What keeping 377A means

Outrages on decency

377A.  Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.

Let’s for a moment imagine what life might be like for you, if section 377A of the Penal Code is not repealed.
        You are Thomas, a teacher in your fifties who identifies as bisexual. Feeling trapped in your marriage to a woman, you continue to stay with her for the sake of your children. One day, you meet and fall in love with another man, and then go on to have a sexual relationship with him. Potentially, you could be arrested and charged with section 377A. Had you cheated on your wife with another woman, the result might be divorce. But because of your relationship with another man, you could be facing a jail sentence. Imagine the impact on your wife and children – in addition to having to deal with your infidelity, they would also have to be confronted with the shame of your possible imprisonment. And all because of an extra-marital affair.
Is it fair that someone has to go to jail because of the gender of the person he slept with?
          Your name is Zakaria. You’re a full-time National Serviceman and gay. Because of your effeminate mannerisms, you’re at the receiving end of homophobic name-calling and humiliating physical attacks from your platoon-mates. One night, just for the fun of it, one of them decides to sexually assault you while you’re sleeping in your bunk. Instead of being the victim, you could be charged as a criminal under section 377A.
Is it right that a victim becomes guilty of the crime, and the law says so?
           You are Tarry, and you’ve been with your boyfriend for a while.  Unfortunately, you found out too late that he may have some psychological problems, as he had just killed himself. Still grieving and in shock, you decide to co-operate with the police and help with the necessary investigations, by telling them that you’re the boyfriend. If they wanted to, they could charge you with section 377A instead, and disallow you from helping with their investigations.
Is this the right thing to do?
           Your name is Kenny, a polytechnic student who recently came out to your friends as bisexual. In school, word gets around and soon some of the other boys are calling you names and embarrassing you in public. You might decide not to tell the school authorities, because you have heard of section 377A and you know that they can report you to the police if they wanted to.
Is this how we want to protect our youth in schools?
           You are Wee Lee, and you’ve been living with your boyfriend for the past few years. Recently he’s become abusive – verbally, emotionally and physically. He’s been hitting you repeatedly, and sometimes so hard that you’ve suffered injuries to your face and body, and was almost stabbed once. When you go to the doctor you just lie and say that you have occasional fights with a brother who has a bad temper. You are afraid to say more, and instruct the doctor not to inform the police. You also do not dare to ask for other kinds of professional help, like counselling, because you worry that you might get into trouble. Had this been a case of a man abusing his wife or girlfriend, other laws would come in to protect the abused victim. But because you are same-sex partners, there is a real threat that section 377A could be used against you.
Is this how we want to protect victims of same-sex partner violence?
           Your name is Stefanie. Although you were born male, you now socialise and identify as a woman when you are outside of your home. Because you are comfortably retired and already in your middle-age, you decide that you don’t need to go through a gender reassignment surgery. Because of the prejudices and unpleasant looks you get from the public in many parts of Singapore, you prefer to seek out other transgender women as you feel safer socialising with them. Unfortunately, some of them have to work in the sex industry at Changi Village, as they can’t find other jobs to support themselves due to the discrimination they face. Potentially, you could also be arrested under section 377A if the police suspect that you too are at Changi Village because you are looking to have sex with men.
Isn’t this harassment?
           You are a mother of young children. When they are old enough to ask questions, they want to know why aunty Leena and uncle Cheong can marry each other and apply for an HDB flat, but uncle Phil and uncle Prakhash who have been together for more than 10 years can’t do the same. As you try to explain that what they’re doing with each other is actually illegal in Singapore because of section 377A, they ask you in return, “Why?”
Do you know how to answer them?

*        *        *

For more information about the Court of Appeal’s landmark decision to allow the constitutional challenge of s377A to proceed:
Extract of Court of Appeal judgment, published in TODAY, 22 Aug 2012.
Article by Ms Indulekshmi Rajeswari, published in Sayoni, 20 Aug 2012.
News article by Ms Sylvia Tan, published in Fridae, 21 Aug 2012.
If you’d like to offer your help & expertise to the legal team behind the constitutional challenge, read this article by Mr Andrew Loh.

4 Replies to “What keeping 377A means”

  1. Can anyone enlighthen me as to why the act specifically refers to “male person” Does it mean that it’s okay for female on female action.

  2. Point 2 is a bit ridiculous. If a father rapes a daughter, has there ever been a time where the court charges the daughter for incest?

  3. just out of curiosity.. if u commit the same crime in prison again and again and again.. transgressing 377a again and again and again in prison… how long could u be in prison for?

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