(This is a copy of an email that I sent to the Prime Minister and the Members of Parliament about my request to amend Section 377A of the Penal Code. I made this post just to share with more straight and LGBT people about my thoughts on Section 377A and the LGBT community in Singapore.)
By Timothy Tang
To the Prime Minister and the Members of Parliament,
I am writing to share my most concerned thoughts on the crucial need for Parliament to amend Section 377A of the Penal Code with much legitimate good reasons. I hope you can hear my reasons and give much consideration to them.
Today, I read a news article about Racial Harmony Day where Education Minister Heng Swee Keat stressed the need for Singapore to build strong community bonds to meet the challenges of today's volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous global environment.
We must embrace diversity - and not just among Singapore's 'main races': Heng
He mentioned a recent study on indicators of racial and religious harmony by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg where it showed that there is room for improvement, specifically, in building interest in intercultural understanding and interaction.
He also said,
"We also need to go beyond understanding the main races to respecting all people regardless of race, language or religion, who live and work in Singapore - for the happiness, prosperity and progress of our nation."
I agree with everything the Education Minister said in the article, which is why I feel that Section 377A of the Penal Code is best to be amended for the good of all Singaporeans.
A Voices writer to TODAY newspaper recently mentioned the need for a common space in the library. The letter was addressed to NLB’s withdrawal of 3 books about minority families.
Preserve common space or regress to a feuding society
I totally agree for the need of a “common space” in the public library where people are unrestricted in getting educated about the complex modern world we face today.
Other than the need for a crucial neutral space in the library, I also see the crucial need for a common neutral space in Singapore society.
The recent Philippine Independence Day celebration was meant to be held at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza until it received complaints from some Singaporeans. The complainers misunderstood the event and thought that it would be held in a public space. They perceived the celebrations to be infringing on a common neutral space in society, which they saw as disrespectful and conflicting with the interests of Singaporeans. I eventually wrote in to TODAY to try to resolve the misunderstanding and explained that the venue for the event was actually non-public space.
Venue for Philippine celebration would not have been ‘public space’
I feel that the establishment of such a common neutral space in society is of the utmost importance especially as Singapore heads towards a more challenging and demanding future. If left unchecked and unmaintained, the infringement of such a crucial neutral space in society could go on to create lots of misunderstanding that can erode social peace and harmony, leading to instability and loss of confidence for citizens and foreign investors.
A neutral space for citizens and foreign workers is created out of strong respect and tolerance for one another’s race, religion, lifestyle, sexuality and beliefs. I feel that such a neutral space is based on a neutral secular morality. This mention of a secular morality has recently been mentioned by ex-civil servant Donald Low, Associate Dean & Senior Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD AND THE EROSION OF OUR SECULAR MORALITY
In his article, he mentions the need for civil servants to practice secular morality, a neutral form of morality rather than their own private (or religious) morality – to assess decisions that affected the common good.
NLB’s wise decision to place the 3 books in a proper section of the library finally led to a compromise and resolved the matter. The whole experience taught me something very important, it is very important for a nation like Singapore that has so much diversity to create a common neutral societal space where peace and harmony can reside.
To me, the presence of Section 377A of the Penal Code creates a loop-sided imbalance for the creation of a common neutral space in society. Extremists can use the lack of a neutral common space to enforce their bias and hatred for homosexuals, which can lead to much anti-social behaviour. Examples can be seen from the recent Wear White Movement and the “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore” Facebook group.
I feel that the haters of the LGBT community have seriously misunderstood the LGBT’s ‘pride’ events as a promotion of their “lifestyle”, which the haters perceive to be infringing on a common neutral space. Rather, I perceive the local ‘pride’ events held by the local LGBT community as a show of request to gain a common neutral space for themselves to live their own lives without facing much hatred and bullying. I really do not believe such pride events are meant to promote homosexuality in society that some haters have believed.
Such a misunderstanding is very similar to the Philippine Independence Day celebration where the complainers misunderstood the event to be held on public space and therefore infringing on a common neutral space.
People can use the lack of a common neutral space due to the presence of Section 377A, as a good reason to justify anti-social behaviour and bullying towards homosexuals and people they perceive to be similar to them. If they are parents of children, such behaviour from parents can influence their children to bully other kids that they perceive to be homosexuals.
In addition, people can also use an “appeal to the majority” tactic to justify such anti-social behaviour if there are many people who are also behaving like them. I recently wrote to TODAY newspaper to address such a “majority wins” tactic that was employed by people who support NLB’s initial decision to pulp the 3 books on minority families.
‘Majority wins’ not representative of true democracy
I feel that the presence of Section 377A can promote much bullying and much anti-social behaviour in society. Every little bit can add up to become very large. Many people can get caught in the middle and suffer due to such conflict.
I urge the government to create a more substantial common neutral space between the LGBT community and their opposers, by amending Section 377A so that the LGBT would not be seen to be socially-discriminated against.
If Section 377A remains, bullying and anti-social behaviour could become more established in Singapore. I have recently heard of a cyber-bullying of a 12-yr old Singaporean boy by those who perceived him to be homosexual:
Singaporean boy, 12, stands up to “gay” bullies
Theo Chen's speech on homophobic bullying during International Women's Day
The hatred shown to the Philippine Independence Day celebrations as well as the intolerance shown by some Singaporeans in other examples has worried me greatly as a citizen. I worry for Singapore’s economic future and social stability. I hope that the government, along with the help from concerned and outspoken citizens like me, can help to create a strong neutral common space in Singapore as much as it can for the benefit of all Singaporeans. I strongly feel that amending Section 377A is a good step in this direction.
I would also like to talk about the on-going appeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore's court of law.
Trio appealing against court’s ruling on Section 377A
In the news report of the appeal proceedings, surveys on gay acceptance in Singapore were brought up by Chief Prosecutor Aedit Abdullah to justify the need to keep section 377A.
(He said, "Recent survey results on gay acceptance in Singapore “shows the controversy in society”.)
Upon closer examination of the most recent government-commissioned survey of 4000 Singaporeans, with data collected from 1 December 2012 to 31 January 2013, it was found that 47 percent rejected “gay lifestyles,” 26 percent were receptive and 27 percent neutral.
OUR SINGAPORE CONVERSATION SURVEY
(Bloomberg report mentions 47 percent of 4,000 Singaporeans rejected “gay lifestyles”)
Singapore Top Court Tackles Challenge to 1938 Gay-Sex Ban
The survey asked people's acceptance of "gay lifestyle", which included options indicating "neutral", "satisfied", "very satisfied", "dissatisfied' and "very dissatisfied".
Even though the survey indicates of a controversy related to "gay lifestyles" in society, there was absolutely no mention in the survey that indicated anyone to suggest or favour a jail sentence for such "gay lifestyle". Nor was there any mention of the public to favour criminalising homosexuals for consented sexual acts done in private.
Is the mere public opinion of feeling "dissatisfied' and "very dissatisfied" sufficient and accurate to be equated with their intention to criminalise homosexuals? This important question needs to be carefully considered.
Such a survey that has absolutely no mention of the public's desire to criminalise homosexuals is not sufficent and appropriate to be used to measure the public's view of section 377A. Using such a survey in arguments to justify keeping section 377A is therefore inappropriate, illogical and unfair.
When asked about the case in an interview in June, Law Minister K. Shanmugam was quoted saying, “The majority of the population still favors the current legal framework”. With all due respect to the law minister, I could find no indication to support this.
(Law Minister K. Shanmugam's quote in an interview)
Singapore Top Court Tackles Challenge to 1938 Gay-Sex Ban
I urge the government to look into a better way of gauging public opinion on Section 377A.