So, what’s the news in Singapore?
Li Huanwu, a member of Singapore’s influential Lee family, married his long-term partner in South Africa last weekend.
Congratulations to them!
Absolutely. It’s even more significant when considering that Li Huanwu is the nephew of the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, and the grandson of Singapore’s first prime minister and founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.
But why’s this in the news?
The fact that a member of Singapore’s ‘first family’ is in a same-sex marriage is big news in itself, and is great for LGBTI visibility in the conservative city-state.
But this is especially significant because Singapore continues to maintain Section 377A, a law from the British colonial era which bans male homosexual sex.
Though the law is virtually never enforced, it effectively criminalizes gay men in Singapore. LGBTI rights activists also say that by retaining the law, it perpetuates a negative image of the LGBTI community among the broader population.
Wow – then Huanwu’s marriage must be a really big deal for LGBTI rights in Singapore?
Well, yes and no.
It’s big news that the grandson of Lee Kuan Yew is in a same-sex marriage. But it almost certainly won’t make any serious tangible changes with regards to the current system in the near future.
While priding itself as an ultra-modern city, Singapore has been languishing behind the rest of the developed world with regards to LGBTI rights for quite some time.
Couldn’t Huanwu speak to his uncle about ways to improve LGBTI rights in Singapore?
Hmm, yeah… About that.
Is there a problem, there?
Quite a few, actually. For the past two years, the Lee family has been embroiled in a massive feud stemming from a falling out over Lee Kuan Yew’s old home.
The prime minister’s siblings, Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling, have publicly accused their brother of, well, a lot of ethically dubious actions. This has effectively fractured any form of unity among the first family.
So, not really on speaking terms, then?
It’s safe to say that they’re probably off each others’ Christmas card lists.
Okay, but there must be LGBTI rights advocacy work happening in Singapore?
There’s a lot – especially with regards to a renewed push to repeal Section 377A after India abolished its similar colonial-era law (Section 377) in September last year.
A loose coalition of Singaporean LGBTI rights activists began a group called Ready4Repeal with the purpose of abolishing the law.
So there has been a lot of effort among LGBTI rights supporters in Singapore to make a change to the law.
I get the feeling there’s a ‘but’ coming.
But this has mostly been met with a very muted response from lawmakers.
Simply put, there’s just not the political will among senior politicians in Singapore to repeal the law, and most have attempted to keep the issue at arm’s length.
The Law and Home Affairs Minister said that the government would only consider repealing Section 377A if the majority of the public supported the move.
Even the leader of the main opposition party said that he wouldn’t move to repeal the law — that one really aggravated local LGBTI rights activists.
Ah… Is there any hope of things improving?
It’s starting to look like some changes are happening – slowly, but surely.
Recent polling suggests that Singaporeans are becoming more and more accepting of LGBTI rights, especially the younger generations.
So while things are taking their time, things are changing slowly but surely in Singapore. There’s a growing number of LGBTI rights advocates who believe it’s only a matter of time before the government repeals Section 377A.
What else is there to look forward to?
Keep an eye on Singapore at the end of the month for the 11th annual Pink Dot, the country’s biggest LGBTI Pride event.
The event regularly attracts tens of thousands of people and has been fundamental in spreading awareness of LGBTI rights in Singapore.
There will also be a number of other events taking place throughout Singapore over the next couple of months to help raise awareness about LGBTI issues.