I drafted this piece a year ago, when we were in the midst of our Repeal377A campaign. I only just found the unpublished draft as I was clearing out my old folders. It’s somehow timely to revisit what was going on 12 months ago as we approach Singapore’s 43rd National Day on 9 Aug.
Proud In Singapore (written 9 August 2007)
I am a gay man. This year, I turn 35. I live with my partner, who is a year older than me. We met 8 years ago, and have been living together in an HDB flat in Holland Village for the last 5. We are both Singaporean, and an unprecedented wave of homophobia and bigotry that has occurred recently in this place we call home, quite proud to be so.
“How can you be gay, and still be proud of being Singaporean?” many of our friends and associates who don’t live here, ask us incredulously.
It is definitely not an answer given lightly. But first allow me to share some background:
In Singapore, homosexual sex is considered illegal, even between consenting adults, punishable by up to two years in jail, courtesy of an archaic 19th century British law that most of the crown colonies adopted, and many have since repealed.
This law has become the basis of numerous rules and regulations that prohibit gay men and women from organizing themselves into groups or societies, institutionalized discrimination in such areas as censorship, employment, access to public health resources, housing, and many other important areas that other citizens take for granted.
It has also empowered and emboldened many in society, to openly denigrate and debase the gay community without repercussion. What may be considered “hate speech” or bigotry in other more advanced societies is freely published in the national newspapers, sometimes even commissioned by its editors. Dissenting voices are systematically censored, effectively silencing any reasonable civic debate.
What started out as a prudish Victorian moral has now been subverted into an “Asian value” even when few other Asian countries have similar laws, and indeed, the only individuals who are openly attacking the gay community are mostly Christians who feel homosexuality is an abhorrent, and an abomination which must be stamped out of society at all costs. Incidentally, the evangelical Christian movement that is behind much of the current vitriol is an American import.
Despite Singapore claiming to be a secular country, various levels of government and even our judiciary are heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian morality. Not only has our government shown no political will to change their stance on homosexuality, the most recent proposed amendment to the Penal Code now sandwiches homosexual sex between necrophilia and bestiality. Some such as the National Council of Churches have even called for a strengthening of the law to include lesbians, which the statutes currently exclude.
Given how the forces stack up against us, how can any gay person, with any ounce of integrity and free will, continue to call Singapore a home they can be proud of?
With a glass half full in my hand, let me count the ways:
My partner and I both have loving families, who have accepted each of us into their own. We aren’t the only gay children in our collective families, a phenomena that we believe is not unique. It took a lot of honesty and courage, communication and patience, but we are proud that we have families who support each of us in everything that we do, and that means the world to us – more than the hatred being directed at us by people we don’t know or care for.
We know for a fact that the homophobia we face is thankfully limited to small segment of Singapore society. People we meet in our everyday lives, from the aunty who lives down the corridor and never fails to ask about both of us, to the chicken rice stall owner who asks “how come you’re not with your friend today?” if I show up for lunch alone, are the true fabric of Singapore. Not only are they respectful of other Singaporeans, they truly are friendly and one would be hard pressed to detect an ounce of malice in them, the same of which cannot be said of those writing rabid letters to the press claiming to speak for all Singaporeans.
In 1995, I voluntarily returned to Singapore after living and studying overseas for almost ten years, and like myself, there are many other gay and lesbian Singaporeans who have opted to return, despite the knowledge that it would be to a possibly hostile environment. I speak for some of them, because they are my friends and we have shared our ideals and dreams, in saying that we did so because we didn’t need to accept status quo, and we believed in shaping our own realities. We could have flown the coop, but Singapore is where we chose to call home. We truly believed Singapore society would mature as we had.
I am proud to say the Singapore of today is partially due to the contributions of countless gays and lesbians who have collectively stuck their necks out, risked all manner of discrimination and recrimination, and hung on to their horses to make lives better for ourselves and those around us. We continually work, each in our own little way, to improve ourselves, our lives, fulfill our aspirations and become better people, in spite of a system that tells us we are worth less than what we are.
I am proud of our community because no matter how many stones are thrown at us, no matter the names we are called, and how much society continues to marginalize us, we do not retaliate. In fact, we might be considered “good Christians” for turning the other cheek, and I know that many in our community are literally good Christians, even though their churches may reject them for their sexuality.
No matter how long it takes for the rest of Singapore to finally come around to understanding that gays and lesbians in Singapore are really quite a peaceful, loving bunch of ordinary folk who live in HDB flats just like the rest of you, no matter how long it takes for the fundies to realize that persecuting gays are not going to make them feel better about their own lives (or reach heaven any easier), and no matter what it takes for everyone to understand that we simply want to coexist, equally, as human beings, the gay and lesbian citizens of Singapore are here and we are simply not going away.
To Minister Mentor Lee and Senior Minister Goh, a deep and heartfelt thank you from the gay and lesbian community for “getting” us. You have both shown leadership and wisdom, and we are proud that you have spoken up for diversity and tolerance, true to the creed of equality for all Singaporeans.
To our non-Singaporean friends, for all the reasons above, yes we are proud to be gay and lesbian Singaporeans.
To those who still find homosexuals abhorrent and abominable, we wish you peace within yourselves.
And to the rest of the majority of Singaporeans, we wish you a great 42nd National Day!