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  • Writer's pictureMaia Harrison

Increased LGBT rights in India prompt waves of change in Asia

Will other countries follow in the Indian Supreme Court’s footsteps?

Last week, the Indian Supreme Court decriminalised gay sex, and ruled that gay citizens would be allowed all protections allowed by the constitution. This was a monumental occasion, following recent decisions in favour of gay rights in Bulgaria, Costa Rica and Belize.

This was an unprecedented decision – marking the triumphant end to the decades-long struggle from LGBTQ activists all over India. Gay sex had been punishable by up to 10 years in prison under Section 377 under the Indian Constitution which outlawed sexual activities “against the order of nature”. This law, although rarely enforced, laid the foundations for anti-LGBT discrimination and attacks on gay Indians. However, the fact that it has been overturned leads to increased scrutiny and pressure to other Asian nations to improve their constitutional rights for LGBT people.

One notable example of such a country is Singapore, the place where I grew up. Statue 377A of the Singaporean Criminal Code 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”. However, this law has only been enforced sporadically, with only nine people convicted between 2007 and 2013 on 377A provisions.

Not only is this policy of non-enforcement vague and unrealistic, it compromises the integrity of all laws in Singapore – thus leading to the kind of instability that our leaders are so worried about. Although it goes very much unenforced, it still sends the message to the LGBT community that their identity, rights, and actions are morally reprehensible, and sets the foundations for future discrimination and abuse. Section 377A of the Penal Code means that for all its fanfare and promotion, Singapore is still not an tolerant society.

Tommy Koh, a prominent figure in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has urged the Singaporean gay community to “bring a class action to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A”. Other senior civil servants such as the Chief of Government Communications, Janadas Devan, have labelled 377A as a “bad law”.

Photograph from the annual Pink Dot protests in Singapore

Many societies and countries across the world still treat their LGBTQ nationals as second-class citizens – in this sense Singapore is no exception. However, as signalled by India’s landmark decision, the tides are clearly changing. From an economic point of view, a more tolerant and fair policy could actually benefit Singapore, according to Nisha Gopalan reporting for Bloomberg – who claims that these divisive, discriminatory, and outdated laws prevent talent and investment in such countries. This clearly illustrates not only the human, social, and political cost to such a statute remaining unchallenged, but also the economic problems it poses.

This is an issue very close to my heart. I urge all reading this article not to tolerate such a statute and to sign and share the following petitions in order to raise awareness of the growing support for gay rights in Singapore. Even if you are not a Singaporean resident or national, your signature on these petitions will make a difference.

“We are ready for a Singapore that treats all her citizens equally. We are ready for a Singapore that respects its minorities and promotes individual choice and dignity. We are ready for a Singapore where people are not afraid to simply be who they are.”

- Excerpt from the #ready4repeal petition blurb

Please sign the petition down below to raise awareness and show your support for LGBTQ rights in Singapore


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