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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Singapore face challenges not faced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal (even if consensual and committed in private), and the Attorney-General of Singapore has declared that prosecutions under Section 377A occasionally still occur,[4][5][6] although sources state that the law is not well enforced,[7][8][9] and is being challenged in courts. Same-sex relationships are not recognized under the law, and adoption of children by same-sex couples is illegal. No anti-discrimination protections exist for LGBT people.

LocationSingapore2.png
StatusIllegal for men, legal for women[1][2]
PenaltyUp to 2 years jail, caning, fines (not well enforced, repeal pending)[2]
Gender identitySex reassignment surgery legal[3]
MilitaryYes, but only limited roles and with restrictions
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex unions
AdoptionNo

Singaporean society is generally regarded as conservative. Government officials occasionally crack down on freedom and human rights for LGBT people. Despite this, LGBT events have taken place every year since 2009, with increasing attendance. In line with worldwide trends, attitudes towards members of the LGBT community are slowly changing and becoming more accepting and tolerant, especially among young people.[10]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity

Previously, Singapore law inherited from the British Empire prohibited sodomy regardless of sex. As such, heterosexual and homosexual anal or oral sex were illegal. In 2007, such sexual activity was legalised for heterosexuals and lesbians, but not for gay men.[1] The punishment is two years' imprisonment, and Attorney-General Lucien Wong has declared that he still has the legal power to prosecute someone under Singapore's Section 377A.[4][5] Section 377A can be used to prosecute if reports are lodged with the police, particularly in relation to minors.[6]

In June 2019, at the Smart Nation Summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated that Singapore would keep Section 377A "for some time" saying, "Whatever your sexuality orientation is, you're welcome to come and work in Singapore... You know our rules in Singapore. It is the way this society is: We are not like San Francisco, neither are we like some countries in the Middle East. [We are] something in between, it is the way the society is."[11][12]

Statutes

After an exhaustive Penal Code review in 2007, oral and anal sex were legalised for heterosexuals and lesbians. The changes meant that oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual and female homosexual adults were no longer offences. However, Section 377A, which deals with gross indecency between consenting men, remains in force.[1]

 
LGBT rights protesters at a Human Rights Day seminar organised by the Delegation of the European Union to Singapore in December 2014

In his concluding speech on the debate over the partial repeal of Section 377A,[13] Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told MPs before the vote that "Singapore is basically a conservative society... The family is the basic building block of this society. And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit."

Section 377A ("Outrages on decency")

Section 377A states that: "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years."[14]

Section 377A remains sporadically enforced. Between 2007 and 2013, nine people were convicted under 377A provisions.[15]

Other sections of the Penal Code potentiality relevant to LGBT Singaporeans include:

Section 354 of the Penal Code ("Outrage of Modesty")

Section 354 provides that if any person uses criminal force on any person intending to outrage, or knowing it would be likely to outrage, the modesty of that person, he shall be imprisoned for a maximum of 2 years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any two of such punishments. Section 354 requires that the police or someone is touched. However, if no physical contact is made, homosexual behaviour can also be charged under Section 294A (see below).

Section 294A of the Penal Code

If the victim of an entrapment operation uses a symbolic gesture to signal intention to have sexual activity with the police decoy, he can be tried under Section 294A of the Penal Code, which covers the commission of any obscene act in any public place to the annoyance of others (subject to a maximum of 3 months imprisonment, a fine, or both). From 1990 to 1994, there were 6 cases of obscene acts brought before the courts in this context. The accused were fined between $200 and $800.

Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act

The police can use section 19 (soliciting in a public place) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, which covers both prostitution and soliciting "for any other immoral purpose". This offence carries a fine of up to $1,000, doubling on a subsequent conviction, including a jail term not exceeding 6 months.

According to documentation by National University of Singapore sociologist Laurence Leong Wai Teng,[16] from 1990 to 1994, there were 11 cases where gay men were charged for soliciting. They were fined between $200 and $500. However, a Lawnet search revealed no reported cases of persons being charged under section 19. This does not mean, however, that no persons were charged. They might have pleaded guilty and avoided trial, resulting in the absence of case law.

Decriminalisation efforts

In 2007, the minor Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for the repeal of Section 377A.[17]

On 29 October 2014, a Singapore Supreme Court ruling upheld the country's ban on same-sex relations between consenting adult men. The Supreme Court held that Section 377A of Singapore Penal Code, which criminalises sexual intimacy between men, does not violate articles 9 and 12 of the Singapore Constitution. These articles guarantee the right to life and personal liberty, and provide that all people are entitled to equal protection before the law.[18] The applicant's attorney argued that Section 377A criminalises a group of people for an innate attribute, though the court concluded that "there is, at present, no definitive conclusion" on the "supposed immutability" of homosexuality. The court ultimately held that law reforms permitting private homosexual sex were a question for the Singapore Parliament to address.[15]

Previously, in 2012, a lower court ruling had found that Section 377A as it relates to the arrest of males for private and consensual sexual conduct "arguably" breached article 12 protections, though the court's ruling did not go into the merits of the case on technical grounds.[19]

Human rights activists have been calling for and pushing for the repeal of Section 377A, arguing that it infringes on privacy, the right to life and personal liberty, the two latter being constitutionally protected.[20]

In September 2018, following the high-profile repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court, more than 50,000 people, including a former attorney-general and several former diplomats, signed a petition called "READY4REPEAL" urging the repeal of Section 377A as part of a major penal code review. However, government officials refused to do so.[21] Diplomat Tommy Koh and former Attorney-General Walter Woon have called on members of the LGBT community to challenge the law.[22]

In September 2018, days after the Indian Supreme Court ruling, which repealed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a Singaporean DJ, Johnson Ong Ming, known by the stage name DJ Big Kid, filed a suit with the High Court arguing that Singapore's Section 377A is "in violation of human dignity". Section 377 and Section 377A are effectively identical, as both were put in place by the British Empire, raising hopes in Singapore that the discriminatory law would be struck down as well.[20] Singapore's High Court gave the petitioner until 20 November to submit his arguments.[23][24][25][21]

In November 2018, LGBT rights activist Choong Chee Hong, better known as Bryan Choong, filed another case with the Supreme Court, arguing that Section 377A is "inconsistent" with portions of Singapore's Constitution, and "is therefore void". According to court documents, the petitioner argues that Section 377A is inconsistent with Article 9, Article 12, and Article 14 of the Constitution.[26][27][28][29]

A third legal challenge was launched in September 2019 by Roy Tan, a retired medical doctor. "By institutionalising discrimination, it alienates them [LGBT people] from having a sense of belonging and purposeful place in our society, and prevents them from taking pride in Singapore's achievements.", he said in a statement.[30]

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Singapore does not recognise same-sex relationships in any form (such as marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships).

Adoption and parenting

Adoption of children by gays and lesbians are illegal in Singapore.

In December 2018, one rare exception was permitted when a gay Singaporean won the right to adopt a child he had fathered in the United States through a surrogate. The Singapore High Court overturned a 2017 ruling in which a district judge had ruled the man could not legally adopt his son because he was conceived through in vitro fertilization (which is only limited to heterosexual married couples) and brought to term through surrogacy, which is banned.[31][32] In January 2019, in response, the Minister for Social and Family Development, Desmond Lee, told the Parliament that he was looking to strengthen Singapore's adoption laws to prevent more same-sex adoption cases and that it did not support "the formation of family units with children of homosexual parents through institutions and processes such as adoption".[33][34] Under Singapore law, children born out of wedlock are considered illegitimate, (and thus are not eligible for certain social benefits, and the parents do not enjoy the same tax and housing rights as married couples) unless the child is legally adopted.[35]

Discrimination protections

No laws exist specifically protecting LGBT Singaporeans from discrimination in the workplace, housing or any other relevant areas. Previous attempts claim damages for alleged discriminatory conduct in such fields have been dismissed in Singaporean courts.[36]

Military service

Prior to 2003, homosexuals were barred from being employed in "sensitive positions" within the Singapore Civil Service.[37]

The most widely known classification is Category 302, a medical code given to personnel who are "homosexuals, transvestites, paedophiles, etc." Gay soldiers who declare their sexual orientation to the army medical officer are put into this category, where they face much discrimination. Under Category 302 (popularly referred to as "cat 302"), gay and bisexual soldiers are further classified into those "with effeminate behaviour" and those "without effeminate behaviour".

Self-declared or discovered servicemen are referred to the Psychological Medicine Branch of the Headquarters of Medical Services for a thorough psychiatric assessment, which involves their parents being called in for an interview. They are medically downgraded to a Physical Employment Status of C (PES C), regardless of their level of fitness, and put through modified Basic Military Training. On graduation, they are deployed in a vocation which has no security risks, posted to non-sensitive units and given a security status which restricts their access to classified documents.

Formerly, Category 302 personnel were not allowed to stay overnight in-camp, nor were they required to perform night duties, but these restrictions have been relaxed. "Effeminate" homosexuals are also posted to a holding list upon completion of National Service and not required to do reservist training, whilst "non-effeminate" ones have to undergo it in non-sensitive units.

A less well-known classification is Category 30-B, a medical code given to servicemen "with effeminate behaviour not amounting to sexual disorders". These individuals are further subdivided into "mildly effeminate", "effeminate" and "severely effeminate".

Conversion therapy

Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual's sexual orientation. Such practices enjoy no medical, psychological or scientific support. Indeed, they lead to depression, anxiety and suicide.

Despite this, in January 2006, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) granted S$100,000 (US$61,500) to Liberty League, an organisation affiliated with the "ex-gay" movement, to promote conversion therapy. The organization says it "promotes gender and sexual health for the individual, family and society".[38]

Living conditions

Despite the legal conditions in the country, Singaporean government representatives have previously spoken glowingly of the conditions faced by LGBT citizens at a United Nations anti-discrimination committee; "homosexuals are free to lead their lives and pursue their social activities. Gay groups have held public discussions and published websites, and there are films and plays on gay themes and gay bars and clubs in Singapore."[15]

Media

The Singapore Media Development Authority prohibits the "promotion or glamorization of the homosexual lifestyle" on television and the radio. This means among other things that advertisements targeting the LGBT community, such as those for HIV/AIDS, are not allowed to be broadcast.[39]

In July 2019, Singaporean rapper Joshua Su, better known as The G3sha, came out as gay in a new song titled "I'm OK" that highlights his childhood, the homophobia he faced and coming to terms with his sexuality.[40][41] Days later, he pulled out of a TEDx radio talk in protest after he was censored and asked not to make "sensitive" comments about his sexuality. Reports indicate that another Singapore gay rights activist was barred from speaking in 2018 at a TEDx radio talk.[42]

Public opinion

A 2005 poll by the Nanyang Technological University found that 69% of Singaporeans viewed homosexuality negatively, whilst 23% positively. In 2010, these numbers had changed to 64.5% negatively and 25% positively.[10]

According to 2013 polling, some 75% of Singaporeans opposed same-sex marriage.[43]

A 2018 opinion poll found that 55% of Singaporeans believed that gay men should have no right to privacy.[44] On the other hand, a third of Singaporeans declared themselves more accepting of same-sex relationships and human rights than five years prior.

In 2019, a poll conducted by YouGov with 1,033 respondents showed that about one-third (34%) of Singaporeans backed same-sex partnerships, while 43% opposed their legalization, and the remaining 23% were uncertain. Support was more notable among younger respondents: 50% of people aged 18 to 34 supported civil partnerships and 20% were opposed. In contrast, only 22% of those aged 55 and over supported. 41% of university degree holders agreed with the legalisation of same-sex partnerships, whereas only 26% of respondents without a university degree were in favour. Of those who considered themselves "very much" religious, only 23% supported civil partnerships. 51% of people who considered themselves "not at all" religious expressed support. Apart from irreligious people, majority support for same-sex partnerships was also found in respondents who identified as LGBT (71% against 22%) and those who personally knew a person in a same-sex relationship (52% against 33%).[45][46][47][48]

A survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies between August 2018 and January 2019 revealed that Singaporean society was still largely conservative but becoming more liberal on LGBT rights. The survey showed that more than 20% of people said that sexual relations between adults of the same sex were not wrong at all or not wrong most of the time, a rise of about 10% from 2013. Around 27% felt the same way about same-sex marriage (up from 15% in 2013) and 30% did so about same-sex couples adopting a child (up from 24% in 2013).[49][50]

A 2019 poll conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies found that opposition to same-sex marriage in Singapore had fallen to 60%, down from 74% in 2013. The poll also found that nearly six in ten Singaporeans aged between 18 and 25 believed same-sex marriage is not wrong.[51]

In June 2019, an online survey conducted by Yahoo Singapore asked 887 Singaporeans how they would react to a number of LGBT-related situations. When asked about an LGBT family member coming out, 53% of the respondents said they would react negatively. What's more, 14% expressed a "strongly negative" response, and 39% reported a "somewhat negative" reaction. When asked about a colleague coming out, 53% reported a positive reaction, while 46% reported a negative reaction. When asked about the marriage of Li Huanwu, the grandson of Singapore's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and his partner, Heng Yirui, 54% reacted negatively to the marriage. Meanwhile, 46% reacted positively to it. When asked about Pink Dot SG, 55% of respondents said that they strongly or somewhat support Pink Dot Singapore, but the remaining 45% opposed it. 80% of Singaporeans agreed that LGBT people face discrimination.[52][53][54]

In June 2019, an online survey conducted by Blackbox Research revealed that 56% of Singaporeans were opposed to other countries following Taiwan's example in legalising same-sex marriage, while 44% answered "yes". When asked on how they felt that more than 300 same-sex couples were married in Taiwan the first week after the new law was passed, about 49% of those surveyed felt positive about the statement, with 14% feeling "strongly positive" and 35% feeling "somewhat positive". Conversely, 51% responded negatively to this, 20% felt "strongly negative" and 31% were "somewhat negative". The respondents were also asked about how they felt concerning the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Bhutan. About 55% of respondents felt positive, with 15% feeling "strongly positive" and 40% were "somewhat positive". Conversely, about 44% responded negatively, 11% felt "strongly negative" and 33% felt "somewhat negative".[55]

Demographics

Li Huanwu, the grandson of Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and the nephew of current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, came out as gay in July 2018.[56] He married his partner, Heng Yirui, in South Africa on 24 May 2019.[57]

In May 2019, a study by the National University of Singapore estimated that there were 210,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) in Singapore. The study estimates were more than double the previous estimates of 90,000 MSM, and said they could be at risk of a concentrated epidemic of HIV.[58][59]

Pink Dot

Pink Dot SG is an annual event that started in 2009 in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore. In recent years, record crowds of approximately 28,000 have attended the rally, with a heavy bent toward younger demographics.[60] On 29 June 2019, during the 11th Pink Dot, Lee Hsien Yang, the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as well as his wife and second son Li Huanwu and Li's husband, Heng Yirui, attended the event.[61]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal for men   (Not well enforced, repeal pending)
Same-sex sexual activity legal for women  
Equal age of consent  
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only  
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services  
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)  
Same-sex marriages  
Recognition of same-sex couples  
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples  
Joint adoption by same-sex couples  
Gays, lesbians and bisexuals allowed to serve in the military  /  Limited positions and with restrictions
Right to change legal gender  
Access to IVF for lesbians  
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples   (Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)[62]
MSMs allowed to donate blood  

See also

References

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External links