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Homosexuality is illegal in Singapore. Constitutional rights for gays are nonexistent for the most part, and penalties for crimes commited by gays are usually severe.

LegalEdit

Sections 377A of the Penal CodeEdit

(See the main article Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code)

Section 377A criminalises all forms of sex between men, even if it is performed in private between consenting adults. Moreover, there are other portions of the Singapore statutes which can also be employed to criminalise homosexual behaviour. While these other laws (see below) are gender non-specific, Section 377A, in contrast, enshrines discrimination against gay Singaporean men in the legal system because oral and anal sex between heterosexual and lesbian couples are not illegal. Section 377A is therefore thought to contravene Article 12 of the Singapore Constitution. Its consitutionality is currently being challenged in the High Court by human rights lawyer, M. Ravi.

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

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 2 of such punishments.

In the early and mid-1990s, the police conducted undercover sting operations using handsome agents provocateurs in certain places such as Katong Park, the reclaimed land at Tanjong Rhu and even at East Coast Park where gay men were known to cruise or solicit for sex. From 1990-94, 50 homosexuals were charged under section 354. The usual punishment in 1993 was 2 to 6 months' imprisonment plus caning, usually 3 strokes.

In 1994 a man was charged under section 354 for molesting an undercover police decoy by touching the policeman's penis. He was sentenced by the magistrate court to 4 months' imprisonment and 3 strokes of the cane. He appealed to the High Court against the sentencing. In the ensuing High Court case, Tan Boon Hock v PP (1994) 2 SLR 150, the Chief Justice reversed the magistrate's sentencing and imposed a fine of only $2000.

The Chief Justice ruled that imprisonment was inappropriate and a fine sufficed for a charge under section 354 because:

  • (i) it was not a case where a male used criminal force to outrage the modesty of a vulnerable and unsuspecting female, and
  • (ii) in such undercover police operations to weed out gays, there was implied consent by the police to be touched.

After this landmark case police operations have rarely been carried out. Even if there have been such operations since then, there have been no press reports documenting the prosection of homosexuals under section 354 for outraging the modesty of police decoys.

Section 354 requires that the police or someone be touched. However, if no physical contact is made, homosexual behaviour can also be charged under the following law.

Section 294A of the Penal Code (Obscene Act)Edit

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' jail, 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-$800.

Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) ActEdit

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[1], from 1990-94, there were 11 cases where gay men being charged for soliciting. They were fined between $200-$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 could have pleaded guilty and avoided trial, resulting in the absence of case law.

In the by-now infamous Club One-Seven incident, 3 undercover policemen entered a gay sauna on 23 July 2001 at about 1855 hours, climbed over a cubicle and arrested 2 men who were having sex in it. They were charged under section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act which refers to "riotous, disorderly or indecent behaviour" in a public setting, liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one month. They were eventually each fined $600.

GovernmentEdit

Civil ServiceEdit

Prior to 2003, homosexuals were barred from being employed in "sensitive positions" within the Singapore Civil Service. However, in the 7 July 2003 issue of Time (Asia) magazine which carried a feature article entitled The Lion in Winter[2] examining Singapore's prevailing bleak economic climate against a wider backdrop of Asian NIE malaise at the time., Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, unprompted and of his own volition, was quoted as saying, 'So let it evolve, and in time the population will understand that some people are born that way. We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me.' He also stated that gays would henceforth be allowed to serve in sensitive positions in the Civil Service[3],[4].

An academic paper by Christopher K. K. Tan entitled "Pinking the Lion City: Interrogating Singapore's Gay Civil Servant Statement" presented in July 2005 at "Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies" held in Bangkok explored the legal basis for discrimination against homosexuals in Singapore and argued that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s June 2003 statement was not a discourse of tolerance. Data gathered from Tan's fieldwork suggested that while gay Singaporeans welcomed the statement, they also strongly doubted the Government’s sincerity. When civil servants in Tan's survey pool were asked whether their individual ministries or statutory boards had done anything to realise the statement, the answer was a uniformly resounding 'No!'

Singapore Armed ForcesEdit

Homosexuals and effeminate men are managed according to the dictates of a manpower directive issued by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Category 302Edit

The most widely known and infamous classification is Category 302, a medical code given to personnel who are "homosexuals, transvestites, paedophiles, etc." Category 302 (popularly referred to as "cat 302") homosexuals are further classified into those "with effeminate behaviour" and those "without effeminate behaviour". This form of discrimination persists despite the fact that homosexuality was depathologised by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, and homosexuality is not regarded as a psychiatric condition by the local medical profession. Moreover, the military's grouping of homosexuality together with transvestism and paedophilia further reinforces the public misconception that it is abnormal.

ManagementEdit

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 Public 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 undergo it in non-sensitive units.

Category 30-BEdit

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". Presumbly, this group only includes effeminate heterosexual men and not homosexuals, so there have historically been very few servicement slapped with this label; hence, its relative obscurity.

Ministry of Community Development, Youth and SportsEdit

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 so called ex-gay movement which "promotes gender and sexual health for the individual, family and society". [1]

Censorship authoritesEdit

On 15 July 1996, the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) issued Notification no. 2400/96 which specified a Code of Practice which covered not only the Internet, but also all broadcast media, including television. The foreword to the Code of Practice stated:

Among the material to be prohibited were:

Owing to the ignorance of the SBA that homosexuality and lesbianism were not 'sexual perversions' according to prevailing international medical opinion but variations of the norm, and widespread public dissatisfaction with the vague, inaccurate and unnecessarily restrictive wording of the Code of Practice, it was revised on 1 November 1997 to state:

While being a quantum leap from incorrectly labelling homosexuality a sexual perversion, the non-specification of what exactly "advocates homosexuality" made it a taboo subject for television documentaries for 7 years following the first issueing of the Code.

The penalty for media licencees flouting the Code was a hefty fine, as Channel i, the now-defunct English-language sister channel of Channel U, discovered after it aired an interview with Anne Heche in 2003. During the interview, Heche spoke about her lesbian relationship with Ellen deGeneres, amongst other things. Channel i was subsequently fined $15,000 by SBA, the broadcasting watchdog, for "justifying, promoting and glamourising homosexuality".

In September 2003, the 22-member Censorship Review Committee, made up of private sector and government representatives who had been appointed in April 2002 to do a once-in-a-decade censorship review, announced that the censorship authorities would relax their ban on gay-themed movies, plays, broadcasts and publications[5]. These included allowing films with homosexual themes to be screened at cinemas rather than film festivals.

On Monday, 25 February 2008, part of director and Oscar-winner for "Best Documentary short", Cynthia Wade's, acceptance speech about the woman in her film, "Freeheld", who spent her last days fighting against discrimination was snipped from the repeat telecast on Channel 5 of the 80th Academy Awards in Los Angeles[6]. In the original broadcast, Wade had said, "It was Lieutenant Laurel Hester's dying wish that her fight for, against discrimination would make a difference for all the same-sex couples across the country that face discrimination every day. Discrimination that I don't face as a married woman." From courtroom scenes to the couple's private moments at home, the 38-minute film captured Lt. Hester's battle in her last months as she is supported by colleagues from the police department and LGBT activists who lobby the county's elected officials known as the Freeholders[7].

The 21st Singapore International Film Festival was intially scheduled to hold the Asian premiere of the highly controversial and high profile documentary "A Jihad for Love", the world's first feature-length film about Islam and homosexuality, since it was first screened at Toronto's International Film Festival in September 2007[8]. However, it was later banned by the Media Development Authority which oversaw the Board of Film Censors[9], with the latter's chairperson, Amy Chua, saying that the film was "disallowed in view of the sensitive nature of the subject that features Muslim homosexuals in various countries and their struggle to reconcile religion and their lifestyle."

On Wednesday, 9 April 2008, a media statement issued by the Media Development Authority said that it had fined StarHub Cable Vision S$10,000 (US$7,200) for breaching the TV Advertising Code by showing a commercial of a song that depicted lesbian kissing scenes[10]. The commercial, which promoted a song titled "Silly Child" by pop singer Olivia Yan, was aired on MTV's Mandarin-language channel in November 2007. The MDA's statement also said, "Within the commercial, romanticised scenes of two girls kissing were shown and it portrayed the relationship as acceptable. This is in breach of the TV advertising guidelines, which disallows advertisements that condone homosexuality."

Shortly after, on Thursday, 24 April 2008, Channel 5 was fined S$15,000 by the MDA for airing a home and decor programme entitled "Find and Design" on 13 January 2008 at 7:30am which showed a gay couple transforming a room into a nursery for their adopted baby[11]. Announcing its decision on its website, the MDA said that it took issue with the programme's presenter who congratulated and acknowledged the gay couple and their baby as a family unit "in a way which normalises their gay lifestyle and unconventional family setup. This is in breach of the Free-to-Air TV Programme Code which disallows programmes that promote, justify or glamourise gay lifestyles...MDA also consulted the Programme Advisory Committee for English Programmes (PACE) and the Committee was also of the view that a gay relationship should not be presented as an acceptable family unit."

In June 2008, TV broadcaster Mediacorp's print magazine 8 Days carried an interview with Channel 5's Senior Censorship Manager David Christie who said that "It's really not easy" to interpret the "broad strokes" of the Media Development Authority's code of conduct[12]. He elucidated, "There are some shows like Brothers & Sisters where one of the main cast is gay, and The O.C. where two characters were lesbians in Season 2... How do you keep it running when there are strong gay issues?...we put such series on late nights and put up viewer advisories after making necessary edits...Even a cooking show can be dangerous. A guy could say something like, 'I'm cooking this for my boyfriend tonight.' We die, you know! What that one remark does is normalise gay lifestyle" and which can lead to a hefty fine by the MDA.

In early October 2009, openly gay poet, playwright and winner of the Singapore Literature Prize in 2008 for his poetry anthology "Last Boy", Ng Yi-Sheng was dropped by the Ministry of Education as a mentor in the Creative Arts Programme one month into his mentorship. Ng himself believed that it had something to do with "his involvement with political and gay rights activism."[13]

ReferencesEdit

  • A review of all Singaporean laws governing homosexual behaviour by Lim Wee Kuan during a groundbreaking lecture on 1 October 2002:[14]
  • Fridae articles on serving National Service as an openly gay man:[15],[16],[17].
  • Blowing Wind discussion on the issues gay enlistees face during National Service:[18].
  • 30 January 2007, Fridae article "Making sense of censorship" by Alex Au:[19].
  • 13 March 2008, Fridae article "The invisible scissors" by Alex Au:[20].
  • Cheah, "A Deeper Look at LGBT Discrimination in Singapore", Steemit, 6 July 2017[21].

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