Singapore Poll Finds Tolerance
Planet Out News,
May 24, 2000
Summary: A survey by activists proves that the people are way ahead of the
government, especially when it comes to the family value of unconditional love.
Sparked by a government official's televised remarks a year-and-a-half ago that the
status of homosexuality is "a question of what society considers acceptable," a
Singapore gay and lesbian group and their non-gay allies have carried out a
first-of-its-kind survey there that demonstrates a high level of tolerance. The public may
be ahead of the government in judging what's considered "acceptable": a current
government program called Singapore 21 is designed to increase participation in society
bears the slogan "Everyone counts," yet two-and-a-half weeks after applying for
a public entertainment permit for a May 28 rally, there's still been no response from
police to the group People Like Us, which for three years has been denied official status.
In April and May, volunteers surveyed 251 Singaporeans on the streets of several
different districts and another 240 online. While the survey announced May 22 is not
entirely scientific, all respondents were at least 16 years old, and their distribution
among Singapore's major ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay and Indian) matches the national
profile. The group estimates the margin of error at four to six percent. They described
their findings as, "an important threshold providing a sense of where Singaporeans
stand with respect to such issues. The findings here can be seen as 'leading indicators'
to the way Singapore social opinion is likely to evolve in the years ahead."
First the poll inquired about acceptance of gay and lesbian family members. Among
respondents on the street, 46% said they would accept a gay brother or lesbian sister
although it might take some time, while 26% said they never could; 41% said they would
accept a gay son or lesbian daughter, while 35% said they never could. Not surprisingly,
Internet respondents were more liberal: 74% said they would accept a gay brother or
lesbian sister, while 9% said they never could; 66% said they would accept a gay son or
lesbian daughter, while 13% said they never could. The group's interpretation was that,
"Singaporeans appear to be pragmatic about the issue. These findings suggest that
they value family ties highly enough to accommodate gay siblings and children within the
Then respondents were asked about employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.
It was opposed by 74% of those on the street and 83% of those online.
Finally, the survey asked about the current "crimes
against nature" law, which most other former British colonies have long since
repealed but which in Singapore prescribes punishments as harsh as life imprisonment.
Recently a heterosexual male was convicted of sodomy against his former girlfriend, but
acts between two women have never been prosecuted. Specifically, respondents were asked if
they believed that oral sex between homosexual adults in private should be restricted.
Restrictions were opposed by 39% of those interviewed on the street and supported by 29%.
Among Internet respondents, fully 78% opposed restrictions and only 16% supported them.
People Like Us spokesperson Alex Au, 47, told the South China Morning Post that,
"I am not surprised. In coming out, I have met nothing but friendliness and
open-mindedness." His group attempts to represent the interests of what it estimates
to be "some 150,000 to 300,000 Singaporeans who feel alienated from the state"
on issues of sexuality, and he remarked to Agence France Presse, "How do we expect
gay Singaporeans to feel passionate about Singapore if they perceive that they suffer
discrimination, legal and social, in this country?"
Earlier Au observed in a statement that, "In the thinking cosmopolitan society
Singapore aspires to be, the gay issue cannot be brushed aside." But it can and has
been suppressed in the media by the highly censorious national government, including the
recent kiss between two women on Ally McBeal.
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