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Singapore government will not prosecute ‘people engaging in gay sex’

BBC asked Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam about sodomy law

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Singapore Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam (Screen capture via CNA YouTube)

SINGAPORE — A Singapore government minister last week said his country will not prosecute anyone under a colonial-era law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“People engaging in gay sex will not be prosecuted, even though there is this old piece of law which makes gay sex among males an offense,” said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on June 29 during an interview on BBC’s “HARDtalk” program. “The attorney general has confirmed that position and the Supreme Court has said that the government’s position is legal for us.”

Singapore is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The country’s Court of Appeal in February upheld a lower court decision that dismissed three lawsuits against Section 377A of Singapore’s penal code. Shanmugam acknowledged a “significant proportion of our population — the middle ground as it were — don’t want that law repealed.”

“Attitudes are shifting somewhat, but still Singapore government can’t ignore those views, so we have arrived at this sort of messy compromise the last 15 years and we have taken this path because these issues are difficult,” he said. “They are not easily settled and we have made clear that LGBTQ+ individuals are entitled to live peacefully without being attacked or threatened.”

“This is a compromise that we have arrived at because of where our society is and if you believe in a democracy you’ve got to take into account where your main ground is,” added Shanmugam.

Shanmugam spoke with the BBC less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Shanmugam during the interview specifically referenced Justice Clarence Thomas and his assertion the U.S. Supreme Court should reconsider its rulings in the Obergefell and Lawrence cases that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples and the right to private, consensual sex.

“Our approach: Deal with these issues in Parliament,” said Shanmugam. “I’ve said earlier this year that we are relooking at our laws and our laws have to change and keep pace with the times and the Singaporean way we are engaging in a wide set of consultations to try and arrive at some set of landing.”

Southeast Asia

Lawmakers in Singapore repeal country’s colonial-era sodomy law

Constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman approved

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Singapore skyline (Public domain photo)

SINGAPORE — Lawmakers in Singapore on Tuesday repealed a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Straits Times newspaper notes 93 MPs voted to repeal Section 377A of the country’s penal code after 10 hours of debate that spanned two days. A constitutional amendment that ensures marriage remains defined between a man and a woman also passed on Tuesday with 85 MPs voting in favor of it. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August announced his country would decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The city-state’s Court of Appeal in February upheld a lower court decision that dismissed three lawsuits against Section 377A of the country’s penal code. Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam a few months later told the BBC his country will not prosecute anyone under the colonial-era law.

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Southeast Asia

Singaporean court sends bisexual OnlyFans creator to jail

Titus Low was found to have violated Singapore’s obscenity laws & defying a order to stay off his account as law enforcement investigated

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Titus Low/Instagram

SINGAPORE – A 22-year-old bisexual man who is Singapore’s most recognizable adult content creator on OnlyFans was sentenced to spend three weeks in jail and ordered to pay a fine of $3,000 [USD] over his OnlyFans account by a local court.

Titus Low was found to have violated Singapore’s obscenity laws and defying a court order to stay off his account while local law enforcement investigated. The Singaporean media outlet, The Straits Times reported that Low is the first OnlyFans creator to have been prosecuted in the city-state which remain largely conservative on issues such as LGBTQ+ issues, abortion, casual sex and prostitution.

This past August Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced his country will decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“Private sexual behavior between consenting adults does not raise any law and order issue. There is no justification to prosecute people for it nor to make it a crime,” said Lee. “This will bring the law into line with current social mores and I hope provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

However, sale and production of pornographic materials is illegal although watching porn is not against the law. OnlyFans and other adult content available via online sites are restricted by state censors.

The case against the bi-OnlyFans creator was initiated in December of 2021 after a man filed a complaint with Singaporean police in which he stated he had found an obscene video of Low performing a sex act on the mobile phone of the complainant’s 12-year-old niece.

As part of his bail and release Low was ordered to stay off his account and not post further new content. In January of this year on his Instagram and Tik-Tok accounts Low posted a video where he pointed out that his videos were meant for his adult fans.  “We only create content for people who are our age and wish to have content they want to see. And all this is on the basis of everything is consensual,” Low had said. 

“So we don’t force you to watch our content, we don’t force you to pay, it’s not open for public consumption, and if I don’t impede on your life and your lifestyle, to the person who reported me, why are you impeding in mine?” he added. 

His defense lawyer Kirpal Singh, argued that although proof of being 18 years-old was required to access and pay for viewing OnlyFans accounts, creators have little control over material being leaked or recirculated without their knowledge and that is not something they’re able to control. Singh added that it is impossible to prevent content on the platform from permeating social media, such as when a paying subscriber records an OnlyFans video with an external device.

During court proceedings the Straits reported that between April and October 2021 prior to his arrest, Low earned US$240,979 (S$346,475) from OnlyFans. Low argued in Court that the reason he had again accessed his account after being ordered to stay off the platform was it was his only source of income and that he felt that he had an obligation to provide content to his subscribers.

Singh in his direct examination asked Low why he defied the police order, Low testified that he had subscribers who had prepaid, and he felt obligated to supply content to them.

The Straits also noted that Low’s account currently has 208 posts and 338 media files an is now inactive.

In seeking the jail term and the $3,000 fine, Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran told the court that Low’s actions were premeditated, and he intended to undermine police investigations to advance his financial interests over all else. 

“He spun an elaborate story about his OnlyFans account being compromised to deceive the platform and regain access to his account. He also breached the police order more than once,” he said.

Following his sentencing, Low took to TikTok to address his fans. He said that he will start his prison sentence in a few weeks, but he “was glad the case was over” as it was taking a toll on his mental health. “All my heart is with you. Praying it will be smooth. Anything just call me. Thank you to everyone that reached out to me.”

@tituslow Replying to @Prrrth ♬ original sound – Titus Low

Low also updated his followers on Twitter. “I’m glad this is finally over. Ready to start in a new chapter in life Mistakes were made. Part of life’s learning process, I guess?”

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Southeast Asia

Vietnam no longer considers LGBTQ+ people sick

Country’s health ministry issued directive on Aug. 3

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Acting Vietnamese Health Minister Dao Hong Lan (Photo by Tran Minh/Vietnamese government)

HANOI, Vietnam — The Vietnamese Health Ministry earlier this month announced it no longer considers LGBTQ+ people to be sick.

directive the ministry issued on Aug. 3 directs health care providers “not to consider homosexual, bisexual and Transgender (people) an illness.” The directive also contains the additional four provisions:

• Enhance information propagation and dissemination so that the medical doctors, staff and patients at the medical examination and treatment establishments have a correct understanding about homosexual, bisexual and Transgender persons.

• While administrating medical examination or treatment for the homosexual, bisexual and Transgender patients, gender equality and respect must be ensured to avoid discrimination and prejudices against these groups.

• Not to interfere nor force treatment upon these groups (of patients) — if any, it must be in the form of psychological assistance and performed only by those who have the knowledge of sexual identity. 

• To enhance the works of internal review and inspection towards the medical examination and treatment establishments and practitioners to ensure compliance with the professional codes in medical services according to the law. 

The directive also notes homosexuality cannot be “cured.”

“The Vietnamese Health Ministry’s recognition that sexual orientation and gender identity are not illnesses will bring relief to LGBT people and their families across Vietnam,” said Kyle Knight, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a press release his organization released on Aug. 18. “LGBT people in Vietnam deserve access to health information and services without discrimination, and the Health Ministry’s new directive is a major step in the right direction.”

Human Rights Watch in its press release notes Vietnam over the last decade “has made some progress on LGBT rights.”

The government in 2013 announced same-sex relationships are no longer “forbidden,” but LGBTQ+ and intersex couples still lack legal recognition. 

Vice President Kamala Harris during a meeting with LGBTQ and intersex activists in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, last August noted the Health Ministry “helped craft the draft — and draft — the Transgender rights law” that took effect in 2017. The State Department’s 2021 human rights report people “who have undergone reassignment surgery the right to register their new status,” but a bill “to implement this was pending as of year’s end.”

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, visited Vietnam in May.

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Southeast Asia

Singapore government to decriminalize homosexuality

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made announcement on Sunday

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Singapore skyline (Public domain photo)

SINGAPORE — Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday announced his country will decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Lee made the announcement during his speech at a rally that marked National Day, which commemorates Singapore’s independence from Malaysia.

“Private sexual behavior between consenting adults does not raise any law and order issue. There is no justification to prosecute people for it nor to make it a crime,” said Lee. “This will bring the law into line with current social mores and I hope provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

Singapore’s Court of Appeal in February upheld a lower court decision that dismissed three lawsuits against Section 377A of the country’s colonial-era penal code. Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam during a June 29 interview with the BBC said his country will not prosecute anyone under Section 377A.

Lee on Sunday said his government will amend Singapore’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“We are grateful that the Singapore government will repeal Section 377A through Parliament,” said Leow Yangfa, executive director of Oogachaga, an NGO that works with LGBTQ+ and intersex people in Singapore, on Sunday in a press release the London-based Human Dignity Trust released. “This means a lot to the LGBT community.” 

Human Dignity Trust works to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in countries that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“Decriminalization will not only improve the lives of LGBT people and their families, but will bring other obvious benefits to business, trade and Singapore’s international reputation, making this announcement welcome on many fronts,” said Yangfa. “We eagerly look forward to constructive debate in Parliament in the coming months.”

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Asia

Singapore high court dismisses sodomy law challenges

Advocacy groups expressed disappointment over decision

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Singapore, gay news, Washington Blade
(Public domain photo)

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s highest court on Monday upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss three challenges to a law that criminalizes sexual relations between men.

While delivering the judgment, given by a bench of five judges, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon of the Singapore Court of Appeal said that the appeals are not about “whether (Section) 377A (of the penal code) should be retained or repealed, that being a matter beyond our remit.”

“Nor are they about the moral worth of homosexual individuals,” said Menon. “In the words of our prime minister, Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, homosexual individuals are ‘part of our society’ and ‘our kith and kin.'”

The appeal court went ahead and said the appeals are also “not about the fundamental nature of sexual orientation, whether immutable or not, which is an extra-legal question well beyond the purview of the courts.”

The court also suggested that political resolution of the issue is more appropriate than litigating it. The chief justice said that the advantage of the political process is its ability to accommodate divergent interests and opinions, while litigation is “not a consultative or participatory process.”

“This is so for good reason because litigation is a zero-sum, adversarial process with win-lose outcomes,” said Menon. “The political process, in contrast, seeks to mediate — it strives for compromises and consensus in which no one side has to lose all.”

The chief justice also said that it is “unnecessary” for the court to address a constitutional issue.

“They do not face any real and credible threat of prosecution under 377A at this time,” said Menon while delivering the judgment. “Therefore, (they) do not have the standing to pursue their constitutional challenges to that provision.”

“We, as organizations advocating for LGBTQ+ equality in Singapore, are disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling on Section 377A, which comes as a setback for all who were hoping for a resounding conclusion to this decades-long fight for equality,” said Ready4Repeal, a Singapore-based LGBTQ rights group, in a press release. “Despite recognizing the current situation as deeply unsatisfactory for the LGBTQ+ community, the Court of Appeal has still decided to retain the law, albeit with legal assurances on its unenforceability.”

Last year, three men, DJ Johnson Ong Ming, retired general practitioner Roy Tan Seng Kee, and Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, the former executive director of Oogachaga, an LGBTQ+ non-profit organization, decided to appeal against a Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss their cases against Section 377A.

“While this is a small step in the right direction, this simply does not go far enough to provide real protection to the LGBTQ+ community, who continue to be impacted by the cascading effects of Section 377A,” said Ready4Repeal. “The judges themselves acknowledged that even with the assurance of unenforceability, homosexual men will still be left open to police investigations as if a crime had been committed.”

Ready4Repeal started a petition in 2018 to pressurize the Singaporean government on repealing the colonial-era law. The petition has received 51,047 online signatures.

Section 377A is a highly debated law in Singapore that prohibits sexual relationships between two men. According to the law, any man in public or private who commits an act of gross indecency with another male shall be punished with to years in prison.

Last year, Home Minister Affairs K Shanmugam said that everyone in Singapore will be protected regardless of community and social, religious or sexual beliefs. He also said that the government’s position is clear. He also said that amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act make it an offense to urge violence on the grounds of religion or religious belief against any person or group.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong last year reiterated that different sections of the society have valid concerns, and it needs to be addressed.

“Tribalism is inherently exclusionary, and it’s based on mutual hate: ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ ‘friend’ vs ‘foe,'” said Wong. “Once this sort of tribal identity takes root, it becomes difficult to achieve any compromise. Because when we anchor our politics on identity, any compromise seems like dishonor.”

Ankush Kumar (Mohit) is a freelance reporter, who has covered many stories for Washington Blade and Los Angeles Blade from Iran, India, and Singapore. Recently covered story for The Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Southeast Asia

Same-sex kiss on Singapore television goes viral

Homosexuality remains criminalized in Asian city-state

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(Screen capture via CNA)

SINGAPORE — A Singapore television broadcast about the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing with two men kissing each other in the background has gone viral in the country where consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

A CNA reporter was covering the opening ceremony from a bar filled with cheering fans in Beijing on Feb. 4 when two men in the background stole the show when they kissed each other during the live broadcast. Audiences and the Internet cheered the kiss and hailed it as defiance of Singapore’s discriminatory law against the LGBTQ+ community.

Singapore has a restricted broadcasting code for LGBTQ+ content.

The country’s colonial-era law that criminalizes relationships between two men can result in two years in prison. The statute does not apply to lesbians.

The clip of the kiss has since gone viral in Singapore.

It has been viewed about 1.5 million times on TikTok. CNA published the edited version of the report on its website, but now it appears that the channel has removed the report from its website.

CNA did not respond to the request for a comment on the issue.

“I was quite surprised that the CNA gay kiss clip went viral,” said Benjamin Xue, co-founder of Youth Out Here, a support group for LGBTQ youth in Singapore. “It’s rare to find any forms of LGBTQ+ affirming representation here in the free-to-air television landscape. The clip largely went viral because of TikTok, not so much on local mainstream news.”

The clip is also available on YouTube, where it was viewed more than 4,500 times.

“Absolute legend,” one YouTube user commented.

After the kiss ended, one man looked at the camera, which became a cheering theme for many. It was seen as an act of defiance against the country’s discriminatory law.

“I am not sure if the two men kissing are Singaporeans, but it does look intentional from how one of them looked directly into the camera in an act of defiance,” said Dr. Martha Tara Lee, a relationship counselor and clinical sexologist in Singapore. “This has made international news, and it is important for the world and Singaporeans to know, it is not right to make life difficult for our LGBTQ friends.”

Comments on the viral TikTok clip of the kiss were largely discussing “the last look” given by one of the men into the camera.

“His face. He knew what he was doing,” one user commented on TikTok.

“We should be open-minded, as time has changed,” another user said.

One user went on to say that it was an “act of revolution.”

“In Singapore, our mainstream media has never been so receptive to the topic of LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ (issues) do get reported in our news or shows, but it is usually in the stereotypical and negative forms — either as sex criminals, pedophiles, drug offenders, topless rave party queers, effeminate characters, drag queens, etc.,” said William Tan, a real estate advisor for Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community. “The media authority’s guideline is that we should not be seen promoting a positive LGBTQ+ lifestyle. What we are trying to change here is this traditional mindset of the public and to push for a positive portrayal of LGBTQ+ people in the public spaces.”

The broadcasting regulatory code from Infocomm Media Development Authority, which Singapore’s Communications and Information Ministry oversees, describes LGBTQ+ content as “alternative sexuality” and “the content should be sensitive to the family values.” The broadcasting code also says that the content depicting homosexuality will be rated as R21 or strictly for adults who are at least 21.

Pro-LGBTQ+ speeches made by high-profile celebrities have been censored in the country under strict broadcasting regulations.

The country edited Ellen DeGeneres’s show in which former President Obama appeared and praised her for the work she has done as a gay entertainment icon.

“Censorship of our LGBTQ lives shouldn’t be an issue in 2022. LGBTQ people exist here in Singapore and are part of the Singaporean fabric of society,” said Xue. “We are frontline workers in the hospitals, teachers in schools, and civil servants keeping this country running. We are also tax-paying citizens that should have a future to thrive, not just survive.”

Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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