TNP: It's all about equal rights (Oct 19)

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Electric New Paper :
Don't speculate about me, focus on issue,
says NMP in gay-rights fight
NOMINATED MP Siew Kum Hong is 32, a
lawyer and a young activist.
By Leong Ching
19 October 2007

NOMINATED MP Siew Kum Hong is 32, a lawyer

and a young activist.

He has spoken on CPF reforms, discrimination against
NSmen and ministers' pay in Parliament.

Now, however, he could be most remembered as the
NMP who brought the gay issue to Parliament.

Mr Siew is tabling a petition in Parliament to repeal a
law that makes gay sex a crime.

And it has led many to wonder: Is he gay?

'I am not. I have a girlfriend,' Mr Siew told The New

'But I have been staying clear of this question - because
that is not the issue. It has nothing to do with whether
I am gay or not.

'So I have deliberately refrained from volunteering that
I am straight. But since you asked, I responded.'


His is not an agenda on behalf of gay rights. There is a
larger issue.

'I truly do believe that Section 377A is unfair, unjust,
and plain wrong,' he said.

'It is contrary to principles of equality and
non-discrimination, and it seeks to use the criminal
law to enforce a specific moral view which is contrary
to accepted fundamental precepts of criminal law.'

The Parliamentary Petition will be filed ahead of Parliament's
sitting on Monday.

MPs are slated to speak on the amendments to the Penal Code,
which governs most criminal offences here.

The proposed changes are many, as the law has not been
amended since the mid-1980s.

However, they do not include Section 377A, under which
it is a crime for men to have sex with each other, even in
their own bedroom.

Mr Siew said earlier that the idea for the petition was
suggested by its two lead signatories, lawyer George Hwang
and gay media company's chief executive Stuart Koe.

On his blog, in public comments and in interviews, Mr Siew
has avoided declaring his sexuality - until now.

'For the record, I am decidedly straight. I am in a serious and
committed relationship with a wonderful woman,' he said.

'But I have always been loathe to mention that because I did
not want to dignify this sort of speculation with such a

'Whether I am gay or not should really have nothing to do
with the merits of the debate.

'After all, this is not a gay issue but an issue of equality and

'It is an issue for all Singaporeans.

The debate, he stressed, 'is about the public, the people,
heterosexuals and gays, who believe that Section 377A is
wrong and should be repealed, and are willing to put their
names down in writing to stand behind it.'

His girlfriend, he said, also signed the petition. He declined
to give further details about her, save that 'she supports me
in doing this'.

He admits that there will be 'perceptions and suspicions' that
he is tabling the petition because he is himself gay.

'That really speaks volumes about the level of debate in
Singapore,' he said.

His actions, he said, were motivated by his long-held personal
views, 'views which I must add are held by a broad spectrum
of Singaporeans regardless of sexual orientation', he said.

'I felt an obligation to agree to present the petition to
Parliament,' he said, adding that he was 'completely
overwhelmed' by the response the petition has
generated - both positive and negative.

More than three newspaper forum letter writers have
argued against repealing the law. One also questioned
Mr Siew's right to raise the issue in Parliament.

While Mr Siew did not want to talk about the outcome
he is hoping for, he added that he is happy the petition
'has generated a useful discourse'.

'It is important to have a debate on the concepts of
equality and non-discrimination in Singapore.

'It was a diverse group of people who signed the petition -
straight, gay, male, female, young, middle-aged, old. Even
religious people signed the petition.

'So that shows that these issues cut across lines and resonate
universally,' he said.

But the petition is unlikely to move the Goverment. It has
already said that it would not amend the law.

At a forum last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
explained that the Government's view was that it should not
push forward on this issue, but follow society's views.

And the majority of Singaporeans, he said, was not ready.

Earlier, the Government had said that it would maintain the
status quo, as Singapore is generally a conservative society.
But authorities would not actively prosecute people under
Section 377A.

Constitutional lawyer Kevin Tan said he, too, did not think the
petition would lead to any change in legislation.

'The Government has stated its stand, and since the arguments
in the petition are not new, I can't see the Government back
tracking,' he said.