BBC News: Singapore eases gay ban

Friday, July 4, 2003

Singapore eases gay ban
Singapore has begun employing homosexuals within the government, in a reversal of its previous policy, the prime minister has told an American magazine.

Gay people are now allowed to work in "certain positions in government", Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said in an interview with Time magazine, excerpts of which were released by his office.

"In the past, if we know you're gay, we would not employ you but we just changed this quietly," he told the magazine.

However he said that homosexual acts would remain illegal in the country.

Conservative pressure

Mr Goh says gay people will have to declare their sexual orientation in job application forms.

He said the requirement was for the applicants' own protection.

"If you are working in a sensitive position and you're trying to hide your sexual preferences and instinct... if you're discovered by somebody else, then he can blackmail you," he said.

It is not clear when this new policy was introduced, and Mr Goh did not say what jobs homosexuals could take.

Mr Goh also said that, although the government had relaxed its stance with regard to government jobs, Singapore would still not consider decriminalising homosexuality.

He said this was due to pressure from religious groups, and from a majority of Singaporeans.

"The heartlanders are still conservative. You can call it double-standard," he said.

"And for the Muslims, it's religion, it's not the law. Islam openly says the religion is against gay practice."

'Relaxed attitude'

Gay rights groups have responded with cautious optimism to the announcement.

Russell Heng, a researcher and founding member of People Like Us, a gay support group, told Singapore's Straits Times newspaper he hoped for more dialogue with the government.

"We need to have less hang-ups about discussing this issue," he said.

Time magazine also said the Singapore Government was relaxing its attitudes towards gays in an attempt to attract foreign professionals, and to keep talented locals working in the state.

It also said that gay saunas and bars had also emerged in some of Singapore's neighbourhoods.