The legal status of gays in the various countries of Asia, whether same-sex relationships are recognized, or, whether there are non-discrimination policies in place, varies greatly. In some Asian countries, especially where there is a majority Muslim population, being gay can result in death by stoning, while, at the same time, other, vastly more progressive Asian countries are on the verge of recognizing marriage equality.
In the next few weeks and months, peppii plans on examining, country by country, what the legal status is within the various countries of the Asia-Pacific region, how it came to be, and how each individual country is trending.
In most cases, the articles will be fairly brief, yet informative, while providing various online resources for the reader to continue to inform themselves. These countries will be presented in no particular order, as to their respective liberal or conservative stance on the LGBT community. However, concluding articles will provide an outline of the wide spectrum in which these Asian countries are positioned.
The city-state island nation of Singapore, (derived from the Malay word Singapura – Singa “lion” and Pura “city”), once a British colonial possession that started out with only about a thousand indigenous Malay natives and a few ethnic Chinese, has become a majority ethnic Chinese with Malay and Indian minorities — as well as a global economic power (through global commerce, finance, and transportation industries).
Although there are no numbers on the size of the LGBT community in Singapore, it is safe to say that, given the number of gay and gay-friendly establishments that have come and gone and continue to exist since the 1970s, and the growing size and scope of LGBT activism, it is significant.
However, the LGBT community in Singapore has long lived with the historical burden of British colonialism which instituted its laws reflecting strict Victorian values back in 1819. (Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code criminalizes all sexual acts between men, even if private and consensual, and even though the prohibition on oral and anal sex between heterosexuals and between lesbians was repealed in 2007.)
Before then, it is fairly likely that Singapore, like most Asian/Malay cultures before colonialism, had been tolerant of sexual minorities. But with the imposition of ultra-conservative British values, Asians who wanted to assimilate and become “civilized,” eventually, over time, adopted strict British sexual moral values. To this day, a strong sense of social conservatism permeates much of Singaporean society. How long will gay Singaporeans have to wait for change?
The short answer: For the foreseeable future.
While the LGBT community continues to grow and become more vocal, accented by the annual Pink Dot rally whose organizers say this year’s 2015 rally reached a record 28,000, the older generation, as well as some religious groups continue to hold the LGBT community back from making any legislative or judicial progress.
On one hand, it is encouraging to learn that the younger generations are more accepting of the gay community and that almost 50% of the population would support same-sex marriage. (The first step in that direction would be to decriminalize gay male sex, even though the ban is rarely enforced.)
Yet, on the other hand, it is discouraging that some backlash to the Pink Dot movement has formed, including the Famfest or Red Dot Family Movement, and the Wear White campaign by Muslim activists who have been joined by the Christian “Faith Community Baptist Church,” all in religious opposition to the Pink Dot campaign and who instead claim on preserving traditional family values.
So, while there is genuine progress in Singapore for the LGBT community where the younger generations are increasingly supportive, they are still held back by the older generations, as well as backlash from religious groups.
Singapore, like many countries in Asia, represents the middle of the spectrum. Yes, gay male sex in Singapore is technically illegal on the books.
However, there is an active and some might say vibrant LGBT community that is coming into its own. Real progress, through new or amended laws or court decisions, may be a long way away, but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
When I asked Scott Tsui, owner of peppii, about gay Singapore, (because I’ve never been there before), he had this to say:
“If you take a look on the Singapore info page on Utopia-Asia, you will find a lot of gay establishments in this little country.
I’ve been visiting Singapore since 1997 and have been there four times. I feel that there is quite a high degree of freedom in what gay people are able to do there – visit saunas to have sex (bathhouses), bar hopping between gay bars including sizable dance clubs, found the largest LGBT gay website Fridae in Asia, organized the empowering Pink Dot events in a public park, able to participate the equality movement without being penalized, and how Singapore has LGBT life magazine, Element, a progressive LGBT media network. This is what I mean about a certain high degree of freedom.
On the other hand, when you watch the video with Former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, he expressed his views on gay people in Singapore, you can get a feel for what has formed the Singaporean society of today. It is mainly religious groups that have created roadblocks – and not only Christians and Catholics. I think the attitude from the government hasn’t changed a whole lot, given that the religious groups have a lot of influence, in large part because many government officials are members of these same religious groups.
I think it will be a long way away before Singapore will decriminalize gay male sex but I really admire the courage of gay Singaporean on how they move forward and fight for equality because it is definitely not easy being gay in Asia.
I believe like all other countries, the movement and the progress really depends on the younger people. In the next 10 to 20 years, a whole new generation will show up and the country might have more gay politicians and straight alliances and will be able to make huge changes.
For now, compared to other Muslim countries around the Southeast region – Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, India where gay men are still living in fear, Singaporeans are living in a much safer place. They don’t need to worry about being blackmailed or put into jail, since 377A is not really enforced in the country.
Gay Singaporeans are already fighting for their rights, and they are gaining some support from their straight allies. In one insightful article on the situation of gays in Singapore, more and more people are coming out of the closet, and this is the key. We can only change peoples’ hearts one at a time. Just like the U.S. did when people began to acknowledge that they have gay brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, sons, fathers, friends, etc.
Other places that gay people live freely (though not always completely) include Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, and Philippines, as long as they mind their own business. In one of the rare instances when Singapore’s ban on gay male sex, 377A, was actually enforced, it was when the guys were engaged in public sex.
Singapore’s 377A is not going away anytime soon. But who knows? If no one keeps fighting, it will never go away. Work must go on and there is a lot to do.”
Sources and Further Reading:
“As America Legalises Gay Marriage, Singapore Struggles With Gay Acceptance” – By Nicholas Teo | Popspoken – Sun, Jun 28, 2015
“The Truth About Homosexual Males In Singapore We Don’t Talk About” – By Jacky Yap on February 25, 2015 – vulcanpost.com
“Religious teacher launches ‘wear white’ online campaign” – Rachel Au-yong And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, June 20, 2014, straitstimes.com
“Pastor Lawrence Khong: ‘We will wear white until the pink is gone’” – Kintan Andanari and Yi Shu Ng, June 14, 2015 – mothership.sg
Travel & Resources: SINGAPORE, utopia-asia.com
“How One Of The World’s Richest Countries Is Limiting Basic Human Rights” – Dominique Mosbergen, October 13, 2015
LGBT Rights in Singapore – Wikipedia
Pink Dot SG – Wikipedia
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