Singaporeans, being socially conservative, seem to be rather averse to liberal ideas which champion tolerance and gay rights. These ideas are deemed foreign to an Asian context, and to Singapore as well. This may explain why LGBT inclusion lacks traction locally, as compared to many other nations today, where even the legality of gay marriage is being increasingly accepted.
However, the case for LGBT inclusion need not necessarily be grounded on the language of liberalism (though that should suffice), but may also be made on pragmatic grounds. I argue that if Singaporeans want to maintain our strong record of economic growth, pursuing LGBT inclusion may be a practical necessity we cannot avoid.
The late Lee Kuan Yew himself was famously pragmatic, and enacted policies that were not cast in ideological stone. This has long been a principle of the PAP government, and has translated into policies meticulously calculated to bring tangible socio-economic benefits to Singaporeans. In the Singaporean consensus, the logic of pragmatism reigns supreme.
On this basis, one should note the widespread benefits to businesses should they embrace LGBT inclusion. According to a recent study, “Out in the World, Securing LGBT Rights in a Global Marketplace“, by the Center for Talent Innovation, productivity and innovation in workplaces suffer when LGBT employees do not feel comfortable being open about their orientation. Accordingly, businesses benefit in three ways when they embrace LGBT rights: inclusion improves their employer branding and thus attract and retain the best talent, a diverse workforce can help capture more consumer segments, including the ‘pink dollar’, and an inclusive organisation culture breeds innovation. Perhaps this is what Singapore needs to boost its sagging productivity numbers and low levels of innovation.
This has implications on a national level too. A cross-national study by Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics demonstrated that societies which embraced diversity, including towards LGBT individuals, tend perform better economically. Specifically, “more tolerant countries attract more FDI, obtain better ratings, and exhibit more entrepreneurship.” This should not come as a surprise: people more readily create and innovate when they know their unique differences are celebrated.
Another study involving American cities, by Richard Florida of George Mason University and Gary Gates of the Urban Institute highlighted that a higher presence of homosexuals were correlated with a greater presence of high-tech industries and economic growth, since inclusive cities facilitate the formation of a “creative class“.
These studies are not meant to prove that homosexuality leads to creativity, but it underscores the important point that diversity pays off.
LGBT inclusion is not just a matter of liberalism. It drives economic growth and social progress, the kind that pragmatic, pro-growth and pro-business Singaporeans have always long strived for.