All forms of sexual activity between men in Singapore are illegal, even if they are adults and indulge in consensual sex in private. The constitutionality of the status quo is currently being challenged, in view of the fact that oral, anal and other forms of non-potentially procreative sexual activity between heterosexual and lesbian couples have become legal after the extensive review of the Singapore Penal Code in 2007 when the former Section 377, which criminalised acts "against the order of nature", was repealed.
The illegality of male gay sex justifies many other forms of discrimination against the LGBT and MSM communities. This officially sanctioned prejudice pervades all social, economic, cultural, educational and political situations as well as the permissible portrayal of these communities in the mainstream media.
- 1 Legal
- 2 Government
- 3 References
Sections 377A of the Penal Code
(Main article: Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code)
Section 377A criminalises all forms of sex between men, even if it is performed in private between consenting adults. Moreover, there are other portions of the Singapore statutes which can also be employed to criminalise homosexual behaviour. While these other laws (see below) are gender non-specific, Section 377A, in contrast, enshrines discrimination against gay Singaporean men in the legal system because oral and anal sex between heterosexual and lesbian couples are not illegal. Section 377A is therefore thought to contravene Article 12 of the Singapore Constitution. Its constitutionality is currently being challenged in the High Court by human rights lawyer, M. Ravi, on behalf of his client Tan Eng Hong and by a gay couple in a long-term relationship.
Section 354 of the Penal Code (Outrage of Modesty)
Section 354 provides that if any person uses criminal force on any person intending to outrage, or knowing it would be likely to outrage, the modesty of that person, he shall be imprisoned for a maximum of 2 years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any 2 of such punishments.
In the early and mid-1990s, the police conducted undercover sting operations using handsome agents provocateurs in certain places such as Katong Park, the reclaimed land at Tanjong Rhu and even at East Coast Park where gay men were known to cruise or solicit for sex. From 1990-94, 50 homosexuals were charged under section 354. The usual punishment in 1993 was 2 to 6 months' imprisonment plus caning, usually 3 strokes.
In 1994 a man was charged under section 354 for molesting an undercover police decoy by touching the policeman's penis. He was sentenced by the magistrate court to 4 months' imprisonment and 3 strokes of the cane. He appealed to the High Court against the sentencing. In the ensuing High Court case, Tan Boon Hock v PP (1994) 2 SLR 150, the Chief Justice reversed the magistrate's sentencing and imposed a fine of only $2000.
The Chief Justice ruled that imprisonment was inappropriate and a fine sufficed for a charge under section 354 because:
- (i) it was not a case where a male used criminal force to outrage the modesty of a vulnerable and unsuspecting female, and
- (ii) in such undercover police operations to weed out gays, there was implied consent by the police to be touched.
After this landmark case police operations have rarely been carried out. Even if there have been such operations since then, there have been no press reports documenting the prosection of homosexuals under section 354 for outraging the modesty of police decoys.
Section 354 requires that the police or someone be touched. However, if no physical contact is made, homosexual behaviour can also be charged under the following law.
Section 294(a) of the Penal Code (Obscene Act)
If the victim of an entrapment operation uses a symbolic gesture to signal intention to have sexual activity with the police decoy, he can be tried under section 294A of the Penal Code, which covers the commission of any obscene act in any public place to the annoyance of others (subject to a maximum of 3 months' jail, a fine, or both). From 1990 to 1994, there were 6 cases of obscene acts brought before the courts in this context. The accused were fined between $200-$800.
Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act
Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (CHAPTER 184), Part III OTHER OFFENCES, Section 19, Soliciting in public place states that:
"Every person who in any public road or public place persistently loiters or solicits for the purpose of prostitution or for any other immoral purpose shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both."
One of the most well publicised incidences of the use of the Miscellaneous Offences Act by the police against men-who-have-sex-with-men is seen in the following 1989 newspaper article:
"Police raid three transvestite and homosexual areas
25 July 1989
Marina Park, Elizabeth Walk and Hong Lim Park belong to the tourists, office workers and strollers by day. But come sundown, homosexuals and transvestites have turned these places into their haunts.
Their growing numbers and increased activities at the three locations led to police taking action against them over the weekend.
In swoops which began on Saturday and which ended yesterday, more than 120 people were taken to the Central Police Station for questioning before being released.
Police said the majority of transvestites and homosexuals moved to Hong Lim Park and other parks in the Central Business District after owners of nightclubs, lounges and other establishments were warned in February last year that they could lose their public entertainment licences if they continued to admit such groups of people as patrons.
This resulted in an exodus of homosexuals and transvestites from their haunts in the Orchard Road area, especially near Orchard Towers and Forum Galleria.
Sources said police would continue monitoring the areas within the Central Business District to ensure that such places were not used for immoral activities.
Police warned that those found repeatedly loitering or soliciting for business would be brought to book.
Under the Miscellaneous Offences Act, any person who persistently loiters or solicits for the purpose of prostitution or for any immoral purpose in any public road or place faces a maximum fine of $1,000.
Second and subsequent offenders face a maximum fine of $2,000, a jail sentence not more than six months, or both.
In the past, people have complained about being harassed by transvestites and homosexuals at Hong Lim Park.
But of more concern to the police is the possibility that these haunts could become venues for criminal activities, namely thefts and drugs."
According to documentation by National University of Singapore sociologist Laurence Leong Wai Teng, from 1990-94, there were 11 cases where gay men being charged for soliciting. They were fined between $200-$500. However, a Lawnet search revealed no reported cases of persons being charged under section 19. This does not mean, however that no persons were charged. They could have pleaded guilty and avoided trial, resulting in the absence of case law.
Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (CHAPTER 184), Part III OTHER OFFENCES, Section 20, Riotous, disorderly or indecent behaviour in, or in the immediate vicinity of, certain places states that:
"Any person who is found guilty of any riotous, disorderly or indecent behaviour in any public road or in any public place or place of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of, or in, any court, public office, police station or place of worship, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months."
This Section of the Miscellaneous Offences Act was used in the by-now infamous Club One-Seven incident when 3 undercover policemen entered a gay sauna on 23 July 2001 at about 18:55 hours, climbed over a cubicle and arrested 2 men who were having sex in it. They were charged under Section 20 and were eventually each fined $600.
Prior to 2003, homosexuals were barred from being employed in "sensitive positions" within the Singapore Civil Service. However, in the 7 July 2003 issue of Time (Asia) magazine which carried a feature article entitled The Lion in Winter examining Singapore's prevailing bleak economic climate against a wider backdrop of the economic malaise experienced by Asia's newly industrialising economies at the time, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, unprompted and of his own volition, was quoted as saying, 'So let it evolve, and in time the population will understand that some people are born that way. We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me.' He also stated that gays would henceforth be allowed to serve in sensitive positions in the Civil Service,.
An academic paper by Christopher K. K. Tan entitled "Pinking the Lion City: Interrogating Singapore's Gay Civil Servant Statement" presented in July 2005 at "Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies" held in Bangkok explored the legal basis for discrimination against homosexuals in Singapore and argued that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s June 2003 statement was not a discourse of tolerance. Data gathered from Tan's fieldwork suggested that while gay Singaporeans welcomed the statement, they also strongly doubted the Government’s sincerity. When civil servants in Tan's survey pool were asked whether their individual ministries or statutory boards had done anything to realise the statement, the answer was a uniformly resounding 'No!'
The most infamous classification is Category 302, a medical code given to personnel who are "homosexuals, transvestites, paedophiles, etc."
This code was derived from an old version of the ICD's (International Classification of Diseases) codes for mental disorders. The ICD is the World Health Organisation's (WHO) health care classification system which provides a system of diagnostic codes for classifying diseases for epidemiology, health management and clinical purposes.
The SAF's Category 302 bears exactly the same number as the ICD-9's (ICD-9th revision, published in the mid-1970s) codes for psychosexual disorders.
However, it must be noted that homosexuality had been declassified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation in 1990. Even its now-defunct ICD-9 code 302 for psychosexual disorders which included zoophilia, paedophila and satyriasis, amongst others, left out homosexuality. The ICD is currently in its 10th revision (ICD-10, published in 1992) and its Chapter V, which deals with mental and behavioural disorders, has overhauled its predecessor's codes entirely - the number 302 is nowhere to be found.
Category 302 (popularly referred to as "cat 302" or simply "302") homosexual soldiers are further classified into those "with effeminate behaviour" and those "without effeminate behaviour". It is not known why the SAF persists in using such an outdated classification of homosexuality in its assessment of the medical fitness of recruits. Homosexuality was depathologised by the American Psychiatric Association as far back as 1973, by the WHO in 1990 and is not regarded as a psychiatric condition by the local medical profession either. This refusal to jettison an archaic medical concept of homosexuality engenders discrimination because the military's grouping of homosexuality together with transvestism and paedophilia further reinforces the general public's misconception that it is abnormal.
It is therefore not surprising that "302" has become derogatory army slang for an effeminate soldier.
Self-declared or discovered servicemen are referred to the Psychological Medicine Branch of the Headquarters of Medical Services (HQMS) for a thorough psychiatric assessment, which involves their parents being called in for an interview.
They are medically downgraded to a Public Employment Status of C (PES C), regardless of their level of fitness, and put through modified Basic Military Training. On graduation, they are deployed in a vocation which has no security risks, posted to non-sensitive units and given a security status which restricts their access to classified documents.
Formerly, Category 302 personnel were not allowed to stay overnight in-camp, nor were they required to perform night duties, but these restrictions have been relaxed. Effeminate homosexuals are also posted to a holding list upon completion of National Service and not required to do reservist training, whilst non-effeminate ones have undergo it in non-sensitive units.
A less well known classification is Category 30-B, a medical code given to servicemen "with effeminate behaviour not amounting to sexual disorders". These individuals are further subdivided into "mildly effeminate", "effeminate" and "severely effeminate". Presumbly, this group only includes effeminate heterosexual men and not homosexuals, so there have historically been very few servicement slapped with this label; hence, its relative obscurity.
Ministry of Education
No teacher is allowed to be openly gay. There probably exists a directive explicitly stating this. The irrational fear is that openly gay teachers will influence their students to become gay, a fallacy which has been completely refuted by census studies and medical opinion - that the proportion of gay and lesbians in any population in the world is relatively constant at 3 to 5% and that sexual orientation is largely determined by biological factors during the perinatal period.
The most prominent case was that of Otto Fong, a well known comic artist, playwright and science teacher at Raffles Institution, whose coming out in his blog entry in September 2007 caused a furor within the school and entire Ministry which forced him to remove it.
Also, award-winning writer, poet and playwright Alfian Sa'at, who is openly gay, was refused employment as a relief teacher even though he scored the highest "A"-level results in Singapore and had written many highly commended and popular novels and plays.
On 25 February 2014, a website named "Calling It Out!" was set up to collect stories of homophobic bullying in Singapore schools. It garnered shocking stories which detailed the official sanctioning of mistreatment of LGBT students.
Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports
In January 2006 the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) granted S$100,000 (US$61,500) to Liberty League, an organisation affiliated with the so called ex-gay movement which "promotes gender and sexual health for the individual, family and society".
(Main article: Singapore gay censorship)
On 15 July 1996, the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) issued Notification no. 2400/96 which specified a Code of Practice which covered not only the Internet, but also all broadcast media, including television. The foreword to the Code of Practice stated:
- "The Singapore Broadcasting Authority Act (Cap. 297) makes it the statutory duty of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority to ensure that nothing is included in any broadcasting service which is against public interest or order, national harmony or which offends against good taste or decency."
Among the material to be prohibited were:
- "Contents which depict or propagate sexual perversions such as homosexuality, lesbianism, and paedophilia."
Owing to the ignorance of the SBA that homosexuality and lesbianism were not 'sexual perversions' according to prevailing international medical opinion but variations of the norm, and widespread public dissatisfaction with the vague, inaccurate and unnecessarily restrictive wording of the Code of Practice, it was revised on 1 November 1997 to state:
- "whether the material advocates homosexuality or lesbianism, or depicts or promotes incest, paedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia".
While being a quantum leap from incorrectly labelling homosexuality a sexual perversion, the non-specification of what exactly "advocates homosexuality" made it a taboo subject for television documentaries for 7 years following the first issueing of the Code.
The penalty for media licencees flouting the Code was a hefty fine, as Channel i, the now-defunct English-language sister channel of Channel U, discovered after it aired an interview with Anne Heche in 2003. During the interview, Heche spoke about her lesbian relationship with Ellen deGeneres, amongst other things. Channel i was subsequently fined $15,000 by SBA, the broadcasting watchdog, for "justifying, promoting and glamourising homosexuality".
In September 2003, the 22-member Censorship Review Committee, made up of private sector and government representatives who had been appointed in April 2002 to do a once-in-a-decade censorship review, announced that the censorship authorities would relax their ban on gay-themed movies, plays, broadcasts and publications. These included allowing films with homosexual themes to be screened at cinemas rather than film festivals.
- Fridae articles on serving National Service as an openly gay man, by Lim Chi-Sharn and his mother, Suchen Christine Lim:,,.
- Blowing Wind discussions on being gay in the army:
Declaring 302 status:
Is It Better To Declare Gay/302?:
NS Specialist Declaring 302 During Service:
Questions About Military/NS - Enlistment/Medical Checkup/ORD (Compiled):