Someday, the campaign video for Pink Dot 2012, draws a realistic portrait of some of the realities faced by Singapore’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. These are very real issues faced by Singaporeans in their workplaces, homes, and schools everyday.
1) At the Workplace
While no official survey has been done on the situation of LGBT people at the workplace, anecdotal accounts and documented cases indicate a wide range of attitudes – from open-minded environments in industries like entertainment and media, to growing acceptance in a few government agencies and multi-national corporations (MNCs), as well as continued discrimination in some government sectors.
In 2003, the Singapore Government announced that gay people are now allowed to work in ‘certain positions in government’. Companies are also growing in acceptance with many having global diversity policies applied to Singapore. For example, last year, Google officially supported Pink Dot Sg, saying it supports Pink Dot’s message as ‘an equal opportunity employer’ which ‘does not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, colour, religion, gender or sexual orientation’.
Government sectors in which LGBT people are known to be treated with bias include education and the military. In 2007, reacting to a school teacher’s coming out in his blog, the Ministry of Education issued a statement saying that it “does not condone an open espousal of homosexuality by a teacher through any form”. The Singapore Armed Forces continue to treat LGBT people differently with the 302 Classification.
It is worth noting that there is no legislation on workplace discrimination in Singapore, whether it is for age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
2) Understanding Gender Identity
Gender identity is often confused with sexual orientation. Sexual orientation relates to the attraction one has for another (based on gender), while gender identity is based on how an individual feels within. When the gender a person feels affiliated with does not coincide with their culturally assigned gender, the person may be considered ‘transgender’ or ‘trans’. Different terms are also preferred or used in various locations and ‘transgender’ people may include ‘pre-op’, ‘post-op’, ‘non-op’, ‘transman’ and ‘transwoman’. Transgender is often confused with ‘transvestites’, ‘cross-dressing or drag’ and ‘intersex’.
By and large in Singapore, there is a poor understanding of gender identity and transgender people, even within the lesbian and gay communities. In popular culture here, transwomen are often associated with entertainment and prostitution. Public taunting of effeminate men and transwomen with pejorative slangs like “bapok” and “ah kua” seems to be a common occurrence.
Encouragingly, members of the local transgender community have stepped out in recent years to educate the public, including the publication of a book by Leona Lo (who acted in this campaign video), the works of transgender artist Marla Bendini, and the life story of Jamie Yee featured in the Pink Dot 2010 video.
On the legal front, post-operative transsexual people in Singapore have gained significant rights since the early 1970’s, including the right to alter the gender on their identity cards, as well as the right to marriage for post-op transsexuals.
http://www.sgbutterfly (Singapore’s first transgender community portal)
3) Family Acceptance
Many LGBT Singaporeans still find it hard to come out to their family members, largely due to cultural, religious, or societal stigma. 24% of LGBT participants in Pink Dot 2011 claim to be “out” to their family from the results of a post-event survey. We suspect the numbers would probably be lower if the entire LGBT population was taken into account. On the other hand, a survey by informal LGBT group People Like Us in 2000 indicated higher-than-expected willingness of Singaporeans to accept gay siblings (46%-74%) and gay children (41%-66%).
To add on, media censorship (see section below) and education policies have not been favourable in encouraging positive dialogue between LGBT Singaporeans and their families. However, numerous social movements and organisations like Oogachaga, Sayoni, Safe, Indignation and Pink Dot have initiated efforts to plug the information gap. The Pink Dot 2010 campaign featuring LGBT persons like Joel Kang and Eileena Lee and their family was a first for Singapore.
4) Media Censorship: The Invisible Singaporeans
Positive representation of LGBT people is heavily restricted in newspapers and magazines as well as in radio, television and films in Singapore. The Free-To-Air Television Programme Code published by the Media Development Authority (MDA) states that: “Information, themes or subplots on lifestyles such as homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism, transsexualism, transvestism, paedophilia and incest should be treated with utmost caution. Their treatment should not in any way promote, justify or glamorise such lifestyles. Explicit depictions of the above should not be broadcast.” This has resulted in LGBT affirmative statements to be excised from Oscar acceptance speeches and LGBT characters on popular TV Shows being completely erased, or their sexuality neutered.
In cinemas, films with homosexual themes are rated R21, the most restrictive classification rating by the MDA. The latest Classification Guidelines (dated: 15 July 2011) published by the Board of Film Censors states that: “Films that depict a homosexual lifestyle should be sensitive to community values. They should not, promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle. However, non-exploitative and non-explicit depictions of sexual activity between two persons of the same gender may be considered for R21.”
R21 films can only be viewed in selected cinemas in Singapore. They are also not allowed to be publicized in the mainstream media. As a result of these guidelines, positive representations of LGBT people are not depicted in the Singapore mass media.
5) Section 377a of the Penal Code of Singapore
Section 377a of the Penal Code of Singapore states that: “Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.”
S377a has its roots in the Indian Penal Code and British Victorian-era law. It has since been repealed in both countries, but remains in Singapore law. In 2007, the Singapore government repealed the original Section 377 that applied to all Singaporeans but decided to keep Section 377a which now only applies to gay men. This has led to a situation where gay or bisexual men (the law does not relate to lesbian sex) live under the shadow of being imprisoned for consensual acts – even within the privacy of their homes. Further, the ongoing criminalization of homosexuality as inferred by s377a continues to influence decision-making by corporations, employers, academic institutions and other organizations.