Sunday, February 27, 2011

Singapore political parties’ positions on LGBT concerns – General election 2011

Dear friends and readers, I wish to share with you the following.

The LGBT community in Singapore has sent a letter to various political parties, seeking their position on issues concerning sexual minority citizens.

I urge queer and queer-affirming Singaporeans to seriously consider the questions raised and addressed before exercising their right to vote in the upcoming elections.

I also take this opportunity to appeal to all queer and queer-affirming Singaporeans to share with others what the following group of concerned individuals (from PLU.sg) have written and compiled.

You may also find the letter here at http://www.sgwiki.com/wiki/Singapore_political_parties%E2%80%99_positions_on_LGBT_concerns_%E2%80%93_General_election_2011, and at the PLU website (http://www.plu.sg/society/?p=223)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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.

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THE OUTGOING LETTER

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):

Questions

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?

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THE REPLIES

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

No reply


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 [http://singaporedemocrat.org/articlegayrights3.html] and defended it here [http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articlegayrights4.html]. 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.” (see here [http://www.yoursdp.org/index.php/the-party/what-we-stand-for]).

Thank you.

Chee Soon Juan

Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party


Workers’ 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.

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I thank PLU for sharing this with me. Now let's share this with concerned LGBT and LGBT-affirming Singaporeans.

You may also find the letter at http://www.sgwiki.com/wiki/Singapore_political_parties%E2%80%99_positions_on_LGBT_concerns_%E2%80%93_General_election_2011, and at the PLU website (http://www.plu.sg/society/?p=223)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Are Singaporean buses blind-friendly enough?

Note: Ok. The following post has been sitting around since late November 2010. By the way, I'm not dead, or silenced by the ISD, or told by the ISD that I'm not dead or silenced by them.

Nov 27, 2010.

As part of the work I do at the location-based service start-up, I get to meet and listen to the opinions people have about our products and services.

In the mid-week, we got to meet a gentleman who was visually impaired. He shared with us insights into how a blind person like himself uses technology, namely his smart phone. At the same time, he told us his aspirations and expectations for technological as well as transport policy improvements.

I'll leave the technological considerations in the office, but in our short discussion, I learned how blind-unfriendly the public transport system is in Singapore.

To be fair, the train stations have improved a lot in the past few years. With the inclusion of elevators and more slopes in place of stairs, as well as guiding plates being installed on the floors of every train station, plus the station name announcement, the blind are able to be use the train system a lot more independently and confidently.

However, buses are lagging behind. While a sizable number of buses are "wheelchair-friendly" according to non-wheelchair-bound people, they have yet to make changes to the bus system to make them blind-friendly.

Some of the suggestions brought up by the gentleman we spoke with are definitely useful to facilitate the visually impaired travelling on buses:

1) Buses could have a similar technology to that of the train system, where there would be an automatic announcement stating the upcoming stop within, say, 500m of the stop itself.

2) Bus-stops could also have an audio announcement, stating which bus would arrive in 1 minute and which bus has arrived.

These ideas benefit those both the blind, the elderly and also persons unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Considering we want more visitors and that we are facing an ageing population, it would justify spending to improve this aspect of public transport.

Unfortunately, most Singaporeans are trapped in the belief of the dualism of government spending and taxes. If we were to implement such technological solutions, taxes will have to increase, hence we shouldn't do anything and should just stay where we comfortably are. You know, to cut the PAP government a little slack, part of the taxes we pay today, do go into the creation of infrastructure when we're old (apart from elaborate ceremonies like the Youth Olympic Games as we prostitute ourselves to the rest of the world).

Well, the government could fund institutes of higher learning as well as local companies to research and work on this as a project. And this would be well within one of the many grand masterplans we have for Singapore to be innovative and also to boast a truly first world transport system.

I think it would be money well-spent. And I hope the Land Transport Authority considers implementing this technology, if they already haven't.

The gentleman we spoke with shared with us the anxieties some visually impaired people have boarding our buses. Among them, they fear missing their stop, and also fear the instant when the bus driver forgets to alert them to their stop.

The funny thing about Singapore is that the government puts in a lot of resources (and effort) to make this country meritocratic. Infrastructure, facilities, skills training, subsidised education, subsidised healthcare and other related perks and opportunities are all established for Singaporeans to be independent. Such that when failure occurs, in the form of poor health, poor financial management or unemployment, the problem is reduced to the individual and the state is absolved of blame. Meritocracy what!

But in the case of the public transport system (specifically buses), the government is not doing enough to make it blind-friendly. The visually impaired want independence too, but there is insufficient effort (and resources) committed to creating more blind-friendly infrastructure. Perhaps they suffer because we take some things for granted. So who is more blind then?

I hope the government will continue to engage the visually impaired (and more seriously), and many other differently-abled Singaporeans, with a view to actually improving infrastructure to facilitate their independence. This is not a political baby-kissing photo extravaganza, but a legitimate issue in need of addressing for years now. We can and should build and develop our transport infrastructure based on the feedback of stakeholders, of different ages and abilities.