CARE White Paper Issue 9: Relocating the Health of Transgender Sex Workers in Singapore from the Margins: A Culture-Centered Approach

While there is high visibility of LGBT advocacy in Singapore, transgender[1] persons comprise a small, marginalized portion of the community, an even smaller proportion of which tend to go into sex work at a young age for various economic, social and cultural factors. Transgender sex workers (TSW) in Singapore comprise a marginalized community that has been identified by health authorities as one that is high risk of HIV/AIDS and other STIs, as with cisgender[2] female sex workers. They are further marginalized for their status as sex workers in an Asian society where sex outside of marriage is considered deviant behavior (Banerjee, 2000; Allard K Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic, 2015). Sex work for transgender persons embodies an array of vulnerabilities ranging from income instability and health insecurities to everyday experiences of discrimination and communicative inequalities in articulating the problems faced by transgender sex workers (Perez-Brumer, 2016). Neoliberal state laws and policies in Singapore acknowledge that while sex work cannot be eradicated as this may force the activities underground and encourage organized crime, sex trafficking and public health risks (Singapore Parliament Reports), these laws do not deem sex work itself as illegal, but criminalize sex work-related activities such as soliciting, pimping, and owning brothels (Misc. Offences Act Art 19; Women’s Charter Art 146; Women’s Charter Art 148). Migrant sex workers are increasingly vulnerable, and may face arrest, fines, deportation and bans from the state for 3 years or more (Immigration Act Art 8(3)(e)(f); Allard K Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic, 2015).

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