ST: Gay community looks ahead as it signals a new focus (Oct 24)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oct 24, 2007
Gay community looks ahead as it signals a new focus
By Li Xueying

THE dialogue has been started, and it will continue.

While disappointed that Section 377A - which criminialises sex between
men - has not been repealed after two days of parliamentary debate,
Singapore's gay community is determined to keep the conversation going.

As media company executive Stuart Koe put it: 'We've started a
dialogue which we don't intend to stop.'

His group, which collected 2,341 signatures for a petition to
Parliament to repeal the law, also issued a statement On Wednesday:
'The beginning of the end of the discrimination of one group of
Singaporeans has begun and there is no turning back.'

Reaction from the gay community a day after the end of the Parliament
debate, also indicate a new focus.

For now, petitions and active lobbying are not on the table, said six
gay activists interviewed on Wednesday.

Instead, they will look towards heightening the visibility of the gay
community through efforts such as volunteer work, support groups and
events like IndigNation which hosts, for instance, arts exhibitions
and poetry readings.

This will help Singaporeans understand gays better, and be more
comfortable among them, they said.

Said former teacher Dominic Chua, who runs a support group for gay
teachers: 'What makes this so divisive is that many of those who are
against gays, do not have gay friends, and do not understand them.'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who joined the parliamentary debate on
Tuesday, said Singapore had to maintain a balance between upholding a
stable society with traditional, heterosexual family values and giving
gays space to live their lives.

He also cautioned that 'as a matter of reality, the more gay activists
push this agenda, the stronger will be the push-back from conservative
forces in our society'.

Mr Koe said on Wednesday: 'We're taking that to heart. I don't think
we're going to be knocking our heads against the wall this way.

'Rather, to foster understanding, we will work with the community to
be more visible such as through volunteer work, so they are
comfortable with us.'

Added Mr Kelvin Wong, who heads a support group for Buddhist gays: 'We
will move on. We will do what we have been doing - IndigNation, the
support groups, increase our visibility and get people to understand us.'

But, academic Russell Heng said, the gay community must be given its
right to 'try to change minds' and educate Singaporeans on gay issues.

'I expect the Government to be fair and not obstruct those
organisations that might invite me to speak, while my opponents have
every right to spread their anti-gay message.'

As for whether the debate polarises society, Mr Chua said: 'It is, if
the debate is one-sided and couched in uncivil terms. Otherwise,
genuine dialogue is a sign of a mature society.'

Even as the gay community look upon that as a silver lining, groups
that opposed repealing 377A applauded the Government's decision.

In a statement, Muslim organisation Pergas said that whatever the
reason for homosexuality, 'Islam clearly states that Man can assert
his power of reasoning over his negative desires if he so wishes'.

Executive director Martin Tan, 30, who co-organised a counter-petition
to keep the law, said: 'The feedback we got supporting the retention
of 377A has been overwhelming, and I'm sure most Singaporeans are
happy with the decision.'

Overall, the gay activists interviewed hailed the two days of debate
as a 'milestone'. A community, hitherto 'kept in the shadows', had
been heard, they said.

Ms Eileena Lee, who runs a resource centre on gay, lesbian, bisexual
and transgender issues, added: 'As a gay woman, I felt affirmed and
acknowledged, especially with the Prime Minister's speech.''