General Elections 2020: Every political party’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues, and what you can do about it| Updated on
UPDATE: We’ve published a new post that looks at how each party’s manifesto affects the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore.
UPDATE 2: We’ve updated SDP’s stance to include their Reddit AMA session on Jun 25, where they dodged all LGBTQ+ and S377A questions.
So it has begun.
On 10th July 2020, Singapore will head to the polls to vote in the General Election. And it’s going to be a pretty weird one.
Given that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, we won’t be seeing any physical rallies. The incumbent, who’d not only enjoy political coverage but also COVID-19 coverage, will likely be the biggest winner in this scenario.
There’s no better time than now to review how the different political parties view LGBTQ+ issues, because there’s no greater pressure than now for parties to respond to voters’ questions and concerns.
LGBTQ+ people in Singapore are systematically disadvantaged in financial, legal, and psychological ways. So for the people in the community and allies who believe in electing a more inclusive government, here’s a rundown for you to make a more informed decision. We’ve also made it easy for you to ask the various political parties to stop LGBTQ+ discrimination in Singapore. (More on that below.)
And not to be shady, but we’re also gonna single out some politicians for their opinions on LGBTQ+ issues. In the list that follows, a 👑 represents those who appear to support LGBTQ+ rights, a 👹 those who appear to be against, and a 🙃 those who have an unclear stance.
Here’s the list of political parties for quick navigation:
- 👹 People’s Action Party
- 👹 Workers’ Party
- 👑 Singapore Democratic Party
- 👑 The Reform Party
- 👑 Singapore Democratic Alliance
- 🙃 National Solidarity Party
- 🙃 Singapore People’s Party
- 🙃 Other parties (PSP, SingFirst, PPP, DPP)
- 👉 Take action: email your politicians
👹 People’s Action Party (PAP)
The party that wields the One Ring, PAP has formed the government of every single parliament since 1965 (that’s 13 of them, in case you’re wondering).
In the 2007 parliamentary debate on the repeal of S377A (a law which criminalises sex between men), PAP chief and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave a lengthy speech that ended with support for the anti-gay law (read his entire speech for full nuance). The party’s overall stance on LGBTQ+ issues has also been clear: they support (and helped create) the status quo, which is inherently discriminatory against LGBTQ+ individuals.
Here are some individual politicians that deserve more attention.
👑 Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC)
Bae (Baey) stood out as one of the few PAP MPs who supported the repeal of S377A during the 2007 parliamentary debate. Besides pointing out the fact that Singapore inherited the law from our British rulers, he also highlighted numerous Asian countries that never had such laws, dispelling the misconception that anti-LGBTQ conservatism is an inherently Asian culture.
👑 Charles Chong (Punggol East SMC)
In the 2007 parliamentary debate, Charles Chong argued for the repeal of S377A. If people are born with different sexual orientations, he said, then it would be “quite wrong” to criminalise them, especially if their actions cause no harm to others. He also asked his colleagues to stop being such drama queens with the whole “society will crumble once S377A is repealed” spiel.
🙃 Lee Hsien Loong (Ang Mo Kio GRC)
I never quite understood what it meant when people sent me the 🙃 emoji. Are they happy, or are they not?
That’s why 🙃 perfectly encapsulates Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s apparent stance on LGBTQ+ rights. On the one hand, his 2007 speech humanises and calls for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in society. On the other, he often suggests that the community is free to live their lives in the country whenever he’s probed about LGBTQ+ rights (2000, 2007, 2015, 2019). We’ve debunked that claim though.
Lee Hsien Loong evokes an image of the perfect pragmatist, forever balancing the scales of pressure on both sides of an argument before making a decision that’s the least disruptive. That often sides with the anti-LGBTQ end though.
🙃 K. Shanmugam (Nee Soon GRC)
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam shot to the spotlight after amendments were made to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), which appears to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from violence incited on religious grounds. While this might be the first time the LGBTQ+ community is explicitly protected by Singapore’s law, we should exercise caution before celebrating Shanmugam as an LGBTQ+ ally.
To start off, S267C of the Penal Code already generally protects people from incitement to violence, and comes with a maximum penalty of 5 years of imprisonment.
On top of that, this legal analysis suggests that religious groups ultimately receive more protection than non-religious ones (such as the LGBTQ+ community) under the amendment. To illustrate this, non-religious groups may only seek legal recourse if violence was incited, while religious groups may do the same if their religious feelings were wounded. Given that the new S17E of MRHA comes with a higher maximum penalty of 10 years of imprisonment, it remains unclear if the amendment is truly as pro-LGBTQ+ as it first appears.
(Side note: this should be obvious, but we don’t condone any behaviour that incites violence or hatred to any person, religious or not)
While K Shanmugam has engaged with several LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in the past few years, it’s worth noting that he has also done the same with anti-LGBTQ+ groups.
👹 Indranee Rajah (Tanjong Pagar GRC)
Her arguments for retaining the anti-gay law in 2007 were gold, in that they’re super convoluted, and that she appears to suggest that slavery was not wrong. You’ll need to read her speech in full because it’s too convoluted to summarise. Was it bravery, utter naivety, or was she just being one of the drama queens that Charles Chong warned about? We can only guess.
She also seems pretty ignorant about the slew of anti-LGBTQ rules and guidelines that exist within the status quo.
👹 Ong Ye Kung (Sembawang GRC)
The Education Minister claimed in 2018 that LGBTQ+ individuals face no discrimination in work, housing, and education. He’s wrong. This incident makes him look like someone who’s very willing to declare opinions on issues he knows little about.
👹 Vivian Balakrishnan (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC)
In the midst of the 2011 general election fever, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan publicly outed his political opponent Vincent Wijeysingha (who represented Singapore Democratic Party). He then pushed further and asked if Dr. Wijeysingha planned to spread the gay agenda, a low blow even for local politics. This not only led local tabloid The New Paper to run a cover story about Dr. Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation, but also revealed the possibility that Vivian Balakrishnan is just a boy trapped in a grown man’s body all along.
👹 Workers’ Party (WP)
WP is the only opposition party that has managed to win a GRC in the history of PAP’s political landscape. While that sure sounds impressive, their stance on LGBTQ+ rights is a little less so.
Their official stance since 2007 is that they can’t get everyone in their party’s leadership to agree to repeal S377A, and so they support the status quo. Sounds kinda lame, to be honest. Their party chief Pritam Singh reiterated the same stance in 2019.
Don’t you wonder who amongst their leadership opposed the repeal?
👹 Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC)
He did, however, clarify that his personal endorsement of the campaign had no bearing on WP’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues.
👑 Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)
SDP’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues has been clear since 2007: they support equality for all. In 2011, when responding to the questions raised by possible man-boy Vivian Balakrishnan, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan reiterated their stance against discrimination of any kind, including those on the basis of sexual orientation. SDP is one of the few parties that openly support the repeal of S377A.
A stain on their record of LGBTQ+ equality happened on 25 Jun 2020, when they ran an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. There, SDP’s Paul Tambyah and Alfred Tan dodged all questions on LGBTQ+ issues and S377A.
👑 The Reform Party (RP)
In response to a 2010 letter that asked political parties for their stance on LGBTQ+ issues, RP explained that they’re against discrimination of all forms. They also pledged their commitment to repeal S377A and decriminalise homosexuality.
👑 Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA)
Responding to our email, SDA chief Desmond Lim stated that they respect the rights of individuals, and that they see no harm in removing S377A as long as it doesn’t disrupt society at large.
Desmond Lim also stated in his email response that the earth belongs to all humans and animals, and that we should learn how to live harmoniously and cohesively together.
🙃 National Solidarity Party (NSP)
Responding to the same letter as RP in 2010, NSP said that they would only go so far as to advocate for equality in employment. The party held no stance on the repeal of S377A, and didn’t think that society was ready for positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ individuals in the media.
It’s critical to note, however, that NSP’s leadership has changed significantly since 2010, so they might be a different party now. We’ve reached out to them via email to get their position on LGBTQ+ issues, but they didn’t respond.
🙃 Singapore People’s Party (SPP)
This is a tough one. We emailed SPP to ask them about their position on a variety of LGBTQ+ issues.
Their reply seems supportive at first, because they claim to take a “principled stance against discrimination in all forms, including [those] on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation”. They even went on to state that discriminatory laws have “no place in our legal system”. Sounds great so far.
When they went on to explain their stance on S377A, however, SPP immediately faltered on the “principled stance” they declared just a few paragraphs ago. Even though SPP claims to be against discrimination, they will allow their members to vote to retain S377A, so long as it doesn’t amount to “discrimination in practice”.
This suggests that SPP either has a weird understanding of principles, or that they think S377A has no practical discriminatory effect (it does). We followed up with SPP on their contradictory stance 5 weeks ago, but they’ve not replied 🙃
🙃 Other parties
These parties’ positions on LGBTQ+ issues are unknown:
- Progress Singapore Party (PSP)
- Singaporeans First (SingFirst) (Update 25 Jun: SingFirst is officially dissolved)
- People’s Power Party (PPP)
- Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [Note 1]
We’ve reached out to all the above parties in early May to get their positions on LGBTQ+ issues, but none of them got back to us. As far as we can tell, NSP and PPP have read our email, but decided not to reply.
In 2015, DPP chief Benjamin Pwee responded to questions about his party’s stance on S377A by asking the interviewer whether it should be repealed. But that was two years after he left SPP to join DPP, and four years before he left DPP to join SDP. Our email to DPP also bounced because their domain is no longer in use. Confused yet?
Key takeaways: he didn’t have a stance, and he’s no longer with DPP. And who knows if DPP still exists?
Here’s a quick summary of each party’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues:
- 👹 People’s Action Party (PAP): what issues?
- 👹 Workers’ Party (WP): they can’t seem to decide
- 👑 Singapore Democratic Party (SDP): they support equality and the repeal of S377A
- 👑 The Reform Party (RP): they support equality and the repeal of S377A
- 👑 Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA): they support the repeal of S377A
- 🙃 National Solidarity Party (NSP): who are they?
- 🙃 Singapore People’s Party (SPP): they’re busy untying themselves from their contradictory stances
- 🙃 Other parties (PSP, SingFirst, PPP, DPP): it’s unclear, and they’re unresponsive
It’s sad that the biggest political parties in Singapore don’t support LGBTQ+ equality. But that’s not terribly shocking either. LGBTQ+ issues often take the backseat in politics, and unless equality is a fundamental facet of their party’s direction, politicians seem more than happy to avoid this divisive topic altogether.
It’s time we turned the tides — here’s how
WP has shown that they can press the skip button on LGBTQ+ issues for 13 years with no consequence. Many PAP Members of Parliament have also never spoken up about LGBTQ+ issues in their (oftentimes) long tenure in parliament.
But LGBTQ+ folks in Singapore have been suffering from systemic discrimination for way too long. It’s about time we let our voices be heard.
We’ve made it really easy for you to email your political candidates, to ask them to stop LGBTQ+ discrimination. All it takes is a click of a button, and you’ll get pre-drafted emails ready to be sent out.
If you spot an error in our post, please let us know in the comments below!