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‘Harassed’ former senior manager seeks court protection for gays in Singapore’s workplace

‘Harassed’ former senior manager seeks court protection for gays in Singapore’s workplace

A 40-year-old Singaporean, whose suit against his employers for ‘forced resignation’ because he was gay was dismissed by court, is now ready for further battle, asking for protection for gays in the workplace.

Lawrence Bernard Wee Kim San, who says he was harassed into leaving his job as a senior manager at Singapore’s leading retail store Robinsons, moved high court Friday, asking that a constitutional provision for equality be extended to gays in the workplace as well.

Wee told Gay Star News: ‘Because of my recent work experience at Robinsons, I feel that gays have to be better protected and given equal rights in Singapore.

‘To be discriminated and yet not having an avenue, i.e. protection by the laws, in seeking recourse is definitely something that has to be looked into seriously.’

This is the first time in the island republic that such a petition has been made in court. Wee’s case also highlights the growing trend among gay Singaporeans to seek to ensure their rights with the help of the law.

‘Support has been forthcoming from not only the LGBT community but also straight friends and strangers who have stepped forwarded to lend their support,’ Wee also told Gay Star News.

Singapore’s constitution says ‘all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law’.

However, the equality provision still remains a gray area for the LGBT community since the constitution explicitly forbids discrimination only on the grounds of religion, race, descent or place of birth.

Though the workplace law adds disability to that, there is no express mention of ensuring equality in the workplace irrespective of sexual orientation and Wee is seeking to have that changed.

In his petition Friday, he has asked the court for a declaration that the constitution also forbids discrimination against homosexuals at the workplace.

The move came after Wee quit his job last year. He says he was forced to resign because a senior official disapproved of his being homosexual and wanted him to become straight.

When he refused, Wee says he faced growing discrimination despite his sterling performance at the store, which had seen his salary double in his six-year stint.

Robinsons has rejected the allegations and the court dismissed the suit on the ground of contractual technicalities.

Wee’s lawyer M Ravi indicated to the media that the harassment of gay employees was not uncommon in Singapore, which prides itself on being a meritocracy.

‘A number of gay men have approached me recently on such cases of discrimination in employment but they are afraid to come out publicly to fight for their rights and hence suffer in silence,’ Ravi said.

‘With this case my client is seeking to take a significant step to secure equal rights for all homosexual men.’

Last year, a Singaporean gay couple who have been together for 15 years, challenged the law that makes sex between males a criminal offense in Singapore.

Though their suit was dismissed by a judge who said he did not feel ‘heavy-handed judicial intervention’ was required ahead of ‘democratic change’, the couple is raising funds to challenge the ban once more.