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Singapore will not prosecute ‘people engaging in gay sex’

BBC asked Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam about sodomy law

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Singapore Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam (Screen capture via CNA YouTube)

A Singapore government minister last week said his country will not prosecute anyone under a colonial-era law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“People engaging in gay sex will not be prosecuted, even though there is this old piece of law which makes gay sex among males an offense,” said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on June 29 during an interview on BBC’s “HARDtalk” program. “The attorney general has confirmed that position and the Supreme Court has said that the government’s position is legal for us.”

Singapore is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The country’s Court of Appeal in February upheld a lower court decision that dismissed three lawsuits against Section 377A of Singapore’s penal code. Shanmugam acknowledged a “significant proportion of our population β€” the middle ground as it were β€” don’t want that law repealed.”

“Attitudes are shifting somewhat, but still Singapore government can’t ignore those views, so we have arrived at this sort of messy compromise the last 15 years and we have taken this path because these issues are difficult,” he said. “They are not easily settled and we have made clear that LGBTQ+ individuals are entitled to live peacefully without being attacked or threatened.”

“This is a compromise that we have arrived at because of where our society is and if you believe in a democracy you’ve got to take into account where your main ground is,” added Shanmugam.

Shanmugam spoke with the BBC less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Shanmugam during the interview specifically referenced Justice Clarence Thomas and his assertion the U.S. Supreme Court should reconsider its rulings in the Obergefell and Lawrence cases that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples and the right to private, consensual sex.

“Our approach: Deal with these issues in Parliament,” said Shanmugam. “I’ve said earlier this year that we are relooking at our laws and our laws have to change and keep pace with the times and the Singaporean way we are engaging in a wide set of consultations to try and arrive at some set of landing.”

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Southeast Asia

Same-sex kiss on live Singapore television goes viral

Homosexuality remains criminalized in Asian city-state

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(Screen capture via CNA)

A Singapore television broadcast about the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing with two men kissing each other in the background has gone viral in the country where consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

A CNA reporter was covering the opening ceremony from a bar filled with cheering fans in Beijing on Feb. 4 when two men in the background stole the show when they kissed each other during the live broadcast. Audiences and the Internet cheered the kiss and hailed it as defiance of Singapore’s discriminatory law against the LGBTQ community.

Singapore has a restricted broadcasting code for LGBTQ content.

The country’s colonial-era law that criminalizes relationships between two men can result in two years in prison. The statute does not apply to lesbians.

The clip of the kiss has since gone viral in Singapore.

It has been viewed about 1.5 million times on TikTok. CNA published the edited version of the report on its website, but now it appears that the channel has removed the report from its website.

CNA did not respond to the request for a comment on the issue.

“I was quite surprised that the CNA gay kiss clip went viral,” said Benjamin Xue, co-founder of Youth Out Here, a support group for LGBTQ youth in Singapore. “It’s rare to find any forms of LGBTQ+ affirming representation here in the free-to-air television landscape. The clip largely went viral because of TikTok, not so much on local mainstream news.”

The clip is also available on YouTube, where it was viewed more than 4,500 times.

“Absolute legend,” one YouTube user commented.

After the kiss ended, one man looked at the camera, which became a cheering theme for many. It was seen as an act of defiance against the country’s discriminatory law.

“I am not sure if the two men kissing are Singaporeans, but it does look intentional from how one of them looked directly into the camera in an act of defiance,” said Dr. Martha Tara Lee, a relationship counselor and clinical sexologist in Singapore. “This has made international news, and it is important for the world and Singaporeans to know, it is not right to make life difficult for our LGBTQ friends.”

Comments on the viral TikTok clip of the kiss were largely discussing “the last look” given by one of the men into the camera.

“His face. He knew what he was doing,” one user commented on TikTok.

“We should be open-minded, as time has changed,” another user said.

One user went on to say that it was an “act of revolution.”

“In Singapore, our mainstream media has never been so receptive to the topic of LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ (issues) do get reported in our news or shows, but it is usually in the stereotypical and negative forms β€” either as sex criminals, pedophiles, drug offenders, topless rave party queers, effeminate characters, drag queens, etc.,” said William Tan, a real estate advisor for Singapore’s LGBTQ community. “The media authority’s guideline is that we should not be seen promoting a positive LGBTQ+ lifestyle. What we are trying to change here is this traditional mindset of the public and to push for a positive portrayal of LGBTQ+ people in the public spaces.”

The broadcasting regulatory code from Infocomm Media Development Authority, which Singapore’s Communications and Information Ministry oversees, describes LGBTQ content as “alternative sexuality” and “the content should be sensitive to the family values.” The broadcasting code also says that the content depicting homosexuality will be rated as R21 or strictly for adults who are at least 21.

Pro-LGBTQ speeches made by high-profile celebrities have been censored in the country under strict broadcasting regulations.

The country edited Ellen DeGeneres’s show in which former President Obama appeared and praised her for the work she has done as a gay entertainment icon.

“Censorship of our LGBTQ lives shouldn’t be an issue in 2022. LGBTQ people exist here in Singapore and are part of the Singaporean fabric of society,” said Xue. “We are frontline workers in the hospitals, teachers in schools, and civil servants keeping this country running. We are also tax-paying citizens that should have a future to thrive, not just survive.”

Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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