by Patricia Siswandjo on

On Sept 6, India’s Supreme Court announced it would scrap Section 377 of the penal code, a colonial-era ban on gay sex.

Soon after India’s ruling on section 377, renowned Singaporean diplomat Tommy Koh wrote on Facebook: “I would encourage our gay community to bring a class action to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A.”

Since then, Singaporeans have clamoured to sign petitions and voice their opinions. And some comments are nasty:

“I want 377A to stay to protect my children and grandchildren from perverts,” said one commenter.

“If you still support the oppression of gay people, you are a piece of sh*t,” said someone who wanted 377A repealed.

Everyone has an opinion, and often there are clashes. That’s unavoidable. But, there’s no need for gay-bashing or hate-mongering. We can – and must – discuss this in a mature and civil manner.

The Pride spoke to three individuals with differing views of 377A to hear their perspectives. We are not evaluating or drawing any conclusions ourselves on the matter. Instead, we hope that, whichever side you are on, you will take a moment to read without judgment and consider the views of those opposed to yours.

Here are their accounts.
 

Benjamin Chan (not his real name), 23, is #ReadyForRepeal

Benjamin Chan, 23, is a communications student at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He first realised he was gay around five years ago, and has been dating a same-sex partner for a year now. We will explain later why we are not giving his real name.

I definitely feel 377A should be repealed. This law acts as a form of systemic discrimination against others’ sexual orientation, which shouldn’t be their business in the first place.

Some of the backlash I’ve been reading on social media has been quite far-fetched. For example, some have even drawn comparison to 377B on beastiality, and 376A on having sex with minors.

Or, how repealing 377A will eventually lead to same-sex marriage.

But 377A criminalises an act that would normally take place between two consenting adults.

Besides, the government has already said that this is not a law they actively enforce, so with that in mind, it makes no difference if the law is actually repealed.

Section 377A has nothing to do with legalising same-sex marriage and all the other conspiracy theories people who oppose its repeal are coming up with.

The truth is, it is very unlikely that the people who are angry about this will ever change their minds because most of them come from a conservative or religious standpoint, which is hard to change. I fail to see how the repealing of this law would affect the sanctity of marriage or family.

Even before this, gay-bashing has already been happening, and it often starts from a very young age – as early as primary school.

I’ve been labelled anti-gay slurs such as “homo”, “ah gua” (transvestite) and “sissy”. These were meant as ‘jokes’. But saying it’s “meant as a joke” is a poor excuse for hate speech.

Once while at a secondary school camp, we played a ‘first impressions’ game. When it was my turn, some guy said his first impression of me was that I was “damn gay” and everybody started laughing. This was way before I ‘came out’.

I could tell that it wasn’t exactly the kind of remark that was meant in jest. It felt horrible to see everyone laughing about it – and at me. And what’s worse is, no one, not even teachers, reacted to homophobic language or taught bullies that homophobic bullying was wrong.

Some of my other gay friends have faced harassment, threats and violence.

Gay-bashing and homophobic bullying bears many psychological consequences and the victims will carry fear, and sometimes hate, throughout their lives.

I have friends – victims of bullying – who still exhibit signs of insecurity or animosity towards their bullies and those similar to them. Some of them also keep to themselves, for fear of getting hurt if others come to know too much.

The effects of gay-bashing and bullying are real, and they’re not pretty. The last thing we need is to retain an archaic law that only serves to make the gay community feel like criminals in their own home.

People like to think of coming out to your parents as a gay ‘rite of passage’. But to me, I’m content with them never knowing. I don’t see them having a need to know, and I don’t want to unnecessarily open a can of worms.

I’ll definitely feel braver about coming out to colleagues and friends if the signs show society is ready to accept homosexuals.

But even then, I probably won’t come out to family. I already know that they don’t view LGBT folks very positively. Besides, I don’t want to spend every subsequent Chinese New Year hearing them persuade me to ‘turn straight’.

I’m okay with my parents never knowing I’m gay, or meeting my significant other.

(Editor’s note: We are not revealing Chan’s full name because he fears his parents may find out he is gay.)
 

Madam Lani Chua, late 50s, prays that 377A will stay

Madam Lani Chua, in her late fifties, is a retiree who now works for the Catholic Church. She considers herself very religious. On an average day, she drops her daughter off at work, then heads to church for a quiet, peaceful prayer in the adoration room. She spends her afternoons doing administrative work for the church, and spends her evenings at daily mass.

Homosexuality is a sin. I don’t condemn the people, for my God died for them too, but I disapprove of the act.

Laws are created to protect the people and to make a stand on certain issues.

To send someone to prison because that person performs an illegal, unnatural sex act is punishment, or penalty. Not condemnation. “Condemn” has the nuance of fatality or hopelessness.

My thoughts are based on the Bible’s teachings: I believe that sex is firstly, for creation. Other forms of sexual relations are deviations from the norm, and are unnatural.

At first it was just LGB, then LGBT. Now it’s LGBTQ, and they just keep adding letters to it. When will it end? Adding and normalising these letters sends a message that it’s okay to have unnatural relations. What if one day, sex with animals is seen as OK, too?

I don’t consider 377A discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Put it this way: If they love one another, nothing matters, right? They don’t need the law’s permission to express their love and care for each other. And, just because 377A exists does not mean homosexuals are ‘criminalised’. In Singapore, there are no religious police who barge into people’s house to arrest homosexual people anyway.

Nothing would make me change my stance on this. Not even if one of my children is gay or lesbian. As a mother, I will still love my child, though. I will pray for God to give me plenty of grace. I would be sad, of course, but I will accept my children no matter what. I need God’s grace, not 377A, to accept them.

Recently, I’ve received chain messages and videos on Whatsapp that elaborate more on the gay agenda. After watching such videos, my heart sank.

Peers from my church group share the same sentiment, and one of them was prompted to write in to the Prime Minister’s Office to express his concern that repealing 377A would encourage LGBTQ activists to demand more equality and rights.

He also made the point that while we can embrace cultural diversity and the positive contributions foreigners make to Singapore, our conservative culture should be respected.

However, some of the messages I receive are fear-mongering.

I recently received a text message that said the European Court of Human Rights unanimously established, verbatim, that “there is no right to homosexual marriage” and that it isn’t a human right.

I forwarded it to my daughter and ask her to verify it for me. In this case, that text message was wrong – there was no such ruling.

I don’t agree with homosexuality nor do I think it should be legalised. But it’s not right to spread lies, either.

I feel sad that I have to choose one side, but when it comes down to this, I vote for 377A to stay.
 

Celine Chen, 22, has not voted for either petition

Celine Chen is an intern at a public relations firm. She was raised in a religious household, and has “complicated” views on homosexuality. Her father works as a marriage counselor with the church, and they view marriage as a sanctity meant for only man and wife. She considers herself neutral on this issue, and will not sign either petition.

I am not against homosexuality. But I personally would not go out of my way to advocate for them either.

Many of my religious relatives feel strongly about keeping 377A. I know there are many who see homosexuality as a perversion of nature and God, and therefore should be punished.

However, I argue that all humans should be treated equally.

No matter what the Bible says about homosexuality, the Bible also calls for us to love everyone equally.

That includes sinners – a common theme throughout the Bible is the redemption of sinners. Jesus saw individuals, not just their labels.

In Gaudium et spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, one of the four constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council), the Church has also acknowledged the need to adapt to today’s changing society, but that it will take some time.

I do have gay friends, and while I will not take the initiative to openly encourage them to have homosexual relations, I listen to their stories and their struggles. I treat them like how I would any other friend, especially if the situation calls for me to be supportive.

But I don’t actually feel like this law is heavily enforced in Singapore – there have not been many publicised cases of homosexuals in Singapore being thrown into prison, if at all.

Maybe that’s why I don’t feel as strongly about it.

In fact, from what I observe, I would say many homosexuals feel comfortable with displaying affection in public.

Additionally, I’m not sure if signing any petition would result in the government actually taking any action any time soon.

Despite Singapore’s youth becoming slightly more open-minded, Singapore’s religious demographics are largely Christian and Muslim, and we also still have a sizeable ageing population. The government has to take into consideration the opinions of these people, too.

Desmond Tutu, known human rights activist, once said: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

To that, I say: There is no actual active injustice here since this law is not even really practised. And because of that, I don’t feel this sense of urgency that everyone else is feeling.

Right now, the petitions to keep or repeal 377A have become a source of division in our society.

As a neutral party, the hate speech I’ve been seeing online annoys me. Telling someone they are horrible is not the way to change their opinion – personally, I feel repelled rather than drawn to support anyone who spouts hate speech.

People are getting really aggressive about their stance on this issue. It’s come to a point where both sides are just hurling insults at each other – there doesn’t seem to be any form of effective two-way communication between opposing parties.

I wish everyone would learn to listen to and grow to be more understanding of others. Even if someone doesn’t necessarily agree with a homosexual or religious lifestyle, one should still be cordial. If we are sincere about building a better civil society, we should learn to reason it out instead of insulting each other.
 

Listen to the other side, whichever side you’re on

As passionate as you may be about your stance on 377A, a constructive conversation can only take place if we reason things out, instead of jumping to name-calling and insults.

This story has laid out the perspectives of three individuals, each for, against, and neutral about the repeal of 377A.

In doing so, we hope that more will take time to listen to others and be gracious in contributing to the dialogue.

Even if we don’t agree with those who hold beliefs that are different from ours, let’s try to listen to and understand them.