Section 377A review: ‘No criminal offence disclosed’ on organisers of anti-repeal Protect Singapore town hall, says MHA
- Police reports have been filed against a town hall attended by 1,200 people on July 23
- The meeting's agenda was a call to protect families, marriages and children in relation to a possible repeal of a law that criminalises gay sex
- The Ministry of Home Affairs said no action will be taken against the organisers because "there is no criminal offence disclosed"
- An organiser of the town hall said it was to raise awareness on the "impact of LGBTQ activism"
- However, LGBTQ groups were concerned that the gathering will encourage discriminatory behaviour towards the LGBTQ community
SINGAPORE — The police will not be taking action against the organisers of a town hall attended by 1,200 people that called for a "new political package" to protect marriage, family and children before the Government considers repealing a law that criminalises gay sex. The police are saying that the gathering has not broken any laws.
In response to queries from TODAY, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) confirmed on Monday (July 25) that the police have received reports made about the gathering, which called itself the "Protect Singapore Townhall".
"Everyone, including religious groups, is entitled to their views on different matters, including on LGBT issues, and to express their views, so long as they do not denigrate any groups of persons and do not break any laws," MHA said.
"We will not be taking any action against the organisers as there is no criminal offence disclosed."
After last Saturday's gathering at Singapore Expo, two lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) groups told TODAY they were concerned that it might encourage further discrimination of the community.
However, one of the organisers of the town hall, Mr Jason Wong, said that the meeting was to raise awareness of the "impact of LGBTQ+ activism" and not to spread hate.
Mr Wong is the founder of both the Dads for Life movement and the Yellow Ribbon Project to help ex-offenders, while another organiser, Mr Mohamed Khair, is the chief executive officer of SuChi Success Initiatives training company.
Mr Wong told TODAY on Tuesday that the organisers were "a group of citizens who have been watching LGBT activism in Singapore and globally, and find that it puts the current institutions of marriage and family at stake, as activists call for their redefinition to include same-sex couples on the basis of equality".
He added that the purpose of the town hall was to “help fellow citizens understand the state of LGBT activism and its consequences in society”, and to hear the unheard products of activism — ordinary citizens’ firsthand experiences of being outcast after disagreeing or pressured into silence.
The session, which Mr Wong described as oversubscribed on his Facebook page, was a closed-door, ticketed event held under the Chatham House rules.
This means that participants are free to use the information discussed but cannot reveal the identity of the speaker.
TODAY understands that aside from Mr Wong and Mr Khair, there were two other speakers who spoke during the three-hour-long event, along with personal accounts from current and former members of the LGBT community.
MHA said: "The event organiser for the Protect Singapore Townhall had applied for a police permit, and informed the police that the event was by-invite only, involving only members of her organisation and invited guests.
"Police had assessed that a permit under the Public Order Act was not required as this was a private event."
Under the Public Order Act, a police permit is required for a public assembly if its purpose is to remonstrate support for or opposition towards the views or actions of any persons, group of persons or any government, to publicise a cause or campaign, or mark or commemorate any event, the ministry added.
In a pamphlet that was distributed during the town hall — the content of which is now making its rounds online — the organisers said that besides the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, LGBTQ groups are pushing for "many changes to law, policy and society". Section 377A criminalises sex between two men and has stirred many debates over the years.
Other changes that LGBTQ groups are lobbying for include the recognition of same-sex marriages and same-sex partnerships for housing policies.
The organisers added that unless and until Section 377A of the Penal Code is replaced with a “new political package”, it would be unwise for the Government to repeal it.
The pamphlet stated that in the package, there must be provisions that protect marriage as a “man-woman union and the natural family unit”.
Children, too, must be protected from “indoctrination in LGBTQ+ ideas and beliefs''. As for those who do not accept such beliefs, they should be protected from being “pressured, bullied or discriminated against” by others who do.
WHAT ORGANISER SAYS
Mr Wong told TODAY that the event had “never been set out to incite hate, but to bring clarity (to) confusion so that more citizens are aware of the impact of LGBTQ+ activism on our lives and our children’s lives”.
The organisers were not surprised but were still disappointed that some members of the public had called for police reports to be made over the gathering, alleging that they were promoting hate and “espousing religious views”.
Mr Wong said that there were no references to religious texts during the meeting.
“Even if there were, religious people do have a say in society, considering that a majority of Singaporeans are religious,” he added.
Part of the reason for organising the town hall, he said, was to provide a platform for citizens to share their experiences with the LGBTQ+ community because “many citizens have been on the receiving end of bullying by LGBTQ+ activists over the years”.
“The shaming and name-calling is real. As much as I would like to see civil discourse on this issue, I — and many others — find that idealistic.Mr Jason Wong, on people being bullied by LGBTQ+ activists”
Aside from the bullying, there is an increasing use of character assassination and shaming of anyone who disagree with LGBT causes, he claimed.
“I’ve personally heard stories of people receiving death threats just for stating their opinion,” Mr Wong said, adding that citizens are concerned that social harmony is at stake.
On his end, Mr Wong said that he has already been branded as “homophobic”, “discriminatory” and “divisive”.
“The shaming and name-calling is real. As much as I would like to see civil discourse on this issue, I — and many others — find that idealistic,” Mr Wong said.
During the town hall, there were constant reminders that LGBTQ+ activists do not represent the entire LGBTQ+ community, and that “we should love people, but not necessarily the ideas that they hold”.
On accusations that he is creating division, Mr Wong said that it will “naturally happen as people seek to change society in many ways”.
“I don’t think I can be accused of creating such division if I’m explaining why we should keep (the) status quo.”
When asked if there are plans to hold more of such events in future, Mr Wong said that “due to great interest in these issues”, he believes the group will run more sessions to “increase awareness and support”.
WHAT LGBTQ GROUPS SAY
Two LBGTQ groups told TODAY they were concerned that the Protect Singapore Townhall event would only lead to more discriminatory behaviour towards them.
Mr Leow Yangfa, executive director of LGBTQ non-profit organisation Oogachaga, was worried that there would be increased incidences of harassment towards members of the LGBTQ community.
As it is, he said that the Oogachaga office has recently been receiving phone calls and emails from concerned members of the public accusing them of “making too much noise” by advocating for the repeal of Section 377A, that they were “too loud”.
He added that these were not violent or threatening in nature, but some callers quoted "religious verses", suggesting that they were echoing what they read and heard from their community leaders.
Mr Leow stressed that Oogachaga staff members and volunteers do not make threats towards members of the religious communities.
The group has, however, previously made police reports about hateful, life-threatening printed messages being sent to its office.
"When we advocate for the repeal of 377A, we do so because we know about the very real impact it has on individuals, couples and families in Singapore’s LGBTQ community," Mr Leow added.
He also said that there were many LGBTQ persons who have shared about the discrimination and rejection they face from their religious communities and families.
“It is not right for a group to hold the whole country hostage on social progress, especially when the concessions that they are demanding in return for acceptance of repeal will disadvantage a group that they do not represent.Mr Clement Tan, speaking on behalf of LGBTQ+ advocacy group Pink Dot SG about Protect Singapore Townhall”
Mr Clement Tan, speaking on behalf of LGBTQ+ advocacy group Pink Dot SG, said that no one community should have the power to define what another community can or cannot do.
“To do so would run counter to fundamental values of justice and equality, and upset the delicate balance of pluralism that Singapore has worked so hard to establish.”
On that basis, he said that Pink Dot was concerned by some of the calls for action at the town hall, which include “enshrining religious values into the supreme law of the land”.
Mr Tan believes that this is aimed at "redraw(ing) the lines of exclusion and discrimination to other areas of life, now that Section 377A is becoming socially unpopular".
He added that Pink Dot is "perturbed" that the organisers of the town hall are trying to define and negotiate an acceptable post-repeal “political package” on behalf of all Singaporeans.
“It is not right for a group to hold the whole country hostage on social progress, especially when the concessions that they are demanding in return for acceptance of repeal will disadvantage a group that they do not represent.
"Proposed policy changes should always leave space for society to continue having good-faith conversations on social issues and the changes that it would like to see."
In any case, Mr Tan said that change is not always easy.
“Whatever shape or form the repeal of 377A takes, we think it would be an important step in the right direction.
“The best way forward for Singapore on LGBTQ+ issues will be to continuously engage stakeholders in constructive, good faith dialogue, premised on shared common ground.”