Resistance and Subversion: Queer Movements across Asia – Singapore

Written by Cassandra Thng for the QA Blog series Resistance and Subversion curated by QA 2018 committee member Ismail Shogo

(Image Credit: Dear Straight People)

With the enforcement of the Public Order Act, public displays of resistance in Singapore have been restricted to peaceful, state-supervised events at areas such as Hong Lim Park, a designated area of protest. The Public Order Act regulates the conduct of individuals and groups when they are in public. At the nexus upon which LGBTQ+ resistance manifests, various issues have been widely contested. These include:

  • Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises consensual sex between men.
  • Section 12 of the Women’s Charter titled “Avoidance of Same-Sex Marriages” and its consequences – namely intestacy, visitation rights, etc.
  • Guidelines enacted by the Media Development Authority on representations of “alternative lifestyles” and concurrent governmental censorship of queer content.
  • Directives sanctioned by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority that require proof of surgery before transgender individuals can change their gender marker, despite the ambiguous wording of “sex re-assignment procedure” in Section 377(c) of the Penal Code and Section 12(2) of the Women’s Charter.

In manoeuvring through tough laws and social pressures, local LGBTQ+ resistance rests upon the principle of non-confrontation – through art, film, music, events, social media.

Having been a part of this resistance in various ways, most notably when I walked along Singapore’s main shopping district, Orchard Road, with a placard that read “I am trans, will you take a photo with me?”, I too have ostensibly bowed to the principle of non-confrontation. Onlookers had the choice to engage with me or ignore me. It was interesting to watch as people chose to interact with me disapprovingly, their brows furrowed; frowning; giving space. It is only when we claim this space however and the right to exist, whether publicly or otherwise, that resistance draws attention. Consequently, this leads to eventual normalisation. 

Image 3 Singapore

Singapore’s annual LGBTQ+ rally, Pink Dot, that had begun in 2009 (Photo Credit: The Online Citizen)

Non-confrontational LGBTQ+ resistance however has been mirrored by a conservative backlash, one that has be . The iconic Wear White movement, for example, is one case of counter-resistance to the local pride movement, Pink Dot. This concerted, conservative, effort has sought to preserve the status quo  of heteronormativity – a direct response to existing LGBTQ+ resistance in Singapore. Yet LGBTQ+ resistance in Singapore is gaining steam, as demonstrated by the growing size of and support for Pink Dot that gathers annually those who support gay rights, despite recent government intervention that prohibits foreign funding and participation of the event. The growing awareness surrounding queer arts festivals like IndigNation, increasing relevance of support and counselling centres like Oogachaga, as well as widening resources by and for LGBTQ+ individuals in Singapore also testify to this fact. The way that LGBTQ+ resistance has been and is evolving in Singapore means that there will be an ever-increasing number of opportunities for awareness and integration. We have begun to claim our places more visibly, and that is one step towards equality.

Cassandra Thng is a trans activist in Singapore whose personal activist work has been featured by news publications. She is also currently serving as PR director for the Inter-University LGBT Network, and is part of the transgendersg.com team. She is attempting to join queer women’s group Sayoni in the upcoming CEDAW cycle.

In this series: 

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