1 step forward, 3 steps back: Asian LGBTQ+ rights still at a crossroad

LGBTQ+ rights in Asia are still limited as compared to other countries around the world. Some countries like Singapore and Sri Lanka still hold on to archaic colonised laws, reinforcing the institutionalised and social discrimination the local LGBTQ+ community faces.

While others may have made progress in recognising the legal and social status of the LGBTQ+ community such as in Cambodia, the lingering stigma towards the community may adversely affect their psychological well-being, and could also limit economic, legal and healthcare access.

Three students across Asia share their stories of how they maintain their sexual identity in a home which still sees them as less than enough.

Yun Teng

21, Singaporean student, she/her

“Lesbian is not a bad word, and shouldn’t have any negative orsexualised connotations attached to it”

Q: When did you first come to terms with your sexuality now? 

I first knew when I was 14 and watched a Webseries on YouTube called Carmilla. Before that I didn’t know that girls could date girls, and upon seeing that something just clicked.

All the celebrity crushes I had were women, and I’ve never had an interest in men.

It was also around that time that I watched more lesbian youtube couples like Rose & Rosie, and shows such as “The 100” that had sapphic representation (though Lexa’s death was definitely a blow).

I only accepted that I liked girls a few months after, and the first person I came out to was my best friend at the time, a little after I turned 16. 

Q: Could you describe your coming out experience and the reactions of your close family members and friends? 

I kinda took the step to come out on Instagram publicly when I was 18 because I didn’t want to start university and have to make friends only to find out they’re homophobic, and I was already quite comfortable with and confident in my sexuality. 

Yunteng’s Instagram post

I only recently came out to my parents who, though are traditional and used to say some homophobic things, were also generally quite accepting of my sexuality.

I’m really really grateful that the people that matter to me are accepting of my sexuality, and understand that that’s not the case for so many others.

I hope we can continue to push for a more inclusive and loving society. 

As for my professional life, I’m not very sure of how it will impact it as I am still studying, though I am quite afraid given the complete lack of representation on local channels, and censorship as well.

There are a few queer artistes here and there, but I’m sure there are many more who are perhaps in hiding out of fear or for protection. I hope it gets better, and wish to aid in that change for the better too. 

Q: How do you navigate through common stereotypes of lesbians?

Lesbians get sexualised a lot, and I think it comes along with or is enhanced by the general sexualisation of women.

I think someone pointed out that if you search ‘lesbians’ on Instagram, you’ll find a lot of accounts that are NSFW, but if you search other sexualities, usually pride accounts come up. Because of this, I myself felt that the word ‘lesbian’ used to feel dirty, and I just preferred to call myself gay, but lesbian is not a bad word, and shouldn’t have any negative or sexualised connotations attached to it. 

In Singapore, I think a lot of people will see two women together and think they’re best friends or sisters and not dating.

It’s honestly quite annoying getting hit on or seeing your date get hit on when it’s so obvious you’re dating and you just know this would not happen to a straight-presenting couple.

Perhaps because I dress more femme as well, I feel like sometimes people are surprised when I say I’m a lesbian, as I feel like generally people expect a more masculine “tomboy” kind of look, which is not always the case. 

Q: While Singaporeans are becoming more accepting towards the LGBTQ+ community, there is still more to be done. What can Singaporeans do to strengthen support for them? 

In terms of strengthening support for the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore, I think for Singaporeans, opening your hearts and maybe opening your wallets, and showing up online or IRL when we need it would be helpful to the community.

Given how strict Singapore is when it comes to public protests, even merely sharing posts about discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community as well, or available resources for those that might need it can be helpful. 

If you can, fight for our rights.

A bulk of the obstacles we face honestly comes from government regulations, such as from lack of representation due to censorship, denial of LGBTQ+ discrimination in Singapore, and larger issues like marriage, and how LGBTQ+ couples cannot BTO1 until they are 35. 

Someone out there might be closeted, but doing so lets them know that you are supportive of the community and that they are loved and accepted. Not to forget about intersectionality too!

If you are more privileged than others, use that voice and power to amplify voices that need it.

1 Build-To-Order (BTO) is a flat allocation system that offers flexibility in timing and location for owners buying new HDB flats in Singapore. These flats are not built yet, so owners must wait 3 to 4 years. There are strict rules to follow such as owners must be a married heterosexual couple. If a single person (regardless of their sexuality) wishes to purchase a BTO, the person must be 35 years of age and above. Such a ruling only applies to many public housing estates in Singapore.

Next story, Hansana Kolonnage, 20, Sri Lankan student, he/him

“They should realise that we are not a harm to society or their children just because we live how we choose to”

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