The Singapore Government Is Pissed at the US Embassy After It Met With Gay Rights Activists

The online meeting was a webinar to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.
May 20, 2021, 10:02am
Rainbow flag; Singapore gay rights rally
A supporter at the annual "Pink Dot" gay rights rally in Singapore. PHOTO: Roslan RAHMAN / AFP

Singapore told the U.S. embassy “not to interfere” in local matters after it hosted a webinar for LGBTQ advocates in a country that still outlaws gay sex.

The invitation-only webinar was held to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17, a date commemorating a World Health Organization decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990. 

Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, Singapore maintains a hard line on LGBTQ rights despite progressive victories in other parts of Asia. Gay marriage isn’t recognized and even opposition politicians remain silent about support. Sex between men, even if it’s private and consensual, is also criminalized under a colonial-era law

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Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong previously called the law an “uneasy compromise” as society “was not that liberal”. A Singapore court dismissed an appeal to overturn the legislation last year.

That was the backdrop for a short but blunt message chastising the embassy in the island state via a statement on Wednesday from Singapore’s foreign affairs ministry. 

“The MFA has reminded the US Embassy that foreign missions here are not to interfere in our domestic social and political matters, including issues such as how sexual orientation should be dealt with in public policy,” it said.

“These are choices for only Singaporeans to debate and decide.”

Oogachaga, the group that participated in the webinar and was named in the statement, is a non-profit that counsels and supports members of the LGBTQ community in Singapore. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But a U.S. embassy spokesperson told VICE World News that the webinar, which was titled, “The Economic Case for LGBT Equality”, merely focused on economic advantages of more inclusion around the world.

“The U.S. Embassy [in Singapore] regularly works with civil society partners on a wide range of issues to build awareness and advance the human rights of all persons,” the spokesperson said. 

“We will continue to promote human rights of LGBTQI+ persons worldwide.”

U.S. President Joe Biden also commemorated May 17 in a statement about the importance of more equality. 

“Overseas, foreign governments, civil societies, and international organizations like the United Nations finally recognize that LGBTQI+ people are deserving of the full measure of dignity and equality … but around the world, some 70 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships,” he said. 

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