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Foreign Minister denies saying gay sex ban is a ‘silly’ issue in Singapore

Foreign Minister denies saying gay sex ban is a ‘silly’ issue in Singapore

a man in a suit jacket and blue shirt standing and speaking into a handheld microphone

Singapore’s Foreign Minister has denied ever labelling a discussion around the country’s gay sex ban as ‘silly’.

Queer man, YuZhou Lee attended a Singapore government forum in San Francisco at the weekend. The forum aimed to attract expats in the technology sector back home to Singapore.

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan spoke at the event. The event mediator asked ‘what is something you would change about Singapore that you would disagree on with the audience here?’

Balakrishnan opened the discussion up to the audience and Lee shouted ‘377A’.

Section 377A of the Penal Code is a British colonial era law which bans consensual gay sex between men.

‘It is part of the penal code that the British had left behind years ago and has ironically been repealed in Britain and India but still preserved in Singapore,’ Lee said on Facebook.

‘While the state does not actively enforce the law, this law is ‘the’ law that officially strips queer people of their humanity and ‘the’ law that expresses a government sentiment that queer people are not equal members of the state.’

Momentum gathered last year in Singapore to repeal 377A. LGBTI advocates hoped after India’s Supreme Court ruled to overturn its version of the law that Singapore might follow suit. But conservative campaigners managed to shut down any hopes after starting a petition against its repeal. It yielded more signatures than a petition calling for the end of 377A.

A ‘silly’ issue

According to Lee, Balakrishnan quickly shut down the line of questioning. The minister said he was not interested in what people do privately in their bedroom. He also allegedly said the forum aimed to recruit tech workers and could not focus on ‘silly’ issues like 377A.

Lee described the response as ‘heartbreaking’.

‘When a minister calls it “silly” to challenge the very law that denies your humanity, that judges the LGBT community to be intrinsically wrong, that strips a basic human right away from you, it speaks volumes of the amount of empathy and understanding they have of the people they govern,’ Lee wrote.

‘When a minister can decide at a forum for ‘recruiting talent’ back home that a person’s humanity and rights is a separate issue from their skill sets, you can see how they represent a government view that we are valued for our economic ability and not our intrinsic value as human beings.’

Lee said he loved Singapore and that he would love to return home to live.

‘But how can I do so when the ministers at the top clearly do not regard LGBT Singaporeans as equal members of society who deserve equal rights? Why would I do that in a society that treats the LGBT community, a community I’m part of, as second class citizens?’

The Minister’s response

Balakrishnan wrote to Lee personally to defend his comments. In the message he argued 377A was an ‘old law that we inherited from the British’.

‘We don’t enforce this law – we respect the privacy of consenting adults in the bedroom,’ he wrote.

‘We really want to avoid the ‘culture wars’ that we see elsewhere on this polarizing issue… we are not likely to achieve consensus by prolonged arguments… this is not the central issue of our time.

‘Even if we disagree, we should live and let live in mutual respect.

‘PS: I did not use the word ‘silly’. I think you misheard me.’

Singapore is a multicultural city-state in south east Asia, where a recent study showed 70% of people disapproved of same-sex relationships.