that WP (or some other political party) might stand up to Goliath and liberate us all from our legal shackles.
That was and should never be the story we tell ourselves of how our liberation will look like.
Pritam and WP are not going to be the queer community’s heroes and that is okay. We do not need heroes to save us. The marginalised and the oppressed have always had to save ourselves. Others before us have done so many times, and we will do so in Singapore, eventually. We will get there.”/TISG
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