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Singapore’s High Court upholds colonial-era ban on homosexuality

The news has come as a huge blow to LGBTQ activists in the southeast Asian city-state.

By Will Stroude

Singapore’s High Court has upheld a colonial-era ban on homosexuality, in a huge blow for the southeast Asian city-state’s LGBTQ community.

Judges in Singapore’s highest court has dismissed a constitional challenge against Section 377A of the country’s penal code banning male same-sex intimacy, the Human Dignity Trust announced on Tuesday (30 March).

Same-sex sexual activity between men has been illegal in Singapore since the British imposed Section 377A in the 1930s during the colonial era.

While rarely enforced, men who commit ‘gross indenency’ with another man or attempts to procure sex can be jailed for up to two year.

While same-sex sexual activity between women is techincally legal, campaigners argue the law represses the wider LGBTQ community as a whole.

The now-dismissed case had been brought by three men: Johnson Ong Ming, a 43-year-old disc jockey and producer; 42-year-old Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, the former executive director of LGBT organisation Oogachaga; and Roy Tan Seng Kee, a 61-year-old retired medical doctor.

Activists had been inspired to launch a fresh challenge against Section 377A following the historic repeal of India’s colonial-era anti-gay law in 2018, and expressed their dismay at the case’s dismissal.

“In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the Court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively un-apprehended criminals,’ said Téa Braun, Director of the Human Dignity Trust (HDT).

“This decision will be extremely disappointing for the plaintiffs and the wider LGBT community in Singapore, who had great hopes that new evidence presented to the Court would make it clear that these draconian laws cannot withstand proper constitutional scrutiny.

“The ruling will also echo harmfully around Asia, where millions of people are criminalised simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Despite homosexuality continuing to be banned in Singapore, a Pride event named Pink Dot has taken place annually since 2009.

In 2018, Li Huanwu, the grandson of Singapore’s ‘founding father’ Lee Kuan Yew, came out publicly, becoming a rare openly gay public figure in the city.