Saturday, December 4, 2010

To be a gay guy in Singapore

Yesterday was a reminder to me although while fashioning itself on Western ideals in so many ways, just how traditional Singapore remains in many respects.

I was at the Singapore AIDS conference which was an extremely fascinating insight into the current state of play of HIV/AIDS, sexual behaviour and gender issues in Singapore amongst many other things.

As someone that moved to Singapore under a year ago, I am still getting used to how this powerhouse of a tiny island state pushing forward in so many ways can surprise me with how intensely conservative it can be.

One sector of society my heart goes out to in Singapore having spent some of the best years of my life with my wonderfully fabulous gay best friend is the gay community here.

In the majority of major cities in UK, it is now wonderful to be able to express yourself pretty freely as a gay man. 

In Singapore, male same-sex activity is illegal and same-sex activities are punishable as “gross indecency” with imprisonment of up to 2 years - although the law is not generally enforced.

What does this make you feel as a gay man, in a place as modern as Singapore, with such a thriving gay community, to live somewhere which criminalises sexual relations between men?  

By the way, this is a law that was brought about by the Brits many years ago. And retained. But sexual acts between two adult males – with no other people present – was made legal in England and Wales in 1967. But only 1980 in Scotland and 1982 in Northern Ireland.

However, you have to take into consideration that Singapore only became a self-governing country with full control over domestic policies in 1959 so I guess there’s a lot of catching up to do.

A good example of this is the fact it was only in 2007 that Singapore legalized oral and anal sex for adult heterosexuals.

It’s a tricky one.  While Singapore is a fast evolving society, it is in so many ways at a completely different stage of the life-cycle.

Singapore prefers a gradual evolution in this area. And the more activists push, the greater the push-back likely to be. Looking at everything from a relative perspective, I think it’s hard to say when a step-change is on the cards for the gay community.

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