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7 Oct 2005 Straits Times

Fear homosexuals? No, Govt sensitive to others too

THE Singapore Government is not homophobic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, rejecting suggestions that it had an irrational fear of homosexuals.

But it must manage an environment in which there is maximum space for each person to live his own life without impinging on other people.

Thus it must remain sensitive to segments of the population which are uncomfortable with gays, he said during a question and answer session with members of the Foreign Correspondents Association.

He was replying to Time magazine journalist Jake Smith, who had asked how he felt about gays and said that the Singapore Government gives 'every impression of being somewhat homophobic'.

Rejecting this view, PM Lee said that he agreed with the view taken by his predecessor, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, that homosexuals 'are people like you and me'.

But the question, he said, was this: 'How do we provide the maximum space without it becoming intrusive and oppressive on the rest of the population and without causing a backlash which will lead to polarisation and animosity?

'That's our responsibility and challenge. It's very hard to do.'

A balance, he said, needs to be struck between two opposing forces. On the one side are the gay activists who want more space and feel entitled to it. On the other are those who condemn homosexuality.

'There will be those who say this is wrong, it's a sin, not just a crime but a sin, stop it,' he said. 'Therefore, it's a dynamic balance and one which we'll have to manage very carefully.'

It is a problem his predecessors also grappled with.

In 1998, during a call-in segment of a live CNN interview, a gay man had asked then-senior minister Lee Kuan Yew if gays had a place in Singapore as it moved towards a more tolerant society.

Mr Lee replied that it was a question of what a society considered acceptable, and Singaporeans were still largely very conservative.

Five years later, then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong said the Government was openly employing homosexual people, even in sensitive jobs.

While accepting of gays, PM Lee drew a line against gay marriages and parades. The annual Nation gay party, usually held in August, was banned this year.

He said: 'You can do that in Sydney and London and San Francisco, but I'm not sure you're allowed to do that in Singapore, because I think it will be offensive to a large number of Singaporeans and it will be very divisive.'

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This article was first archived on SiGNeL by Alex Au[1].