T.An Eng Hong’s voice trembles as she recalls her 12-year struggle against Section 377A, Singapore’s law criminalizing sex between men. He was relieved when he heard the announcement this month that the law would finally be repealed. “I thought he was going to die before he heard this,” he says. He thanks God and the Universe that he lives to witness such a landmark moment.

In 2010, Tan Eng Hong experienced one of the most difficult events of his life. He was arrested by police for having oral sex with a consenting adult man in a locked toilet cubicle in a shopping mall in downtown Singapore after a nearby restaurant staff called the police.

Tan, then 47, was handcuffed, his bag searched and taken into custody. “He was totally paralyzed and was wondering how he was going to continue,” he says.

Tan and the man he was with were charged under Section 377A, a law introduced under British colonial rule.

for tanning, A person who goes by the name Ivan, His arrest was extremely traumatic. But the moment proved crucial in the fight for gay rights in Singapore.

With the help of prominent human rights attorney M Ravi, Tan filed a lawsuit challenging Section 377A, claiming it violated his rights to liberty, equal protection and freedom of association. It was the first time the law had been challenged in court as unconstitutional, and although it failed at the time, it is recognized as a milestone in the fight against Section 377A.

fighting stigma

After his arrest, Tan confided in a trusted friend, M Ravi. “When he came to my office that day, he was on his knees…he was so guilty,” says Ravi. He was struck by the injustice of Tan’s case. Heterosexuals are usually fined if they are caught having sex in public, but Tan has had to contend with such a disproportionate stigma.

At that time, attitudes towards gay rights in Singapore were changing. The 1990s were marked by a raid on gay institutions and the growth of so-called “conversion therapy,” a discriminatory and harmful practice Tan himself underwent. His Christian background, which was intolerant of gay relationships, made his arrest particularly difficult.

In the 2000s, tolerance increased in some parts of Singapore, and so did activism. For example, theaters have staged plays featuring gay characters, a campaign to repeal Section 377A began in 2007, and by 2009, the nonprofit Pink Dot launched its first rally in support of the LGBT community. and thousands were clothed. in pink.

But Tan’s case faced opposition on many fronts. In addition to heavy lobbying by religious conservatives, many in the gay community were critical of his decision to file lawsuits, Ravi said.

Having handled many sensitive human rights cases, Ravi found Ivan’s case to be the least likely to generate sympathy. “Challenging the death penalty is a noble cause … Fighting to give the killer back to life is a cause,” he says. However, the circumstances of Tan’s arrest were uncomfortable for many.

Tan was not the only section 377A case at the time, Ravi adds. He has also been contacted by a young man who said he had become suicidal because he was under investigation under the same law, even though the government said in 2007 that it would not actively enforce the law. rice field.

What Tang feared most was probably revelations related to appearing in court. “Your name is all over the news and you feel the pressure and how they look at you,” he says. It’s a place. “I don’t get the chance to tell my story properly,” he adds.

Less than a month after Tan filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of 377A, Tan was found guilty of being amended to one of the charges of public indecency under Section 294(a) of the Penal Code. was informed. Although he pleaded guilty, he continued to challenge Section 377A, reaching both the High Court and the Court of Appeals. The case ultimately led to an appeals court ruling that it had legal standing to challenge the law on the grounds that it violated its constitutional rights. The verdict “opened the door to all subsequent challenges,” he said in 2019, one of his three LGBT activists who filed another lawsuit against 377A Medical. Dr. Roy Tan says he is an expert. He said the law was “unenforceable.”

For Tan, the impact of Section 377A affects the lives of people, from discrimination in housing to affecting what relationships can be shown on free-to-air television to what lessons can be taught in schools. It affects all aspects. “It affects not only me, but the whole community,” he adds. After the law’s repeal, “more people will learn to accept and accept LGBTQ people for who they are.”

But when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that he would repeal Section 377a, he also said the government had no intention of allowing equal marriage. He said it would prevent future legal challenges.

Having waited 12 years for Section 377a to be repealed, Tan knows all too well that change takes time. But he also hopes there is a growing awareness and tolerance among Singapore’s younger generation.

Tan refers to the stall where he was arrested as Stonewall’s Toilet because of its importance in the fight for justice. Did the pain from 12 years ago heal?

Tan says his experience has taught him compassion.

“After all the journey, it might have been worth it. Even if it hurts, it’s okay. That’s okay.”

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