Response to a post in a forum in which I participate

I am a member in an email forum of Singapore lesbian and gay people and their friends. Recently there was a question posed there: are companies pro-gay or anti-gay. Rather than post a very lengthy reply there, I thought I’d post it in my blog and refer people there if they were interested.

I think that corporations are probably neither anti-gay or pro-gay. They are pro-profit. What this means in practice is that corporations will take positions on a range of issues that best advance their profits.

Reasons for being pro-gay are:

— Creative staff members who are gay feel supported and continue to work for the company;
— Customers who are gay feel that the company is in tune with their own feelings and aspirations and support the company with their custom.

The corollary to this is that companies who wish to hire and retain people want to exist in environments where the greatest range of people feel supported and empowered. A place where a whole wodge of people (often very creative) do not feel supported and empowered is not a place where such companies wish to do business.

Now, translating that to companies actively lobbying for changes in places where they do business is difficult. In my time here in the United Kingdom, the age of consent has been lowered; the laws around public and private sexual activity have been regularised, made consistent, and applied fairly; discrimination in provision of services has been made illegal; and civil partnerships for same-sex partners have been made legal. I have not seen any public lobbying by corporations on any of these issues except for the provision of services, and that was mostly by religious and religiously-oriented small businesses that wanted to continue to discriminate, along with religious denominations who felt it was discriminatory to force them to provide services such as adoption to same-sex couples.

Large organisations crave a consistent and predictable legal and political climate in which to do business. As far as sexual conduct or orientation is concerned, as long as it is legal and does not intrude into the workplace, corporations are normally neutral toward it. More upset in the workplace has come from male executives bonking their way through the typing pool, rather than from gay relationships or sexual activity–this is natural, seeing as most people are straight. There is more publicity from the gay relationship in the work environment situation (viz Lord Browne, former Chairman of BP, having to resign because he lied about his relationship with his male lover who had been a rentboy–but most of this was about his fibbing on the subject, rather than his liking men) mostly because of its "shock value" to many straight people and thus the media wanting to sell newspapers talk it up.

I see Singapore’s government as wanting to attract business to the Southeast Asian area in general and Singapore in particular. Their attitude of keeping laws (377a) in force, but not actively enforcing them, is consistent with that. Their position is that as long as everyone stays in the closet, Singapore is a good place for everyone, including gays, to do business.

Businesses who are tempted to locate in Singapore and which have policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation may have some difficulties there. Those which give benefits to same-sex partners may find that they cannot do that in Singapore. Companies that pay for relocation of spouses when an employee is transferred will find that more difficult in the case of same-sex spouses, as there is no provision in Singapore law for a same-sex partner to come in and live there as a spouse of someone with a work permit. Other countries in the area may find that they can exploit this by making it easier for such spouses to accompany transferred employees (I would think Thailand is the most likely to do this in the area) and thus siphon some businesses away from Singapore.

The flurry of worldwide publicity around IndigNation will probably have given them some pause. The publicity has exposed the soft underbelly of the government’s position in that, while they prohibited various events, these events went on anyway. So the government gathered publicity that was, at the very least, embarrassing and at worst unfavourable, and yet did not succeed in effectively stopping any of the events. Companies that wish to set up or continue operations in Singapore may wonder whether they can transfer their current lesbian and gay employees there and retain them.

The current publicity around the RI teacher’s coming out is somewhat confined to Singapore and those of us who follow Singapore news from afar. However, if he is forced to resign or is sacked, (God forbid this!) then it will be likely to engender some unease in the worldwide academic community. The recent actions of the University of NSW and Warwick University in withdrawing from operations in Singapore will be reinforced and confirmed.

I suppose "Watch this space!" is a good motto to go on with. Alex, miak, and many other brave souls are slowly but surely changing Singapore from within.

3 Responses to “Response to a post in a forum in which I participate”

  1. skibbley says:

    So if a company has a non-discrimination policy, does that mean they should not do business in places they cannot uphold it?

  2. chrishansenhome says:

    I think so. It makes personnel policies simpler worldwide if they don’t have to have caveats depending on where their offices are situated.

  3. ruth_lawrence says:

    …and may they succeed and be well remembered for it.