Gays and Multiculturalism in Singapre

An interesting interpretation where sexuality is cultural i.e. the LGBT community as a whole baring its subcultures, is a culture that is excluded from Singapore’s vaunted multiculuralism.

Is Singapore truly multi-cultural? — Nazry Bahrawi
The Malay Mail
February 14, 2014

FEB 14 — The passing of cultural theorist Stuart Hall on Monday may not have garnered as much media attention as that of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, but it is an event that should prod Singaporeans to take stock.

Hall has been hailed as the “godfather of multiculturalism”, and Singapore has often prided itself on being a good example of multiculturalism at work. Would Hall have agreed?

If Singapore epitomises multiculturalism, it is one with limited inclusivity. Our multiculturalism is premised on respecting differences that conform to neat categories of race and religion.

Yet human “cultures” are much more complex. First, not everyone professes race or religion as his or her primary identity marker. Second, members of a certain racial or religious group will have varied wants and behaviours, making it hard for anyone to speak on behalf of a community.

Given these, Singapore’s multiculturalism should not be seen as a national strength. In fact, it is a trait unbecoming of a self-professed global city. If we wish to stay sustainable, then we need to rethink our monolithic multiculturalism.

To be clear, multiculturalism here does not refer to an airy-fairy concept to be debated by academics, or a government buzzword to shape policies. Rather, I am talking about multiculturalism as it is lived out as an everyday reality in Singapore.

Consider the recent row over the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) online brochure on sexuality.

The brochure, which recognises multiple sexual orientations, has come under fire because some believe it “dangerously promotes homosexuality”. Indeed, Singapore’s lived multiculturalism denotes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks cannot be considered a viable minority in the same manner as Malay-Muslims, a category that checks both the race and religion boxes.

This is not to say that our version of multiculturalism is the sole cause of the HPB row. There are other motivations behind it, probably the most cited being that the teachings of Christianity and Islam forbid it. But even here, Singapore’s lived multiculturalism falls short.

According to a recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey, more than three-quarters of Singaporeans are iffy about sexual relations between adults of the same sex and gay marriages.

With Muslims and Christians collectively making up less than a quarter of Singaporeans aged 15 and over, according to the 2010 census, the IPS survey suggests that opposition to same-sex relationships must have also come from believers of supposedly more inclusive religions such as Buddhism and Taoism.

This means that religious identity does not have an essentialised nature, as assumed by our lived multiculturalism. In the same way, it is ridiculous to assume all Malay-Muslims are against LGBTs, or agree that the hijab is a compulsory Muslim practice.

Addressing the importance of multiple identities, Hall writes that the “multicultural question” for any society must be how it envisages the future of “peoples from very different backgrounds, cultures, contexts, experiences and positions”. This question is especially valid for Singapore.

Perhaps the way forward is to live according to another ideal — cosmopolitanism. Unlike multiculturalism, there is no need to uphold neat categories or essentialised natures. According to Hall, cities are the best place in which cosmopolitanism can naturally occur because they “bring elements together and establish relations of interchange and exchange”. Singapore as a global trade and travel hub qualifies as such a city.

To be fair, cosmopolitanism has had its detractors. Some say only the rich, who have the means to travel the world, can afford to be cosmopolitan. To this, one can counter that cosmopolitanism should not be an ideal defined by the number of places one has visited. Rather, it is the spirit of being open to someone or something vastly different from oneself.

The Indonesian author Andrea Hirata’s semi-autobiographical novel The Rainbow Troops (2005) best demonstrates this. Recounting the childhood experiences of poor children from Belitung Island, the novel outlines countless instances in which these children were able to connect with foreign and local influences without even leaving town.

Singaporeans can be just as inclusive. The pervasiveness of the Internet and global media here can facilitate a cosmopolitan existence without our having to leave home. Now that is something to be celebrated. — Today

* Dr Nazry Bahrawi is a lecturer with the Singapore University of Technology and Design and research fellow at the Middle East Institute-National University of Singapore.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.

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Foreign QC No Go for 377A

Two gay partners wanted to challenge 377A saying that it is unconstitutional. They brought in a former UK AG as their foreign legal support in the form of a Queen’s Counsel. The couple’s lawyers must have advised that it was a deadend move even before it started as foreign senior counsels or a Queen’s Counsel, cannot represent in cases involving constitutional, criminal, administrative and family law. The rationale is that foreigners are not accustomed to local society norms and therefore cannot accurately legally act for their local clients. A debatable point.

However, the real reason behind this barring of Queen’s Counsel Lord Goldsmith is the age old dictum of not tolerating foreigners to interfere in local affairs. Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee wanted to repeal 377A and sought a foreign talent Queen’s Counsel to change a law that would upset the “live and let live” “ask not tell not” status quo and the Christian, Muslim and conservative communities. The judiciary is aware of the backlash and the importance of laws to reflect society values as much as legally possible.

In the end, it is back to square one. Kenneth Chee and Gary Lim expected that the Queen’s Counsel would be barred from representing, staging it as a stale political gimmick that the Court is against them and feared robust legal challenge. But surely everybody already knew that the Court and PAP government of the day, even the next government WP, would not appease the gay community that easily in the near future. The waltz between the gay activists plus their lawyers and the authorities is quite predictable. The gay couple from the Bear Project, a club for big-sized gays, would appeal as the next step and we can guess how the appeal court might twirl next.

 

Court dismisses bid to admit QC for 377A appeal
SINGAPORE — The High Court yesterday dismissed an application for a Queen’s Counsel to represent two men who are appealing against the dismissal of their challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code.
By Amir Hussain

SINGAPORE — The High Court yesterday dismissed an application for a Queen’s Counsel to represent two men who are appealing against the dismissal of their challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Graphic designers Gary Lim Meng Suang, 44, and his partner, Mr Kenneth Chee Mun Leon, 37, had wanted QC Lord Goldsmith Peter Henry to represent them — together with Senior Counsel Deborah Evaline Barker — for their case, which will be heard by the Court of Appeal in three weeks’ time.

Their challenge to Section 377A — on the basis that the law criminalising sex between men breaches the Constitution — was thrown out by High Court Judge Quentin Loh in April, who ruled that its objective of criminalising a conduct that “was not acceptable in society” was “clear”.

In applying for Lord Goldsmith to represent them in their appeal, Mr Lim and Mr Chee had argued that the QC, who was a former Attorney-General of the United Kingdom and a member of the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on human rights, had extensive experience in constitutional, public, and human rights cases.

The outcome of the appeal will have a bearing on an earlier challenge to Section 377A by Mr Tan Eng Hong, 49, which was also heard by Justice Loh. The court had reserved judgment in his case, but Mr Tan’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, had said the ruling is expected next month.

Dismissing the couple’s application, Judge of Appeal V K Rajah ruled that the application did not meet the requirement for admitting foreign senior counsel on an ad hoc basis under the Legal Profession Act, where there must be a “special reason” to do so.

While there is no definitive parameter on the requirement, he said “there must be something specific to the nature of the facts or legal issues concerned beyond the expected features of ordinary constitutional cases”. In this case, there was nothing “out of the ordinary which would constitute a special reason” to justify Lord Goldsmith’s admission.

He also noted that foreign senior counsel can participate in the preparation of both written submissions and further submissions, as well as the oral case, by anticipating and preparing questions. “In the Singapore context, written advocacy has a more prominent part to play in the appellate process than in other common law jurisdictions … The written medium functions as the focal means by which counsel informs and persuades the court on the merits of their submissions”, while oral submissions build upon rather than supplant arguments made, he said.

When contacted, the couple’s lawyer, Mr Shashidran Nathan, said his clients will proceed with Ms Barker as counsel for their appeal.

Said Mr Shashidran: “Obviously, our clients are disappointed, but I am confident that we will be able to deal with all the issues that will be raised at the Court of Appeal.” AMIR HUSSAIN