Taking action

Gay sex ban in Singapore challenged by this man’s new legal action

Dr Roy Tan (Photo: Facebook)

A 61-year-old retired general practitioner in Singapore has filed a legal action against the government to end the country’s ban on gay sex.

Dr. Roy Tan, a local activist for LGBTQ rights and one of the former founders of the Pink Dot festival, filed his action last weekend.

Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code criminalizes acts of ‘gross indecency’ between men with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment. Tan calls the Colonial-era law, “A relic of the Victorian age.”

Related: Singapore Mega-Pastor Calls Repeal Of Gay-Sex Law “A Looming Threat”

Tan says the archaic law suggests gross indecency can only take place between two men when acts of gross indecency can also take place between two women or a man and a woman. Because of this, it should be ruled unconstitutional and dropped.

He also points to a discrepancy between the police being obliged to investigate all complaints made relating to 377A and the public prosecutor using its discretion not to prosecute those acts conducted in private. He says this causes gay men unnecessary distress.

Singapore has been under increasing pressure to review its criminalization of gay sex in recent years. This has ramped up since the Supreme Court in India dropped the country’s gay sex ban last year.

Getting countries to drop their laws against gay sex either involves governments voting in new laws, or the highest courts in the land decreeing old laws to be unconstitutional or obsolete.

It’s the latter method that many activists around the world are pursuing in places such as Jamaica and Singapore.

Since India decriminalized gay sex last year, two other men have filed action against the Singapore government.

Local DJ, Johnson Ong, also known as Big Kid, launched an action in September. LGBTQ rights advocate Bryan Choong filed another last November.

Dr Roy Tan carries a rainbow flag at the 2010 Singapore Chingay Parade (Photo: Supplied)

The court has yet to rule on any of the challenges. Tan tells Queerty a pre-trial conference for his challenge has been set for October 8, 2019. When the High Court then issues a ruling is unknown. It could be within months or more than a year.

In a statement, Tan says, “This anachronistic law adversely affects the lives of gay men. By institutionalizing discrimination, it alienates them from having a sense of belonging and purposeful place in our society, and prevents them from taking pride in Singapore’s achievements.”

“On a personal and professional level, I am extremely concerned about the mental and physical health aspects of retaining Section 377A.

“In my practice, I regularly see how the law can adversely impact the mental health of LGBT people, who frequently present with depression, social isolation, and even suicidal tendencies.”

Related: Singaporean singer Wils comes out in music video with his boyfriend as the leading man

Speaking to Queerty, Tan said, “I feel frustrated, dejected and somewhat angry that our government and courts have refused to repeal this archaic law even as many other Commonwealth countries who, like us, inherited anti-gay laws from the Indian Penal Code drafted by the British during colonial times, have already done so.”

He said Singapore’s Religious right “wields influence out of proportion to its numbers”, and many Singaporeans remain conservative in their attitudes.

“If the government were to take the lead, ignoring popular opinion, and reverse its stance, the populace would accordingly change its attitudes too as we are very much a top-down society when it comes to governance and mindset. ”

“Regardless of the causes, as long as Section 377A remains on the statute books, we will never give up trying to get it struck down.”