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Police investigating anti-LGBT talk at Hwa Chong Institution

The police are investigating an incident at Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) in which a school counsellor giving a sex education talk used content that discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) people.

They confirmed on Friday (July 22) that they were following up on reports that had been made, without giving any details of who had made them, or what laws may have been broken.

The content of the counsellor's presentation was not approved by the school. He has been reprimanded and suspended from conducting lessons on sexuality.

In his presentation last Wednesday (July 13) to the Secondary 4 cohort, he had made unsubstantiated claims such as how a majority of homosexuals have problems with intestinal worms and how a large proportion of them are paedophiles.

The slides from the presentation were later widely shared on social media.

In March, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam had reiterated in Parliament that there were protections for LGBT+ people under the law.

He said the Government had expressly included in amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) that any attack on any member of the LGBT+ community because of his or her identity, or on LGBT+ groups, would be an offence, and would not be tolerated.

The MRHA states that it is an offence to urge violence against a target group on the grounds of religion. An Explanatory Statement to the MRHA notes that a target group may also be "made up of atheists, individuals from a specific racial community, who share a similar sexual orientation or have a certain nationality or descent like foreign workers or new citizens".

Though the amendments to the act were passed in October 2019, they have yet to come into force.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told The Straits Times that the delay was due to the ministry developing and testing reporting systems as well as training officers on how the law would work, operationally.

Since the legislation will also affect a large number of religious organisations, MHA is also working to ensure that all the organisations are informed of the obligations before bringing it into force, he added.

He said: "On protections for LGBT+ persons, the Government has made its position clear - violence, abuse or harassment against any person is not condoned regardless of their sexual orientation or religious beliefs."

Aside from the amended MRHA, he noted that acts involving hurt or incitement of violence, including against LGBT+ persons, are currently criminalised in the Penal Code as well as the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), which contains both civil and criminal measures to protect individuals from harassment and abuse.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said that depending on the precise facts of the incident, one potential offence that the police could investigate the matter is under Section 4 of the POHA of causing harassment, alarm or distress to a person through his presentation. This can include an LGBT+ person who might have been in the audience.

Prof Tan noted, however, that though the counsellor's actions appear to have been uncalled for and potentially promoted hatred or disgust towards LGBT+ people, not all bigoted acts have to be dealt with by way of criminal sanctions.

He said: "The larger issue is not so much whether the acts broke the law but how best to engage the counsellor on the error of his ways and to ensure that such discriminatory acts do not happen. This is necessary as the counsellor works with impressionable teenagers."

EDUCATION AND SCHOOLSHARASSMENTLAW AND LEGISLATION