Gays still persecuted in Singapore

I am glad that Austin Shiner, as an admissions officer of Yale-NUS and a new public face of that emerging institution, is so gay-friendly (“Gay night in Singapore,” April 2). It is also nice to see him concede the value of civil liberties. Such a stance cannot be taken for granted in Singapore.

Shiner complains of a “mischaracteriz[ation] of Singapore as a place exceptionally intolerant of homosexuality.” But before making statements on the matter, Shiner should read the essays by Professors Audrey Yue and Michael Hor available on the “Yale and Singapore” Classes.v2 page. If Shiner is by his own admission “no expert on gay life in Singapore,” these professors are. Yue points out that Singapore’s Section 377A banning male homosexual conduct “is retained as an ambivalent but pragmatic tool for minimising risk and instigating fear.” Hor, who teaches law at NUS, demonstrates that 377A is still being enforced, without any “legitimate or sensible reason.” The Attorney General of Singapore said in 2008 — after a new compromise on homosexuality — “It is still against the law and we still prosecute if there’s a need.” That remains the stated policy.

The point has never been the mere presence on the books of Section 377A but rather that the law, enforced in a wider context of censorship, self-censorship and intimidation, makes Singapore unsuitable, for now.

Many of us need no lessons on homophobia in the United States. But specious, nonsensical equivalencies — Rick Santorum’s bigotry in the U.S. means that Yale should be in Singapore — serve no purpose.

Christopher Miller

April 2

The writer is the Frederick Clifford professor of African-American Studies and French.

On gay rights, America is exceptional

While I share Austin Shiner’s satisfaction with Singapore’s progress on gay rights in recent years (“Gay night in Singapore,” April 2), I reject the notion that Singapore is no more regressive than the United States.

Shiner contrasts Rick Santorum’s candidacy with the lack of an equivalent in Singapore. This could very well be because dissent and opposition candidates in Singapore are marginalized and blocked by the ruling party — not because an intolerant candidate wouldn’t be viable. It is unclear what would happen if truly democratic elections were held. Through an elaborate system of gerrymandering, media influence and restrictive legislation, the Singaporean government erects a number of barriers to open political conversation.

Shiner also doubts the fact that America is far ahead of Singapore on LGBT rights, again pointing to Santorum and his supporters, whose statements on gay rights, women’s rights and basic civil liberties horrif[y] me and many Yalies. But even GOP primary voters — who are more intolerant than the typical American — are rejecting Santorum. We can openly reject these positions and this behavior and advocate for a more reasonable and progressive alternative, unlike the system in Singapore.

In the past ten years we’ve seen eight states approve gay marriage. We’ve seen DADT repealed. The Obama Administration has refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. Openly gay men serve in Congress. Though we still have a long way to go, there has been significant progress in the United States. Singapore, in contrast, did not even allow gays to rally in public until 2009 and does not have the political infrastructure to support meaningful political action in support of more progressive policies. I fail to see how the two countries are equally regressive on gay rights or civil liberties more broadly.

Thomas Dec

April 2

The writer is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.