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Sayoni Camp: An Enduring Journey Crafted for Women by Women

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Sayoni Camp

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This year, Sayoni Camp offers the opportunity to get in touch with yourself and start a journey to becoming your intrinsic, authentic self.

Do the words authentic self, emotional self, life position, resilience, well-anchored, contentment and presence stir something in you? If so, this camp is for you. Get to know the self. Be empowered with insight into how you have been automatically operating. Transform your current life position and get to a place you desire to be.

Self-discovery is also about fun. We promise excitement and loads of laughter if you are willing to come play with us! You will be in the company of like-minded women in an atmosphere created for self-discovery. Previous campers have raved about the surprises and joys they have experienced – you can too.

This camp will be led by two facilitators and supported by volunteers who are devoted to the empowerment of women. Much effort and heart has gone into planning this to create a safe, conducive environment for your fun and growth.

Click here to find out more about the camp! Sign up before 30 June 2016 to enjoy an early bird discount.

Sayoni Camp 2016

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Announcements

Sayoni Camp is back! Our self-development getaway will run from 6-8 August 2016. Make new friends, have fun in the sun, and enjoy a journey of discovery!

We aim to provide a fun-filled and meaningful experience for all campers. Our goal is to promote self-development and growth.

We welcome all queer women to join us for an unforgettable weekend getaway. Limited early bird rate ends 30 June.

Update: Thanks to all participants and facilitators for a meaningful, fun-filled camp!

The Chiongs on Queer Politics, Media and Kids

Written by alina on . Posted in Family

Sayoni sat down for a chat with Olivia and Irene Chiong last year. The Chiongs have been receiving some attention in recent years, with Olivia’s blog gaining traction online and their same-sex parenting group (Rainbow Parents) advocating for equality for LGBT parents and children. But over the course of the interview, it became clear that Irene and Olivia do not want to be solely defined by their same-sex parenting activism. Other topics that came up in the course of the chat included media representation, children's rights, and queer politics. Olivia has released her first book, The Unbusy Entrepreneur and is taking preorders for her second book, titled Baby Zoey: Our Search for Life and Family.

Note: The views represented here are those of the individuals and may not represent Sayoni's stand.


Irene (left) and Olivia. Photo courtesy of the Chiongs


How would you describe yourself?


Irene: I've done quite a bit of queer activism and language activism, working on issues that affect me personally. I would like to work on issues that don't affect me personally, like racism or transgender issues. I'm a queer parent. I'm also interested in the intersections between feminism and the tech space; other related issues are sex work, queer rights and transgender rights. I don't want to use the umbrella term "queer rights" to cover transgender rights, because there are unique challenges.

Olivia: I'm an accidental activist. Still accidental after all these years. I like to think that I put my family first at this point in my life. I'm enjoying my work and hoping to build an empire helping small business owners. My politics are different from Irene's, in that I'm passionate about things that touch me personally. For example, encountering someone who is transgender helped me to understand and want to contribute to that.

What's the image you're trying to present?

Irene: I'm not trying to present an image, but I don't want to buy into the thinking that queer rights is based on being safe, monogamous and having children. It should not be the case. So part of me is thinks that we shouldn't be so visible, not because I am closeted, but because queer rights is about everybody.

You mean it should be about the whole spectrum of queer people and not just a certain group.

Irene: Yeah, not only monogamous, married queer couples are entitled to certain rights. I'm quite uncomfortable with using couples or families as the face for queer rights.

Sayoni's Letter to ST Forum on Sexual Abuse Article

Written by alina on . Posted in Advocacy


This is Sayoni's unpublished letter to the Straits Times Forum following its report on a transgender man who sexually abused a minor ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"). We feel strongly about this issue and hope that the mainstream media will strive for more accuracy and respect in its reports about LGBTQ persons. Thanks to all who contributed to the writing of this letter.

Using incorrect pronouns for transgender people reinforces stigma

Sexual abuse is a serious crime. We at Sayoni, a community of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, condemn it regardless of age and gender. The emotional and psychological effects of abuse can last many years. However, we find that the language used in the recent report ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"; Dec 8) is damaging to transgender people, reproducing negative stereotypes.

Firstly, describing the accused’s gender identity as ‘a bogus identity’ is inaccurate. According to the article, he has already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and should, therefore, be identified using male pronouns or by his name.

Failing to do so misrecognises a transgender person’s chosen identity. It does not acknowledge that transgender people may have good reason not to reveal their sex at birth, such as facing potential rejection by partners or family members or discrimination and violence from members of society.

The choice of words also undermines the legitimacy of a transgender person’s family life. For instance, scare quotes are unnecessary when referring to the accused's partners and daughter. Diverse families that go beyond the traditional heterosexual structures are being formed every day. But these families lack the state assistance given to the conventional family unit, such as Personal Protection Orders against abusive partners.

Furthermore, is the accused’s gender identity relevant to a case of sexual assault of a minor? The real issue is the act of abuse, the harm to the child and the power imbalance between the minor and the adult.

Transgender people already face a disproportional amount of discrimination and violence in their lives. In our move to become an inclusive society that seeks to build strong families and communities, we caution against reporting that disparages transgender individuals. We hope that the media can present gender identity fairly and avoid further stigmatising an already marginalised group of people.

UPR Statement by Sayoni at UPR Pre-Session

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Advocacy

Sayoni's Jean (right) with We Believe in Second Chances at the UPR Pre-session.
Sayoni's Jean (right) with We Believe in Second Chances at the UPR Pre-session.

STATEMENT by SAYONI
On behalf of the LGBTQ communities in Singapore
UPR Pre-Session, Geneva, 16th December 2015


Dear representatives of the Permanent Missions,

1- Presentation of the Organisation

This statement is delivered on behalf of SAYONI, a queer women’s group which works to organise and advocate for the human rights of all LGBTQ persons based in Singapore. Sayoni submitted two UPR reports to this session. First, together with a coalition of 10 civil society groups named the ‘Alliance of Like-minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS) as a civil society stakeholder to highlight the intersectional discrimination of LGBTQ individuals in the civil and political space. Second, with a coalition of international LGBTQ organisations and national groups to point out the systematic discrimination faced by LGBTQ persons in Singapore


2-
National consultations for the drafting of the national report

There were one grassroots open consultation held in January 2015 by Sayoni and about 30 individuals and groups attended. There were two national consultations held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which approximately 20 NGOs attended. A third subsequent dialogue session was arranged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the civil society coalition I am part of, ALMOS.


3-
Plan of the Statement

The statement will address:

I. Criminalisation of consensual sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore

II. The right to freedom of expression - Media censorship, disallowing neutral or positive portrayal of LGBTQ persons

III. The right to freedom of association - To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations with the authorities as a Society or Non-Profit Organisation

IV. The right to family life for LGBTQ persons

V. Rights of Transgender people

VI. Workplace discrimination


4-
Statement

I. Section 377A of the Penal Code

A. Follow-up to the first review

In the first cycle of the UPR, France raised the question of the abolishment of the provisions of the Penal Code related to private relations between consenting adults, which was noted by the state of Singapore. Similarly, the issues related to sexual orientation were raised by the UK, and in advance by Canada, Ireland and The Netherlands.


B.
New developments since the last review

In reply, the state has consistently stated that there is no discrimination towards LGBTQ persons in Singapore and Section 377A has not been proactively enforced. We think that the state is being misleading and ignoring the cascading and intersectional effects of 377A.

Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code criminalises "acts of gross indecency" between men, including sodomy, and imposes a term of up to 2 years' imprisonment. The section applies specifically to men, and may be applied regardless of whether those acts are committed in public or private spaces. The continuing criminalisation of sexual activity between men, together with the legislative and administrative framework of discrimination against LGBT persons, constitutes violations by Singapore of a number of rights under international human rights law, including the right to privacy and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

In October 2014, the Singaporean Court of Appeal ruled to uphold the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, international non-governmental organisations and Singaporean LGBT groups have expressed dissatisfaction at the Court's decision. Despite government claims that 377A will not be enforced, gay men continue to live under the threat of harassment and enforcement of this section. It also influences public policy formulation that discriminates against the entire LGBT community.


C.
Recommendations

Repeal legal provisions criminalising sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex

II. Right to Freedom of Expression - Media Censorship

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
Developments since the first review

The Media Development Authority Act, the Films Act and the Broadcasting Act empower the Media Development Authority (MDA) to ban, classify and, through licensing, restrict the content of various media. The MDA effectuates these powers through conditions attached to licences that it issues, and through published "guidelines" which include prohibitions and restrictions on material with LGBT characters and themes. E.g. film and free-to-air television classification guidelines say: "Films should not promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle. However, non-exploitative and non-explicit depictions of sexual activity between two persons of the same gender may be considered for R21" (R21 means viewings restricted to adults of 21 years and above).

In practice, these guidelines are treated as binding rather than advisory and are interpreted in risk-averse ways, with films and television programmes containing LGBT themes and characters censored or restricted even when no sex is involved, either by the MDA itself or by producers required to abide by the MDA's licence conditions.

Depictions of LGBT characters in a normal or positive light, or any speech that advocates for their dignity and rights are routinely cut out or barred. The result of this stereotypical, negative and skewed depiction is a perpetuation of prejudice and stigma to the public of the LGBT community. Such censorship policy also means that LGBT persons are deprived of positive role models in the media, reinforcing low self-esteem and rendering them accepting of discrimination and rights abuses.


C.
Recommendations

We therefore urge that the continued practice of state-sponsored censorship in the media to be raised during the upcoming UPR, and that the following recommendations are made. To:

· Remove all censorship policies/guidelines that allow for the discriminatory treatment of LGBT-related material and viewpoints

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 19 protects the right to the freedom of expression.


III.
The right to freedom of association. To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

The Societies Act gives discretionary power to the Registrar of Societies to approve or disapprove a society (defined as any group with ten or more persons), with appeals against his decision directed to the minister in charge. The Societies Act does not require the Registrar or the minister to give reasons for whatever decision they make. Section 14 of this Act defines any unregistered society as an "unlawful society" whose leaders and members are liable to criminal prosecution.

LGBT groups were denied registration by the Registrar of Societies and given reasons like "contrary to the national interest" as response. No elaboration was given on how LGBT interests could be contrary to the national interest. In recent years, LGBT organizations have also not been allowed to register as non-profit organisations and given the same reason. Thus, LGBT groups operate under the threat of arrest and prosecution. Even without such clampdowns, the lack of legal status means an inability to self-actualise, organise or raise funds in any organised way, and denial of access to mainstream media as well as other public or private services wary of giving legitimacy to unregistered groups.


C.
Recommendations

· Allow registration of LGBT-related groups under the Societies Act or as non-profit organisations.

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 22 protects the right to freedom of association.


IV.
The right to family life - Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter that defines marriage as between a man and a woman

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

Neither the law nor the state recognises same-sex relationships. Even marriages contracted in other jurisdictions between same-sex partners are specifically not recognised in Singapore. Under Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, this has been a major cause of discrimination and lack of protection as experienced by same-sex couples and those in transnational same-sex marriages in Singapore. In particular, legally married transnational same-sex couples have not been able to stay in the same country as their legal spouse.

Consequently, many benefits and rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples are denied to same-sex couples. These include employee benefits that extend to spouses, medical visitation and next-of-kin rights, rights to purchase subsidised public housing from the state and tax breaks for married couples.

Children born in same-sex families do not enjoy the same rights, benefits or tax breaks as other children since the legal standard is applied to them as a single parent. These children do not enjoy the same legal rights and hence have no way to be legally cared for and maintained by the non-legal parent, the right to have guaranteed continuity in the event of separation of the same-sex couple or the death of the legal parent, or even to acquire kinship with the non-legal parent.


C.
Recommendations

· Amend Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter and permit registration of same-sex marriages.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights and duties of same-sex partners.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights of children from same-sex households.

V. Rights of Transgender people

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

The National Registration Act requires each citizen to be issued with an identity card and to have recorded such details as the Commissioner of National Registration requires. This includes one's sex and race.

The administrative practice is that a transgender person has their sex at birth recorded on the identity card even when the person clearly identifies with and presents themselves as someone of the opposite gender. The “sex” entry on the identity card, and by extension the passport, is not changed unless the individual can prove that he or she has undergone the full scope of sex-reassignment surgery.

For the majority of transgender people, this is neither affordable, practicable, nor wanted. The result is a life lived in contradiction, between their documented sex and lived gender. The state issued identity card thus becomes an instrument by the state and others to inflict social humiliation. Furthermore, while transgender people have been identified as a key affected population by UNAIDS and the WHO, statistics on HIV/AIDS in Singapore are not disaggregated for transgender people. This results in policies and services not being sensitised to the particular needs and behaviours of transgender men and women.


C.
Recommendations

· Issue Identity Cards that correctly identify the chosen sex for the transgender person without proof of surgery through an effective and fast administrative procedure.

· Focus on more targeted public health interventions for transgender men and transgender women by first identifying and disaggregating the national HIV data for this specific group.

VI. Workplace discrimination

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B. New developments since the last review

  • Workers face significant widespread employment discrimination on the bases of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status and disability. With limited exceptions, there is no legal duty for employers not to discriminate and workers facing discrimination have no legal right to redress.
  • The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) and the Ministry of Manpower may receive complaints from workers, but TAFEP has no enforcement powers and the Ministry acts on a purely discretionary basis.


C. Recommendations

  • Enact legislation
    • (i) to prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or disability;
    • (ii) to form a specialised employment tribunal to adjudicate complaints arising under this legislation; and
    • (iii) to prescribe that contraventions of this duty of non-discrimination carry civil liability for compensatory damages.

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