Posts Tagged ‘gay culture’
Image of the day: Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong’s Transsexual No. 2 变性者 Ⅱ (2001), the title also rendered in English as A Transsexual Getting Down Stairs or Transsexual Descending a Staircase. (The latter apparently a reference to Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase.)
I actually find the worm’s eye view of the painting – and the resultant er, revelation – rather unnecessarily salacious. Not to mention a trifle silly ..
The subject matter is unusual enough though, even in the permissive realms of contemporary art, so here’s a shoutout to my transgendered friends.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The following editorial by Straits Times columnist Ong Sor Fern appeared on Thursday (31 March), two days before notice of the closure of Simon Fujiwara’s Biennale piece, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, appeared in the same section of the paper.
Ong lays out some well-known arguments against the censorship of art by official institutions – a case made more urgent by Singapore’s desire to position itself as an arts hub for the region, as she notes.
Having said that, I do have issues with her article, for reasons which I go into at the end of this post.
Meanwhile, Ong’s piece is reproduced in full below.
SHOCKED BY CENSORS
I was appalled that the Singapore Art Museum had unilaterally amended a work of art. By Ong Sor Fern.
British artist Simon Fujiwara’s Welcome to the Hotel Munber at the Singapore Art Museum has shocked me.
But it was not the graphic homosexual content which got my attention. By the time I saw the work on Monday, the gay pornographic magazines in the installation had already been removed by the museum. They were taken out after a private preview preview of the show on March 11 and 12.
And it is this action which has appalled me. The museum had done so without first consulting the artist. To me, the move is tantamount to an act of vandalism. To amend a work of art without an artist’s prior knowledge and/or consent is a strict no-no. to draw a parallel, it is akin to putting a fig leaf on Michelangelo’s David.
It is even more shocking that this is done by a museum which is organizing the Singapore Biennale and which is pitching itself as an art institution of repute in the region.
The museum might be concerned that the installation could break the law. As lawyer Samuel Seow pointed out in a Life! report on Monday, under the Undesirable Publications Act, anyone exhibiting “any obscene publication knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the publication to be obscene” can be fined a maximum of $10,000 or sentenced to jail for a maximum of two years, or both.
One might add that this rule applies equally to both straight and gay pornography, so the museum’s action is not so much anti-gay as legally prudent. But the moral morass the museum finds itself in is, to my mind, the result of its bungled handling of the whole episode.
If the work were in breach of the law, then the sensible thing to do would have been to close it and talk to the artist about a possible compromise or even a withdrawal of the piece, explaining in the process that the laws of the land do not permit a display of pornography. The installation takes up one room in a gallery, and closing the exhibit would be a simple matter of cordoning it off.
[N.B. Which the museum actually did, a little before this piece appeared in the press apparently.]
The museum could also, from its position as a home for contemporary art, negotiate with the authorities to make exceptions to the rule. While there have been tussles between artists and censors over what is acceptable in Singapore’s social landscape, artists have won concessions for freedom of expression.
The Singapore International Film Festival, for example, won the hard-fought right to show movies with graphic content by saying the films would be screened to a limited audience who were sophisticated enough to handle the content. And theatre groups here have staged plays dealing with sensitive themes such as gay rights, race relations and politics.
The censors have also conceded that such fare should be accessible to certain audiences. The same principle should be applicable to challenging works of contemporary art. It should be within the purview of the museum as an arts institution and as an arts educator to champion such works and educate both the censors and the public.
For all one knew, the authorities might have been open to the work being shown, with certain limitations to access. There are already two advisories, warning of graphic sexual content, on the walls leading to the exhibit. Parents who do not want their children exposed to such fare can simply skip the exhibit.
The museum could also position a gallery sitter – common practice in museums all over the world – in the installation itself to make sure no one can pick up the pornographic magazines, one of which was displayed on a magazine rack within a visitor’s reach. The other magazines were displayed on a shelf well beyond any curious visitor’s grasp. As an aside, visitors should not be pawing through an exhibit anyway, unless they are specifically invited to interact with the artwork.
By choosing to unilaterally amend a work of art, the Singapore Art Museum damages its own reputation as an arts institution and does harm to its ambition as a curatorial authority. Contemporary artists who create edgy work may now think twice before agreeing to exhibit at the museum, or even at other arts events here. That diminishes not just the museum, but the arts scene here in general.
This is the second time this year that a ruckus has resulted from a contemporary artwork that challenges social mores. As the inaugural international art fair, Art Stage Singapore, in January, Hyderabad artist T. Venkanna caused a stir with his performance piece in which he stripped naked and invited visitors to sit with him for a portrait shot. He sat hidden in a cubicle with a cloth-draped doorway and gallery owner Abhay Maskara was on hand to explain the nature and the concept of the work. still the work attracted press, was yanked from the fair and the artist was questioned by the police.
If Singapore wants to host contemporary art events such as Art Stage and the Biennale, then it had better be prepared to deal with the fallout caused by artists who challenge social norms and unknowingly violate the laws here. Nudity and pornography might seem a big deal today, but I am sure that even edgier works dealing with race and religion will spark an even bigger furore in the future.
Singaporeans here are increasingly curious about contemporary art, as can be seen by the 32,000 visitors who paid $30 a pop to get into Art Stage Singapore.
Granted, the majority of Singaporeans may not care to tell a Botero from a Bencab. But this is where institutions such as the Singapore Art Museum have a vital role to play in nurturing this interest and educating the public. This means also that museums need to refine their processes so that they can handle better any complications that might arise when foreign artists who have no knowledge of local sensitivities present works that violate the laws here.
The museum should lead the way in responding to controversial works with the same care and consideration it extends to the sensibilities of its visitors.
Unfortunately, its actions in this incident only reflect that Singapore is not mature enough to host such art. And that is a loss for all Singaporeans, not just the dedicated artsgoer.
Ok, things I like about this piece:
1. The point about the utterly forseeable consequences of dealing with contemporary art: “If Singapore wants to host contemporary art events such as Art Stage and the Biennale, then it had better be prepared to deal with the fallout …” YES. C’mon folks, even people who don’t exactly keep up with the visual arts scene know that if there’s one thing contemporary art does very well, it’s stirring up controversy, from the mid-century antics of the Neo-Dada school to those of the YBA in more recent years, the culmination of which must surely include Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition, which provoked outrage in the U.K. for Marcus Harvey’s portrait of Moors murderer Myra Hindley, and for the resultant withdrawal of public funding for the Brooklyn Museum when it hosted the show in the U.S. On the local end, there was Vince Leow’s public pee-guzzling back in the early ’90s, as well as Josef Ng’s scissor-happy turn …
There’s absolutely no reason why the SAM would not have some sort of plan of action for tackling such issues, much less be caught off-guard when they do arise, which, judging by the way it bungled matters, seems to point to a tragic lack of awareness on its part.
2. Ong’s penultimate observation: “The museum should lead the way in responding to controversial works with the same care and consideration it extends to the sensibilities of its visitors.” Again, a good point, and one that may very easily get lost in the shuffle. Being censored by the censors is one thing, but a museum arrogating to itself the privilege of editing works of art – especially ones they don’t own – is pretty repellent, not to mention legally fraught. The museum’s director is on record as saying that the SAM needs to respect the views of its diverse audience, but what about trying to uphold the rights of the artists it plays host to, or the principle of freedom of expression in general ? Museum goers and children have rights, but artists don’t ? I mean, there didn’t even seem to be much of an attempt made here … Really, for shame.
Now, things I disagree with:
1. The degree of Ong’s reaction, which strikes me as being somewhat disproportionate to the local climate of widespread conformity and censorship – a fact of life that every true blue Singaporean accepts as ineluctable. Yes, she did note that here it was the SAM’s act of self-censorship which rankled, but unfortunately she also expends too much ink retreading old ground – the sanitization of the arts by the local authorities, why that harms rather than helps – for me to take her seriously. I mean, was there much in her argument which even the most casual of arts lovers aren’t already familiar with ? If indeed it was the museum’s actions which made this particular instance of censorship especially egregious, then that should have constituted the main thrust of her article, not all that blather about the ideal role of the museum as an arts institution, the hard fight fought by local artists against the establishment, further instances of how naughty contemporary art can be and why it makes sense for Singapore to go with the flow … Yawn. Get to the point already. She declares it in the first couple of paragraphs, proceeds to ignore it for much of the piece, then resurrects it in the last two lines. And the characterization of her response as “shocked” – unless one’s had their head stuck in the sand for the last four decades or so, how is the act of censorship hereabouts, even self-censorship, even remotely surprising anymore ? Yes, Ms. Ong, we get that you’re a plugged in, liberal, arts-loving soul, so sensitive to the desecration of the artistic voice that you’re “appalled” by a single instance of expurgation, but, to borrow an expression from Gayatri Spivak, that position has become a “meaningless piety” so far as Singapore is concerned. Yes, censorship sucks .. and we all know that. How about something a little less platitudinous next time ?
I know I sound snarky, but Ong’s tone was really exasperating. I was having lunch with an ex once, in an Indian restaurant – this was in New Jersey – and apparently some woman spotted a roach, screamed, raised a stink, and then left hurriedly with her family. It wasn’t so much the reaction, but the way it was played out – not unlike a hammy, sub-par performance in a low-rated daytime soap. In other words, affected, and it definitely showed.
The incident kept coming back as I was reading Ong’s article. ‘Nuff said.
2. Her suggestion for a compromise: “If the work were in breach of the law, then the sensible thing to do would have been to close it and talk to the artist about a possible compromise or even a withdrawal of the piece, explaining in the process that the laws of the land do not permit a display of pornography.” HOW DULL DOES THAT SOUND ?! This is contemporary art, babe ! Nobody wants to do the “sensible” thing … I say Fujiwara should just run with it, make lemonade out of lemons: leave the work in its bowdlerized form, put up signs saying what’s missing and how and why and by whom, and see what alignments of meaning, power and plurality arise out of this new configuration.
But that’s just me.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The censorship of Simon Fujiwara’s Biennale installation, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, continues to make waves. Hot on the heels of my post yesterday, the following piece appeared in The Straits Times‘ Life! section this morning.
Biennale exhibit which had porn magazines removed without artist’s knowledge is closed. By Adeline Chia.
A controversial art installation with pornographic gay content censored by the Singapore Art Museum is now temporarily closed, while the museum and artist try to work out how to change it.
The installation by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara titled Welcome to The Hotel Munber looks like a 1970s Spanish hotel bar with a bar counter, bar stools, wine barrels and legs of ham.
But it also contained with sexual images and innuendos which came in the form of erotic images and text, or in the way the fake sausages were arranged.
The museum had removed some gay pornographic magazines from the installation without informing Fujiwara, causing people to accuse the museum of unprofessionalism and censorship.
Now, the exhibit is closed while the artist and the museum discuss how to modify the installation, which is the artist’s fictionalized re-imagining of his father as a repressed gay man running a hotel under Spain’s fascist dictator General Francisco Franco’s regime.
The artwork is part of the ongoing Singapore Biennale, the island’s premier visual arts event. It had been shown in its entirety for two days at a private viewing for reporters and artists on March 11 and 12.
After the private viewing, the museum removed the pornographic magazines. The reason given was that the graphic material was within easy reach of visitors, and the museum had to protect audiences who did not want such graphic sexual material in their face.
In a letter to Life! Yesterday, Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui gave the background to the work, saying that many of the artworks in the Biennale were site-specific. He defines these as works “created from the constant negotiation and dialogue between the Biennale curators and artists, sometimes right up tot eh final moments of the installation.”
He said that the museum had known that Fujiwara’s work contained graphic and nude images, and so had put in place advisories and hired gallery sitters. But, he added, “given the ongoing creation process, it is not possible to view site-specific contemporary artworks until they are fully installed.”
Fujiwara’s Hotel Munber is an ongoing work that has been exhibited in cities such as Frankfurt in Germany. It won the prestigious Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel, the iconic Swiss art fair, last year.
Mr Tan said: “Contemporary art is unlike films, which are fully completed works and can be viewed ahead of time for rating assessments.”
As a result, he added, the museum was “not aware of the final configuration of Fujiwara’s artwork” until all its artefacts were in place and the installation was completed “just in time for the Biennale private viewing.”
“it was then that we noted that the artefacts took the form of sexually explicit magazines within the larger installation. One of these magazines was within easy reach of the public and the others could be discerned,” he said.
The museum then decided to remove the magazines but to keep the exhibit open, said Mr Tan. At the same time, the curators were informed and were asked to contact the artist.
He added that Fujiwara “has also conveyed his concern” about the installation, including the magazines, which belong to a collector, being handled by the public.
“in view of this and other feedback, the artist has proposed that we reconfigure the exhibit altogether,” said the museum director.
Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen, 34, was one of the people who caught the installation in full during the Biennale opening weekend.
He said that “such issues should have been ironed out way before the show opened, since the institution should be 100 per cent aware of what is showing within its walls.”
“Sexuality and the gay issue are a big part of Simon Fujiwara’s practice, so it’s not like this is something shocking and unexpected. Moreover, Hotel Munbar [sic] is an existing exhibition, it’s not like it came out of nowhere,” he added.
Fujiwara, 28, won the Frieze Art Fair’s prestigious annual Cartier Award for emerging artists last year. The artist, who is of Japanese-British heritage, did not respond to e-mail from Life! this week.
His works often deal with fictional narratives, sexuality and history, and have been exhibited at prestigious platforms such as the Venice Biennale, Manifesta and the Sao Paulo Biennale.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The Fujiwara saga continues.
Simon Fujiwara’s installation at the Biennale, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, has been getting quite a bit of press lately, primarily for having been censored by the Singapore Art Museum with regards to certain pornographic gay elements. Remember when I said that the piece was still on view at the SAM ?
Well, I lied.
I was just there, and the display has been shut down (below), at least temporarily. Someone I spoke to at the front counter said that it’d been cordoned off two days ago, and its eventual fate is still anyone’s guess.
Sorry, my bad.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The following article appeared in the Life! section of The Straits Times on 28 March, 2011. Apparently Brit-Jap artist Simon Fujiwara’s contribution to the Biennale, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, was a little too gay-friendly for – get this, not the local authorities – but the Singapore Art Museum itself, which apparently made a decision to modify the piece on their own say-so.
Welcome to the Hotel Munber, in its incomplete form, is currently on view at the SAM.
MUSEUM CENSORS EXPLICIT ART WORK
A Biennale installation had some of its sexual content removed without permission from the artist. By Corrie Tan.
An installation with graphic homosexual content at the ongoing 2011 Singapore Biennale has been altered by the Singapore Art Museum without the artist’s consent.
The installation by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara converted a gallery in the museum into a Spanish hotel bar with a bar counter, bar stools, barrels of wine and legs of ham hanging from the ceiling.
But a row of gay pornographic magazines that were placed on top of a cupboard behind the bar counter and a gay pornographic magazine that was placed under a Spanish newspaper at the gallery’s entrance have been removed.
Extracts of erotic text, framed up on the wall and pasted on the legs of fabricated ham, were not removed from the installation.
The changes to the installation, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, were reported last week by Fridae.com, a gay and lesbian Asian news and lifestyle portal.
When asked about the removal of the items, Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui said that while the museum and curators were aware that the installation would contain some graphic sexual material, it was only after the installation was completed for the Biennale’s opening weekend that the museum realised some of the graphic material was within the clear view and easy reach of visitors.
So the museum decided to remove the material after a private preview on March 11 and 12, which was attended by local and international artists and reporters. The Biennale curators were informed as well, and they contacted the artist.
The museum said that during the busy opening weekend of March 11 to 13, it did not have a chance to discuss the work with the Berlin-based Fujiwara before he left the country. At press time, the artist did not answer queries sent by Life!.
Mr Tan did not say why the museum did not contact the artist before removing the items from the installation, but said in an e-mail statement: “Given the diversity of visitors at SAM, including audiences who may not appreciate seeing such material in full view, we made th decision to remove it.
“SAM has a broad base of visitors, ranging from those familiar with the language of contemporary art to new audiences and families with young children who are taking initial steps towards appreciating contemporary art. Hence, the museum will always work with the curators and artists whose works deal with, or contain, potentially sensitive subject matter to determine how to best display their works for our audiences, without altering their artistic content.”
Biennale curator Russell Storer, 40, who contacted Mr. Fujiwara after the changes were made to the installation, said of the artist’s reaction: “The artist was concerned because what happened changes the wrok. We are in the process of working out the next step with the museum and the artist.
“It would have been good to have had the discussion before the Biennale but we are trying to be as pragmatic as possible right now. It’s an issue for all of us, but we understand that there are laws in Singapore to abide by.”
Lawyer Samuel Seow, 37, said that it is an offence under the law to exhibit obscene and/or objectionable publications. He cited Singapore’s Undesirable Publications Act, where anyone who exhibits “any obscene publication knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the publication to be obscene” can be fined a maximum of $10,000 or sentenced to jail for a maximum of two years, or both.
When Life! visited the Singapore Art Museum yesterday, two advisories en route to the exhibition space warned that the gallery that housed Welcome to Hotel Munber contained work of a sexual nature and that parental guidance was recommended.
These signs have been put up since the exhibition began.
The work, a travelling installation, was inspired by the hotel and bar run by the artist’s parents in southern Spain under the military dictatorship of General Franco in the 1970s.
Mr Fujiwara, 28, the winner of the Frieze Art Fair’s prestigious Cartier Award for emerging artists last year and who is known for his creation of fictional narratives, retells his parents’ life as erotic fiction.
The installation explores and is a response to the violent and oppressive climate that his parents experienced under General Franco’s rule. The artist’s mother is British and his father is Japanese.
As part of the artwork, Mr Fujiwara gave a lecture performance at the museum during the Biennale’s opening weekend where he read extracts of erotica and used props such as photograph, newspaper clippings and original objects from his parents’ hotel.
Audience members described the performance as a conflation of sexuality, family values and political history.
This is the second art controversy relating to nudity this year. In January, an Indian artist who stripped naked in the name of art at the inaugural international art fair Art Stage Singapore, stopped his act after newspapers went to town with the story.
Asked about the incident at the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore artist and gallery owner Alan Oei, 34, said: “If an artist’s work is to be altered, you need to inform the artist first or negotiate an outcome. If the artist doesn’t understand why, he or shy might pull out, but that’s how it is.”
Mr Olivier Henry, 38, a Singapore-based photographer and gallery owner, said: “I think it’s entirely unacceptable for a museum to change a work like that. You might change a work’s integrity and message.
“If there are censorship issues, these should have been brought up prior to the work being showcased. I find it extremely alarming that someone else can just take the responsibility and creative freedom to change an artist’s message and work.”
Well, not exactly. Gay, yes. Big and fat, hardly.
The person, by the way, is Peter Marc Jacobson, Fran Drescher’s ex-husband and co-producer of her hit sitcom, The Nanny.
Drescher, who split from Jacobson in the late ’90s after more than two decades of marriage, recently revealed that he came out to her soon after the divorce. While that would probably raise no eyebrows in Hollywood, it’s definitely causing a stir in this quarter:
1. I love Fran Drescher. Have since I first clapped ears on that shrill, nasally falsetto … This is a woman who’s survived Flushing, John Travolta, a traumatic sexual assault, cancer, and now a gay ex-husband. All that, plus she’s effin’ hilarious. You GO, gurlfrend.
2. Jacobson’s pretty goshdarned hawt. Judge for yourself.
What with all the recent hullabaloo about electoral boundaries and accusations of PAP gerrymandering flying fast and furious in the media, I guess it’s pretty much official: we’re headed for a general election, and soon.
For some reason, the otherwise negligible sgWiki site boasts a comprehensive, thoroughly enlightening section on “Homosexuality in Singapore“: history, contemporary culture, big names, hot cruising spots. <lol> I mean, I grew up gay here, and even for me some of this stuff was news. The quality of the content suggests a cross between scholarly-minded research and the inside scoop from an active member of the local LGBT community.
A job well-done.
Anyways. In light of the upcoming GE, a handful of local gay folk – including activist Alex Au, who runs the ever-engrossing Yawning Bread blog – decided late last year to send out a questionnaire regarding LGBT issues to the ruling PAP and leading opposition parties. They received replies only from some, but the entire exercise strikes me as being an important footnote to what will most likely turn out to be an affair dominated by other, more opportune issues: immigration, inflation, the astronomical price of property. Oh, and of course it helps to know exactly what the various official positions are on the gay question – invaluable come voting time.
I reproduce the pertinent sgWiki entry in full below.
Meanwhile, here are brief bios for the main political parties and personalities involved:
2. Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA). Comprised of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), Singapore Justice Party and the Singapore Malay National Organization. Leader: Chiam See Tong (SPP). No. of parliamentary seats: 1 (Chiam, Potong Pasir).
Seven members of the LGBT community in Singapore sent a joint letter to six political parties requesting a clarification of their position on selected issues of interest to LGBT Singaporeans. The letter was sent in mid-September 2010 with reply requested for end-October 2010. The aim was to provide information to LGBT voters as to the stands taken by various political parties.
The seven signatories were: Russell Heng, Jean Chong, Sylvia Tan, Choo Lip Sin, Irene Oh, Alex Au and Alan Seah.
The same letter was sent to (in alphabetical order) the National Solidarity Party, the People’s Action Party, the Reform Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, the Singapore Democratic Party and the Workers’ Party. The parties were informed that their replies would be released to the LGBT public.
None of the parties responded to the complete list of questions. Nonetheless, three parties provided a reasonably clear outline of their stand with respect to LGBT concerns. The People’s Action Party did not reply at all, nor even acknowledge the letter. The Singapore Democratic Alliance acknowledged the letter but in the end did not provide a reply.
Of the other four parties,
The National Solidarity Party said “Individuals’ interests and rights should not supercede the core values that the society holds”, but will give their Members of Parliament the freedom to vote on Section 377A according to their conscience. On jobs, the party “advocate Equal Opportunities for all . . . and even sexual orientation.” On media policy, the NSP said that “we do not think Singapore is ready for equal promotion of alternative lifestyle” nor do they think that Singapore is ready to “legitimize same-sex marriage.” Overall, the party’s position is that “Singapore’s social core values, at this moment, only recognizes family unit with heterosexual relationship. In principle, NSP has to respect such core values held as a society.”
The Reform Party in its reply said that one of their “central tenets is that there should not be any discrimination between individuals based on gender, race, religion, age and sexual orientation” and that they are “committed to working towards the repeal of Section 377A and the decriminalization of homosexuality.” As for the additional issues raised by our letter, they did not have time to consider their position.
The Singapore Democratic Party referred us to position statements they had previously made on their website. One said “Section 377A discriminates against a segment of our population and that discrimination, in whatever form, has no place in society”, calling on the PAP government to repeal the law. In another, the party reiterated its stand on basic rights and equality while responding to an outsider who queried why the party supported the repeal of Section 377A.
The Workers’ Party replied by saying that they continue not to have any position on gay-related issues, as was the case in October 2007 during the parliamentary debate over Section 377A.
The letter sent out to all the parties read:
Enquiry about your party’s position on gay-related issues
The signatories below have been active in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community for some years; you may know some of us. We sense that LGBT voters are keen to know the position of your party on various issues that are of interest to them, but which you may not normally address in your overall manifesto.
Recognising, however, that the onus is also on us to bring these issues to your attention, we have prepared a set of eight questions/discussion points in Annex 1 attached. We would be grateful if you could revert with your views on these issues by the end of October 2010.
A similar letter is going out to other political parties as well, seeking their views.
Precisely because we do not expect all parties to adopt similar positions on all questions, it would interest us to know what each party’s thinking is and where your comfort levels are at this present time. Naturally, one should allow that positions can change over time, with evolving realities.
Our intention is to release the various parties’ responses to the LGBT community at an appropriate time, with minimal commentary on our part. We have lined up various gay media for this purpose.
It is possible that the mainstream media may take an interest when the time comes, but at this moment, we have no plans to involve them.
Thanking you in advance for taking the time to consider these issues and responding,
The text of the annexure to the letter (we decided to err on the side of greater detail than leaving the questions vague, especially since this is the first time we are asking political parties to address the issues):
1. One of the foundational principles of Singapore is the concept of equality. In your party’s opinion, does the concept of equality include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons and their interests?
2. In October 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there has to be “space for homosexuals to live their lives”. Does your party agree with this?
3. The LGBT community feels that Section 377A of the Penal Code limits the space that they have, thus undercutting the equality that they feel they are entitled to, for example, in the following areas: • the law legitimises social stigma and discrimination; • through (a) above, it is used to justify media censorship; • it constrains the needed degree of health intervention with respect to HIV.
What is your party’s position on these effects of Section 377A?
4. Speaking to Reuters in April 2007, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said Section 377A “eventually” has to go. Expanding on his thoughts, he said, “if this is the way the world is going and Singapore is part of that interconnected world and I think it is, then I see no option for Singapore but to be part of it.” In August 2007, he repeated his sentiments to the International Herald Tribune, saying, “Yes, we’ve got to go the way the world is going. China has already allowed and recognized gays, so have Hong Kong and Taiwan. It’s a matter of time.” (a) If a bill is before the next parliament to repeal Section 377A, will your party support it? (b) If not, when do you foresee your party being able to support one? (c) Is this a matter for which your party may consider necessary to lift its party whip?
5. Section 377A aside, on the question of equality in employment,
(a) Would your party support legislation promoting nondiscrimination in employment on grounds of race, religion, sex, disability and age? (b) Should such legislation also include among its grounds sexual orientation and gender identity?
6. Currently, media policy severely restricts the portrayal of “alternative lifestyles”, which deprives Singaporeans of a balanced view of LGBT people and their lives. This deprivation reinforces negative stereotypes and further stigmatises LGBT people, holding society back from progressing.
(a) Does your party believe that LGBT themes, characters and content should be treated fairly and equally in media policy? (b) To be more specific, does your party believe that there should be parity in media classification between films and art with LGBT themes, characters and content on the one hand and similar material with heterosexual themes, characters and content on the other, e.g. a same-sex love affair is classified the same way as an opposite-sex love affair?
7. What does your party consider an appropriate level of formal recognition of same sex relationships (agree/disagree on each sub-question)? (a) no recognition as existing; (b) provide a public register of same sex partnerships; (c) recognise a same-sex couple in the same household for taxation purposes; (d) recognise a same-sex couple as family nucleus in respect of public housing; (e) recognise the rights of a same-sex partner for medical visitation, medical decision-making (in cases where the ill partner is incapable of deciding for himself/herself) and as next of kin; (f) recognise a same-sex partner as equivalent to a spouse wherever insurance policies and employment benefits recognise a spouse; (g) recognise a same-sex partner as equivalent to a married spouse with respect to succession intestate; (h) recognise a same-sex partner as equivalent to a married spouse with respect to immigration.
8. Same-sex couples with children exist and are gradually increasing in number in Singapore. Present legislation and policies do not formally recognise them as a family unit, which is detrimental to the welfare of the children. Does your party agree that in the best interest of these children, there should be formal recognition of such a family nucleus?
The Responses (or lack thereof)
Below are the replies, if any, received from the parties: —
National Solidarity Party:
Reply received via email on 12 November 2010
On behalf of National Solidarity Party (NSP), I thank you for your email dated 15 September to enquire about our Party’s stand on the issues of LGBT.
The questions that you have raised in your email have given us a great opportunity to closely examine and discuss about LGBT issues in general as well as sorting our thoughts on various universal issues of equality and human rights.
Upon reflection, we come to the following general conclusions:
1) NSP is made up of a wide spectrum of individuals with different inclinations, from extreme liberal to ultra conservative. However, the mean score index is skewed towards the conservative position. We believe that this composition of NSP is more or less representative of the Singapore society at large.
2) Although NSP will be fighting for a broader base of equality and rights for Singaporeans in various segments of legislation (eg. Equal Opportunity in Labour law etc), the isolate issue of LGBT rights will not be NSP’s main political campaigning focus for the foreseeable future.
3) However, NSP will not restrict its members or future Members of Parliament to express their views or vote according to their own inclination with regard to LGBT issues.
4) NSP may not be able to answer each and every question that you have raised but we would like to address these questions in a more general approach at this moment.
5) Your questions could be categorized into 4 broad areas i.e.
A) Section 377A & Equality
B) Equality on Jobs
C) Media policy and promotion of alternative lifestyle via media
D) Recognition of Same-sex marriage
5A) Section 377A & Equality
NSP recognizes the existence of LGBT community in Singapore. NSP also recognizes the enactment of any laws should be in accordance with the principles and core values that the nation holds as a people. Individuals’ interests and rights should not supercede the core values that the society holds.
If a law is to be repealed or changed, it must get enough support from the society at large. NSP strives to have a more diverse representation within its rank and file so that different views could be heard and presented within. For the issue of Section 377A, with due respect to each different individuals in the party, we would let our members decide on their own as this is the not the key political focus of the party. It would also mean that future MPs of the party would have to exercise their own political discretion and judgment in deciding whether to vote for or against the repeal of Section 377A, in accordance to social sentiments of that time.
5B) Equality on Jobs
In principle, NSP is against discriminative employment practices. We advocate Equal Opportunities for all, regardless of race, religion, disability, age, sex and even sexual orientation.
5C) Media policy and promotion of alternative lifestyle via media
In principle, we do not think Singapore is ready for equal promotion of alternative lifestyle. However, we do not discount the fact that social mindset may change over time. It will depend very much on the social acceptance of Singaporeans on promotion of alternative lifestyle over the media.
5D) Recognition of Same-sex marriage
We do not think Singapore society is ready to legitimize same-sex marriage. Most of the issues raised could be dealt with by other legitimate means like writing Will or empowering LGBT partners by means of Attorney of Power.
Singapore’s social core values, at this moment, only recognizes family unit with heterosexual relationship. In principle, NSP has to respect such core values held as a society.
Goh Meng Seng Secretary-General
People’s Action Party
The Reform Party
Reply received via email on 1 November 2010
Thanks for sending this questionnaire to us. I am aware that these issues are of overwhelming importance to the LGBT community. Please be assured that the Reform Party is a liberal secular Party. We believe passionately in freedom of expression and association. One of our central tenets is that there should not be any discrimination between individuals based on gender, race, religion, age and sexual orientation. We are committed to working towards the repeal of Section 377A and the decriminalization of homosexuality. However we have not had time to consider our position in detail on the additional issues raised by you. Rather than asking for our position, it might be more productive if you would send us a list of the policies you would like to see adopted. Better still, you could join us and work on getting us elected to Parliament or contribute to our campaign. Unless you (like other Singaporeans) are prepared to stand up then there is very little chance of change. Regards,
Kenneth Jeyaretnam Secretary General
Singapore Democratic Alliance
No reply to the substantive questions. Last interim reply was received via email on 29 October 2010, saying:
My sincere apology, was preoccupied with SPP & SDA’s internal affairs, hence may not able to give you any official reply before SDA Supreme Council meeting which likely to be hold on 12 November 10.
Because, I need to table for discussion with the Supreme Council.
With regards Lim Bak Chuan Desmond Secretary General
Singapore Democratic Party
Reply received via email on 2 November 2010. The reply contained three hyperlinks, which have been expanded here inside [square brackets].
Rather than respond to the questionnaire, the Singapore Democratic Party would like to reiterate its stand:
We support the repeal of Section 377A. We made our stand clear in 2007 here and defended it here. We have embedded in our website the following statement: “As a nation, we must not only show tolerance but also acceptance of our fellow citizens regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion.”
Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General Singapore Democratic Party
Verbal reply via telephone, from Sylvia Lim (Chairperson, Workers’ Party) to Alex Au, midday, 31 October 2010.
The gist of Sylvia Lim’s reply was that the WP would not be making any formal reply to our letter, because despite discussing it at council meeting, WP’s position had not changed [since 2007]. “We have no position on this,” she said.
“Is this response on record?” Alex asked her. She said yes.