Team of lawyers create guidebook for LGBT couples in Singapore

Artwork for a guidebook that will look at how the laws here apply to aspects of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) life.
Artwork for a guidebook that will look at how the laws here apply to aspects of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) life. PHOTO: SINGAPORE LGBT LAW

SINGAPORE - What do you do when you cannot marry your long-term partner but want to buy a home together? If you want to have or adopt children, what are the laws around that?

In June, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples will be able to find answers to such questions in a guidebook that will look at how the laws here apply to aspects of LGBT life.

The project was started by lawyer Indulekshmi Rajeswari, 29, who identifies as a bisexual woman. She said her friends frequently asked her about the law and their LGBT relationships but she did not have the answers.

"I knew my friends were asking me because they did not know other LGBT-friendly lawyers," she said.

Hence her decision to create this Legal Guidebook for LGBT Couples & Families in Singapore, which is modelled after LGBT guidebooks in other countries such as the United States.

The book looks into "legal ambiguities" to do with marriage and cohabitation contracts, property, wills and inheritance, medical decisions and children.

A GiveAsia campaign was launched two weeks ago to fund the project. The team hit their target of $10,000 in under 24 hours and has since raised it to $15,000 - to print 2,000 copies. As of Monday (March 13), almost $18,000 had been raised.

The guidebook will be distributed to LGBT organisations and be made available for free online.

This fills a "much needed resource gap" for social workers, said Mr Leow Yangfa, executive director of LGBT counselling group Oogachaga.

Ms Indulekshmi said any lawyer can look at laws and regulations to answer various issues, but there were areas without publicly available policies.

"For example, we could not find any publicly available guidance on what is required to change one's gender legally," she said.

"This is one of the many examples of the type of legal ambiguities that LGBT people in Singapore face. It is a type of ambiguity that is often hidden or rarely discussed."

She has been working on the book since November 2015, together with a team of 18 volunteers.

They include lawyers, law students, academics working on the content, and those who do the editing, marketing and design work.

Lawyer Deryne Sim, 32, volunteered because she felt it was "much needed". She spent more than 30 hours working on chapters dealing with wills and lasting power of attorney.

PhD student Ching S. Sia, who donated $100 to the campaign, said she was glad to see a guide like that.

"It is hard to navigate being in an LGBT relationship here and I'm looking forward to the sections on children and assets," said the 33-year-old.