Gay group seeks permit to hold mini-congress

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 May, 2000, 12:00am

Homosexuals have decided to test homophobic authorities by applying for a police permit to hold a mini-congress in the conservative city-state.

Their move comes amid what is seen as a hardline stance by officials against homosexuals and their activities.

'It's a tip-toe into the water, so to speak, because this will be the first time anyone knows of where we will apply for a public entertainment licence for an event with gay and lesbian writ large in the theme,' gay rights activist Alex Au said yesterday.

Organisers intend to submit their application this week for the half-day forum on May 28.

Police licences are required in Singapore for all public gatherings of more than eight people, irrespective of the topic.

It is not illegal to be gay in Singapore, but it remains illegal to conduct any homosexual acts, either in private or public. Most other former British colonies lifted such restrictions for consenting adults long ago.

All past attempts by activists to register a gay and lesbian society in Singapore since 1993 have been rejected without explanation.

Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the country's patriarch, made his position clear on this rarely discussed issue on a CNN television phone-in show three years ago.

'Singaporeans are, by and large, a very conservative, orthodox society, completely different from, say, the United States, and I don't think an aggressive gay rights movement would help,' said Mr Lee.

'But what we are doing as a government is to leave people to live their own lives so long as they don't impinge on other people. I mean, we don't harass anybody.' Under Singapore's Penal Code, anyone who voluntarily has carnal intercourse 'against the order of nature' with any man, woman or animal can be jailed for life and fined. Also, any male abetting or procuring 'an act of gross indecency' with another man can be jailed for up to two years.

Lawyers have interpreted this to mean any overt sexual act that does not lead to vaginal intercourse, including oral sex, sodomy and cunnilingus.

A Court of Appeal clarified the issue a few years ago by ruling that mixed couples were allowed to engage in oral sex and cunnilingus as foreplay before vaginal sex, but that without the follow through to vaginal sex both were considered 'unnatural'.

Singapore's gay community believes police no longer actively search for people engaging in 'unnatural' acts. However, they do regularly act and prosecute if one partner files a complaint.

A heterosexual male was recently prosecuted after his dumped girlfriend complained he had sodomised her.

So far, no lesbians have ever been prosecuted. However, an entire episode of the hit American television series Ally McBeal was recently banned because it showed lawyer Ally, played by Calista Flockhart, and co-worker Ling Woo, played by Lucy Liu, kissing during an experimental date.

Although no gay and lesbian societies have been allowed in Singapore, small gatherings of like-minded friends take place discreetly to discuss sexuality and common concerns. A few nightclubs stage gay and lesbian nights, but they are not openly promoted. Boom Boom Room, a cabaret club fronted by comic transvestite Kumar, recently closed, but not due to government pressure.

In addition, several Internet Web sites have also been created by the local gay and lesbian community to act as discussion forums and information sites. So far, none has been blocked.