I had stated in 2011 during the general elections that the SDP would not pursue a gay agenda. I say again: Neither the Party nor any of our members, including Vincent, will embark on a gay agenda.
The only agenda that we have and will be pursuing is the urgent need to reduce the inflow of foreigners into our country, introduce a universal healthcare system, and make housing prices affordable.
The need for patience
Homosexuality is a complex issue that modern society must deal with. No one is going to be able to wish away the LGBT community or pretend that it doesn't exist. Like it or not, we must face this reality. We must also acknowledge that it is because of society's rejection that many in the gay and lesbian community go through tormented lives, ending up with broken minds and even taking their own lives. Compassion is what is needed in dealing with this matter.
At the same time, however, the gay community must understand the sensitivities of those – including those who belong to religious faiths – who cannot yet accept an alternative to traditional sexual orientation.
Not everyone who cannot accept the homosexual lifestyle is homophobic. These are matters of the heart and of faith especially for our Christian and Muslim friends – matters which run deep into one's being and cannot be argued away. The emergence of the LGBT issue in the public arena is a relatively new occurrence and like all things novel, there will be conflict in views which will require prayer and spiritual study. To simply label views steeped in religious teachings as misinformed is to widen the chasm of misunderstanding.
The gay community must also realise that the law is only one aspect of the controversy. Even if Section 377a of the Penal Code is repealed, there is still the outstanding – and I suspect the predominant – issue of acceptance of homosexuality by society at large. Parents are often afraid to accept their children's homosexuality not simply because of their fear of the law. No, the problem is more complex and will require more than the political solution of abolishing Section 377a.
Compassion, not discrimination
Unfortunately, in the course of the debate some comments have been directed at Vincent, in particular, and the homosexual community, in general, that were personal and hurtful. As society evolves and new issues emerge such as the role that Singapore's gay community plays in our nation's life, we have an obligation to keep the debate respectful and civil even if we have deep disagreements with each other. To cast slurs is unhelpful and serves only to deepen misunderstanding and hate.
I, like many of you, have come to know and like Vincent for the person that he is – a good Singaporean with a deep commitment to serving his country and fellow citizens. That he is gay changes nothing.
In 2010, Vincent expressed his desire to join the SDP. When the elections neared, I invited him to stand as a candidate. Party leaders had come to know Vincent and felt that he would make an intelligent and caring representative for the people. We supported his candidacy. His sexual orientation would not distract him from being the dedicated servant that he would be. To deprive Singaporeans of that choice would be remiss of the SDP. Our decision proved justified by his conduct during the 2011 GE.
Like Vincent, there are many gay people in our community who want to dedicate their lives to serving our nation in various capacities. There is much that they have contributed to society. They only ask that their fellow citizens accept them for who they are.
A couple of years ago, I brought my children to watch Aladdin, a hilarious musical staged by local production company Wild Rice. Watching my children squeal in delight and their eyes light up as they watched the kaleidoscope of light and sound on stage was something quite unlike anything else I have ever experienced and, as any parent will testify, an experience to treasure. The play was put together by many who are in the LGBT community and I thank them for bringing so much beauty and laughter into this world.
The SDP's position
The SDP stands on the bedrock of the principle of non-discrimination. Discrimination – whether it be religious, social or racial – has caused much conflict and misery in the human race, including bringing about slavery, genocide and even world wars. The SDP wants to work towards a society where compassionate tolerance, instead of discrimination, abounds.
From a political standpoint, it may be expedient for a political party to ignore the issue and keep silent about it. It is excruciatingly tempting to adopt such a tactic. There is, however, one important consideration: Nations fail and societies become dysfunctional when political leaders yield to the temptation of avoiding hard questions and, worse, pretending that they don't exist.
We may not always know the answers to the problems that confront our society and we may not always make the right decisions – no one can. But we must never be afraid to address the concerns for all our fellow Singaporeans and make the best choices with what we believe in and the limited knowledge that we possess.
At the minimum, our conscience as political leaders must always be pricked. It is only when we grapple with the difficult issues of our time in an open and honest manner can we become better leaders.
In the end, we cannot offer Singaporeans anything else other than honesty in our thoughts and dedication in our hearts.
As I mentioned, homosexuality is a complex issue that the process of voting alone cannot resolve – I'm sure our friends and opponents in the PAP, too, will admit this. It will take patient dialogue from both sides of the divide. But until we do, let us not be mired in confrontation and impatience. Instead, let us find a way to resolve our differences in love and understanding.
Perhaps, the conservative and LGBT segments of our community could sit and have an open dialogue. The less these communities talk, the more misunderstand there will be. We may never come to a complete agreement about what is and is not acceptable, but at least we can be honest with each other. And that, ultimately, must be our collective goal. (11 July 2013)