Document Type


Publication Date



As the United States and Europe have progressed to the issue of same-sex marriage, countries that are still working through antecedent issues, such as the decriminalization of anti-sodomy laws, are regarded by international gay rights advocates as lagging behind the times. This often leads to pressures from the Western-dominated international community for reform. Through this Article, Professor Stewart Chang contributes to the ongoing scholarly debate between international human rights activists who desire to advance gay rights by utilizing the same rights-based models that prevail in the United States and Europe and critics of this approach who deem the universal imposition of Western standards for gay rights upon non-Western countries as constituting a new type of imperialism and subordination. This Article analyzes, for the first time, the question of neocolonialism within the global gay rights movement from a postcolonial Asian perspective, focusing on the recent legal dispute regarding Singapore's anti-sodomy statute, Penal Code Section 377A, as a case study. Professor Chang challenges the one-size-fits-all model for gay rights advocacy often presumed by Western human rights activists, particularly in light of the colonial histories of many Eastern Hemisphere nations. For its postcolonial governance, Singapore adopted a hybridized strategy that paradoxically embraced Western capitalistic economic growth while simultaneously rejecting some major liberal values associated with capitalism. In particular, concepts such as government noninterference and individual privacy, which are core tenets of Western gay rights discourse, have proved problematic in Singapore. During decolonization, Singapore purposely designed some of its laws to recover and reflect indigenous Asian values, which eventually developed into a form of cultural nationalism that distinguished it from a perceived moral indulgency of the West. He explores how this postcolonial tension played a crucial role in the choice by the Singaporean Parliament to uphold 377A during the reforms to the Penal Code in 2007, but was largely ignored in the subsequent constitutional challenge against 377A in the courts. The constitutional challenge was premised on a Western liberal model of individual negative rights, which he argues led to its failure as a neocolonial venture because it threatened to discount and subordinate the will of the indigenous Asian culture. Instead, Professor Chang proposes applying intersectional analysis from Critical Race Theory to find a method for advancing gay rights in postcolonial Asian nations, such as Singapore, that is sensitive to not only the cultural nuances, but also the postcolonial sensibilities of local indigenous populations. The ultimate goal of this Article is to prevent gay rights from becoming another neocolonial enterprise that imposes yet another form of subordination on non-Western foreign governments and populations. Through intersectional analysis, Professor Chang suggests ways in which gay rights can potentially create bridges of mutual empowerment that address, accommodate, and alleviate residual layers of subordination left in the wake of Western imperialism.

Publication Citation

32 B.U. Int'l L.J. 309 (2014).