The tragedy in Orlando this week has brought up many different issues; internalized homophobia, violence against LGBT community, religious fanaticism and gun laws in the US.
Minister of Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam offered his and the government’s condolences to the victims and reiterated that they will protect all its people.
The Government will protect its people regardless of race, religion or sexuality, Minister of Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said at the Khadijah Mosque on Tuesday (June 14).
“It looks like the gay community has been targeted. This is unacceptable. Violence against any group in any form is not acceptable. Here, the government will act decisively if there is threat of violence against anyone or any group. The government’s duty is to protect everyone.
“Their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, that’s not relevant,” he said, in the aftermath of a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando last Sunday, when a lone attacker called Omar Mateen gunned down some 50 people in the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
Yes, its a heartfelt condolence and sincere no doubt, but to many in the LGBT community, it rings hollow in view of the law and how the government allows and enforces its view in the public sphere.
To start with, of the 3 categories stated in his speech, race, religion and sexuality (or sexual orientation), only sexual orientation and specifically men are criminals in the name of the law. There are no laws against people of Malay, Indian or Chinese ethnicity, in fact, there are laws protecting against any discrimination or violence because of their “race”. The same goes to the recognized religion; there are no laws penalizing one because of his religious belief (okay, I take a caveat on this as some “extreme or political” religions are banned in Singapore) nor if they were to switch religions. In fact, even though polygamy is illegal in Singapore, Muslim men are protected by law and are allowed to have more than one wife. The same with exemptions of Sikh men having to wear motorcycle helmets on the roads.
Secondly, of course the government will protect its people, they are supposed to. Even if someone were to take hostage in little India, the red district or at the maximum security prison and threaten to kill or bomb all migrant workers, prostitutes or hardened criminals, the government will do its best to rescue and protect everyone, even the foreigners. Its just something really nice to say and looks good on paper, but really means nothing.
Like I said, I don’t doubt the sincerity of their message. Just as 2 years ago when the #wearwhite movement, which was started by some fringe anti-gay Muslim persons, gained momentum, I am very sure that the govt must have prodded the relevant religious bodies to issue corrective statements to prevent those same fringe elements in the #wearwhite movement from acts of violence against people during Pink Dot. Personally, it was a scary time to go Pink Dot then, because a lot of us, I believe, are expecting scenes where extremists coming into Pink Dot with knives and rods and start stabbing or beating people up. The government did the correct thing in stamping out violence before it could happen in this case.
The thing is, acts of violence is not something that you see only in a big event like a shoot out. To put it bluntly, if one is killed during one of those times, the act of violence stops at the point for them. But what is more pertinent are the daily acts of violence and hatred that many in the LGBT community have to bear with in their lives as they continue to live and have lived.
The penal code 377a and the so-called “lack of enforcement” aside, it is still a valid and enforceable law. And this is root of violence where we have MDA shutting down a scene in Les Miserables where two men were seen kissing on stage, but songs and acts depicting prostitution, justified stealing, dishonesty, greed, chain-gangs and violence are allowed. What “values” are the government trying to convey to the public and indeed the youngsters watching such a show? That two men kissing is worst than prostitution, stealing and fighting? Doesn’t this meaning the acts of violence like fighting and killing is preferred over two men kissing?
Acts of violence is not just physical, acts of violence towards the mind is worst. At the very least, one can recover from physical violence. However, violence of the mind either due to family, friends, religion or the state on a daily basis creates self-hatred, self-doubt, suppressed anger, depression and many other pathological behaviors. In many way, folks in the LGBT community in Singapore don’t “die’ because of shoot outs or targeted physical violence (But I have to say that transgender community is probably amongst the highest though), rather, to me, its from suicides, drug addiction and overdose, being chased out of the family, being demonize by religion, being homeless, fearing one’s identity, internalized homophobia, fear of losing your job, etc.
If the government is serious about protected LGBT community from acts of violence, it is these that they should be looking at to protect and just the token template reply and the first step is really to repeal 377a.
Repealing the law aside, not having laws that protect against discrimination ensures that the some civil servants can withhold security checks when getting a job in the government sector just so that your potential boss will ask “Why is it taking so long” and the reply question is “Do you know that your candidate is gay?”; it ensures that a shelter for homeless transgender persons have to remain in secrecy just in the case the neighbors got to know about it, complained and the landlord had to evict them.
So if the government is really sincere about protecting the LGBT community, at the very least, they should remove the laws that the sanctions acts of violence against people from the LGBT community and institute proper anti-discrimination laws.
Talk is cheap, show me the money!