LGBTI rights supporters at Singapore’s annual Pride event, Pink Dot | Photo: Calum Stuart
Singapore’s education minister has claimed that LGBTI people in the city-state do not experience discrimination.
‘The fact is [that LGBTI people] live in Singapore peacefully, no discrimination at work, housing (and) education,’ said minister Ong Ye Kung.
‘However, on the issue of LGBTQ, it is also an issue of social mores and societal values,’ he added.
In response, prominent LGBTI rights advocate Rachel Yeo stated that LGBTI discrimination in Singapore was widespread and ‘not subject to [Mr. Ong’s] personal opinion’.
Ong’s comments come at a time of fierce public debate regarding whether to keep or repeal a law which bans male homosexual sex in Singapore.
The debate surrounding Section 377A has seen renewed interest following the decision by India’s Supreme Court to decriminalize homosexual sex.
Though Section 377A is rarely enforced, the statute effectively criminalizes gay men in Singapore.
‘Same-sex couples face significant barriers’
Ong made the remarks after being asked what Singapore could do to be more inclusive while he was attending a business and global affairs conference, TODAY reports.
Rachel Yeo, Executive Director of the Inter-University LGBT Network (IULN) strongly disputed the minister’s comments.
Yeo told GSN: ‘If Mr. Ong genuinely believes LGBTQ+ people do not experience any kind of discrimination in Singapore, then I don’t know which rock he’s been living under.
‘When it comes to housing, same-sex couples face significant barriers to owning their own homes. Unlike heterosexual couples, they cannot order BTO (build-to-order) flats as their unions are not recognized under Singapore’s laws.
‘Mr. Ong should be familiar with what it’s like to be gay in civil service – being outed as gay when you’re a soldier or a teacher could cut short your career […] At many workplaces, LGBTQ+ folk omit details of their personal lives for fear that they will be viewed differently by their colleagues and superiors and ultimately hinder their career.’
Yeo made headlines in July after being disinvited from speaking about LGBTI issues for a TEDx youth talk at a Catholic school in Singapore. She said her own experience was emblematic of censorship of LGBTI issues which is rife in Singapore’s schools and educational establishments.
‘Under Singapore’s sex education, the only thing we’re taught is that gay sex is illegal under 377A. LGBTQ+ folk endure ignorant, hurtful remarks from peers and educators at an alarming frequency,’ Yeo added.
‘That LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against on all three fronts is a fact, not subject to [Mr. Ong’s] personal opinion.’
In his comments, Ong also discussed the importance of public opinion with regard to whether or not to repeal Section 377A.
‘We might be the largest animal in the jungle, but we are not the jungle. Some things we leave it to society to decide over time,’ Ong said.
His comments echo the sentiments of Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who said that public opinion should decide whether the time is right to repeal Section 377A.
This month has seen renewed debate around Section 377A.
While the LGBTI community and rights groups believe the law is outdated and unjust, more conservative elements of Singapore’s society are adamant that the statue remains.
Numerous public figures have spoken out in support of repealing Section 377A, which include members of the government’s staff and Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large.
Earlier this week, a DJ filed a motion to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A. 43-year-old Johnson Ong, aka DJ Big Kid, filed the challenge on Monday (10 September).
With this debate, two petitions have been shared across the island republic; one advocating for the repeal of Section 377A, and the other in favor of keeping the statute. At the time of the article’s publishing, the petition to keep Section 377A had over twice as many signatures as its counterpart calling for the law’s repeal.