HRW – LGBTQ report on Singapore – comments and thoughts

12 Jun

According to the Human Rights Watch ‘Together Apart – Organizing around sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide’ report, two Singaporean LGBTQ groups were interviewed on the challenges facing activists and their community.

Sections which specifically mentioned Singapore are reproduced (ad verbatim):

  • ... one group says “Gay teachers are systematically removed from classrooms, sex education packages … are either silent about homosexuality or negative about it, school administrators … often invite anti-gay Christian groups to give ‘sex education’ talks.” (p. 28)
  • … an activist says, “Virtually no positive representations of LGBT people are allowed on TV. Newspapers carry as little gay-related news as possible … leading to climate of silence and a perpetuation of ignorance.” (p. 28)
  • A Singapore group says, “In the absence of legality, we are effectively breaking the law whenever we organize anything.” (p. 29)
  • … Christian fundamentalism is “inspired (and possibly funded) by US evangelical churches. Related to this is the tendency of many civil servants and school administrators to bias in favour of ‘morality’ (as Christian-defined) and the conservative concept of ‘family.’” (p. 29)
  • Groups also look to non-social-movement allies. “Singapore depends massively on foreign talent to drive its economy, and the government is sensitive to corporations’ human resource needs. If our organization can get access to corporations and lawyers, and catalyse the documentation and demand for equal treatment of LGBT employees,” a range of demands, such as repeal of the sodomy law, might come within realization. (p.33)

While I would agree that most of the comments being made by both groups are generally accurate, the last comment on building alliances with corporations is somewhat misguided.

It is difficult to see how gaining support through corporations (in this case, the assumption is foreign MNCs, not local small or medium companies since the respondent has specifically mentioned ‘foreign talent’ to drive home the point) will aid the cause.

Firstly, the Singapore’s government reliance on direct foreign investment or its emphasis on attracting MNCs has been a cornerstone of its economic policy since independence. Therefore, if MNCs have a slight influence or some interest in promoting LGBTQ rights, it would have done so. In fact, the reverse is true. The business community have remained silent throughout the debate on the repeal of the 377 provision.

Even when LGBTQ organisations have worked with the business sector, the government has remained unwavered. The most visible example of how the ‘pink dollar’ argument has fall flat amongst pro-business LGBTQ advocates is the banning of dance parties by the Singapore government. The clearest indication of the failure of adopting such a strategy is most evident given the regional website, based in Singapore, was able to garner MNC sponsorships for these dance events. Despite their endorsements  of what are supposedly apolitical events, the government went ahead to ban the parties even though it recognises that it will lose substantial tourist dollars.

While it can  be argued that such strategy appears to work  in certain countries, they cannot be replicated in Singapore. Many of the corporations that promote gay rights or  are sensitive to its gay customers are operating in predominately Westernised and democratic states where gay rights have achieved a certain level of recognition. In Singapore, not only is sodomy still decriminalised, the debate on gay issues is still heavily censored. It is therefore unlikely, given to protecting its own interest, that MNCs will take a pro-active stance in this issue.

It is high time LGBTQ activists in Singapore wake up to the delusion that MNCs or the pink dollar strategy can become one of the main pillars in helping them win over their basic rights.


3 Responses to “HRW – LGBTQ report on Singapore – comments and thoughts”

  1. uckfay June 15, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    In Singapore, anal sex between heterosexuals is decriminalised. Homosexual male to male contact (of any sort) is still criminal as section 377a still exists. Homosexual female to female contact is “silent” as such.

  2. Res June 16, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    Interesting observations.. in the end, MNCs will always make use of and play out who they have to, to achieve their required profit margins.

  3. ted June 18, 2009 at 1:43 am #

    You may be interested to know that while MNCs do not take any active stance on issues like 377A, which strictly speaking, do not directly concern them. In terms of employment, at least some well known MNCs in Singapore have employee support networks that includes LGBT.

    By the way, I was also from UNSW too. Nice to meet you!

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