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Faith-based intolerance remains an obstacle to gay rights in Singapore

YANG Tuck Yoong, senior pastor of Singapore’s Community Church, earlier this year expressed outrage over a promotional video released by Pink Dot SG – a non-profit LGBT organisation – featuring lesbian pastor Pauline Ong, right, of the Free Community Church.

The video infuriated Yoong, who said in a blog post that it is “deceptive for untaught people watching it. Let me put it in simple and unambiguous terms: A homosexual Christian is an oxymoron. You cannot live a lifestyle that the Bible condemns and say you’re a believer in Jesus Christ at the same time.”

He said that the “deceptive” claims in the video “were purposely used as a strategy” by Pink Dot SG to advocate for cultural acceptance and normalisation of non-heterosexual orientations and relationships.

“They say ‘we’re Christians too and this is what we believe’. But please read your Bible and don’t misquote it. I assure you that a practicing homosexual will not see the insides of heaven if they continue down this path.”

The bigot blathered on: “Any attempt to change God’s definition of what constitutes a true marriage will lead to a disastrous path of fatherless-ness or motherless-ness, and we’re now witnessing the fruit of this malady in our generation.”

Despite views expressed by bigots like Yoong, and the fact that homosexuality remains illegal in Singapore, the Pink Dot SG has been gaining in strength.

It began staging annual gatherings in Hong Lim Park in 2009. In its first year, the event attracted just 2,500 participants. But by 2015 this number had swollen to an astonishing 28,000, and attracted nine corporate sponsors.

This year’s Pink Dot SG event, its biggest ever, took place on June 4 and saw the number of sponsors double to 18. The included Barclays, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, General Electric, Microsoft and Visa. In the days leading up to the Pink Dot SG event Bloomberg and NBC Universal released powerful videos in support of the gathering. This, said the organisers, “marks the increasing recognition that the embracing of discrimination-free working environments goes hand-in-hand with sound business strategy.”

Yet, sadly, Singapore remains wedded to Section 377A of the Penal Code, the law that criminalises sex between men.

According to StraitsTimes, in 2014, the highest court in Singapore upheld the law, ruling that the provision was constitutional. The three-judge Court of Appeal rejected two separate challenges to strike down the law.

Gay couple Gary Lim, 46, and Kenneth Chee, 38, as well as 51-year-old Tan Eng Hong, asserted that the provision was discriminatory and should be declared void by the court.

Their argument was that Section 377A infringes their right to equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution, and violates their right to life and liberty, as guaranteed by Article 9.

Contravention of Section 377A carries up to a two-year jail term for men who, in public or private, commit acts of “gross indecency” with other men. Tan was the first to file a challenge against the statute in 2010 after he was charged with having oral sex with another man in a public toilet. Lim and Chee later filed their own challenge. Their cases were separately heard – and dismissed – by High Court Judge Quentin Loh. Their appeals were heard together in July of 2014.

In a 101-page written judgment delivered by Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, the apex court rejected their arguments.

The court held that Section 377A did not violate Article 9 as the phrase “life and liberty” referred only to the personal liberty of a person from unlawful incarceration and not to the right of privacy and personal autonomy.

As for Article 12, the court held that Section 377A passed a classification test used by the courts in determining whether a law complies with the constitutional right of equality.

The court also ruled that Section 377A fell outside the scope of Article 12, which forbids discrimination of citizens on grounds including religion, race and place of birth. The court observed that Article 12 did not contain the words “gender”, “sex” and “sexual orientation”, which related to Section 377A.

The court added that many of the arguments canvassed in the case involved “extra-legal considerations and matters of social policy outside the remit of the court”. It stressed that it can only consider legal arguments; taking on legislative functions would “efface” the very separation of powers which gives the court its legitimacy in the first place.

“Whilst we understand the deeply-held personal feelings of the appellants, there is nothing that this court can do to assist them. Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere,” said the court.

Activist lawyer M Ravi, who acted for Tan, called the decision a “huge step backwards for human rights in Singapore”. He said it was “disturbing” that the court has “thrown this issue back to Parliament”.

OutRight Action International reported that an unsuccessful attempt to have Section 377A scrapped had been made by Siew Kum Hong, a Member of Parliament who sponsored a public petition to repeal the provision. He ultimately delivered 2,341 signatures to Parliament. Siew noted that the signatories came from a broad cross-section of Singaporeans – middle-aged, old, young, students, professionals, religious and non-religious people – all of whom believed that repealing 377A was not so much about sexual rights or gay rights but about anti-discrimination, fairness and justice.

Or, as MP Charles Chong put it: “If it’s true that some of us are indeed born with a different sexual orientation then it would be wrong of us to criminalise and persecute people who do no harm to us, no matter how conservative a society we are. Intimate relationships between consenting adults in the privacy of one’s bedroom are not the business of government.”

Arguments against the repeal of Article 377A raised the spectres of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. One opposing MP, Lim Biow Chuan, implied that homosexuals are not a legitimate minority community in Singapore like racial or religious minorities because there is “no conclusive evidence that homosexuality is inborn.”

Another opponent, Ms Thio Li Ann argued that, “demands for homosexual rights are political claims of a narrow interest group masquerading as legal entitlements.” She added: “Homosexual activists try to infiltrate and highjack the noble cause of human rights. You cannot make a human wrong a human right.”

Thio warned that unlike heterosexual sodomy, “sodomy between homosexuals is not a private act without public consequences and it’s not a victimless crime because oral and anal sex spread HIV and AIDS . . . Anal penetrative sex is inherently damaging to the body and is a misuse of organs.”

Islam and the Orlando Pulse club atrocity

Pink Humanist editor BARRY DUKE hits out at those who insist that terrorists such as Omar Mateen, above, who killed 49 people at the gay club, are ‘aberrant’ Muslims, and who flatly refuse to acknowledge the fact that Islam itself is an aberration, a ghastly, inhumane ideology bent on destroying everything in its path.

I HONESTLY don’t know what angered me more: the slaughter in a gay club Orlando of 49 people by Omar Mateen, or the words of sympathy directed at those affected by the tragedy by Farrokh Sekaleshfa, described by the Daily Mail as “a British-born doctor and Muslim scholar.”

A day after the shooting, on Monday, June 13, Sekaleshfar offered his “sincere condolences to the friends and families of those massacred” and added: “The killing of innocent life is never justified by religion. The perpetrator of this shooting has directly violated this holy commandment and displayed a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life and divine values.”

Why does this fill me fury? Because Sekaleshfar is well-known for his hatred of homosexuals, and has publicly called for their execution. In videos posted online, he has been seen saying that the way to “deal with the phenomenon of homosexuality” was to “get rid of them”.

Farrokh Sekaleshfar and Omar Mateen (inset)

“Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence,” Sekaleshfar says in one sermon, delivered in 2013. “We have to have that compassion for people. With homosexuals, it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.”

Is there a connection between Sekaleshfar and the shooting at the Pulse nightclub? We don’t know. But what we do know is that he made similar comments during his visit to Orlando in March.

Playing the victim card, he went on to claim that he has been the subject of abuse since the shooting and that he has received death threats by people attempting to link his sermon with the shooter’s motives. “Such a connection is impossible, because had the shooter listened to my lecture, he would have clearly heard me condemn hate and violence multiple times and endorse compassion towards all humankind. I invite my friends to help in supporting the humanitarian needs of the families of the victims of the shooting during such a period and share with their grief.

“This is an Islamic value in all cases where people are being oppressed –whoever they are.”

Marcus Dwayne Robertson

After the shooting, another Islamic hate preacher was named as a figure who may well have inspired the killer: Marcus Dwayne Robertson, above. The 47-year-old firebrand is known to his thousands of followers as Abu Taubah.

Michelle Jesse, associate editor at Allen West.com, reported that Robertson is known for openly and vigorously preaching against homosexuality. She quoted from a Fox News report that said: “It is no coincidence that this happened in Orlando. Mateen was enrolled in [Robertson’s online] Fundamental Islamic Knowledge Seminary.”

The school was recently rebranded as the Timbuktu Seminary.

The report added: “Robertson’s school may not have been the only source of Mateen’s spiritual guidance. The gunman was at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce with Imam Shafiq Rahman two days before the nightclub attack, according to The Washington Post. That mosque was frequented by American-born suicide bomber Monar abu Salha, who blew himself up in Syria in 2014, and the two knew each other, according to officials.”

Robertson recently spent four years in prison in Florida on illegal weapons and tax fraud charges before being released by a Florida judge a year ago.

But despite the clear connection between religion and this latest atrocity, there are people – world leaders among them – who insist that killers such as Mateen are “aberrant” Muslims, and flatly refuse acknowledge the fact that Islam itself is an aberration, a ghastly ideology bent on destroying everything it disapproves of.

Just before massacre, for example, on May 13, David Petraeus, a retired US Army general, wrote a piece in the The Washington Post expressing his concern “about inflammatory political discourse that has become far too common both at home and abroad against Muslims and Islam, including proposals from various quarters for blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion.

“Setting aside moral considerations, those who flirt with hate speech against Muslims should realise they are playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists’ explicit hope has been to try to provoke a clash of civilizations – telling Muslims that the United States is at war with them and their religion. When Western politicians propose blanket discrimination against Islam, they bolster the terrorists’ propaganda.”

In short, please don’t tell the ugly truth about Islam because if you do they’ll throw more of their toys out the pram . . . and more homosexuals off high buildings.

Writing for The Spectator, in the aftermath of the Orlando atrocity, Douglas Murray slammed this mindset under the headline “We can’t ignore the religion of the Orlando gay club gunman” and predicted that “law enforcement will play down the ideological component. Meantime US and other political leaders will try to deny the ideological connection or say – at the most – that it is important not to single out any one ideology. Almost every single Imam in America and elsewhere will deny that there is any connection between the gunman’s beliefs and theirs.

“If any journalists do look into which mosques or groups the gunman was associated with the entirety of the American Muslim community leadership will insist that any identification of the gunman’s beliefs is in fact ‘Islamophobic’. And so the hatred that propelled the gunman will not just live on, but grow. Which the rest of us might end up assuming was the aim all along.

“It is just two months since we learned that 52 per cent of British Muslims believe that being gay should be made illegal in the UK. When that poll was released very nearly the entirety of the UK’s Muslim leadership and spokespeople attacked not the bigotry of their own community, but the poll. It is always the same story. And yet there is a perfectly straight line from that belief to what happened in Florida last night. With any other religious community we – and they – would admit that. But not with Islam.”

George Broadhead, Secretary of the UK charity, the Pink Triangle Trust, said that The Spectator article was “spot on” and added: “This vicious attack on gays is another ghastly example of Islamic homophobia. Islamic holy texts, the Koran and the Hadith, clearly condemn homosexual practices and its sharia law provides for the most barbaric penalties.

“These are put into practice in Islamic theocracies like Iran and Saudi Arabia where gays are publicly beheaded, hanged and stoned. Five other Muslim countries also have the death penalty on their books. These facts are totally ignored by those like the US President and the media for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities.”

 

BBC sidesteps gay writer’s contempt for Christianity, by Colin Smythe

Baldwin2

THE BBC doesn’t do atheism – unless it’s forced to. And then only through gritted teeth. This again became apparent a few weeks back during an edition of Radio 4’s Great Lives devoted to the celebrated US essayist and novelist, James Baldwin, above, who died in 1987.

Baldwin was nominated by “financial guru” Alvin Hall, the guest on Matthew Parris’s programme. At the outset he said he’d been inspired by Baldwin’s conversion to Christianity when he was 14 years old. Hall himself had “a religious experience” at a revivalist meeting when he was the same age.

“Apparently the Holy Spirit descended on me and a conversion had taken place . . . this is almost exactly what happened to Baldwin in his church in Harlem.”

This immediately gave the impression that Baldwin was a man of faith. In fact, Baldwin claimed to have been “hurled into the church” by a strict stepfather who was a Pentecostal preacher, and he grew to became an outspoken critic of Christianity. But Hall, later in the programme, merely said “he became sceptical about religion”, and it infuriated me that some of Baldwin’s choicest quotes were never aired.

Quotes like “Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty – necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels” and “If the concept of God has any validity or use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of him.”

Most of Baldwin’s work deals with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. His novels are notable for the personal way in which they explore questions of identity as well as for the way in which they mine complex social and psychological pressures related to being black and homosexual. After earning a scholarship in 1945 and publishing his first major essay, The Harlem Ghetto, Baldwin moved to Paris, where he spent most of his life.

He published his best-known work, Go Tell It on the Mountain, in 1953, and wrote numerous novels, essays, and poetry during his life, including Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Giovanni’s Room (1956), a novel noteworthy for bringing complex representations of homosexuality and bisexuality to a reading public with empathy and artistry.
He also wrote the plays The Amen Corner (1955) and Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), both well received.

Much of his work was inspired by 20th-century social movements as well as his experiences living as a poor, black, and homosexual man in a country that largely shunned these characteristics.

For a while, Baldwin returned to the United States to assist the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement, for which he became a voice, and he gained international prominence as a writer and civil rights activist.

He earned the George Polk Award in 1963 and was inducted into La Légion D’Honneur, the prestigious French order, in 1986. He continued writing and maintained a professorship at Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts until his untimely death from stomach cancer at the age of 63.

Buy Harold and Maude, and help gay charities, by Barry Duke

ONE of my favourite black comedies is Harold and Maude, a movie based on a book written by the late gay screenwriter and activist Colin Higgins and I was delighted to learn that Higgins’s novel has been re-released, and that the royalties will benefit a host of LGBT charities.

harold and maude 2The Advocate reports that “a whole new generation of fans discovered Harold and Maude when Netflix recently added it. A must-read (or watch), this 1971 dark romantic comedy follows the unlikely but wonderful relationship that develops between Maude, a quirky 81-year-old optimist, and death-obsessed 19-year-old Harold.”

Higgins, who was also writer-director of the movies Nine to Five and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, died in 1988, shortly after his 47th birthday, of complications related to AIDS. His legacies, however, will be lasting. Two years before he died, he established the Colin Higgins Foundation to support LGBTQ youth in underserved communities.

The foundation has given $3 million over the years to numerous LGBTQ organisations, including the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, youth outreach efforts, and AIDS prevention programmes. With the book’s re-release, all royalties will go to the foundation, which recently gave out $10,000 each to three Youth Courage Award winners: Victoria, 19, an undocumented queer transgender immigrant who first came to the US at age 3; Alex, 20, a queer transgender man was raised Muslim and battled drug addiction, and like Victoria, he endured homelessness and bullying; and AJ, 20, a bisexual man raised in a poor black Southern neighbourhood, who’s a staunch advocate for workers’ rights, including an increase in the minimum wage.

“Do the Courage Award winners have anything to do with the book?” asks Diane Anderson-Minshall, who writes for The Advocate. “Maybe so. Like them, Harold and Maude handle themselves with grace and dignity in the face of overwhelming hardship. And, if you buy this book, you help put money in the pockets of great LGBT kids like these.”
Harold and Maude is available from Amazon.