Aware| Women's Action icon-arrow-downCreated with Sketch.icon-arrow-leftCreated with Sketch.icon-arrow-rightCreated with Sketch.icon-arrow-upCreated with Sketch.icon-caret-downCreated with Sketch.icon-closeCreated with Sketch.icon-facebookCreated with Sketch.icon-filterCreated with Sketch.icon-footnotesCreated with Sketch.icon-hamburger-menuCreated with Sketch.icon-imageCreated with Sketch.icon-pdfCreated with Sketch.icon-play-bigCreated with Sketch.icon-play-smallCreated with Sketch.icon-plusCreated with Sketch.icon-section-endingCreated with Sketch.icon-section-separatorCreated with Sketch.icon-shareCreated with Sketch.icon-themesCreated with Sketch.icon-timeline-collapseCreated with Sketch.icon-timeline-expandCreated with Sketch.icon-timelineCreated with Sketch.icon-twitterCreated with Sketch.icon-videoCreated with Sketch.logo-masthead-fullCreated with Sketch.logo-masthead-mobileCreated with Sketch.logo-womens-action-smallCreated with Sketch.logo-womens-actionCreated with Sketch.title-womens-actionCreated with Sketch.Women’sCreated with Sketch.


Singapore's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) women have struggled to have their presence and contributions acknowledged, and are often neither fully recognised as part of the broader women's nor LGBTQ movements. Still, LBT women have been ubiquitous in the history of Singapore’s civil society, from the early days of nationhood to the more modern developments of the AWARE saga and Pink Dot.

For a brief period following World War II, Bugis Street was known for its transgender performers and sex workers. Along narrow streets lined with hawker stalls and outdoor bars, trans women danced for crowds of tourists, many of whom were British sailors and American GIs. 1 The street was a famous tourist destination, its bawdiness and flamboyance very much unlike the sanitised attractions Singapore is now known for.

Determined to “clean up” the area, government authorities began a crackdown on the area's activities in the late 1970s. Sailors who resisted were arrested and deported while trans women were evicted from places of work and residence without warning. The initiative saw the Bugis Street with rat-infested drains and unregulated food and drink stalls give way to neat shophouses and a centralised bazaar. Survival was difficult for transgender sex workers after the crackdown, and many moved to areas still occupied today, including Little India, Chinatown and Changi.

The Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) attempted to restart "ah qua shows" on wooden stages in the 1980s to regain the tourism revenue they had lost. These shows were poorly received, cementing an end to the area's colourful era.

Early Trans Policies and Legislation

July 1971 saw a historical milestone as Asia's first sex reassignment surgery (SRS)—now more popularly known as gender confirmation surgery (GCS)—was performed by Professor SS Ratnam at Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KKH). 2 Dr Ratnam, together with a team of doctors, including endocrinologist Dr Vincent Goh and psychiatrist Dr Tsoi Wing Foo, received international renown for their pioneering work. Around 500 operations were carried out at Singapore's SRS Clinic prior to Dr Ratnam’s retirement in 1995.

While far from a blanket statement of support for transgender citizens—much less the LGBTQ community—the government's actions in 1996 showed a surprising amount of sensitivity to the needs of a vulnerable minority population.

In 1973, the government allowed post-operative transgender citizens to change their gender on legal documents such as identification cards (but not birth certificates). This policy was largely accepted and unremarked upon until 1992, when a woman appealed to the High Court to declare her marriage null and void because she had discovered after the solemnisation that her husband was a trans man. 3 The court sided with her, ruling that her husband's sex should be determined by his birth certificate. Given that the Women's Charter outlaws same-sex marriages, this ruling invalidated their marriage contract.

The Singaporean government recognised that this oversight placed gender recognition laws in conflict with marriage laws. In 1996, the Women's Charter was amended to recognise the right of post-operative transgender individuals to enter heterosexual marriages according to the gender marked on their identification cards.A As Minister for Community Development Abdullah Tarmugi said:

Amendments to the Women’s Charter

Following amendments, the Women’s Charter reaffirmed that a couple had to be respectively female and male at the time of solemnisation for the marriage to be valid, but clarified that “a marriage solemnized in Singapore or elsewhere between a person who has undergone a sex re-assignment procedure and any person of the opposite sex is and shall be deemed always to have been a valid marriage.”

The amendments also specified that the sex of the individual stated at the time of marriage in his or her identity card would be used as evidence of sex of that person.

Related themes Civil Society

The Government's stand is very clear: it is not a move to encourage or promote lesbianism, homosexuality, transvestism or sex reassignment among our people. We do not believe the amendments will result in our people reassigning their sex in droves. The Bill basically seeks a practical and humane approach to address the problems faced by this group of people and the families they have set up. It is to allow these individuals to lead a life according to their new status, as recorded in their identity cards, as we have all along used the NRIC to verify identity. It is practical. It is sensible. 4

While far from a statement of support for transgender citizens—much less the LGBTQ community—the government's actions in 1996 showed a surprising amount of sensitivity to the needs of a vulnerable minority population. However, these rights do not extend to Muslim citizens, as the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) does not recognise legal gender changes.

A fair number of LGBTQ activists got their start with the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) and Action for AIDS (AFA), founded in 1984 and 1989 respectively. While these organisations did not primarily focus on LGBTQ populations or issues—and sometimes even went out of their way to not be seen as “pro-gay” for fear of jeopardising their funding and public support 5 —LGBTQ individuals would occasionally find the support and resources they needed under the broader umbrellas of the women's movement and anti-HIV/AIDS efforts. The experience, skills and networks that LBT activists gained from working with AWARE and AFA would also serve them well when they later went on to set up LGBTQ-centric groups. For example, Ginger June, co-founder of The ‘T’ Project, began as a volunteer at AFA in the 2000s and trained in befriending and advising transgender clients attending the clinic for HIV testing. It was there that she realised the need for support of transgender sex workers. 6

The People Like Us team of the 90s. Back row, from left: Kelly Then, Alex Au, Charles Tan, Jean Chong, Kelvin Wong & Russell Heng. Front row, from left: Dominic Chua, Reverend Miak Siew, Petrus Tan & Vernon Voon.
(Photo credit: People Like Us)

Singapore's first LGBT lobby group, People Like Us (PLU), was set up in 1993. PLU aimed to provide spaces and opportunities for queer Singaporeans to meet and support each other, primarily through weekly forums. Two female committee members, Jean Chong and Kelly Then, were part of the organisation's application to the Registrar of Societies in 1996, which was rejected without reason a year later. Despite multiple applications and appeals, PLU has still not been allowed to register their status as a non-government organisation.

Encouraging women to show up and participate in LGBTQ events and organisations was difficult when early queer spaces replicated the invisibility and sexism they faced elsewhere.

While grappling with a government hostile to LGBTQ-organising overall, lesbian and bisexual women faced unique challenges in having their concerns recognised on par with those of their gay male counterparts. LGBTQ events were rarely co-organised across genders. PLU's monthly forum topics were decided by its participants, but the majority of its participants tended to be men and discussions were therefore male-dominated. Encouraging women to show up and participate in LGBTQ events and organisations was difficult when early queer spaces replicated the invisibility and sexism they faced elsewhere.

“Gay men, they often don’t see women,” said Jean Chong, co-founder of Sayoni, in an interview for this feature. “When they women sitting on chairs, they actually see empty chairs. They kind of look through you…they don’t see you at all.” 7

A women's wing of PLU split from the main group in 1995, aiming to "[create] social ties and identity building among lesbians.” However, this small association eventually faded as its two founders left due to other commitments. 8

SiGNeL, the Singapore Gay News List, was PLU's e-mail forum which enabled LGBT people and allies to continue discussions online. While the forum was initially moderated by an all-male team, participants called for a queer woman moderator in the face of rampant sexism in the threads, including comments with gay men calling for lesbians to “have sex with men first, hinting at rape.” 9

Recognising the need for a women-friendly alternative to SiGNeL, Eileena Lee started RedQuEEn! in 1998. This mailing list provided a low-commitment, anonymous virtual space in which queer women could explore their identities and talk to other women. A similar online space for queer women above the age of 30 called Sumthing was also set up around the same time.

Police raids on gay businesses and cruising grounds peaked in the 90s, compounding the need for safe virtual spaces. Police raided gay and lesbian clubs on the pretext of looking for underage drinking, drugs, and illegal music and video. Partygoers were regularly arrested, and media coverage of lesbians was highly negative. A night club, Dada, which hosted a monthly all-women's party, was forced to shut down, particularly after a local newspaper portrayed the parties as violent events in which women fought over each other. 10

LBT Theatre, Art and Writing

Government clampdowns on Bugis Street and gay nightclubs were paralleled by restrictions on the public visibility of LGBTQ art, including theatre, film, and literature. The Jayakumar Report in 1981 banned all materials containing themes of homosexuality and lesbianism. 11 The Ministry of Community Development withdrew its support for playwright Eleanor Wong's Jackson on a Jaunt for portraying homosexuality in a “normal” way, despite initially commissioning it to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. 12 This policy was reaffirmed this in 1992, when the censorship review committee specifically stated that “materials encouraging homosexuality” should continue to be banned. 13

Enforcement of the censorship policy was notoriously patchy, and some queer productions learnt how to slip past the censors by, for example, avoiding the word “gay.”

However, enforcement of the censorship policy was notoriously patchy, and some queer productions learnt how to slip past the censors by, for example, avoiding the word “gay.” The theatre boom of the 80s was another avenue through which emerging LGBTQ activists found their feet, learning to negotiate boundaries with the state. Jackson on a Jaunt was eventually staged, with revisions, in 1989 alongside Chay Yew's As If He Hears. 14

Claire Devine, Tan Kheng Hua, and Lim Yu-Beng in Jointly and Severably.
(Credit: Wild Rice, 2003)

Eleanor Wong later went on to write two plays—Mergers and Acquisitions in 1993 and Wills and Secessions in 1995—that were the first Singaporean plays with lesbian protagonists. These two plays were showcased in 2003 along with a third instalment, Jointly and Severably. A dramatised reading of the trilogy directed by Samantha Scott-Blackhall was staged by The Studios in April 2015 as part of the SG50 celebrations.

Stop Kiss by Livid Room Productions.

2000 saw the emergence of a feminist theatre company, Livid Room Productions, that staged Postcards from Persephone—a feminist reimagining of Greek myths. In 2002, they produced Stop Kiss—a lesbian drama on the sexual tension that inevitably informs all friendships. Critics hailed the company as a “refreshing voice amidst the male dominated gay plays that [had] pervaded the Singapore theatre space” at the time. 15

LBT theatre produced by LBT women began to evolve beyond growing pains and themes of identity and coming out, and started to explore new territory. Plays like Ovidia Yu’s Life! Theatre Award-winning Hitting (on) Women (2007), staged by the now-defunct Action Theatre, bravely portrayed the intricacies of domestic violence in lesbian relationships. Critics were shaken, and some worried that the negative portrayal of lesbian relationships would reinforce public homophobia. Others, including Sayoni members who completely booked out one of the matinee shows, celebrated its honest and nuanced portrayals.

“When the show ended, Ovidia and the actresses—Loretta Chan and Janice Koh—came onstage to do a Q&A. Roses started raining onto the stage, there were wolf whistles…we even threw underwear! We wanted to make her feel supported, like she was a rockstar. Ovidia said she kept every single piece,” Jean Chong, co-founder of Sayoni recalled. 16

In 2003, the censorship review committee relaxed the guidelines for portrayals of homosexuality in 2003, recommending “a more flexible and contextual approach when dealing with homosexual themes and scenes in content” and “allowing greater leeway for adults, through suitable channels, to access such content provided it is not exploitative”. 17

Still, overzealous censors continued to pose a significant challenge to queer art. One of the more memorable incidents of censorship of LBT content was when Starhub Cable Vision was fined S$10,000 in early 2008 for breaching the TV Advertising Code by showing a commercial of a song that depicted “romanticised scenes” of lesbian kissing scenes. 18 The commercial had featured pop singer Olivia Yan’s Silly Child on MTV’s Mandarin-language channel.

In 2012, artist Tania De Rozario was told by the Media Development Authority (MDA) that she would have to put down a $10,000 deposit if she wanted to screen Elisha Lim's 100 Butches #9: Ruby , a short animated clip, at IndigNation, after it had been rated NC-16. The same film had previously been shown in the children's category in a New York festival. 19

What is IndigNation?

IndigNation is Singapore's annual LGBT Pride Season. It started in 2005 when laws on public gatherings were relaxed, and Singaporeans were allowed to host indoor events without licenses as long as participants were citizens.

Genevieve Chua, photograph from Raised by a Pack of Wolves.

Themes in LBT art started to shift towards a search for community and the creation of alternative families; the effect was to heighten gender non-conforming visibility. Early 2009 saw the commission of Raised by a Pack of Wolves as a permanent exhibition at the M1 Fringe Festival. The show was a continuation of Singaporean artist Genevieve Chua’s photographic explorations of queer sexuality and visibility. Her work hinged on the lives of androgynous or masculine-presenting women whom she met through alternative networks—blogs, friends or on the street—and her search for familial ties.

Signs of change

In 2001, 21-year old Michelle Yong and 30-year old Wee May May jumped to their deaths from a flat in Toa Payoh. The two women, presumed to be a couple, were dressed in red with red thread tied around their fingers. According to Chinese belief, the red string of fate is said to symbolise the connection of destined lovers even in death.

“The papers were just so intrusive," said LBT activist Eileena Lee. Reporters gained access to the women's shared apartment, scrutinising and publicly condemning their personal lives and relationship. "We asked, 'What could we have done to have prevented that?' Surely there must be more people [in similar situations] and we would like to prevent that." 20

Noting that Oogachaga, an LGBTQ counselling service started in 1999, lacked women-specific services, a small group of LBT activists, counsellors and social workers founded Looking Glass. Volunteers—mostly recruited through RedQuEEn!—were trained in email counselling on a variety of issues including coming out, sexuality issues, relationships and self-care. The online medium was both the service's greatest asset and liability: on one hand, the Internet was one of the few means through which help could be rendered legally and safely; on the other, restrictions on gay mobilising beyond virtual spaces meant that the service could not expand to meet other needs, such as telephone or face-to-face meetings. Looking Glass shut down a couple of years later due to volunteer fatigue, differences in opinion on how to manage the service, and the limitations of online counselling.

Despite the Looking Glass's short-lived existence, the 2000s saw a spike in the formation of LBT organisations. Many were formed in response to the neglect of women's issues in counselling, healthcare, research and advocacy work within established organisations. The LGBTQ movement, overall, was slowly moving out into the open.

The Oogachaga Women support group launched in 2005, drawing upon counselors and social workers who had volunteered with RedQuEEn and Looking Glass. The group continues to run every year – or every alternate year. It completed its eighth round in 2015, and also included transgender women.

Pelangi Pride Centre (2003)

Pelangi Pride Centre is an LGBTQ library, community space and archive founded by Eileena Lee, Charmaine Tan and Dinesh Naidu. The group was initially funded by Action for AIDS (AFA) but split from them two years later due to internal disagreements and AFA's concerns about "gay activism." PPC has had to move frequently as it is volunteer-run and lacks a stable source of funding, but is currently housed at the Free Community Church and is open on Saturdays.

Women's Nite (2003)

Hoping to take some of the success of RedQuEEn! beyond the internet, Eileena Lee and Charmaine Tan began organising monthly alcohol-free potluck dinners. Each get-together has a predetermined discussion topic, such as coming out, sex & relationships or housing, and provides a space for queer women to meet outside of the party scene and talk about issues that matter to them among peers in a safe, welcoming environment.

SgButterfly (2005)

While SgButterfly (also known as SgB) was initially started by a heterosexual, cisgender man, Daniel Kaw, it has since grown into Singapore's first and largest transgender community portal, providing support, community and information to trans people via its online forums.

IndigNation (2005)

In 2005, licensing regulations for indoor public talks were relaxed, making IndigNation, a monthly LGBT pride season comprising a wide variety of activities, possible. While IndigNation has provided a platform for important events such as Akka, the first Tamil language play about a trans woman, and Mass Hysteria: Relapsed, a spoken word performance by a queer all-women poetry troupe, the inclusion of LBT women has often been contingent on the organisers’ prerogatives.

SAFE Singapore (2006)

This support group and resource centre for friends and family 
of LGBTQ people is run by Khoo Hoon Eng, Tan Joo Hymn, Ong Su-Chzeng and Susan Tang. The idea for the group came about when Khoo Hoon Eng, a mother of two gay sons, shared her story at a Mother's Day Forum organised by AWARE called "Unconditional Love" and expressed a desire for more guidance and information for people like her looking to support their loved ones.

Sayoni (2007)

Founded by a group of volunteers including Jean Chong, Sayoni is an advocacy and community group for LBTQ women. The organisation hosts local camps for queer women of all ages to socialise and learn from each other, is actively involved in political campaigns such as the movement to repeal S377A and international advocacy work at CEDAW, and undertakes research to understand the needs of LBTQ women in Singapore and how best to meet them.

Project X (2008)

Project X, initiated by social worker Wong Yock Leng and currently run by Vanessa Ho, works to protect and advance the rights of sex workers, many of whom are trans women. They aim to end the discrimination and stigmatisation of this marginalised group of women, including at the hands of state agents such as the police. Project X volunteers befriend and lend direct assistance to sex workers, organise public awareness campaigns, and document human rights violations.

The T Project (2014)

Founded in 2014 by social worker Ginger June, the 'T' Project is committed to empowering and supporting the transgender community in Singapore, enabling them to lead more dignified and fulfilling lives. Its efforts have seen several successful fundraising campaigns for trans people as well as the set-up of a shelter for trans people facing homelessness and poverty. Its aims include setting up an employment service to connect trans men and women to organisations with sensitive and safe working environments.

Oogachaga Women on Wednesdays (2014)

In 2014, Oogachaga Counselling Services added Women on Wednesdays to their usual hotline operations, the first since its inception in 1999. The focus on connecting LBT women to trained female hotline volunteers signals an exciting change in making Oogachaga’s services more queer women-friendly.

The AWARE Executive Committee (commonly known as the exco) was unexpectedly taken over in 2009 by a group of newcomers who alleged that the organisation was single-mindedly focused on "promoting homosexuality."C These women were soon revealed to have strong anti-LGBTQ ties: most of them attended the Church of Our Saviour, known for its destructive ex-gay "reparative" therapy programmes. Many members of the church have also publicly expressed support for keeping Section 377A, the colonial-era law which criminalises sex between men. 21

The AWARE saga

AWARE was taken over by a group of women from a conservative church in 2009. At the heart of the controversy was the conservative’s objection to what they considered a “pro-gay” stance. Control of the organization was finally wrested back at a historic Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) in which the new executive committee was voted out. This whole episode became a major milestone in the women’s movement in Singapore, attracting the interest of many more Singaporeans and rejuvenating feminist work in the country.

Related themes Civil Society

The newcomers' allegations struck LBT activists as somewhat ironic, given their ambivalent relationship with AWARE. The sexual education programme for which AWARE came under fire did not, in fact, discuss same-sex sexuality in depth; instead, it merely designated "homosexuality" as a neutral word in one of its exercises.

Furthermore, while AWARE had long been known as a queer-friendly space populated by plenty of LBT volunteers and supporters, this receptiveness did not necessarily translate into queer-affirmative policies and services. The organisation did not provide LBT-specific services and its board maintained that the group was organised around “issues” rather than identities. 22

The EGM took place at Suntec City Convention Centre with an estimate of 3000 members of the public in attendance.

Nevertheless, Sayoni and Women's Nite volunteered their resources, expertise and networks to help organise We Are AWARE, the countermovement to the new exco. Their internet- and media-savviness were particularly invaluable in rallying support for the “Old Guard.” At an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on 2 May 2009, the new exco was overwhelmingly voted out.

Despite occasional collaborations, there were times when conflict arose between LBT groups and women’s organisations. One notable example was when civil society actors were preparing shadow reports for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2011.

What is CEDAW?

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations. It is often referred to as an international bill of rights for women.

All states that sign on to the Convention commit themselves to taking the necessary measures to end discrimination against women in all forms. This is a legally binding obligation. States are also required to submit national reports, at least every four years, on what they have done to comply with their treaty obligations.

Singapore became a signatory to CEDAW in October 1995.

Related themes Civil Society Violence
Sayoni was involved in early talks with AWARE in hopes of having their research on LBT women included in the latter's report, but later learnt that queer women's concerns would be relegated to the appendix, if they were to be included at all. Frustrated, Sayoni then prepared their own report detailing discrimination against women at the intersections of sexual orientation and gender identity, and sent their own delegation to the United Nations.

LBT women in Singapore continue to face discrimination and violence in the workplace, school, home, and on the streets, without any formal legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

When pressed to explain the stigmatisation of LBT women, Singapore's official delegation responded:

The principle of equality of all persons before the law is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. All persons in Singapore are entitled to the equal protection of the law, and have equal access to basic resources such as education, housing and health care. 23

In some ways, this was a historic statement; it was the first time the government had recognised gender, sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. Yet a statement made at a UN convention is not necessarily reflected in practice: as Sayoni detailed in its report, LBT women in Singapore continue to face discrimination and violence in the workplace, home, and on the streets, without any formal legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 24

Sayoni continues its work in advocating for LBT women's rights both locally and internationally. On 27 November 2011, three representatives from the group met with Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam to explain how discriminatory laws and policies affect the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ Singaporeans. More recently in 2015, Oogachaga concluded a dialogue session with Minister Shanmugam on similar issues. Gaining an audience with key state figures may be a definitive strategy in achieving explicit or implicit inclusion of LGBTQ citizens in state policies.

Sayoni is also a key participant in the ASEAN Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Caucus (SOGIE) Caucus, a diverse regional network of activists that champions the inclusion of SOGIE protections in ASEAN human rights mechanisms. The organisation's work includes preparing the 2015 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report to be submitted to the United Nations on behalf of local LGBT NGOs. Additionally, Sayoni is also conducting a human rights documentation project into violence and discrimination against LBT women in Singapore that is expected to be completed in 2015.

In July 2014, the National Library Board (NLB) pulled And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express and Who's In My Family? from the shelves of public libraries in response to a complaint from Teo Kai Loon, a member of the Facebook group We Are Against Pink Dot Singapore, about the children's books “pro-gay” storylines. Deeming the books not in line with the library's “pro-family” values, the NLB announced that it would be pulping them.

The announcement, widely considered a public relations disaster, was met with protests from feminist groups, LGBTQ groups, and the literary community, who were enraged at the lack of healthy recognition of LGBTQ families, library censorship, and the destruction of literature. Prominent writers such as Catherine Lim voiced their disagreement with NLB's decision and pulled out of events related to the Singapore Literature Prize. In the meantime, organisers of Facebook group Singaporeans United For Family said they received 26,000 signatures in support of the destruction of the books.

Facebook and Twitter users changed their profile photos to those of penguins to demonstrate solidarity and support for the re-inclusion of the book. Two young mothers – Jolene Tan and Germaine Ong – co-organised a reading at the NLB atrium. Around 400 parents and children showed up to read together, making a peaceful statement about the value of exposing children to varied literature.

Why was Penguingate noteworthy?

The read-in organised in the atrium of the National Library Board’s headquarters was significant as it came from young parents, rather than LGBT activists. It was a demonstration of support for the LGBT community, and for the importance of representation in literature.

Related themes Civil Society

The saga, dubbed “Penguingate,” received international attention. The NLB eventually decided to withdraw the decision to pulp the books and instead announced that And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express would be relegated to the adult reference sections of Tampines and Woodlands Regional Libraries.

Towards the Future

Silent protest against former NMP Thio Li-Ann's speech at a European Union Human Rights Day event on 3 December 2014. Prof Thio is known for her anti-LGBTQ views, some of which were expressed in a parliamentary speech in 2007 during the 377A debate.

LGBTQ visibility is higher than ever before, with events like the annual Pink Dot event growing in strength every year. Running since its first gathering in 2009, Pink Dot has evolved into a family-friendly pride event supporting and promoting the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Singaporeans as well as the straight allies of the community. However, issues of inclusion of minority groups in the planning and execution, entertainment and participation have cropped up in recent years, especially in the lack of inclusion of women, sex workers, transgender people, and even Muslim LGBT folks. The latter became especially problematic when Pink Dot 2014 was scheduled on the eve of Ramadan, which incited homophobic reactions from the conservative groups in Singapore and limited the safe and meaningful participation of LGBT Muslims in Pink Dot.

There has been a rise in the number of social services, advocacy bodies and social groups, and significantly, these groups are increasingly cooperating and collaborating with each other to better provide for LGBTQ people's needs.

In 2014, Oogachaga launched Women on Wednesdays, a hotline service for LGBTQ women supported by corporate sponsor Barclays.

Many of the youth groups that have cropped up—including Young Out Here, NUS's Gender Collective, NUS-Yale’s G-Spot and Kaleidoscope, among others—have utilised online and university spaces. These student-led groups have organised talks, workshops and panels on topics ranging from healthy relationships, queer safe sex, interfaith dialogues to gender identity.

Trans participation in the movement has also increased, with collaborations such as “LGBT know your T,” an event organised on Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2014 with Project X, The T Project and Oogachaga. The event recognised the need for LGB communities to be aware of, connect with and support trans communities.

The T Project has also lobbied AFA to recognise trans people’s needs as separate from those of the MSM (men who have sex with men) community in their work. AFA has not yet included a ‘transgender’ option in its gender selection; it only has an ‘intersex’ option.

However, greater presence does not necessarily translate into greater tolerance or acceptance, as evidenced by the growth of anti-LGBTQ groups such as FamFest 2014 25 and the Wear White movement.

Reactions to Pink Dot

In response to the growing popularity of Pink Dot, a group of anti-LGBTQ activists led by Lawrence Khong (senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church and founding chairman of TOUCH Community Services) tried to organise a “pro-family” event originally called the Red Dot Family Movement at the Padang. The event was about “defending the family against the onslaught of sexual infidelity, divorce, family violence and media that promotes sexual immorality including the homosexual agenda.” However, their event permit was declined.

The ambivalence of the Archbishop in Singapore as well as the state’s reticence in commenting on events like “Penguingate” show a tendency to avoid divisive partisan debates and maintain the status quo, which currently marginalises LGBTQ people and their concerns.

Most LGBTQ groups are still not allowed to register as formal organisations—for reasons ranging from the existence of Section 377A, the law which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men, to the vague concept of “family values”—which limits their ability to fundraise and organise. Queer activists have continuously learnt to adapt to restrictions placed on them by the government; as Lynette Chua attests in her seminal study on LGBTQ organising, Mobilizing Gay Singapore, innovations pioneered by queer activists—such as the use of anonymous online platforms, or the organising of a public visibility campaign in Hong Lim Park—have been adopted by other civil society actors looking to push for change within a restrictive state environment.

LBT activists in particular have played a central role in both the broader LGBTQ and women's movements, and strides are being made to both recognise their contributions and more fully address the specific needs and concerns of LBT women.

Back to top
  1. Au, Alex. “Singapore: A Woman With A Past.” Yawning Bread, July 2005. Accessed [2 January 2015].
  2. Chan, Meng Choo, “First Sex Change Surgery (1971).” Singapore Infopedia (National Library Board), 2011. Accessed [5 January 2015].
  3. Kweh, Soon Han and Lee Juet Jin. “Transsexuals and Sex Determination.” Singapore Academy of Law Journal 4 (1992): 86–115. Accessed [5 December 2014].
  4. “Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill.” Singapore Parliament Reports (Hansard), volume 66, sitting 1, column 64, 2 May 1996. Accessed [21 May 2015].¤tPubID=00069762-ZZ&topicKey=00069762-ZZ.00065196-ZZ_1%2Bid019_19960502_S0003_T00101-bill%2B
  5. Chua, Lynette. Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State. Singapore: NUS Press.
  6. Ginger June. Interview with Raksha Mahtani, 15 February 2015.
  7. Chong, Jean. Interview with Raksha Mahtani, 6 January 2015.
  8. See note 5.
  9. See note 7.
  10. See note 5.
  11. “Report of the Review Committee on Censorship.” 19 December 1981. Accessed [10 January 2015].
  12. See note 5.
  13. “Censorship Review Committee Report 1992.” 24 September 1992. Accessed [10 January 2015].
  14. “Safe Sex (A Double Bill),” TheatreWorks Archive. Accessed [8 January 2015].
  15. Koh, James. “Stop Kiss by Livid Room Productions.” The Flying Inkpot, 21 March 2002. Accessed [5 January 2015].
  16. See note 7.
  17. “Report of Censorship Review Committee 2003.” 10 July 2003. Accessed [10 January 2015].
  18. “Starhub fined $10,000 for 'lesbian kissing scene.” TODAY, 10 April 2008. Accessed [12 January 2015].
  19. De Rozario, Tania. “Re-setting the standard, the Great Work begins.” Yawning Bread, 13 September 2013. Accessed [15 January 2015].
  20. Lee, Eileena. Interview with Raksha Mahtani, 17 January 2015.
  21. See note 5.
  22. See note 5.
  23. “Responses to the list of issues and questions with regard to the consideration of the fourth periodic report: Singapore.” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 12 May 2011. Accessed [15 January 2015].
  24. “Report on Discrimination against Women in Singapore based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” Office of the United Nations High Commissionr for Human Rights (OHCHR), 20 June 2011. Accessed [15 January 2015].
  25. Fang, Joy. “Refusal to allow pro-family event at Padang puzzling: Lawrence Khong.” TODAY Online, 10 May 2014. Accessed [4 January 2015].