Homosexuality in Singapore

A Singapore student challenged homosexuality education on a live news discussion TV show in Singapore this week. During a panel show with teachers and a representative from the Ministry of Education, student Melissa Tsang questioned the kind of counselling a school would give to queer kids. In response to Mohana Eswaran, a teacher at a Secondary School in Singapore, who said she would refer students asking about homosexuality to school counsellors, Tsang said:

What kind of counselling are you going to give this child? Are you going to support this child or are you going to portray homosexuality or transgenderism in the light of deviancy?

Tsang also pointed out that as homosexual acts are criminalized in Singapore, so teachers cannot inform students of the legal situation without making the student think that homosexuality is criminal. Liew Wei Li from the Ministry of Education responded:

We understand this is quite sensitive, so we actually give you full information about the legal provisions about the homosexual acts. So we don’t criminalize homosexuality at all. No counsellor will want to make a child feel bad. You want them to have the full information.

Question about homosexuality during "Talking Point" episode on sexuality education in schools

Consensual sex between two adult men is illegal in Singapore under Section 377A of the Penal Code. An October 2007 review of the code repealed the parts of Section 377 which made anal and oral sex between heterosexual couples and lesbians illegal, but Section 377A remained. During a long parliamentary speech on the matter at the time of the repeal, the prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government would not proactively enforce Section 377, but they would not repeal it:

If we abolish it, we may be sending the wrong signal that our stance has changed, and the rules have shifted… Therefore, we have decided to keep the status quo on section 377A. It is better to accept the legal untidiness and the ambiguity. It works, do not disturb it.


17 thoughts on “Homosexuality in Singapore”

  1. Hindu woman [with stupid dot on forehead], Mahana: “OK, I mean, uh. This is a kind of question that the students will not present in the classroom. So, it’s a one-on-one. So, uh, in such a situation, you know, we have to understand where the student’s coming from. Is it seeking knowledge, or is it that the child is already into such, uh, you know, a relationship. And if it’s the case, then I would probably escalate it up to the counselor. I was more proficient and professional in **** [didn't understand the word] and such situation.”

    1. Why wouldn’t a student who seeks correct knowledge and naturally relies on said teacher to provide such, “present” a question like that in class?

    2. Why is it any of your fucking business “where the student’s coming from?” It’s your job to teach responsibly and not be any religious psychiatrist towards any student.

    3. People, and most definitely students in classrooms, ask questions — even if it’s out of curiosity, that’s still seeking knowledge.

    4. And it’s none of your fucking business what relationship any student is in or not in. Just answer the god-damn question.

    She is just another absolute proof that “those types” are not out to truly teach, but instead to control the students in their care. She just did what the controlling religious always do and that’s to use double-speak to deflect the facts and truth when they speak and, quite frankly, quite often “get caught” with questions about subjects they either know nothing about or are afraid to answer with any truthfulness.

  2. *shrugs* I knew where the counselor stood in the case of my high school. They made a public announcement, which was at least honorable.

    “I don’t agree with homosexuality, but I will help you with it, in accordance to law.”

    Then again, culture can play a role in the response. Back home, they are a bit more forthcoming, with less talking about a different subject. Even a few provinces over they are still honest, but less direct.

    Being either the first or last line of help available from a societal viewpoint, I personally then went and considered my options for running away. In my case it wasn’t feasible. (too easy to find on foot, unable to get paid transportation.) Survivalism tends to rear it’s head sooner then people realize. (that which we then call politiking as we get older.)

    Anyways… what’s the law for non-consensual sex between two adults? Can they then throw the “it wasn’t rape, he was a guy.” card at them, when “caught.”

  3. It was observed by Barry Goldwater that “you can’t legislate morality.” If that’s true, then it’s impossible to legislate sexuality. We is what we is. And we don’t want to hear your side of it. “Hey! Teacher! leave them kids alone!”

  4. Singapore would gain from being more accepting of LGBT citizens. It is a beautiful city but a bit, well, anal in their legal structure. It would pull in talent from it’s more homophobic neighbour Malaysia and be more attractive to high tech firms. Perhaps the pro-gay Google event will stir things up.

  5. In only a few decades Singapore has become the center of economic activity in this area of the world. They are focused on work and money. Sex just makes all that very untidy. Don’t introduce conflict. The government is very firm on these matters.

  6. I’am not against free speach,but why would you want to be disruptive. If you want to correct a wrong.do we first have to throw the system into disorder. You can’t legislate morality,so to understand both sides they need to hear both sides. There is no way to understand one side with out knowing,and understanding both sides.

    1. once you are in Singapore, there is no other thing you can think of except being disruptive. big bro is big bro, even if covered by masks

    2. You don’t understand Chinese people Michael. There is only one side to anything. And anyway, Singapore is touted as a huge success story. Makes USA look like banana republic.

  7. Hey guys,

    My name’s Melissa Tsang, and I am that student in the video.

    I was disappointed that I didn’t get to say a little more, because there were three of them representing the ministry, and only one of me – an only about ten minutes on the question of the representation of homosexuality in sex-ed.

    No, there is no punishment for being gay. There is a section in the penal code that describes anal sex as an “act of gross indecency”. The punishment for being caught engaging in anal sex would be a jail term and caning, which last happened in 1994, and never again since then.

    But this means that:
    1) The state does not recognize LGBT persons as individuals, but reduces them to mere acts of sexual perversity. Homosexuality is not an identity, but a misdemeanor;
    2) Because of this, people who participate in such “activity” are an affront to public morals and social values, and this position is further reflected in Point 5.2 of the Free-to-Air TV Guidelines –

    “Part 5: Public Morals and Social Values

    5.2 Information, themes or subplots on lifestyles such as homosexuality, bisexualism, transsexualism, paedophilia and incest should be treated with utmost caution. Their treatment should not in any way promote, justify or glamorize such lifestyles. Explicit depictions of the above should not be broadcast.”

    So it is not that queer people in Singapore are imprisoned or caned, but that the law and media are shaped to dehumanize and marginalize the community in public consciousness.

    In sex education, then, if a teacher were to say to her class, “We should support the freedom to love.” or “Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are capable of healthy, rewarding relationships just like everyone else, and we ought to respect and embrace that”, she cannot. Because she must teach according to the “legal provisions”, and she must not “justify” such “lifestyles”. The ministry’s sex-ed policy also prohibits teachers from using the classroom “for advocacy on such controversial issues”. The discursive environment is already not open, and not supportive, and altogether hostile.

    Then when I say that this atmosphere ought to be changed, I will be met with resistance from the state. The ministry will cite a “conservative majority” who is not ready for such conversations, who is not ready for the existence and visibility of queer people. If the conservative majority does exist (we don’t even know, but it is a convenient thing for the state to have around), they are being allowed to decide that a minority does not deserve equal status as citizens.

    But the conservative majority does not exist, or more importantly, the state has yet to prove that it exists. There is an overrepresentation of Christian conservatives in the government, and people of privilege in positions of power inevitably inflate their experiences of conservatism, even sincerely believing that their own convictions constitute the majority. The conservative majority, to date, is essentially their construct.

    I hope I’ve shed some light on the situation on the rights and status of LGBT people in Singapore; and the challenges surrounding our fight for change in the sex-ed curriculum. (:

    Thank you for your support, anyway!

    Melissa Tsang

  8. @Melissa Tsang: Thanks for making that situation clear in Singapore. Except for all of the above listed subjects that you named,I would be against incest. I think that incest should be treated with more then just utmost caution. I don’t put Homosexuality,Bisexual,or Transsexual life styles in with Incest.

  9. Melissa, thanks for your engagement. I’ve been observing Singapore since the late 80s, stopping over a couple of times each year, flying between Frankfurt and Sydney (yes, I know that’s not exactly in-depth…) but I know from friends there that being open about gay rights in Singapore is very difficult. What sets Singapore apart from other countries I’ve known and know where homosexuality is illegal, is that the elite seems to be willing to accept homosexuals but the conservative Christians you mention torpedo all attempts (attempt singular?) to change the law. The strangeness of Singapore is to be found in the argument of the elite. In other places it’s about liberty, freedom, fairness, stopping hiv, whatever, but the Sing govt wants to make Singapore a more attractive place for creative companies, thus be more accepting of queers, an entirely economic argument. I guess that’s a fair, long term way of looking at things. It does gall a bit at my ingrained western life liberty and the pursuit of happiness stuff, but if it gets the job done of allowing gay and lesbian kids to have a decent life, it’s alright. Good luck Melissa. Let us know if there’s anything we can do. A million milkboys and milkmen petitioning the Sing govt might change everything ;-)

  10. Of course it’s the Christians who want to torpedo anything that is connected to sexual pleasure outside of their stupid institution of marriage. It’s time to turn up the heat on the Christians. So many Christians… so few lions. That’s the problem.

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