The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, announced plans to repeal Section 377A of the penal code, which criminalized LGBTQ people and their relationships. The law, a holdover from British colonialism, gives a sentence of up to two years in jail for “gross indecency.” The announcement came as a part of the Prime Minister’s national day rally speech.
“This is a major step forward for the global LGBTQ community and a result of the ongoing leadership of brilliant LGBTQ advocates in Singapore,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “There are still nearly 70 countries that criminalize LGBTQ people. The time is now to ensure the safety of LGBTQ people everywhere.”
The announced repeal comes after years of pressure from Singapore LGBTQ advocacy organiations. GLAAD amplified Johnson Ong’s case as he brought a legal challenge to Section 377A in the court system. Ultimately, Ong lost his case. In response to the ruling, the government pledged to not enforce the law. However, as long as the law was on the books, it contributed to stigmatization and censorship for the LGBTQ community.
“This country is a better country today, than it was yesterday.Now we begin the hard work, to heal the hurt and pain this law has done to countless numbers of LGBTQ+ Singaporeans and their families,” Ong said in response to the ruling. “I hope that on a national level our government will dismantle the systemic discrimination LGBTQ+ Singaporeans will continue to face even after the repeal.”
It is unclear what the timeline is for the formal repeal of Section 377A. Additionally, there remains work to do in Singapore. In the same speech Prime Minister Lee reiterated the country’s position against marriage equality.
“Many in the conservative segments believe our next priority is to battle for marriage equality, and now want to enshrine in Singapore’s Constitution – the definition of marriage to be only between a man and a woman. Even after acknowledging that 377A has through the decades caused considerable hardship, emotional damage and harmed the lives and families of those affected by the law, they continue to beat us down, instead of lifting us up and helping us heal,” Ong told GLAAD. “Their lack of empathy and love for their fellow citizens is cruel and disappointing. However, personally and for many LGBTQ+ Singaporeans, we will continue to forge ahead and rise above the hateful rhetoric that we continue to be inundated with every day.”