Thursday, July 26, 2007

Section 377A Repeal Means Less Two Lives

In the last three years, my work in a cooperative and in the community have often brought me opportunities to engage with different school students in Singapore.

Through these opportunities, I have met at least three students who not only have done extremely well in school but have been also been very active in non-academic activities.

They have now left or are about to leave school but they continue to be very active in the community. Some of them have also been roped into Singapore's national youth movement.

Another common thread between these three students is that they are in same-sex relationships.

When I met person A, I thought she was in a healthy heterosexual relationship. But later, she shared with me that she was not very happy in that relationship and ended it.

She now tells me that she is much happier in a relationship with another female friend. She has also disclosed the existence of her homosexual relationship to her loved ones, who I understand have accepted her for what she is.

Person B was comfortable enough to introduce me to his partner recently. However, before that, I had been under the impression that he was heterosexual and was seeing someone. He still maintains a public profile where he continues to see a woman, who loves him.

Person C continues to tell me how he is dating different women and happily looking to find someone to eventually marry and settle down with her. Little does he know that I know through some mutual friends he is actually homosexual. But, nevertheless, I am happy to let things be until he is ready to trust and tell me more about who he really is.

Reading the book "SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century", I have found that these stories are not unique.

Author Ng Yi-Sheng also shares the difficulties he faced when getting people to share their stories in the book, "On seeing the finished stories, a few people actually withdrew, disoriented by a first-person account that they hadn't written with their own keyboards. Two people agreed to be interviewed, then cancelled because their fathers had just forbidden them to talk about their orientations."

Other friends have shared with me about how some marriages have broken because one of the partners a few years into the marriage discloses his or her homosexuality. Some of these persons are forced into such marriages by their parents.

Going back to the three students, I found it rather odd that a girl should be able to come to terms with herself more easily and be open about it. After all, it is our boys who go through National Service and are meant to have been trained to find the courage to face their deepest fears.

I also found it odd why some parents in Singapore would forbid their own children from speaking publicly about their own orientation or how one could demolish the sacred institution of marriage with such frivolousness.

And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced it has to do with Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises gross indecency between two males. (Of course, I am not ruling out other possibilities.)

Over the past months, since the review of the Penal Code was announced, many people have provided different reasons on why Section 377A must go.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has put his foot down on this issue and said people should not be penalised for a medical condition. He has expressed his hope that the day will come when Section 377A is repealed. His parliamentary colleague, Baey Yam Keng, has also come out to support a repeal. But their voices represent a minority in the largely conservative ruling party.

Alex Au, who runs the Yawningbread.Org website, remains strident in his view that Section 377A is discriminatory. He points to how Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal has on 17 July 2007 declared the law on homosexual buggery discriminatory and unconstitutional.

However, citing Singapore law, he notes, "The problem of course, is that the Singapore constitution does not explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; in fact it does not even forbid discrimination on the basis of sex. So men and women can be treated differently under Singapore law, and indeed are. What is a crime for men need not be a crime for women. If we haven't even recognised that men and women are equal, this only shows how backward we are."

Likewise, the Council of The Law Society of Singapore has stated, "The retention of Section 377A in its present form cannot be justified...Private consensual homosexual conduct between adults does not cause harm recogniseable by the criminal law. Thus, regardless of one’s personal view of the morality or otherwise of such conduct, it should not be made a criminal offence."

Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong has alternatively provided, "I truly do believe that a strong economic argument is the only way to get the Government to move on Section 377A in the near-future, and that an argument based purely on civil liberties will get us nowhere."

He suggests that it should be framed "in a lingo that will convince the Government" by showing "it's all about growth, jobs, money". He notes, "If you can make a convincing case that 377A is somehow affecting that, I think you've got a really good chance."

Frankly, some of these are not reasons for which I would have supported a repeal of Section 377A and, until recently, I was unconvinced about why Section 377A should go.

But now a key reason why I would support a repeal of Section 377A is because its departure would mean less people in Singapore will be cornered or compelled to lead two lives, and that more people will find it easier to be themselves.

It will enable one to stay focused on bettering oneself, instead of using that time to conjure foolish plans to keep one's sexuality secret.

Above all, the repeal of Section 377A will go some way in alleviating this distrust and climate of fear that exists in Singapore society.

A piece of legislation that lowers the self-respect a person has for oneself and forces one to live a double life; that induces the sons and daughters of Singapore to lie again and again to their loved ones; and that makes parents take unnecessary precautions to protect their children should have no place in Singapore.

It is time for Section 377A to go.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?


wyng said...

This is excellent stuff! I thank you so much for this burst of sunshine in that garbage of bigotry that we get when faced with this issue.

with common sense said...

I’m a political neutral person; I’m just commenting this issue with basic biological understanding and common sense on human nature.

Gay rights activist Alex Au comments of;
1.) Exercising free speech – talk without conscience; Please look at what Taiwan is today (everyone including political leaders can talk rubbish).
2.) Issue of "fairness and equality" – a plus “+” is a plus “+”, a minus “-“ is a minus “-“; a plus “+” can never be a minus “-“ and via versa. “Fairness and equality – Human Rights” shall only apply upon ethically. Please think carefully do you want a gun’s killing in Singapore’s school campus like in USA.

Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies comments of;
1.) "Healthy" debate – for general issue “yes”, but for this “should be common sense” (Basic biological understanding and common sense on human nature).
2.) "What will happen is that people from the religious backgrounds, those with clear vested interests, will speak up," – that is 50% right only, reason already provided by himself “most would choose to stay out of discussion remaining as "spectators" only”.
3.) “It’s a way to signal to other Singaporeans that a bunch of them care about this issue too" – to be precise; we care more than only this issue. We do not want our future generations to live in chaos; as opening this gate will invite abundant of “rubbishes” to come the same direction with same excuses (some call its debate, rights, etc, etc. Never ending excuses).

Homosexuality is not only a matter of legal or illegal; is a serious matter of human existence. There will be no human if man & man and woman & woman, other than by cell transplant – but this is not NATURE.

Don’t use some animals do give birth with same sex; as for these animals – it’s NATURE.

So, please please please understand what the right meaning of “NATURE” is, before you said I’m born “naturally” with homosexuality genes – Nonsense.

Boonz said...

I feel sad for those people whom you mention in this post. They are lost people whom are trying to find their real identities. Usually, such cases happened when parents of the family do not show enough love and care. Ask those people about their parents and you'll understand why such root issues persist.Hence, as such, when the family (the social unit) is not build in the proper perspective, it'll breakdown with problems like this.

My above observation given on the root cause of homosexuality/lesbianism is based on experiential encounters with friends etc, hence no proper facts or figures but I believe if you search hard enough to find or "listen" more to your friends who belongs to this category

I do agree with wyng in taking up topics of discussion with clear definitive motives so that both parties are more objective in defining the scope of discussion at a healthier level. If emotional/experiential judgment are made, then it defeats the objectivity of the discussion.

It's alright to agree to disagree in such open discussion but do keep an open ears to "listen" to one another so that we can have understand one another's intent.

Agagooga said...

While 377A is a silly law, it's ridiculous to claim that lesbians and gays find it hard to come out because of it.

Is coming out very easy in countries where there're no laws against homosexual sex? Furthermore, 377A is silent on homosexual lesbian sex.

Carlos said...

Excellent post that covers some fundamental points.

It is sad to read comments like so called "with common sense" which are based in lack of knowledge and experience, misunderstandings and complete nonsensical generalisations.

The fact that two homosexual people may live a happy loving life together does not mean everyone is going to turn homosexual and end with the extinction of humankind. People are born homosexual, it's not a lifestyle they choose, why would they choose such path when it's in many cases only give them misery thanks to those like "with common sense"?

I am completely perplexed when I read the fallacious arguments about protecting family as an excuse the deny some individual some basic rights to a happy life. Is forcing homosexuals into fake loveless marriages that will break up at some point and just lead to everyone's unhappiness the best way to protect family? Come on, get serious.

And what's the link between Human Rights and guns in US campuses? At least take the argument seriously and stop mixing completely unrelated things into the same pot.

Before you start trying to force people live your way you should have some basic understanding of what you're trying to forbid.