Amid an increasingly tolerant environment for gay and lesbian groups in Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday indicated that a ban on gay activist groups may soon be lifted. In a speech to the Harvard Club, Lee said the emergence of gay rights organizations, along with other interest groups, would be tolerated as the government moves to ease curbs on political and social freedoms, Agence France-Presse reports. "There will be other groups formed, I'm quite sure, to campaign for specific issues--gay rights for example, and that is a sensitive one," Lee said after the speech, according to the Straits Times.
Gay sex is still outlawed in Singapore, but the government's greater tolerance of gay people was evidenced last year when Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said that gays would be allowed to work in public service. Singapore's first-ever gay community center also opened last month, offering phone counseling services and medical and legal advice. And the city-state is gaining a reputation as a gay entertainment hub with several gay-friendly clubs, karaoke pubs, saunas, restaurants, and fashion outlets, according to AFP. People Like Us, one of the earliest gay groups formed in Singapore, in 1992, tried unsuccessfully to register as a society under the Societies Act in 1997.
Goh said in July that although the government intends to relax its attitude regarding homosexuality, gay sex will not be decriminalized because of opposition from Muslims and the majority of other Singaporeans. "The heartlanders are still conservative," Goh said. "You can call it double-standard, but sometimes it is double-standard. They are conservative. And for the Muslims, it's religion, it's not the law. Islam openly says the religion is against gay practice."