'Now is a time for healing': The six men who challenged Section 377A in the courts

The Pink Dot rally at Hong Lim Park on June 18, 2022. Singapore is set to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The six men who challenged Section 377A of the Penal Code in the courts said they were elated and relieved that the law, which criminalises sex between men, would be repealed, and they were still in a state of shock and disbelief.

Deejay Johnson Ong, 47, said he was glad the decision to repeal was not left to the courts in the end, and called it an unbelievable step in the right direction.

Mr Ong, who watched the National Day Rally with a group of friends and other activists on Sunday evening (Aug 21), said that to resolve such a contentious issue through the courts could have led to more polarisation among Singaporeans.

He said: "Parliament should be the way, but bringing the challenge was the right thing to do as it pushed the Government to act with urgency."

Mr Ong added that now is a time for healing, and that the community should focus on fighting issues more pressing than the possibility of same-sex marriage.

He said: "We should be looking at discrimination that happens in schools, sexual education for queer Singaporeans and housing accessibility."

Deejay Johnson Ong (right) watched the National Day Rally with a group of friends and other activists on Aug 21, 2022. PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHNSON ONG

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement at the Rally took many in the community by surprise, as previous campaigns to repeal the law had been unsuccessful. Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday that the Constitution would also be amended to make clear that it is up to Parliament to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Mr Ong, Mr Bryan Choong, chairman of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) non-profit organisation Oogachaga, and retired general practitioner Roy Tan launched challenges to the law in 2019, contending that it was inconsistent with Singapore's Constitution - the highest law of the land.

Their cases resulted in the Court of Appeal declaring in February this year that Section 377A was entirely unenforceable.

Mr Choong, 45, said he hopes the law's repeal will create a space for families to reconcile their differences.

He said: "A lot of LGBTQ people in my generation left the country not just because of the law but because of the whole environment surrounding it. Hopefully after repeal, they will feel that the country is ready for them."

Dr Roy Tan, 64, said fighting for repeal had been an arduous, 12-year-long struggle and paid his respects to Mr Ivan Tan, the first man to challenge the law in the courts in 2010.

Mr Tan, 59, who is a part-time housekeeper and talent caster, said fighting the law was a struggle and many including his friends and family tried to discourage him along the way.

He said he and his lawyer M. Ravi persevered despite the criticism and pressure they faced, and though they were unsuccessful in their challenge, he was happy Section 377A had finally been repealed.

Mr Ravi, who represented both Mr Tan and Dr Tan, said: "We are all overjoyed not just for the community that would most benefit from this historic news, but also for the numerous activists, lawyers, families and supporters who have worked tirelessly to bring Singapore to these new heights."

Graphic designers Gary Lim, 54, and Kenneth Chee, 47 - a couple who challenged the law along with Mr Tan in 2012 - said they never considered themselves activists but wanted to contribute in a small way.

Mr Lim said that while the news of repeal was a relief, there was still work to be done for the LGBTQ community. "But with 377A repealed, it's going to make it easier," he added.

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