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LGBTQ+ Rights: The History of Singaporean Rights and What Needs to Change

CW: This article discusses discrimination, lack of rights, and lack of equality.

Singapore, a place many individuals call home, is a scenic country with amazing weather and beautiful cultures. The small country legalized homosexuality last year, which was a huge step closer to the end goal of legalizing everything regarding LGBTQ+ rights within Singapore. Take a look into the history of LGBTQ+ rights within Singapore, the progression the country has gone through, and the steps the government will need to take in the future to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.

Laws passed

Starting with the current laws passed last year on November 29th, 2022, and August 21st, 2022, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the National Day Rally that the government would repeal section 377A. Later on November 29th, 2022, the Singaporean parliament voted to decriminalize gay sex. Section 377A was the Singaporean law that criminalizes sex between consenting adult males. It was introduced under British Colonial rule in 1938 when the Colonial Government added it to the Penal Code. The remaining part of the Singaporean body of law after the Penal Code was reviewed in 2007, removing most other provisions in Section 377. Before the repeal, the law, while retained ‘de jure’ (practices that are laxly recognized regardless of whether the method exists) in the Penal Code, had been for many years ‘de facto’(describes situations that exist in reality, even if not legally recognized) when forced. There had been no convictions for sex between consenting male adults in decades. At the same time, a small number of people were convicted under the section for private consensual acts between adults from 1988 to 2007; enforcement effectively ceased following the Penal Code review, despite the retention of section 377A from 2007 to 2022.

During the 1990s in Singapore, LGBTQ+ activism became an underground scene; the community held its monthly meetings in secret for fear of the members being outed and the government. The police were well known for raiding bars and clubs which hosted LGBTQ+ gatherings, with many of the officers posing as gay men trying to entrap and later charge the individuals in court for indecent behavior. The fear was so great that Eileen Lee, an activist, started RedQuEEN! In 1998, they told The News Lens,

In 2000, People Like Us (PLU), a gay rights organization, applied to organize a public forum but was swiftly refused because Singaporean society was classified as too “conservative.” When a student questioned the at the time government minister Mr. Lim Swee, he said,

In the following years, the public attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community was largely hostile, with a 2005 poll by the Nanyang Technological University finding that 69 percent of Singaporeans viewed homosexuality negatively.

Singapore’s freedom of speech and expression throughout the years

In the year 2000, Dr. Chee Soon Juan, the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party, performed two illegal public speeches; following this, the government designated Hong Lim Park as the Speaker’s Corner, the only place for public speeches. Furthering Freedom within Singapore, in 2008, Singaporeans were allowed to hold public rallies and protests at the Speaker’s Corner, which was an opportunity to gather and raise community concerns in a visual and general way, becoming a historic moment for the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore. Activists in Singapore created an annual rally called “Pink Dot” with the slogan “freedom to love.” From an attendance of 2,500 in its first year through stay marketing and branding, the turnout increased to 20,000 in 2017. These rallies helped change the societal norms in the rest of the world and changed the Singaporean government’s attitude towards this topic. The help of social media and widespread use created more rallies and meetings. Several campuses and groups were created where discrimination and inadequate protection were openly discussed, which wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago.

However, this is all positive change and maybe inspiring for other countries within Asia, yet the fight for LGBTQ+ rights within Singapore isn’t over yet. Currently, in Singapore, being Homosexual is legal, as well as enlisting in the military as a homosexual, with no censorship, and the age of consent is equal. However, there are still a few issues that need to change until Singapore is entirely out of the woods, such as adoption, conversion therapy, employment discrimination, gay marriage, donating blood, and housing discrimination, all of which are important to be able to live and work within Singapore and well as equal rights as heterosexuals.


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