Would we survive in Russia?

The homophobic violence in Russia (including two murders) which followed the enactment of laws prohibiting the promotion of ‘non traditional sexuality’ among minors resulted in outrage among LGBT groups all over the world.

International protests have been organised to show solidarity with the Russian LGBT community which is being persecuted by anti-gay groups with the collusion of the government.

The LGBT community in Singapore came together at Hong Lim Park last Saturday (24 August), in a show of support for our Russian brothers and sisters. Our petition collected a total of 200 signatures which we intended to deliver to the Russian Embassy.

Last week, we contacted the Embassy to inform them of this and this was their reply:

“The Embassy has received and considered your request for a meeting with an Embassy official with the purpose of submitting a petition from Singapore’s LGBT community.

We believe that your protest is prompted by gross misconception and is ill-advised. You have misconstrued developments in Russia.

First of all, we want to remind that discrimination of any minority is legally prohibited in Russia by the Constitution. Unlike the former Soviet Union homosexual behaviour is not punishable by the Criminal Code. The recently adopted law has one well-defied purpose – to ban promotion of homosexuality among minors, but not “promotion of homosexuality”, as you claim. The law prohibits promotion in aggressive forms of non-traditional sexual practices among minors.

Law enforcement officers now have the right to detain persons who violate the law intentionally (for example, by conducting public actions near schools and other children institutions). And last, but not least: violation of this law is an administrative, not criminal, offence.”

The embassy’s position has been previously refuted online.

This morning (30 August), a small group of 3 LGBT social workers and one straight ally visited the Russian Embassy to deliver the petition. Waiting for half an hour under the hot sun, the Embassy responded with Siberian frostiness, refusing to send a representative out. We dropped the petition into the Embassy compound and posed with a rainbow flag outside the gates.

We eventually decided to leave. While driving off , we spotted two police cars with lights blazing, headed in the opposite direction. We thought they might have been summoned by Embassy officials, and decided to turn back (in the hope that there might be some cute policemen to look at.)

We were greeted by quite a number of police officers! While four of them went into the Embassy, we described the morning’s events to several other senior officers.  They wanted to know what the rainbow flag represented. We said “Peace, freedom, solidarity… and fabulousness!” The officer dutifully took this description down, word for word.

During the course of the discussion, an officer asked for our Identity Cards (ICs). We refused to do so until they could cite the relevant provisions of the law which empowered them to. None of the officers was able to. But half an hour later, a senior officer returned and cited Section 16(b) of the National Registration Act. He had clearly telephoned HQ to find out! But since the Act only allowed them to ask for “name and address”, we did not show them our ICs and merely provided our details which were written down in a little spiral-bound notebook.

During our discussion with another senior officer, one of his staff began filming our conversation. Again we asked them to cite the relevant law. Again they could not.  We politely requested for them to stop and they obligingly did. Shortly thereafter, the four officers emerged from the Embassy, almost perfectly timed with the end of our conversation.

In total, we counted 8 vehicles (including 2 civilian cars with non-uniformed senior police officers) and at least 14 police officers (in uniform and civilian clothing, mostly men with at least 1 female uniformed officer). 

Peacefully, we adjourned to a classy cafe in town for tea and crumpets.

(L-R) Social workers Leow Yangfa, Vincent Wijeysingha, Jolovan Wham.
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Why Pink Dot is Home

We all have homes to go to, don’t we?

It could be in Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Timah, Choa Chu Kang, Dover Road or Eunos Crescent; it’s where you grew up, it’s printed on your NRIC, or a place for bills to be sent. More importantly, it’s where you can just be yourself.

Or can you?

Many of us look forward to going home at the end of the day. To see our loved ones, to catch up with a favourite TV programme, or cook a nice meal. Yet for some, it means facing family members who don’t understand or accept what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

For children and young people, home should be a place of safety, where they can grow and be nurtured. And sadly, some are hurt and abused by the very ones who have been entrusted with their care.

Parents remind their teenagers to “come home early”. But if you’re being bullied in school by your peers for being different, the last thing you want to do is face the shame of being unable to tell the ones you love what actually happened.

Home for some is a state of mind, to be found in one’s faith and religion. And when centuries-old scriptures condemn you for being who you are, where then is that peace to be had?

You might be reading this in the comfort of your home, on the MRT or bus, or just wishing you had some place you could go where it’s really home: a place where you’re taken seriously, where you can connect with someone honestly, where you can decide what you want to do, and where you feel safe. Above all, home should also be where you belong, where you’re accepted, and where you feel love and are loved.

For those who believe in having a place that you can truly call home, come down to Pink Dot and make yourselves comfortable, because everyone present truly wants to be there.

For many who may not yet be ready to come out to those around you as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, it’s OK. Come home to Pink Dot, for you will find acceptance among many like you, and many others who are different from you, because that’s OK too.

For the 5.3 million of us here on this little red dot – in Sengkang, Tiong Bahru, Ubi Avenue, West Coast, Yio Chu Kang and everywhere else in-between – perhaps it’s time to celebrate a place we can all call home.

Leow Yangfa is editor of the book I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore, published by Math Paper Press. He is also the deputy executive director of Oogachaga Counselling & Support, an LGBTQ-affirming social service organisation, and has been going to Pink Dot every year since it started.

I Will Survive 377A

IWS 377AI survived bullying.

Kenny, 17 years old, identifies as a bisexual teen, and is comfortable in his relationships with men as well as women. He is a student at a local polytechnic. After he came out to his friends in secondary school he was called names like “faggot,” and was even groped by another boy in class and humiliated in front of others. You can read Kenny’s story here.

Zakaria works as a civil servant in a government statutory board. He is 24 years old and grew up in a Malay-Muslim family. When he was in National Service, he was teased because of his effeminate behaviour, and was even sexually harassed while he was sleeping in his bunk bed. You can read Zakaria’s story here.

I survived religious oppression.

Mohd Ashraff is 37 years old. He works as a counsellor, and lives with his partner. When he was younger, he struggled with being gay and being Muslim. As he grew older, he has since learnt to reconcile his sexuality with his faith. You can read Ashraff’s story here.

I survived addiction.

Bradley was born in the United States of America and has lived for many years in Singapore, where he works as an English teacher. He is in his early 40s. While trying to deal with his loneliness and other personal issues, he resorted to recreational drug use and excessive drinking. He has since recovered, and keeps himself busy with work and volunteering. You can read Bradley’s story here.

I survived depression.

Lance is in his forties. He works as a consultant and often has to travel overseas for his job. While in National Service, he was diagnosed with bipolar depression, and over the years he’s had to be admitted into hospital several times and has even attempted suicide on a few occasions. His condition has since stabilised, and he’s worked in different jobs where his employers knew about his illness. You can read Lance’s story here.

I survived physical violence.

Wee Lee, 29 years old, works as a marketing executive, and has been in a relationship with his current boyfriend for many years. When he was younger, he was in a 4-year relationship with another guy who inflicted emotional, psychological and physical abuse on him. This included making belittling comments, preventing him from seeing his friends, slapping him in public, pushing him down an escalator, hitting him with bamboo poles and stabbing him with a knife. You can read Wee Lee’s story here.

I survived HIV.

Lester is 21 years old, and a student at a local university. He lives in an HDB flat with his parents and sister. As a teenager, he was constantly harassed by an older male sexual partner, and the police had to be involved. When he was 18, he became infected with HIV. He has now completed his university studies and working in his first full-time job. You can read Lester’s story here.

I survived suicide.

Tarry, in his mid-thirties, works in the IT industry. He likes to keep up-to-date with his electronic gadgets. Ten years ago, he received news that his then-boyfriend had jumped out of his flat and killed himself just before his birthday, without any explanation. Tarry is now working overseas and has a new partner, and regularly returns to see his family and friends in Singapore. You can read Tarry’s story here.

We have survived all this.

We will survive 377A.

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If you’re still unclear about what is 377A, read this article on SgWiki for a start, as well as others by Yawning Bread and Fridae.