377A In The SAF

Last week, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung set tongues wagging when he declared that LGBT people don’t face discrimination in Singapore. He was responding to a question on 377A when he said,

The fact is they (the LGBTQ community) live in Singapore peacefully, no discrimination at work, housing (and) education. They go about their lives.

But maybe Mr Ong should listen to the stories of these two men in uniform. They are both gay men whose careers in the SAF have been disrupted because of their sexuality and 377A.

Certain details of their stories have been edited to protect their identities.

He can’t fly anymore

James (not his real name) was set for a long and illustrious career in the RSAF. After receiving a prestigious scholarship, he returned to service as a pilot.

But he soon found out that being a gay pilot was a problem that the RSAF didn’t know how to handle. Although his immediate superiors had no problem with his sexuality, top management did.

He was repeatedly denied security clearance because of his sexuality. This prevented him from climbing any further in the force.

Frustrated by this, James eventually asked to be transferred to a non-combat vocation. He continues to serve in that role today, but his hopes of returning to the sky have been dashed.

Think about the resources that the RSAF pumped into his training and scholarship. Is it really fair to throw all of that away just because he prefers men?

His scholarship was in question

3 years ago, Andy attended Pink Dot with his then-boyfriend. He had quietly attended in previous years but for the first time, he decided to post a photo of himself at the event on Facebook.

Mind you, the photo was set to “private” and could only be viewed by those in Andy’s circle.

Still, his commanders took an issue with it and repeatedly asked him to take down the photo. It was also implied that his recent SAF scholarship would be revoked if he didn’t do so.

His commanders even looked through his phone to read his WhatsApp messages–a clear invasion of privacy. Understandably distressed by this, Andy deleted all his conversations with his boyfriend.

Weighed down by the trauma this caused, Andy eventually complied with his commanders’ request and took down the photo. He even broke up with his boyfriend, just so he would better fit into the SAF culture.

Andy’s scholarship wasn’t affected by the saga, although it probably would have had he chosen to act differently.

It’s not all bad though

Although extreme cases of discrimination because of 377A are common, there are plenty of gay servicemen who get by without much trouble at all.

Nate, for instance, also served in the SAF and came out to his colleagues on a drunken night out. He tells MustShareNews,

There was no major issue for me. I think it’s because I wasn’t in a leadership position or anything.

And it probably helped that Nate was an NSF as well. He was open about his sexuality, even discussing his dating life with his straight officers.

But as the stories of Andy and James show, not everybody has it that lucky when they’re in uniform.

We owe a lot to our servicemen and women– these people volunteer to give their lives for Singapore, so the least we could do is not discriminate them based on who they love.

Ministers may act without discrimination, but not everyone in the army will follow suit.

Because to discriminate is one thing. But to deny discrimination–that’s a whole other ball game.

Featured image from MINDEF.