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Photograph: Pink Dot/Rachel Ng

Is Singapore finally finding its voice?

Or are we just shouting into the void?

Written by
Time Out Singapore editors

There was a time when airing grievances about Singapore was kept mainly to the confines of the home – or the coffee shop after a couple of bottles of Tiger. But thanks to social media and the the internet, that’s no longer the case. Unapologetic activists are on the rise in Singapore and they have no qualms speaking out on systemic inequality and social injustices, taking action where needed.

The Good

Photo: Ken Lim

While it’s sometimes hard to separate the trolls from the genuine, it’s heartening to see a section of Singaporeans moving away from hamstrung neutrality to fighting for what they believe is right – championing everything from the fight for LGBT rights and animal welfare causes to calling out sexual harassment and improving the lives of immigrant workers.

Pink Dot SG is an illustrious display of activism. The annual movement gathers participants in support of the LGBTQ community and has seen a staggering increase in attendees from 2,500 in 2009 to more than 20,000 in 2018. “The growth of social media and the internet have contributed to many Singaporeans having more access to information about LGBT issues,” says Paerin Choa, the spokesperson of Pink Dot SG. “It has also allowed many in the community to come out and share their stories,”

Call it a knock-on effect but following India’s Supreme Court’s decision to repeal British-era Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Singaporeans were quick to sound off on Section 377A of our Penal Code, which criminalises gay sex. Multiple petitions were created, including the one titled ‘Ready 4 Repeal’ on GoPetition that has since garnered more than 50,000 signatories.

While there hasn’t been any change to the policy, conversations on the topic have been taking place, with leaders like Ambassador-at-Large Dr Tommy Koh and Lim Phang Hong, president of the Buddhist Fellowship supporting the repeal.

In an opinion piece titled “Section 377A: Science, Religion and the Law” published in The Straits Times, Koh pens: “Singapore is part of the minority mainly because we inherited from the British a penal code which criminalises sodomy. For a country which embraces science and technology, it is surprising that, on this one aspect, the law has not been updated in the light of the scientific evidence.”

The Bad

John Schnobrich/Unsplash

So maybe we’ve finally found a voice, but at what cost? As more people have spoken out, we’ve also seen an increase in hate speech, bullying, fake news and other toxic forms of content on the endless abyss that is the internet. The Straits Times’ Facebook comments section, forums like HardwareZone and Reddit and other social media sites give us platform to air views but we’re not really listening to what the other side to say.

For every ‘Ready 4 Repeal’ petition, there’s a one to ‘Please Keep Penal Code 377A in Singapore’ along with rumours that its 80,000 signatures – a good deal more than the repeal petition’s numbers – are fake. The internet echo chamber is where our beliefs are reinforced because it allows us to confirm our own existing views, instead of considering other arguments. And the scary part is that this might drive groups even further apart as they double down on their own beliefs.

What we'd like to see in the future

Contentious social issues naturally leave people divided but a history of silence has never done anyone any good and the upside is, we’re talking. In order to bridge the gap between both sides, we hope that people will start talking to each other instead of talking at each other. And that can only happen when we view each other as individuals, with our own life stories and dreams.

As Paerin puts it, “we hope that Singapore will embrace change and that we, as a society will move with the rest of the world. We hope that more Singaporeans will realize that love should not have boundaries and families come in different forms. We hope that Singapore will one day be truly inclusive and treats all its citizens, including its LGBT citizens equally.”

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