✦ It has been almost a year since we focused on the state of affairs facing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and its ongoing challenge to achieve full acceptance and equality in society.
Last October we ran two concurrent stories exploring LGBT history month and challenges for LGBT athletes in the global professional sports environment. Almost 12 months on we wanted to revisit the topic to determine what, if any, progress has been made since.
Read our story: LGBT is still facing huge challenges in the world of sports
On first glance its encouragingly apparent that positive strides have been made in certain quarters. On August 21st, Singapore’s government finally agreed to repeal a colonial-era law criminalising gay sex, much to the joy of campaigners. The penal code ruling that denied sexual relations between men was inherited from the British colonial era, with a penalty of up to two years in jail for offenders. The draconian law was very much at odds with the Lion State’s image of a modern, vibrant, multi-cultural society, something the government has worked hard to push during recent decades. Campaigners said as much, twice launching appeals to have the ruling reversed only to be rebuffed on both occasions.
However, during a policy speech on August 21st, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conceded the law would be repealed as attitudes have shifted in the past 15 years, claiming gay people “are now better accepted” locally, especially among younger Singaporeans.
“It is timely to ask ourselves again the fundamental question: Should sex between men in private be a criminal offence?” Lee said in a report from AFP. “The government will repeal section 377A and decriminalise sex between men. I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept. This will bring the law into line with current social mores, and I hope, provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”
The ruling was classed as the “first step on a long road towards full equality for LGBTQ+ people in Singapore,” by gay rights campaigners. However, it came with a somewhat bitter twist as Lee also confirmed that the government was stopping short of allowing same sex marriage, stating most Singaporeans did not want change in how marriage is defined and how it is taught in schools.
“We will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage,” he said. “Only marriages between one man and one woman are recognised in Singapore.”
Campaigners complained that the ruling being upheld was down to serious pressure from religious conservatives and pointed to the likes of Taiwan who reversed age-old rulings preventing marriage equality in the hope the Singaporean government may one day soon change their minds. Taiwan took the unprecedented decision in May 2021 to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first place in Asia to do so.
Read our story: It's ok to be Queer
‘Homosexuality cannot be cured’
Elsewhere, there were positive steps witnessed in Vietnam where on August 3rd the Health Ministry instructed doctors to stop treating homosexuality as a disease, and to cease discrimination in medical care.
It published a document stating that “homosexuality cannot be ‘cured’, does not need ‘to be cured’ and cannot be changed,” according to a report by The Dilopmat.
“Do not consider homosexuality, bisexuality or being transgender a disease,” the report instructed. “Do not coerce members of these groups into medical treatment. If any, only provide psychiatric help, which must be conducted by experts with knowledge of gender identities.” When undertaking medical care for homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual patients, health providers “must be fair and respectful of their sexuality and must not discriminate against these groups,” it added.
It was regarded as a significant step forwards in the battle for sexual equality in a country often perceived to possess somehwat provincial attitudes towards the subject. A report in 2020 by Human Rights Watch highlighted how children are often taught by both teachers and parents that being gay is a mental illness and young LGBTQ people continue to “face stigma and discrimination at home and at school.”