Despite progress, worldwide search for LGBT equality continues

As soon as the long-awaited news was announced, celebration erupted across the United States. Outside the Supreme Court, a crowd of supporters broke out into cheers, tears, and tight embraces. Throughout the country, multicolored flags were waved, joyous couples eloped, and truly unforgettable moments were shared. On Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, support flooded in from around the globe as the social media users spread a sentimental yet fitting hashtag, “#LoveWins.”

Just two of the many LGBT rights activists crowded in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage (Creative Commons License).
Just two of the many LGBT rights activists crowded in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage (Creative Commons License).

On June 26, 2015, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, granting gay rights advocates a deserved victory and establishing the U.S. as the 23rd country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

Along with South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, Greenland, and other nations mainly in Europe and the Americas, the United States now sees members of its LGBT community with “equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” as Anthony Kennedy, a Supreme court Justice, wrote for the majority.

It certainly was a tremendous step forward for the U.S., as it joined the 22 other countries that have already legalized same-sex marriage. Still, these 23 nations only make up 12% of the world’s countries. This leaves 173 others that have yet to follow in their footsteps.

One such country is our very own Singapore.

The city-state has long been influenced by countries like the U.S. and Britain with their extensive military, commercial, and cultural relations. Yet the lack of rights for the LGBT community in Singapore is an enduring matter that seems to stand separately, uninfluenced by outside nations.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meets with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter (Creative Commons License).
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meets with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter (Creative Commons License).

In recent comments, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong claimed that Singapore’s stance on the issue is “gradually changing.” However, with laws like Section 377(A) of Singapore’s Penal Code in place, it seems as if the majority of the country continues to hold rigid, conservative beliefs.

Section 377(A) prohibits males, publicly or privately, to carry out “any act of gross indecency with another male person.” Those who do so may be punished with imprisonment that may extend to up to two years.

Essentially, it is illegal for two gay men in Singapore to express their love for each other – whether they’re out on the busy streets of Orchard or in the privacy of their own homes. Those who do are, technically, criminals.

This direct act of discrimination portrays the inequality gay Singaporean men have to deal with in their own nation – a place they know as home, a safe haven.

“When you have a law that specifically targets relationships between men… It’s like you’re living in the 19th century.” SAS alumnus and LGBT advocate Juan Granados expressed. “Nobody’s asking for absolute equality right now – because obviously that’s not realistic – but at least you could get rid of that law.”

In fact, three men, on separate occasions, filed appeals to renounce the constitutionality of this Section. When the Court of Appeals announced its final ruling last October against the three men, as Jeanette Tan wrote in her article, it left Singapore’s “shocked and disappointed” LGBT community back to square one.

Although the ruling against the appeals alone wasn’t enough to generalize the country as conservative, the majority of Singapore’s failure to further act against this outright criminalization displayed a do-nothing image of the nation. Their choice to remain silent – to turn a blind eye on this discrimination – reflects just how much progress there is yet to be made.

PM Lee spoke further on behalf of the country, believing that there would be a “very strong pushback” if the gay community “[pushes] the agenda too hard.” Challenging the already unchanging stance of Singapore’s people would only result in resistance, which is why resolution wouldn’t be a possibility. “The more you discuss, the angrier people get,” PM Lee added.

Parishioners of the Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore gather for a sermon led by Paster Lawrence Khong (
Parishioners of the Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore gather for a sermon led by Paster Lawrence Khong (

It seems as though he was right. On June 29, 2015, pastor Lawrence Khong of the Faith Community Baptist Church led a “Wear White” campaign to counter Singapore’s annual “Pink Dot” LGBT rights rally. Convinced that LGBT rights is what threatens traditional heterosexual family units, Khong decried “homosexual [acts]” as “the greatest blasphemy against the name of God.” Rallying his thousands of parishioners, he stated that they will all “wear white until the pink is gone.”

It is sobering moments like these that reflect the reality of a situation so complex. There clearly are obstacles that have yet to be overcome – the largest of which is to create a fuller understanding of homosexuality itself within the country. But in spite of, and maybe even because of, these disagreements and obstacles, progress is being made. Gradual (and slightly ironic) progress, yes, but progress nonetheless. As Singapore blogger and LGBT rights advocate Kirsten Han aptly responded to Khong’s statement, “You cannot white out the pink; it merely creates more pink.”

On this year’s annual “Pink Dot” LGBT rights rally, a record number of 28,000 participants gathered in Hong Lim Park on June 13, 2015. The mostly young, pink-clad crowd rallied, as a growing community, for change in Singapore’s discriminatory laws.

“Pink Dot” LGBT rights ralliers gather around a stage in Hong Lim Park on June 13, 2015 (Creative Commons License).

Senior Mark Schoen, who attended the Pink Dot event, confirmed the amount of dedicated supporters who came out. “There were so many people there,” he recalled. “You could barely get to where you were sitting.”

With the overwhelming amount of people that attended came a tremendous amount of support, Mark described, with almost just as much positivity. “Even though they were talking about what the Prime Minister had said, everything was really positive,” he said. “I never heard anyone say, ‘Oh, this sucks. Our situation is terrible.’”

Mark attended with a few of the other members of SAS’ Gay-Straight Alliance Club, including Juan, who added that, “what was most amazing was the families that were there – really old people, and really young people, and people who, if you saw walking down the street, you wouldn’t think would go to Pink Dot.”

Filled with emotional speeches and performances made by ambassadors and advocates, Pink Dot is always an important annual event for Singapore’s LGBT community. Its significance only increased when a record number of citizens, expats, and tourists attended this year.

A hub of technology and export, Singapore is typically seen as one of the most advanced cities in the world. With its abundance of progressive thinkers and modern policy-makers, the country has certainly reached success in many aspects. Yet it is in issues like social equality that the nation seems to lack this same forward thinking. The outright discrimination paired with the ongoing silence of injustice that surrounds Singapore’s LGBT community daily paints a different picture of the nation – one that is unshakeably conservative.

But these Pink Dot ralliers and their growing community seem to outline a different future – one which results in nondiscrimination, justice, and equality. These changes may be gradual, but slowly and steadily, they could result in true progress for Singapore.

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