Coming Out in NS

SGRainbow would like to thank all our LGBTQ NSFs, NSmen and SAF regulars for your service to our nation and wish you a happy SAF Day!
For all Singaporean men, regardless of your sexual orientation, National Service is a mandatory journey that we must embark on. For those of us who don’t identify as heterosexual, it might seem like an even more daunting experience because there are so many more questions we may have about serving NS. 
In commemoration of SAF Day, we have put together this set of resources to help shed some light on what to expect, whether to come out and more!


“Do you wish to declare anything? (e.g. homosexuality)”

All pre-enlistees, regardless of their sexuality, would have come across some version of this question when they fill up a form during the mandatory medical screening at Central Manpower Base (CMPB). The medical screening is often their first contact with the military service that they will be bound to for at least 22 months.

For those of us who are gay, bi or queer, it may be difficult to decide how to answer that question – whether to officially disclose your sexual orientation (amongst other things). What would happen if you officially declare that you’re gay? Who would know about this? Will your parents be informed?

We at SGRainbow are no experts on National Service and the official policy surrounding homosexuality but we talked to a handful of our friends who shared their NS experiences with us. We hope that this resource will help you and/or your friends gain a better understanding of what it’s like for gay and bi soldiers in NS.

DISCLAIMER: The information presented here is to the best of our secondhand knowledge and has not been endorsed by any of the organizations mentioned. It is also based on the anecdotal experiences of our interviewees.

Q1. Do I have to declare?

The decision to officially declare one’s sexual identity is a personal one and, as far as we know, it is not mandatory. If you do declare, however, the classification ‘302’ will be in your SAF medical records. The medical review board has assured at least one of our interviewees that their medical records in the military will not affect their life as a civilian but it is perhaps best to be discerning for those who want to work in the civil service.

Why 302? “As policies regarding homosexuals and effeminacy in men in the SAF were written in the mid-1990s, an old version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) was used. Homosexuality was given the code 302 in the old versions of the ICD. In these old versions, sub-sections of the code 302 also covered sexual perversions such as paedophilia and bestiality, which can be committed by both heterosexuals and homosexuals. This is a grossly misleading juxtaposition that wrongly suggests that homosexuality is similar to these other disorders. The language of the SAF directive dealing with disclosed homosexual reflects this misconception.” –Lim Chi-sharn (Taken from Yawning Bread, October 2002)

Q2. When do I declare?

While the medical screening is your first opportunity to declare as a pre-enlistee, you may also do so by approaching your Medical Officer (MO) at any point during your National Service, whether you are in your training phase or have already been posted to a unit.

Q3. What happens when I declare?

Declaring 302 is often accompanied by a medical review by a panel, followed by a drop in PES status. Depending on your situation, transferral to a different vocation and/or camp might follow. It is not compulsory for parents to be informed and there is no contract that needs to be signed.

Q4. So, should I come out in NS?

The people we spoke to had mixed feelings about declaring.

Some never went down the official route of declaring as 302 but were unofficially ‘out’ to some of their campmates, while others took bold steps to make their identity known from the beginning.

Clement, for example, made the declaration right from his first medical screening. “I had opened up a lot by the time I was enlisting at 21. I declared because I felt that, then, you can be free to be yourself. You don’t have to act straight and talk about girls,” he said.

He received news of his drop in PES status from PES B to PES E a month before enlistment and was sent for modified training in Kranji Camp. While his declaration set him on a smooth journey through NS – he served as a storeman and did not experience bullying or discrimination – his only regret was not having had the opportunity to go through Basic Military Training (BMT) like any other soldier. “It is not as if I am medically unfit, I can swim, run, jump – I can do everything. So I found it a bit offensive to be downgraded (in PES). I wanted to go through the normal BMT,” the 25-year old said.

Jedidiah, on the other hand, never made it official but his colleagues at SPF pieced the puzzle together and word soon got around. He thinks that it was perhaps his close friendship with a lesbian regular that gave him away. “People just kind of figured it out for themselves and they embraced it. Being gay (in the force) wasn’t an issue for me,” said Jedidiah, 23.

“It is not as if I am medically unfit, I can swim, run, jump – I can do everything. So I found it a bit offensive to be downgraded (in PES). I wanted to go through the normal BMT." - Clement

For some others, coming out in NS was not only unofficial but also never planned.

While away from his desk on a toilet break, Nathan’s colleagues flipped through his mobile phone to find his gay apps. As a result, he returned to a barrage of questions. “Basically my phone got molested… though I had to explain what the apps were, I eventually felt more relieved than angry,” he recalled.

As with Jedidiah’s situation, word about Nathan’s sexual orientation soon got around and he found himself opening up to his superiors who he found to be mostly accepting. He said, “I thought I might as well, it was better coming from me.”

For Jeramy, who had opened up to his friends and family by the time he started NS, coming out was a little like second nature. By the end of his first month in BMT, his entire section knew he was gay. This invited some friendly teasing but he shared that it was nothing he could not handle. Since his polytechnic days, he had already been turning the insults on the bullies.

“I used to get taunted in school but when I came out, they stopped. I realized after a while that you can just play along with it, just own your identity even if you are being bullied and they will give up,” he shared.

Being open, while it makes one vulnerable, can also bring people closer.

Jeramy recounts washing helmets in a toilet after field camp with a friend, when they overheard some homophobic remarks made by soldiers from another section.

“My friend told me: ‘It’s not fair,’. I said, ‘What’s not fair?’

Then he said ‘They don’t understand where gay people are coming from.’” Jeramy recounted.

“For him, especially because he is from a conservative Malay-Muslim background, to effectively tell me ‘I am on your side.’ meant a lot to me,” he told SGRainbow.

Coming out in NS does not have to be a public and official affair. What is perhaps more important is to find like-minded friends (who are open-minded but not necessarily gay) who can be your support network no matter what happens in camp.

Jedidiah, who did not officially declare, made his first gay friend in NS over a 987fm song dedication – he and his singing squadmate simultaneously rapped the first stanza of Nicki Minaj’s Super Bass word for word on-air. “After that happened, I knew for sure he was gay,” he said, laughing.

“Not every environment will be accepting so you have to assess your circumstances and how comfortable you are with yourself… I am very thankful to have met my gay friends in NS because we helped keep our sanities in check, “ said Jedidiah.

Jeramy, who only declared officially in his second year after experiencing some emotional bullying by a superior, also suggests that making things official need not be a priority.

“Honestly, in the army, when the going gets tough, nobody cares (if you are gay). They just want a good team player and someone who is capable,” he shared. Indeed, in his case, his professionalism at work saw him through and his vocation was unaffected by his declaration apart from having the issue with his superior addressed by a commander.

“Not every environment will be accepting so you have to assess your circumstances and how comfortable you are with yourself. I am very thankful to have met my gay friends in NS because we helped keep our sanities in check.” - Jedidiah 

The Flip Side

While most of the friends we spoke to had rather positive experiences bring out on some level during NS, it isn’t as rosy a picture for everyone.

Randy (not his real name), knowing how word can spread, chose to remain in the closet throughout his NS days. “I just kept my head down and did my work really well. I became so important to the operations of the medical centre that no one could really bully me since my superiors liked me.”

“But, I had to stay in the closet because I was worried that if I came out to anyone at all, my family will find out. Because of that, it was sometimes not easy that I had to make sure that I was ‘straight’ enough,” he shared. “For example, I had to pretend to be interested in conversations about girls, which was usually the main topic that guys talk about in NS.”

When asked if he would come out to his colleagues if he were to serve NS again, Randy shared that he would not even consider coming out because “none of the other NSFs or permanent staff in the camp was remotely affirmative”.

“I remember there was another gay guy in my camp who confessed to an officer that he was gay and that he liked him. It was quite sad for him because he was ostracised and ended up having some mental health issues because of the discrimination. People did not physically hurt him but the rumours spread very quickly and people were making fun of him behind his back.”

However, things need not always end negatively as in the case of Randy’s campmate. Randy shared that those who wanted to come out should “consider very, very carefully why and who you’re planning to come out to because there is no going back in the closet once you are out.”

“It was sometimes not easy that I had to make sure that I was ‘straight’ enough. For example, I had to pretend to be interested in conversations about girls, which was usually the main topic that guys talk about in NS.” - Randy 

From what we have gathered, some measure of coming out in NS has enriched the experiences of our interviewees, whether it was official or otherwise. However, one should examine their circumstances and the manner in which they wish to come out as the outcome will vary accordingly and the consequences are one’s own to bear.

If you wish to seek any advice on this matter, you may consider discussing it with a friend, speaking with an SAF counsellor through the SAF counselling hotline (1800-2780022) or approaching a social worker from Oogachaga, a counselling and support organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & questioning (LGBTQ) individuals & families.

If you are unsure of which step to take, you may drop us an email at and we will do our best to help you find a solution.

Q5. What else should I take note of in NS?

Apart from the question on one’s sexual orientation, readers should also note that they may be tested for HIV while in service.

HIV Testing

Randy was personally very worried about testing positive for his blood tests. “I did not know what the result would be and what would happen if the result came back positive,” he recounted. “If I test positive, this would be on my official records and that’s another issue altogether, being HIV+.”

Currently, HIV-positive individuals in Singapore are required to declare their status and many face discrimination in the workplace as a result of ignorance and stigma. As there may not be anonymity for NSFs who test positive while in service, SGRainbow would like to take this opportunity to remind our readers to always practice safe sex. You can also find out more about HIV/AIDS-related issues such as protection and PrEP here:

Q6. What if I identify as transgender? 

For those who identify as transgender women, our understanding currently is that you would be required to serve National Service unless you are able to legally change your gender before enlistment. This means that you would have to have undergone SRS. However due to the difficulties associated with early transitioning, only a very small percentage of transgender people are actually able to obtain SRS before having to enter National Service. You may also choose to declare as transgender to the Medical Officer, where you may then also be classified as 302.


With these stories in mind, we hope you have a better idea of what to expect when one serves the nation as a gay, bi or queer soldier and how to navigate the unfamiliar but not necessarily unfriendly new territory. Many thanks to Nathan, Clement, Jeramy, Jedidiah and Randy!

SGRainbow organized a panel discussion on being gay in NS as part of our You Think, I Thought, Who Confirm series in June 2014. To stay updated on future runs of this programme, join our mailing list here.

Have an experience or story about serving NS as an GBQ serviceman that you want to share? Send your story or experiences to us here:

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