Singapore Will Continue to Restrict LGBTQ Content, Even After Decriminalizing Same-Sex Relationships
23rd August 2022

The Singapore government announced that it will continue to restrict and classify media content with LGBTQ themes, even after its planned decriminalization of same-sex relationships.

The move to repeal a colonial-era law that criminalized sex between men was announced Sunday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The law, Section 377A of the Penal Code, was introduced in 1938 and established a two-year jail term for “any act of gross indecency” between two men, either in public or in private.

London-based Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen (“Ilo Ilo,” “Wet Season”) commended the planned repeal. “Long overdue but well done Singapore,” he wrote on Twitter.

Until about a decade ago, the law was used as justification for police raids of gay-owned businesses and street arrests. Since 2010, the law has been rarely enforced, but it continues to inform tough anti-LGBTQ policy in media and entertainment.

In June, Disney’s animated Pixar film “Lightyear” was limited to those aged 16 and above by the country’s rating board, citing its depiction of a kiss between two female characters. Previously, the National Library Board had withdrawn a children’s book that included a same-sex penguin couple, though the ban was later reversed and the title instead placed on the adult list.

LGBTQ media content will continue to warrant higher age ratings, even after the repeal of 377A, the Ministry of Communications and Information stated on Monday.

“We will continue to take reference from prevailing norms. LGBTQ media content will continue to warrant higher age ratings,” the MCI said in a statement of clarification.

The country’s Films Act does not permit content which is deemed “promotion of homosexuality” or content with “excessive depiction of sexual activity between individuals of the same gender”.

The country’s InfoComm Media Development Authority, which oversees the sector, operates a content code that targets films that depict “alternative sexualities,” such as homosexuality, as to “be sensitive to community values.”

“Films that centre on alternative sexualities may be classified at (the) highest rating of R21. Non-explicit depictions of sexual activity between persons of the same gender may be featured at R21 rating,” the code says. That would restrict viewing to adults older than 21.

A lower rating of M18 (allowing viewing by people older than 18) may be applied where the homosexual themes or content are a subplot, “if discreet in treatment and not gratuitous,” the IMDA code says.

Lee said that he also plans to amend the country’s constitution to protect the current heterosexual definition of marriage from being challenged in court.

“Many national policies rely upon this definition of marriage — including public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards, film classification,” said Lee. “The government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage, nor these policies.”

On Monday, law minister K. Shanmugam stated that Lee’s approach is not intended to enshrine heterosexual marriage in the country’s constitution, but rather to protect that working definition from legal challenge.

The definition of [heterosexual] marriage means that the country’s dominant public broadcaster is prohibited from carrying positive portrayals of queer characters.

The continuing media restrictions and the proposed new obstacle in the path of legitimizing legal same-sex marriages means that many people in Singapore regard the new repeal of 377A as only a small step for LGBTQ rights. Non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch called the move a “mixed message.”

“[We’re] noting real progress that revoking article 377A will bring, but raising serious concerns about discrimination if Constitutional amendment on marriage is passed. Eliminating anti-LGBT discrimination needed across the board,” said Phil Robertson, the NGO’s Deputy Asia Director.

Singapore’s neighbor Malaysia is also maintaining a strict anti-LGBTQ position. There, the government recently caused “Lightyear” and Marvel movie “Thor: Love and Thunder” to lose their theatrical releases by requesting LGBTQ-related cuts to the films that Disney did not accept. Since the furor, the Malaysian government has said that it plans to further act against content containing LGBTQ elements. The country also operates a sharia system, Islam’s legal system, in parallel with its secular legal system.

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