SINGAPORE (AFP) – Holding placards and a rainbow flag, Singapore gay rights activists on Thursday condemned the European Union for inviting an academic accused of homophobia to speak at a human rights seminar in the city-state.
Thio Li-ann, a prominent law professor at the National University of Singapore, was invited to speak on international human rights law at an EU seminar.
In a statement 78 activists said they were “profoundly disappointed”, citing Thio’s previous public statements against homosexuality and her support for a colonial-era law that criminalises gay sex between men.
They urged the EU to “explain how inviting Professor Thio as a speaker for a Human Rights Day seminar is consistent with its own stated role as a defender and advocate of human rights”.
At the event held at a downtown hotel early Thursday, some activists held placards in support of gay rights in front of the stage while Thio was speaking, with their mouths taped shut. A rainbow flag was also unfurled.
Activist Jolovan Wham said the action was meant to “send a message” to the EU that the selection of Thio as a speaker was “problematic”.
Another activist, 24-year-old student Lim Jialiang, said the invitation “shows an implicit approval of Thio’s anti-LGBT views and reflects badly on the EU”.
“Her views are contrary to both the EU and the UN’s stance on LGBT rights, and her presence makes a mockery of greater EU efforts to promote and legitimise LGBT rights around the world,” Lim told AFP.
Thio’s speech was not interrupted by the silent protest. A spokeswoman for the EU delegation in Singapore told AFP Thio was invited to share her views on the role of the judiciary in the protection and promotion of human rights, which it said was “her area of expertise”.
Despite opposition to Thio’s views by “several participants” at the event, “many also appreciated the opportunity to have an exchange of views on questions linked to the judiciary and human rights, including but not limited to LGBTI questions”, the spokeswoman said.
“The EU delegation has made it clear to participants that it will continue its established dialogue with civil society, including with members of the LGBTI community,” she added.
The term LGBTI refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
Thio, a former appointed lawmaker, created a stir in 2007 when she delivered a controversial speech in parliament strongly supporting a section in the Singapore penal code known as Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men.
“Anal-penetrative sex is inherently damaging to the body and a misuse of organs, like shoving a straw up your nose to drink,” she said at the time.
The government subsequently said the provision would stay because most Singaporeans are conservative and do not accept homosexuality.
The government’s refusal to rescind the law – which is not being actively enforced – has become a lightning rod for a growing movement for gay rights and inclusiveness in the multi-racial nation of 5.5 million.