Why Singapore’s Pink Dot Event Matters
Alaia La emphasises the importance of Singapore’s Pink Dot event in a country where homosexuality remains criminalised.
Founded in 2009, Pink Dot SG is an annual event in Singapore to show support for LGBTQ+ rights. It held its first event in 2009, which was promoted as a celebration of diversity and equality, and a symbol of Singapore’s more inclusive future. This year marked the 13th Pink Dot held on the 12th of June which, like last year, was attended through a livestream session in response to COVID-19 restrictions. 15,000 “pink dots” illuminated the city with messages of solidarity and encouragement. Hosts were Harris Zaidi and theatre actress Pam Oei. LGBT activist Andrea Razali and lawyer Remy Choo, who is involved in disputes against the anti-gay Section 377A of the Penal Code, appeared as interview guests.
In the past decade, support and awareness of LGBTQ+ rights and issues in Singapore has risen considerably. Pink Dot SG is still going strong with thousands of attendees every year despite the ban against foreigners joining in on the festivities. Surveys suggest a steady national acceptance of non-hetero sexualities: while in 2013 approximately 80 per cent of Singaporeans considered same-sex sexual acts to be “Always Wrong” or “Almost Always Wrong,” this figure dropped down to 63.6 per cent in 2019. But Singapore still remains a largely socially conservative country, especially regarding sexuality. Premarital sex more often than not is regarded as shameful and LGBTQ people face systemic discrimination in the workplace, education, housing market and media representation. Many of the social and economic challenges LGBTQ+ people face can be directly traced back to Singapore’s colonial era legal scripts.
Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code, first implemented in 1938, can be traced back to a colonial Britain. Under “Outrages on decency” it states:
“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.”Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code
This piece of legislation means that you can receive the same length of punishment for acts of bestiality. This section is incredibly vague and short and although it is rarely enforced, its mere existence seems to sum up the government’s own disinterested or negating attitude.
Though the ordinance in fact is rarely acted on, legal challenges that question its constitutionality meet constant opposition. The latest verdict of the High Court in 2020 had Justice See Kee Oon assert that the section “serves the purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts”. He continued, stating its non-enforcement does not make it redundant. He is, at the very least, right about that last part. This outdated piece of legislation should not be dismissed simply because it is not directly executed. It reinforces the social oppression of the LGBTQ+ community and does little to safeguard their rights as a minority.
Schools help compose individuals’ formative years where one learns to distinguish right from wrong and engage with a community distinct from family. But within schools, bullying people on the basis of their sexuality has little consequence, with reports of some teachers joining in; other teachers have been fired for being LGBTQ or for constructively discussing LGBTQ issues; some school counsellors are forced to report queer students to the school; and if sex education curriculums even acknowledge the existence of non-hetero sexualities they have to also state that it is a criminal act. Consequently, this results in higher rates of suicide, depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation.
Additionally, same-sex marriage is prohibited under the Woman’s Charter which states under Section 12(1): “A marriage solemnized in Singapore or elsewhere between persons who, at the date of the marriage, are not respectively male and female shall be void.” On top of the psychological and social discord this encourages, the banning of such civil partnerships, where spouses become family members, means LGBTQ+ couples may miss out on tax and housing benefits, inheritance, and also raises questions of childcare. Around 82 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing, the most affordable option. Build to Order flats, the most heavily subsidized flats, require a minimum age of 21 for families and couples. However, single people and joint singles (2 to 4 people) have to be at least 35 to get a house. Since same-sex couples cannot marry or be deemed “family” they have to either wait until they’re 35 or invest in more expensive and less spacious options which may come with shorter leases. And even if they do wait they are restricted to the smallest options, 2-room flexi flats.
This is what makes Pink Dot SG is so important. Clement Tan, a spokesperson for the event affirms:
“Discrimination is discrimination – whether it comes in the form of homophobic behaviour or outdated laws and policies. Minority groups have to speak louder, fight harder, and stand firmer, just to be treated the same as everyone else. It gives me hope that our allies continue to stand with us and speak out against homophobia, racism, and other inequalities. We’ll keep leading the way towards a more progressive Singapore”.Clement Tan