Title: Who'll be next? Credit: Craig Young Comment Tuesday 14th December 2010 - 11:04am1292277840 Article: 9691 Rights
Will Singapore or Lebanon become the next state to decriminalise male homosexuality? In 2004, I last reported on Singapore's courageous LGBT communities. Six years later, what has changed? The Republic of Singapore has a diverse, multicultural society consisting of Chinese, Malay, Indian and other Asian ethnicities. It has been an independent city-state since 1965, when it was expelled from the Federation of Malaysia, although it had achieved self-government in 1959. Since then, Singapore has been ruled by the Peoples Action Party in its single chamber parliamentary assembly. It has five million inhabitants. In some ways, Singapore is quite conservative. It resorts to corporal punishment for sexual violence, assault, rioting, drug use and vandalism, while capital punishment exists for more serious crimes like first degree murder, firearms crimes and drug dealing...although given the proximity of heroin and crystal meth supply routes from South-East Asia, one might expect drug laws to be strict. That said, it has a large, well-educated LGBT activist infrastructure and aspirations for legislative reform cannot be obstructed forever. Sooner or later, rising pressure for reform must result in some permanent, positive resolution. Buddhism is the dominant religious philosophy, comprising nearly half the population, mostly of the Chinese Mahayana tradition, with Christians and Muslims numbering fifteen percent apiece. Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code forbids 'gross indecency between males' and carries a two year prison sentence. Section 354 prevents 'outrages against modesty' (so don't make an unsolicited pass at anyone!), while Section 294A deals with 'public nuisance." Soliciting for sex work purposes is illegal under Section 19 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. These might seem formidable barriers in theory, but in practice, Singapore's LGBT commercial and political scene has grown apace since the nineties, and there is also strong support for decriminalisation from the legal fraternity. Against this, however, the Singapore government has refused to repeal Section 377A, retaining penalties against male homosexuality when it last debated the issue in 2007. However, a court challenge may clarify matters. Like Singapore, Lebanon has a healthy and pluralist civil society insofar as sexual orientation and LGBT rights are concerned. At present, it is the only Arab nation to house an indigenous LGBT rights group, Helem (Hope). At the same time, given the proximity of neighbouring Iraq and Syria, there are restive Shia Islamist fundamentalist elements. Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code bans those sexual acts that are against the laws of nature- 'sodomy', straight extramarital sex, nonmonogamous straight sex and so on. They carry a one year imprisonment penalty, but their enforcement varies (although it is reported lesbians and gay men are occassionally imprisoned). Goods and service discrimination and nightclub raids still occur, and some Lebanese gay men have sought sanctuary through asylum outside the country. However, military service discrimination doesn't occur, and Beirut has a growing and thriving commercial scene. There was even an LGBT rights protest there in 2009, and the fifties pro-decriminalisation UK film Victim was shown at a university in 2004. In Batroun, one Lebanese judge has struck down Article 534. Which country will be next to emancipate its LGBT citizens? Watch this space! Recommended: LGBT rights in Singapore: Fridae: Singaporean LGBT news and events site: Yawning Bread: Singaporean LGBT activist site: Helem: Meem (Lebanese lesbians): LGBT rights in Lebanon: Craig Young - 14th December 2010    
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