|Singapore/MLY - Letters to Newspaper Editors/Editorials|
|By Yeoh Wee Teck The New Paper Tuesday, Sep 20, 2011||I have been out so long to so many people, outing myself
now seems frivolous and excessive. Many years ago, I even went on CNN to ask
Mr Lee Kuan Yew about the plight of gay Singaporeans. I mean, how much proof
do you really need? But typing the words "I am gay" and expecting it to be
read by the country made me pause. This seems so finite and there's no
turning back. When Kumar made our front page for coming out, almost everyone
came to me to say: "Kumar being gay is news to you?" Yes, it was hardly a
But he took the step anyway and, typing this, I can imagine how he feels. This finality is actually scary. The world has changed. A decade ago, this article would not have seen the light of day. Today, with gay marriages and civil unions being recognised from Canada to Brazil to New Zealand, and with celebrities coming out so regularly, it is no longer a big deal. In young liberal minds, it is now just a way of life. If you're straight, great. If you're gay, okay. This is the second toughest time I've had with my sexual orientation.
The first was when I decided it was time to come out to my parents. Like a gay cliche, I'm obsessed with my mum. My mother is capable of culling guilt with just a sigh or self-imposed silence. So imagine my dilemma. Had she objected violently, I would have had to get a bride just to appease her. But the anticipated drama fizzled out. We had that coming-out talk exactly once. Once I stated the obvious, the topic never came up again. That night, my mother asked if my boyfriend Terence would take care of me. Would he leave me when I'm old?
My father was really calm. He just wanted to know when I was going to buy food for our dog. I think years of living my life openly but never saying anything prepared my parents for that moment. After that conversation, I waited. Like many old Chinese folks, my parents are not expressive. It's in the nuances. Nothing changed: The nagging continued about my room, my weight, my dog and myriad topics too mundane to recall. A Cantonese woman loves you with food. When she started setting aside soup and food for Terence, I knew he was in. When she cooks a corn soup - which I'm lukewarm about - because "Terence likes corn", he was finally family. And when she pulls him aside to nag about me, and when he agrees with her and I end up with stereo nagging, I momentarily wish they weren't so close.
Terence is involved in birthdays, Mother's Days, reunion dinners and family gatherings. It's the same on his side. His cousins knew about us, then his aunt and eventually all his aunts. Finally he told his mother. Our lives merged and it's an endless cycle of family meals and parties. We don't need an invitation to be there any more because it is expected. I went on Twitter and Facebook to get my friends to share their experience of coming out. One replied: "Today still need to come out meh? I thought these days people just walk into it?" Well, it seems that coming out is still hard for some. The overwhelming reason is trying to spare the parents. "Their mindset is still very conservative," explained a friend. But for those who did, the stories are heartwarming. When A came out to her mother, she "apologised for being what some would call abnormal". "To my surprise, my mum said: 'Who says that being in a heterosexual relationship ensures a lifetime of happiness?
As long as you're happy, I'll be happy for you'." -Another said her mum had suspected and asked her dad to talk to her. "He was more nervous than I was and he concluded that it doesn't matter if I'm in love with a man or a woman as long as the person treats me good and I am happy." Her mum, however, refused to talk to her for two years. She came around eventually. "Now when people ask her about me, she will say since I cannot change her, I just have to accept her. "Most importantly, she is a very good daughter." When it's time for you to come out, you will. Chances are, the people around you will react better than expected. So here I am, out. Hello, I am a gay Singaporean.
|”Lee Kuan Yew: Hard
Keep Singapore Going”
|From p. 377 :
Page title: "Homosexuality - It's in the genes"
Preamble from the editors: "As in many societies, the issue of homosexuality is controversial in Singapore. From the heated parliamentary debates in 2007 over whether to retain or repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which prohibits sex between men (it was eventually retained), to the unease over homosexual content in student sex education manuals, the subject polarises the public. It was no surprise then that we received questions on this topic from both sides of the conservative-liberal divide, including one that asked how Lee would feel if one of his grandchildren were gay."
Q: What is your personal view on being gay? Do you think it's a lifestyle or is it genetic?
A: No, it's not a lifestyle. You can read the books all you want, all the articles. There's a genetic difference, so it's not a matter of choice. They are born that way and that's that. So if two men or two women are that way, just leave them alone. Whether they should be given rights of adoption is another matter because who's going to look after the child? Those are complications that arise once you recognise that you could actually legally marry, then you say I want to adopt. Vivian Balakrishnan says it's not decisively proven. Well, I believe it is. There's enough evidence that some people are that way and just leave them be.
Q: This is more of a personal question, but how would you feel if one of your grandchildren were to say to you that he or she is gay?
A: That's life. They're born with that genetic code, that's that. Dick Cheney didn't like gays but his daughter was born like that. He says, "I still love her, full stop." It's happened to his family. So on principle he's against it, but it's his daughter. Do you throw the daughter out? That's life. I mean none of my children is gay, but if they were, well that's that.
Q: So what do you see is an obstacle to gay couples adopting children? You said, who's going to look after the child?
A: Who is going to bring them up? Two men looking after a child? Two women looking after a child, maybe. But I'm not so sure because it's not their own child. Unless you have artificial insemination and it's their own child, then you have a certain maternal instinct immediately aroused by the process of pregnancy. But two men adopting a boy or a girl, what's the point of it? These are consequential problems, we cross the bridge when we come to it. We haven't come to that bridge yet. The people are not ready for it. In fact, some ministers are not ready for it. I take a practical view. I said this is happening and there's nothing we can do about it. Life's like that. People are born like that. It's not new, it goes back to ancient times. So I think there's something in the genetic makeup.
Q: It took time for Singaporeans to be able to accept single women MPs. Do you see Singaporeans being able to accept a gay MP? It's already happening in a fairly widespread fashion in Europe.
A: As far as I'm concerned, if she does her work as an MP, she looks after her constituents, she makes sensible speeches, she's making a contribution, her private life is her life, that's that. There was a British minister, I shouldn't name him, a Conservative. He was out of office but he was hoping to become the leader of the party and we had dinner with a few friends. He thought he had to come out upfront that when he was at university at Oxford, he did get involved in same-sex activities. But he's married now with children, he's quite happy. So he came out with it. He didn't become leader of the party and that's Britain. He thought he had come out upfront and it'd protect him from investigative reporting. It did not help him. But had he kept quiet they would have dug it out, then it's worse for him. So there you are. You know, there are two standards. It's one thing the people at large, it's another thing, your minister or your prime minister being
such a person. I mean Ted Heath was not married. I shouldn't say who the ministers were who said he's a suppressed homosexual. So the opposition party leaders were telling me because it's very strange. Here's a man in the prime of his life and getting on, 40, 50 still not married, and he was that way at Oxford. So they said, suppressed homosexual. That's the opposition talk by very reputable leaders who tell me that seriously. So? And with it of course is disapprobation, that he's unworthy to be a leader. But that was in the early 1970s.
Q: Did you come to this view on homosexuality just through scientific reasoning alone?
A: No, by my observation and historical data. I mean, in the Ottoman empire, they had a lot of it. And there was one story that D. H. Lawrence was captured in Arabia and they sodomised him. The Ottomans had their share of homosexuals and I'm sure there were also women in the harems. So? So be it.
Q: What about your acquaintances or your friends rowing up throughout life, were any of them gay as well?
A: I'm not sure about acquaintances, but not my friends. I mean, they were all married. But I'm sure there must have been. This is not something which is recent, it goes back into historic times. And you have animals sometimes acting that way. So it's not just human beings, there's something in the genetic code.
Q: So this is one aspect where the conservative views of society are diametrically opposed to your own practical views?
A: I'm not the prime minister, I told you that before I started. If I were the prime minister I would hesitate to push it through against the prevailing sentiment, against the prevailing values of society. You're going against the current of the people, the underlying feeling. What's the point of that, you know, breaking new ground and taking unnecessary risk? It will evolve over time, as so many things have, because after a while my own sort of maturing process will take place with other people. You don't just live and then you cut off your ideas after a certain time. You keep on living and you watch people and you say, 'Oh that's the way life is.'
Q: But are you, personally speaking, frustrated by this conservatism?
A: No, I take a purely practical view.
Q: But are you frustrated by how this conservatism is perhaps opposed to the practical view?
A: No, that is life. I cannot change them overnight. I think society, their own experiences, their own reading, their own observations, will bring about the change despite their innate biases.
|Jan 23, 2011
Gay MP? 'Her private life is her private life'
But society is not ready for such openness in Parliament: MM Lee
By Elgin Toh
Social mores at one time kept single women out of Parliament. The likes of Ms Penny Low and Ms Indranee Rajah, both sitting MPs and unmarried, prove that frontier has been breached.
Might gay people one day follow in their footsteps?
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has revealed that he has no problems with having homosexuals in Parliament.
The surprising comment came in an interview in which Mr Lee makes his most comprehensive statement on homosexuality to date. It was published in a new book about his beliefs, Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going. It is available at bookstores with DVD for $39.90.
Asked about the possibility of gay MPs, he said: 'As far as I'm concerned, if she does her work as an MP, she looks after her constituents, she makes sensible speeches, she's making a contribution, her private life is her life, that's that.'
Mr Lee, however, made it clear that his personal view did not automatically become the policy of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), which he no longer leads, saying later in the same interview: 'I'm not the prime minister, I told you that before I started. If I were the prime minister I would hesitate to push it through against the prevailing sentiment, against the prevailing values of society.
'You're going against the current of the people, the underlying feeling. What's the point of that, you know, breaking new ground and taking unnecessary risk?'
He said he believed it had been scientifically proven that homosexuals were genetically different from heterosexuals. 'They are born that way and that's that.'
Asked what he would do if he had a grandchild who was gay, he cited the example of former United States vice-president Dick Cheney, who was against homosexuality but whose daughter is gay.
'He says, 'I still love her, full-stop',' noted Mr Lee. 'Do you throw the daughter out? That's life. I mean none of my children is gay, but if they were, well, that's that.'
He was more ambiguous about whether same-sex marriages should be allowed or if gays should be given rights of adoption, noting that 'complications' would arise. 'Who is going to bring them up?' he asked.
'Two men looking after a child? Two women looking after a child, maybe. But I'm not so sure because it's not their own child. Unless you have artificial insemination and it's their own child, then you have a certain maternal instinct immediately aroused by the process of pregnancy.'
Calling his view the 'purely practical view', he said 'we cross the bridge when we come to it', adding: 'We haven't come to that bridge yet. The people are not ready for it. In fact, some ministers are not ready for it.'
Political watchers and MPs said Mr Lee's views were more liberal than those of mainstream society, and they did not expect the PAP Government to change its basic stance.
'They'll still be wary about fielding someone who is known to be gay at the next election, because they won't want the election to be sidetracked by the sexual orientation of a candidate,' said Mr Eugene Tan, law lecturer at Singapore Management University.
'But MM is painting the larger picture of how what is acceptable is something that would change and evolve with time.'
Said Mr Charles Chong, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC: 'PAP candidates have never been asked to declare our sexual orientation. MM is right in saying an MP should be judged purely on his performance, and not on his sexual orientation.'
Members of the gay community here welcomed some of Mr Lee's remarks.
'Some of what he said was heartening, but I wish he would have extended it to say that decriminal-ising 377A, legalising same-sex marriage and adoption would therefore make sense,' said communications executive Charmaine Tan, 35, referring to Section 377A of the Penal Code, which makes sex between two men an offence.
Ms Irene Oh, 27, and Ms Olivia Tan, 30, would both like to raise children. One way is to get pregnant through assisted reproduction, such as artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
'We know some couples who get it done overseas, but that's very expensive,' said Ms Oh, a software developer and administrator of lesbian website Sayoni.com.
They are also open to adopting children. While welcoming Mr Lee's comments, they disagreed that adopting a child lessened the maternal bond.
Said Ms Oh: 'If MM Lee is right, then even heterosexual couples should not be allowed to adopt, because they, too, have no biological connection with the child. I think adoption is a great act of love, and there is no reason to expect adoptive parents to be any less caring.'
Letter to editor
Gays should 'balik Sodom' soon?
17 Sept 2010
|I find the recent
exchange of letters and comments on the issue of the gay church quite
amusing for their hypocrisy. I had refrained from commenting, because the
response has so far been predictable, but for the record, I think certain
things need to be said again and again for the sake of our children.
1. The meaning of human rights- Most strange is what seems to be a belief that for reasons the naysayers have taken remarkably great pains to repeat, certain people do not deserve equality and rights as others.
Considering our country has constantly been battered by racism masquerading as a fight for the rights of certain communities, the continued espousing of hatred and rejection of gays is ironic.
The ethnic minorities of Malaysia have been called to go home to China, to India. Perhaps gays might soon be called to go back to Sodom, if it had not been apparently levelled to the ground by the hand of God.
I am more surprised that negative views on the issue come from Malaysiakini readers, who otherwise respond positively to issues of eradicating discrimination of all kinds, like the fight for the rights of minorities and the underprivileged, those of the Indian community, or the Orang Asli, or women's rights. People have stood up for the rights of death row prisoners. Even animals have rights on Malaysiakini.
Seen in this context, it seems gays occupy the lowest rung in Malaysian society, worse than animals. So following the many lengthy and convoluted arguments of the naysayers, human rights do not apply to gays.
This is justified using the word of the Christian or Muslim God, but despite constant claims that these are the religions of peace and tolerance, forgiveness and love, I have yet to see any true signs of these qualities in their arguments.
2. Bigotry by any other name - And sure, it is being repeatedly stressed that the issue is purely about O Young's church yet I do not see any restraint in dragging all manner of bigoted and hateful notions into the argument.
I have lost count of the number of ill-informed and sweeping statements against gays made in this 'noble' defence of the church while at the same time espousing the claim that they have nothing against gays per se. Really? Then what is 'The truth is animals know better what homosexuals don't' supposed to be if not simply hateful?
I am not interested in challenging them because it has become very clear that those naysayers will only believe what they want despite any logic thrown at them, and there is logic abound in Pang Khee Teik's excellent piece and O Young's own letter. Their critics have not read with their hearts but only with their eyes, focused purely on points at which to continue their attack.
I don't think people really care that they object or dislike the idea of homosexuality. What is obnoxious is justifying it and propagating your hate over someone who is different from you. Because your ideas will go on to influence others to justify their hate, and eventually that will lead to discrimination and may lead to violence.
If I have my history right, they burned so-called witches and heretics during the inquisition because they were 'different'. That is the power of the majority and it is frightening. If enough people think something is right, then it must be. And there go our human rights principles.
If we get enough people agreeing that Penan should not live in the jungles, then I guess the poor folk will have to give in to the will of the majority who think their lifestyle is wrong. This is exactly what is being said, on the fundamental level. Different situation, same bias.
3. Freedom of religion - What really bothers me, though, is the constant argument that all religions feel the same way. That is pure rubbish. The sort of so-called condemnation of homosexuality does not exist in Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist texts.
Some disingenuous naysayer may find some evidence to the contrary but I will challenge them to show that the cause is the scripture, and not social and extra religious, and often specific, circumstances.
Please remember, the whole world isn't ruled by your religion or your god. That is why freedom of religion, and the freedom not to practice religion, is a universal right. If you feel your religion wants you to reject homosexuality, that is your private right. But when you spread your ideology to others it becomes an infringement of universal human rights.
Fortunately for me, my father has never been a religious person. He never condemned gays, and even once told me he that a teacher of my friend was his friend, and laughed that he was 'gay' but not in a negative manner. He said he was a nice guy.
He also told me at his deathbed that the 'boyfriend' of my uncle who had a stroke, was a good man and that my uncle was very lucky to have him by his side to tend to him in his dying days.
I always thought my father was conservative, and in many ways he was. But he never propagated hate.
From my experience, it is the less educated or less Western-educated people, and those more relaxed about religion, who have displayed impressive tolerance towards gays. I guess one reader put his finger on it when he said hate has to be taught.
I myself was told off once about my own hateful statements of transvestites in university by my best mate, who is straight and non-religious. I corrected myself right away, and now having known and talked to a few transvestites, feel shameful of my error.
Many blue-collar workers I have met have also never shown any hostility to gays. It always seems to be the well-educated upper classes who believe they have been saved, who seem most hostile. And it is quite clear a lot of the hateful statements made recently stem from the Anita Byrant school of hate in the States, and the American conservative backlash against the gay movement over the past decade.
Interesting how homophobia is now a Western import. The whole idea that gays trying to find affirmation here is likened to militancy is ludicrous. That notion came from Middle America, one of the greatest exporters of hate in the world. So are arguments of 'destroying the family unit'. All very familiar to the Clinton era.
I once saw a documentary on how a Polynesian transvestite is simply treated as another daughter in her family. Their family unit has suffered no destruction, and I am told this common in the Pacific. So why the fuss?
4. O Young's right to be Christian - That said, to each his own. I do not share your belief in your God and will not let your religious convictions rule me. Christians may be made to believe that their God is the highest, and people like me are destined to hell but that's just within your spiritual sphere, please keep it in there. A lot of us don't really mind being told this, we just laugh it off.
We of other religions have our own beliefs as well as to who or what is highest. Some believe in Shiva, some in Buddha, some in Mother Nature, some in science, and some like my Dad, in his own innate goodness.
However, in the spirit of freedom of religion and expression, I would hold that it is the right of gay Christians or Muslims to want to practice their religion in their own way.
Religion is about one's personal communion with the divine, not some organised group's self-confessed authority. There is no legitimate human authority in religion, each and every one up to the highest so-called spiritual leader, is subject to the ultimate judgement of the divine, whatever form that may be.
And that is why there is no place for religion in politics, because there will always be someone who is prejudiced in the process of majority rules.
Critics may bay all they like, but that is what our constitutional freedom means. No one has the right to impose his/her method of religious practice to anyone. This argument has also been used against the implementation of hudud, so I find it hypocritical that people can take an about turn when it comes to differing practices of Christians.
As for some saying they are only objecting to the sex, well, until Christians swear on their holy book that they will only have sex to procreate (hence no more sex for post-menopausal couples), then I say expression of intimacy is private between two parties. Some go missionary, others play scrabble. Personally I think using fruit in sex is disgusting but that's my problem.
As far as I am concerned, the passage on Sodom did not specify 'anal sex' yet every 'good Christian' reads it into the text. For all you know, the people of Lot wanted to braid the Angels' hair. And how did Sodom, which concerned men wanting to go after the angels, drag in other LGBT into the web of hate? I don't see any references to lesbians in Lot. I find such things disturbing and anathema to genuine spiritualism.
So I say, leave O Young's church alone. You can go tell your friends and kids not to go there, but please don't spread your prejudice to ruin things for others who appreciate what he is doing.
Until you have first hand experience of how your hate turns into tragedy for somebody's son or daughter, you will no doubt remain on your high horse. Only last year I passed a house in Klang and my straight friend told me that a teenager had hung himself because he could not take his parents' mental torture any more. As someone in this debate has said, his blood, also lies on your hands.
|By Agence France-Presse, 02/09/2010 Malaysia's gay community begins to push the limits||When Malaysia's only openly homosexual pastor announced
he was establishing the nation's first gay church, the proposal was met with
a torrent of outrage and criticism. Reverend Ouyang Wen Feng faced down
threats to block the plan by government and religious leaders who said it
would encourage homosexuality -- still a crime punishable by 20 years in
jail in the Muslim-majority nation. The church he co-founded has however
been operating quietly in suburban Kuala Lumpur for the past three years,
drawing a group of gay Christians for Sunday services and bible studies.
Ouyang's battle is part of a campaign being fought on many fronts in
Malaysia, where there is a growing sense of activism among the gay community
which is beginning to mobilise to fight for its rights. "We are working on
encouraging more people to join the church, for Christians to come out and
live authentic lives," says the pastor, who was married for nine years until
he "came out" publicly in 2006. "Whether one is gay or straight or bisexual,
they are sexual orientations, it is not something we do that makes us gay."
Ouyang says the church, which also embraces bisexuals and transsexuals as
well as welcoming heterosexuals to its services, wants to help the community
know they are not "alone in fighting the battle". "When I was young, how I
wished someone who was good, highly admired and respected in the society
could come out and tell me 'I am gay too,'," says the 40-year-old.
Homosexuality remains a social taboo across the racial and religious
spectrum in Malaysia, a conservative country which is also home to large
ethnic Chinese and Indian communities. Gay men and women are a visible
presence out in public, and on the Internet where they are connected through
However, authorities periodically crack down on the thriving gay scene, carrying out raids at gay-friendly bars or massage parlours, leaving some with a constant fear of persecution. Few feel they can declare their sexuality openly, and there was a dearth of groups representing the community until 2008, when the first "Seksualiti Merdeka" or "Sexual Independence" festival was held. Organiser Pang Khee Teik, an art gallery owner, said he was inspired by rising activism in the region. India and Nepal have de-criminalised homosexuality in recent years, in Thailand the annual Gay Pride festival is being revived, and even in conservative Indonesia there is an annual gay film festival. "We thought the time was right to replicate something similar in Malaysia," Pang says. "We are trying to tell people: you have sexual rights whether the state recognises it or not." "The long-term goal could be the repeal of laws against sodomy and oral sex for instance," says Pang, adding that anti-discrimination laws are also needed. The annual festival, which includes talks, music performances and film screenings, has seen the number of participants double from 400 in 2008 to about 800 last year. It will be held for the third time later this year and has managed to avoid any action from protesters or the authorities, partly due to efforts to keep it low-key.
But religious figures who have an influential role in Malaysian society remain vehemently opposed to the new mood. A top religious body in 2008 also issued a "fatwa" or Islamic religious ban on lesbian sex. "Homosexuality is going to destroy the world as we are not thankful to God's creation and we are going against His wishes," says outspoken Islamic cleric Harussani Zakaria. "Homosexuality is a very bad thing. God has created men and women, how can it be man with man, and woman with woman?" The gay community takes heart from small steps, including a recent Malaysian Film Censorship Board decision to reverse a ban on the depiction of homosexuality and allow gay characters to be featured in films. But in an indication of the distance campaigners still have to go, the new guidelines also stipulate that gay characters must repent or go straight before the credits roll. "They recognise that we do exist and that is a something positive, at least," says Azri, who has a boyfriend of five years, as he sips coffee at one of Kuala Lumpur's upmarket shopping malls. "My ideal world is to be recognised as a couple and enjoy the rights just like any other heterosexual couples," says the boyish-looking 28-year-old. "We can't rush, we are slowly building the momentum."
"We Hope He has Learnt a lesson"
Buddhist, Taoist Leaders accept Pastor's apology
Wed, Feb 10, 2010
|THE apology was accepted the old-fashioned way - in person, over a pot of hot tea, and with a firm handshake.
After nearly a week of being watched on YouTube and other online forums, Pastor Rony Tan yesterday met the leaders of two religions he had disparaged in online video clips, that got him into trouble with the Internal Security Department (ISD) this week.He apologised to the leaders of the Singapore Buddhist Federation and Taoist Federation and promised to work on improving the relationship between his religion and theirs.The founder of Lighthouse Evangelism, an independent megachurch with 12,000 members, has stayed out of sight. His family issued a statement late last night, saying: 'We understand the gravity of the issue. We have taken steps to resolve the matter, and would like to put this behind us and focus on promoting religious harmony.'Pastor Tan's personal call made all the difference to the Buddhist and Taoist leaders yesterday.
Today 01 Jan 2009
Selected Part 2 - T ranscript of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's interview with National Geographic
Q: "Actually, it's an interesting question that just came up recently that I was going to ask you about. I know that you put a premium on racial harmony and religious harmony and it's actually more or less legislated here, right?"
Mr Lee: "Yes, because you can have enormous trouble once religions clash."
Q: "Well, the two things I've been interested to ask you about that because I agree with you is number one, the recent rise of Evangelical Christians in Singapore."
Mr Lee: "As a result of American efforts."
Q: "I don't know if it's American efforts but I went to the New Creation Church and you might as well have been in Tennessee , it was exactly the same. As soon as you walked through the door, it was exactly the same but it seemed very popular. Is that a new monkey (?) ranch in there?"
Mr Lee: "No, I don't think so. You see most Chinese here are Buddhists or Taoist ancestor worshippers, I'm one of them, so it is a tolerant society, it says whatever you want to believe in, you go ahead. And these youngsters, the educated ones, Western-educated especially, now they are all English-educated, their mother tongue is the second language. Therefore, they begin to read Western books and Western culture and so on and then the Internet. So they begin to question like in Korea that what is this mumbo-jumbo, the ancestors and so on? The dead have gone, they're praying before this altar and asking for their blessings and then they have got groups, Christian groups who go out and evangelize. They catch them in their teens, in their late teens when they're malleable and open to suggestions and then they become very fervent evangelists themselves. My granddaughter is one of them. She's now 28. My wife used to tell her look, don't go for any more of these titles, just look for MRS. It's just around the corner, God will arrange it."
Q: "Well, in the US, as you say, it's import from the US or an export. These people have been very politically active."
Mr Lee: "Well, they know here that if you get politically active, you will incite the Buddhist, the Taoist, the Muslims, the Hindus and others to do similar response. We used to teach in the schools in the 1980s to get back some moral values as a result of Westernisation, Confucian culture as a subject in itself for the Chinese whereupon the Malays, the Indians and so on, they reacted. They wanted not Confucian culture, they wanted their religion, so we decided we'll stop this. So we took the concepts of Confucianism and put it into civic subject, that society is more important than the individual, that the individual must care for the society and the interests of the society must take precedence over the individual, which is contrary to the American or Western system which says the individual trumps everything, freedom trumps everything, freedom of speech, freedom of whatever you tolerate even at the expense of making others feel inconvenient. If I don't like abortion, you're a doctor who aborts people, I shoot you."
27 July 2009
Don lost the chance to field her arguments in marketplace of ideas
Leon Michael Ryan
IN THE wake of Professor Thio Li-ann's decision not to teach at New York University (NYU), much as been made of a lack of tolerance of diverse views in that university. Both Prof Thio and Mr Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University have cited the sequence of events as a display of intolerance. With respect to both the learned professors, I feel this is a mischaracterisation of what transpired at NYU. A right to express one's views freely comes with the right of others to disagree with those views, and one must take courage to defend what one believes in. The NYU position throughout this unfortunate sequence of events has been that while the faculty may disagree with Prof Thio's position, it believes that academic freedom should be respected. Even when alumni threatened to boycott future fund-raising events unless Prof Thio was refused access, the university was steadfast in its position that it would not force Prof Thio to withdraw.
It is disingenuous to paint the disagreement as a suppression of alternative views. Surely one cannot be naive to the fact that the attitude in the United States towards homosexuals is significantly different from that in Singapore. Just as Prof Thio was entitled to her view that homosexual acts should be criminalised, so were the NYU faculty and students entitled to their view that such discrimination is abhorrent. In many ways, what happened at NYU has been disappointing. By cancelling her courses, Prof Thio has lost the chance to field her arguments in an open marketplace of ideas. The NYU students too have lost the opportunity to be taught by someone who, all views aside, is an extremely intelligent academic with a great presence in the classroom.ï¿½
Mutual respect key to peace in pluralistic society
03 June 2009
Straits Times Forum
John Hui Yip Khiong
|I REFER to Monday's letter by Dr Thio Su Mien, "Militant religionism? It's family values", in which she states that my letter - "Militant religionism the real threat to social harmony" last Saturday - "incites anti-religious hostility, threatening social disharmony".
This is a serious allegation.
First and foremost, let me state that I have nothing against Christianity or Christian values. I am a committed Christian who went through a few years of full-time theological education to secure a Master of Divinity. A fair-minded reader should notice that nothing in my letter was written against Christianity or any religion. I specifically mentioned that "militant Christians" are only a minority among the broader Christian community and therefore, I am not criticising the Christian community as a whole.My letter also did not demonise Christian values and mainstream values. It was targeted not at religions in general but at "militant religionism" , which refers to a type of religious position that does not respect the freedom of others to have the space to speak out and live out their different moral values in our pluralistic society.Let us all adopt an attitude of mutual respect and mutual understanding because these are important ingredients for peace and harmony in our pluralistic society and secular state.
|May 30, 2009
How ST covered the story
ST's editor answers critics of this newspaper's reporting of events
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor
I HAD been reluctant to write this piece defending The Straits Times' coverage of the Aware saga. Some of my colleagues had wanted the paper to put out its side of the story in the face of criticisms over how we covered the saga. But I wasn't keen to make the paper the focus of this long-running debate, for I've always felt that newspapers shouldn't be active players in the stories they cover. Our job is to report accurately and fairly what is happening and to make sense of it for our readers so they can draw their own conclusions. However, critics have assailed us over these very issues, and I have little choice now but to set out the facts concerning our coverage after two MPs spoke about it in Parliament this week.
On Tuesday, Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann said that reporting on the saga had been biased and lacked a diversity of views. She did not name The Straits Times but everyone listening to her would have concluded that she was referring to this newspaper. Were we biased and one-sided in our coverage? This is best answered by detailing how we covered the story.Many have forgotten how this story began. Aware held its annual general meeting (AGM) on March28, and for almost three weeks few knew that the group's leadership had changed in a dramatic fashion that day. The old guard team who were tossed out did not announce it. The new president, Mrs Claire Nazar, and her team were silent. It was only on April6 that The Straits Times was tipped off that something unusual had happened at Aware and we began work on the story. Our first report did not appear until April10, because for most of that week we had tried hard to confirm with both sides - the old guard and the new - what had happened. Founder members and old guard leaders of Aware spoke to us. They confirmed that the election had taken place legitimately and according to Aware rules, which allowed brand new members to seek leadership positions right away. They were distraught, not at seeing their preferred list of candidates lose the election, but at the manner in which the new team moved in. Their account was that the majority of the 102 people who attended the AGM comprised new members who had joined in recent months. Most were unknown, and most stayed silent during the AGM. When it was clear that the new members were contesting executive council positions with the intention of taking over the organisation, older members tried to ask them who they were but received few clear answers.
We were faced with a curious situation. Here was a new team of women who had contested and taken over Aware. Yet, three weeks after they had taken charge of this well-known group, they remained unwilling to explain who they were, why they had acted and what they intended to do with Aware. These are basic questions that any group which takes over a society, grassroots organisation, union, clan or country club should expect to be asked if it pulls off as successful a leadership grab as this appeared to be.In the days before our first report appeared, our reporters tried hard to reach members of the new leadership. We were willing to report whatever they had to say, but our reporters were stonewalled by everyone they reached. Ms Jenica Chua confirmed she was in the committee but refused to speak. Repeated calls to Ms Josie Lau and Ms Lois Ng were not successful. Ms Lau's husband, Dr Alan Chin, had joined Aware as an affiliate member and had been present at the AGM, but he too would not speak to our reporter. Even the new president, Mrs Nazar, refused to say anything until the day she confirmed that she had resigned after just 11 days at the helm.More than once, those approached in the new team asked for a set of questions to be sent to them in writing by e-mail. Our reporters obliged, only to receive no answers by e-mail and no face-to-face interview either.
After Ms Lau was appointed president, The Straits Times continued to hope that Aware's new leadership would see fit to open up about themselves and their plans. Attempts to reach individual exco members failed as everyone insisted that only the president was authorised to speak to the media. Yet Ms Lau did not make herself available either, despite numerous attempts to reach her by telephone, e-mail and text message. Instead, she chose to make her first public statements on a television current affairs programme. The Straits Times reported what she said there.Those who accuse us of being one-sided in our reporting in the first two weeks after the story broke are right in a way. But it was not because we deliberately sought to shut out the views of the new group while providing the old guard space in this newspaper. The new leadership was often absent in our pages because they chose to remain silent, for reasons best known to themselves.It was not until April23 - almost a month after the Aware AGM - that Ms Lau and some members of her team finally decided to open up at a press conference. The Straits Times sent a team of reporters and covered it comprehensively with reports on Page1 as well as in the inside pages.Some have criticised our extensive coverage of this story and wondered why our reporting was so 'breathless'. There are many reasons. As this story played out, we witnessed some highly unusual twists. Aside from the leadership change, Aware's new president resigned within a fortnight. Her replacement, Ms Lau, was criticised publicly by her employer, DBS Bank, for taking office. The Straits Times was prepared to give the new team as much space as we had given the old group, and more if necessary, to answer all those questions which had been on everyone's mind: Who were they, why did they take over Aware in the manner they did, and what did they hope to achieve?
It was only at that April23 press conference that senior lawyer Thio Su Mien revealed herself as the mentor of the women who had taken over Aware, and made several comments explaining why she felt Aware needed fixing. We reported that press conference extensively, and followed up by running extracts of what Dr Thio and others said, as well as their answers to additional questions our journalists put to them. We had maintained throughout that The Straits Times was prepared to run what the new leadership said, and we did so, in the interests of providing balance in our coverage so readers could better judge the merits of the arguments.Our readers are not always aware of the work journalists do behind the scenes to try to present reports that are factual and objective, or the lengths to which we go to persuade those who are unwilling to speak to engage with the media and open up. It was certainly not for lack of trying on our part that the views of the new team led by Ms Lau and her supporters did not appear more often in our pages, especially in the early stages.Mr Sin Boon Ann, in his speech in Parliament on Wednesday, accused the press of 'framing this episode as one that carries a religious undertone' and, in the process, polarising Singapore society. We should again let the facts speak for themselves. From the outset, we wanted to find out more about the new group, but because they were not willing to speak, we had to do our own research. Our checks showed one common link initially: several members of the new group had written letters to the press expressing concern about the perils of promoting a homosexual lifestyle in Singapore. We subsequently also found out that several of them belonged to the same Anglican Church of Our Saviour. We reported these factually.Were we wrong to have highlighted those links? The April23 press conference confirmed what The Straits Times had reported. Dr Thio, who also attends the same church, revealed that she began monitoring Aware's affairs about a year ago because she was disturbed by what she saw as signs that it was promoting lesbianism and homosexuality. She then began urging women she knew - including many in her church circle - to challenge what she perceived to be Aware's attempts to redefine marriage and families.
What of the 'religious undertones' which Mr Sin accused the press of promoting in its coverage? This is totally mistaken, and akin to shooting the messenger. In fact, the strongest expressions of concern over this were not made by the press, but by various other parties.As Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng observed in an interview with this paper: 'The Government was worried about the disquieting public perception that a group of conservative Christians, all attending the same church, which held strong views on homosexuality had moved in and taken over Aware because they disapproved of what Aware had been doing. This caused many qualms among non-Christians, and also among Christians who believed that this was an unwise move in a multiracial, multi-religious society. It was much more dangerous because now, religion was also getting involved, and it was no longer just the issue of homosexuality.'No higher authority in the Christian community than Anglican Archbishop John Chew of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) issued a clear statement that the NCCS did not condone any church getting involved in the Aware dispute. Leaders of other religious faiths also put out statements to reinforce NCCS' message.Why did so many feel it necessary to speak out on the danger of mixing religion with politics in the Aware saga? It wasn't the press which gave them the idea.Was it because of what Senior Pastor Derek Hong of the Church of Our Saviour was reported to have said from the pulpit, urging his flock to support the then new exco in Aware? He had said:'It's not a crusade against the people but there's a line that God has drawn for us, and we don't want our nation crossing that line.' We leave it to readers to decide.Far from The Straits Times raking the ground with an anti-religious agenda, we provided the available facts surrounding the makeup of the new group for readers to draw their own conclusions. Subsequent events showed that we were not barking up the wrong tree.Mr Sin wondered if 'the press would have been so quick on the take if it were women from another faith who took up the cause instead'.He ought to know better than to use the religion card in this fashion. If Mr Sin is accusing The Straits Times of being in favour of some religions against others - a very serious accusation against a newspaper with 1.4million readers of every religious shade - he should substantiate his complaint.I hope the facts I have set out above will help readers understand better our coverage of the Aware saga. Were we right in every aspect of our coverage? Of course not. Journalists are human, we make mistakes and we have our blind spots. Our record is that we are upfront about our errors and apologise for them promptly. Our internal processes, which involve several layers of editing and gate-keeping, ensure that individual reporters do not push their own agendas. We have also carried out our own internal review of our coverage and have found that we could have done better in several respects. For example, we should have pressed the old guard more on Aware's school sexuality programme and the appropriateness of some of its content.But I stand by the professionalism of our reporters. The personal attacks against the integrity of our journalists sadden me because they show the vindictiveness of our critics and the length to which they are prepared to go to attack our professionalism. In fact, there appears to be an organised campaign to discredit the media, with mass e-mail being sent, including to Reach, the government feedback portal.The Straits Times has no hidden agenda to push this line or that, or to favour one group against another. On this story, as with others, we were driven by our desire to provide as much information to our readers as possible, in as timely a manner. That remains our primary objective.
Militant religionism the real threat to social harmony
30 May 2009
Straits Times Forum
John Hui Yip Khiong
I REFER to Nominated MP Thio Li-ann's recent speech in Parliament, in particular this part:
'Militant secularism is an illiberal and undemocratic vice in seeking to gag religious views in the public square and so to privilege its atheistic values, as in communist states. Secular fundamentalists are oppressive where they seek to mute religiously informed convictions in public debate, by demonising a view as religious. Militant exclusionist secularism is thus a recipe for social disharmony.' Professor Thio's statements are correct academically but they do not reflect the real threat in Singapore. An empirical examination shows that religious people enjoy freedom to speak out on their religious values in the public space (for example, against euthanasia or homosexuality). In general, we do not see any militant secularists threatening the freedom of religious people in living out their religious moral values in the public space.
What we do see, however, are various instances of 'militant Christians', a minority group among the broader Christian community, encroaching on the space of others who do not share their Christian moral values. The recent attempt by Dr Thio Su Mien to persuade Christians to join Aware to push forward Christian moral values is one example. It shows a lack of respect for others' differing moral values and space to live out their different moral convictions. Such 'militant exclusionist religionism' has already generated disharmony, judging by debates in mainstream and online media. The real threat to social harmony therefore comes not from militant secularism but from militant religionism.
There's no uniform religious view in a multi-religious society
30 May 2009
Straits Times Forum
Lai Nam Khim
I REFER to Wednesday's report, 'No 'bright line' between religion and politics'. I found it most unfortunate that Nominated MP Thio Li-ann is attacking secularism, and painting it as a gag on religious views in public square. What Professor Thio fails to appreciate is that the issue is not about secularism (or atheism) versus religion. In a multiracial and multi-religious Singapore, there are no uniform or generic 'religious views'. When a particular religion participates in public space, it does not do so under a generic label ('religious') but under the label of a particular religion (for example, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism). Unless there is active participation and discussion by the many religious denominations, and a consensus reached by the collective group, no one particular group can claim to represent a 'religious view' of Singapore in general.
Thus, when Prof Thio pushes her religious view (for example, her objections to homosexuality which are shaped by her religious background), the public perception is not that she represents the religious view, but rather that she is imposing her Christian sensibilities on others. With that context in mind, the reference to the Aware controversy was not, as Prof Thio put it, a view that 'religious groups should not get involved in secular organisations'. Rather, what was disconcerting about the incident was that it was a case of one particular organisation from one particular religion pushing for one particular agenda, and subverting a publicly secular organisation on the quiet. In a plural society, such an act is dangerous, divisive and destabilising. Any religious group which wishes to further its views based on its religious conviction must do so publicly, paying special attention to the sensitivities of other races and religions, and must invite other groups to participate in reaching a collective common ground. Failure to do so will surely invite censure and strong reaction from other quarters, religious or otherwise. The Government is right to urge restraint and keep the political arena secular. This is not a gag on religious views, but rather an appreciation that in a multi-religious society like Singapore, there is no representative and uniform religious view and that any one religion wishing for greater participation in the public and political arena must do so responsibly and with great sensitivity to other religions, as well as the non-religious.
MP apologises for oversight
28 May 2009
MP FOR Tampines GRC on Thursday apologised in Parliament for citing an e-mail from a writer whom he said he did not know, and for not verifying the substance of the contents.
Rising to speak when Parliament resumed its session after a short break on Thursday afternoon, Mr Sin Boon Ann said: 'On reflection I thought I should have sought some confirmation from the writer of the e-mail, or separately verify the contents of the e-mail since I believe the privilege of free speech in this House imposes the higher standards of diligence on the part of its members.
'But to that extent I have fallen short of these standards. I proffer my unreserved apology to those involved.' Mr Sin referred to excerpts of the e-mail from a Cheryl Ng when he launched a stinging attack on the media's reporting of the recent Aware saga, and took The Straits Times, in particular, to task. Among the accusations he made in Parliament on Wednesday: The Straits Times reporter covering the saga was 'hobnobbing with the homosexual fraternity at the extraordinary general meeting'; that members of the press were jubilant at the ousting of the new guard; and that there was a media cover-up of an amendment to give men full voting rights in Aware. Mr Sin wondered if the press could be called on to report responsibly and impartially and to present the facts neutrally and objectively 'when some of its own members feel rather passionately about the issues in the public domain'.
The accusations brought into question 'whether there should ever be an unregulated press', he added. The press had quickly framed the contest as one between the Christian right and homosexuals and lesbians, he said, adding that by presenting it as an issue with religious undertones, the debate had polarised society. Responding to Mr Sin's comments, Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwang said on Wednesday that he was disappointed that the MP 'saw fit to read out an e-mail in Parliament attacking' the newspaper without verifying the contents.
'Intolerance' is a threat
28 May 2009
INTOLERANCE, not the economic crisis, poses the biggest threat to Singapore, Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee (Tanjong Pagar GRC) warned in Parliament on Wednesday. While the economic slump will pass, religious and racial bigotry could bring about Singapore's downfall, he said during the debate on the President's Address at the opening of the new session of Parliament. 'This economic crisis cannot set us back permanently. It is a passing thunderstorm,' he said. 'But if we fall prey to religious and racial bigotry, then it will be a growing cancer in society.' Although he did not state it explicitly, it was apparent that Prof Koo was referring in part to the recent leadership tussle at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware). The controversy sparked a divisive debate on issues such as religion and homosexuality. 'I see an increasing number of Singaporeans identifying themselves with race and religion. That in itself is nothing wrong if seen in the right perspective,' he said. 'But I see small groups becoming self-righteous and becoming intolerant of diversity. This intolerance may be our downfall.' Singapore has succeeded so far as it has a system of tolerance and meritocracy, one which embraces diversity and inclusiveness, he said. Still, he warned that the country was not in the clear yet: 'We are still a young country. In the history of nations, we are still a long way from proving that our success in peaceful co-existence can withstand the test of time.' The Minister of State for Defence used the examples of Sri Lanka and the former Yugoslavia to show how multi-racial, multi-religious societies had fractured. He contrasted this against cities like New York and London which embraced diversity and tolerance 'in huge doses'. 'While we focus our energies on solving this economic crisis, we should never lose sight of the long-term challenge of building a tolerant, diverse and inclusive infrastructure where everybody has a private space within the bigger common space,' he said.
Couple guilty of sedition
28 May 2009
A CHRISTIAN couple have been found guilty in Singapore's first sedition trial for distributing seditious and undesirable publications as well as possession. SingTel technical officer Ong Kian Cheong, 50, and his wife, UBS associate director Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 46, were convicted on Thursday of four charges after an 11-day trial. They were convicted of distributing seditious or an undesirable publication, The Little Bride, to two Muslims in October and March 2007; and sending out another seditious booklet, Who is Allah?, to another Muslim in December that year. These two publications had the tendency to to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between Christians and Muslims. The Little Bride was deemed objectionable as it dealt with matters of religion in such a manner likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between the two religious groups. On the day of the Protestant couple's arrest on Jan 30 last year, police seized an assortment of items from their Maplewoods condominium, including 11 titles consisting of 439 copies of comic tracts which were seditious. Their defence that they had no knowledge of the contents of the tracts they sent out was rejected by the court. Judge Roy Neighbour also disbelieved Chan's defence that her husband had no knoweledge about her tract orders and purchases. 'I do not believe that the first accused (Ong) was merely the 'postman' in the distribution of the tracts having no knowledge of what was being distributed to members of the public,'' he added.The case was adjourned to June 4 for Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala to address the court on sentence. Mitigation will be presented by their lawyer Selva K. Naidu then. The couple can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to three years on each of the two Sedition Act charges. For distributing an objectionable publication, they can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to 12 months. The possesssion charge is punishable with a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 18 months in jail.
|27 May 2009
The New Paper
Church group members harass student for days
They approach him outside school, ask for handphone number, then keep calling and sending SMSes
By Veena Bharwani
|THEY hang around outside secondary schools and approach students.
These men then give Bibles to the students and talk to them about God.
The men, usually in their 30s, then ask the students for their handphone numbers and urge them to attend cell group meetings in their church.
This is what some students from Greenview Secondary in Pasir Ris have encountered over the past few years. This is not the only school that has seen religious groups right outside their school gates.
Last month, The New Paper reported that two men were distributing religious materials to students from Shuqun Secondary just outside the school in Jurong. The principal of Shuqun Secondary, Mr Adolphus Tan, put a stop to it immediately and asked the men to go away.
But in this recent case concerning Greenview Secondary, it was a parent who decided to act.
Mr Patrick Tay, 58, stepped in to protect his son, 13, who was approached by two men from a church outside Greenview Secondary in January.
Mr Tay, who runs a trading company, added: 'My son had just started secondary school this year so he is a bit 'blur'. They then asked for his handphone number and my unsuspecting son gave it to them not knowing what to do.'
Shortly after that, he claimed his son kept getting repeated SMSes and calls from these people asking him to attend their cell group meetings at Cornerstone Community Church in Katong.
Said Mr Tay: ' I felt they are targeting younger kids like my son who are timid and don't know much.
'I am a Roman Catholic myself and I still am offended as they are not respecting our different religious beliefs.'
Mr Tay said he went to the church shortly after the incident to tell the members who had sent SMSes to his son not to bother him anymore.
He also alerted the principal of Greenview Secondary about the matter.
Mr Tay didn't allow us to talk to his son.The New Paper called the Cornerstone Community Church and e-mailed our questions about a month ago. But the youth leader did not get back to us.We called the church again a week later, but still couldn't get a comment from them.The New Paper spoke to five other Greenview Secondary school students who said that they, too, have been harassed on different occasions by men from various churches who were either distributing Bibles or asking for their handphone numbers.Said a female student, 15: 'They have approached me twice in the past two years. The first time was two years ago. They asked for my handphone number but I declined to give it to them as they are strangers.'She was approached again in March, this time by two men who were distributing Bibles.'They would not let me pass them so I just took the Bible and quickly walked away so they would leave me alone. I informed my parents who got very angry and reminded me to be more careful next time.'The principal of Greenview Secondary, Mr Koh Kok Khai, said he is aware of the situation.He said: 'We have reminded our students to be mindful when approached by strangers outside of school. They have also been advised not to share personal information with these strangers.'A vice-principal from a secondary school in the West said his students have also told him of similar incidents.Sensitive issue Another teacher said there is little schools that can say or do as it is a matter of personal religious beliefs - a sensitive issue for all. Said the 29-year-old English teacher: 'We try not to tell kids what is right or wrong when it comes to religion as schools are a secular space. We would advise them immediately to tell their parents about the matter and let them handle it.'Parent Pushpa Dhinakaran, 45, said that while such a trend is worrying, she understands that there is little schools that can do to prevent such things from happening.'If it is happening inside the school premises, then it can be stopped, but this happened outside school.'The best we parents can do is warn our kids to be careful when talking to strangers,' she added.
May 27, 2009
IF SINGAPORE falls prey to religious and racial bigotry, the economic crisis would become a growing cancer in society, instead of just a passing thunderstorm, Minister of State for Defence Koo Tsai Kee warned on Wednesday.Speaking to Parliament, Mr Koo noted that there are a growing number of Singaporeans identifying themselves with their race and religion, which is 'nothing wrong if seen in the right perspective' . He is worried about 'small groups becoming self-righteous and intolerant of diversity.' 'This intolerance may be our downfall,' said Mr Koo, who is also MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.'Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-religious country which has succeeded... because of our system - our system of tolerance, meritocracy, embrace of diversity and inclusiveness. 'Most countries with such a mix of population and religions would fail, said Mr Koo, citing Sri Lanka as an example. He said that Singapore is successful for now, but it is still a young country, a long way from proving that its success in peaceful co-existence could withstand the test of time.He also raised the example of Yugoslavia, once a relatively peaceful country with different tribes, ethnic groups and religions. Originally a role model among Third World countries, the republic suffered an ethnic cleansing, which Mr Koo said was a human tragedy which destroyed the people and state. 'Yugoslavia is past tense. It is history,' he said.Mr Koo added that to succeed, Singapore needs be among the global cities that are most progressive and dynamic, embracing diversity and tolerance in huge doses.'Two such cities immediately come to my mind - New York City and London,' he pointed out, adding that in those cities, nobody feels like 'an alien or a weirdo' and that there is 'sanctuary for everybody'.'There is space for everybody to wander, explore, and be himself or herself. This is the kind of tolerant, diverse and cosmopolitan global city we should be,' said Mr Koo. 'While we focus our energies on solving this economic crisis, we should never lose sight of the long term challenge of building a tolerant, diverse and inclusive social infrastructure where everybody has a private space within the bigger common space.'
May 23, 2009
23 May 2009
Jamie Alicia Nonis (Ms)
I read Dr Thio Su Mien's letter on Monday ('Gay activists a key constituency of Aware') with a curious mix of appalled bemusement. Referring to the 'activist homosexual group' that was present at the recent extraordinary general meeting of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) in support of the old guard, Dr Thio stated: 'Many sexually challenged women were among the most vocal and vociferous supporters of the old guard'. I have never heard the phrase 'sexually challenged women' before. At face value, the phrase appears to suggest that aï¿½woman is somehow a second-rate female if she is sexually inclined towards her own gender. As we all know, the word 'challenged' is often used in association with a particular disability, such as 'visually challenged' or 'mentally challenged'. Dr Thio's juxtaposition of the word 'challenged' with a woman's sexuality suggests that such women are sexually incompetent, flawed, defective or incomplete, which renders her remark rude and offensive.
Supporting gay rights does not make one gay
23 May 2009
Indulekshmi Rajeswari (Miss)
I REFER to Dr Thio Su Mien's letter on Monday, "Gay activists a key constituency of Aware".
I was at the Association of Women for Action and Research's extraordinary general meeting from start to end. Gays did not comprise a numerical majority at the meeting. Being a supporter of rights for gay people doesn't make one a homosexual, lesbian or homosexual activist.I support the Palestinians' right to live their lives without a wall dividing their communities, but that does not mean that I am a Palestinian. Nor am I a Palestinian rights activist. I am not sureï¿½why Dr Thio calls the supportersï¿½of the old guard "sexually challenged". Does she mean they are somehow physically or psychologically sexually impaired? Just because I was a "vocal and vociferous supporter of the old guard", does that make me sexually challenged?
Self-described feminist mentor's actions invited a reaction
Letter to ST Online
19 May 2009
Tim Mou Hui
I REFER to Monday's letter by Dr Thio Su Mien, 'Gay activists a key constituency of Aware'. I would like to highlight a number of statements she made that serve no purpose other than to confuse. I am perplexed how Dr Thio can, in the same paragraph, say that Aware's Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) manual 'expressly states that homosexuality is neutral and normal', and then go on to attack the content of the CSE programme as 'non-neutral' . But that is a minor point. What strikes me as most curious is how Dr Thio seems to have conveniently forgotten that anal sex between heterosexuals is legal when putting forth the argument that anal sex is against the law. It appears that she perceives anal sex as an activity only homosexuals are capable of, and in which heterosexuals would not engage.
Dr Thio has also chosen to view the support that 'sexually challenged women' provided to the old guard at the Aware extraordinary general meeting as a sinister indication that 'homosexual activists seeking to impose their values' have become a 'chief constituency of Aware'. She seems to have overlooked the fact that she and her feminist 'mentees' had made unfounded and moralistic attacks on an entire group of society while orchestrating an unjust takeover of a civil society group. It is hard to imagine that Dr Thio, with her vast experience as a 'feminist mentor', did not expect sexual minorities to stand up and defend themselves. How then does she indicate statistically that homosexuals have become a 'chief constituency of Aware'? However, I must agree with Dr Thio's assertion that discerning Singaporeans can examine the evidence to make up their own minds on this issue. Singaporeans are generally progressive and I am confident we are able to see past the smoke to inch towards a more inclusive and egalitarian society.
DPM Wong is right, all should be mindful of Singapore's secularism
ST, letter to editor
I REFER to last Friday's article, 'Questionable takeover but crucial service'. In it, the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Singapore, Dr John Chew, argued that the women who took control of the secular group, Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), performed a 'crucial service' to Singapore by highlighting the 'revisionist sexuality norms' that were purportedly taught by Aware in schools.Let me state unequivocally at the outset that I respect all religions and people with religious beliefs. However, the statement, by a leader of the Christian community, is somewhat misleading.The themes that were advocated in the programmes conducted in schools focused mainly on the virtues of abstinence and the proper use of contraception to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers.
To claim that 'mainstream society at large would be grateful for the... vigilance of the Christian community' equates to saying that our secular society should adhere to the beliefs of a narrow segment of a vocal religious minority.Much has been said about how the group of women seized power and was booted out at the recent extraordinary general meeting. I believe the lessons to be learnt have been well-articulated by Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng - that we have to be tolerant of people with different opinions, and people with different religious beliefs, including those who are not bound to a particular religion.After all, our society is made up of people from a multitude of religions as well as non-believers, people of different races, and people who are straight and those who are gay. As we continue in our quest to be an inclusive society, let us all be acutely mindful of our differences, but even more conscious of the glue that binds us together as Singaporeans.
"Sexual discrimination is not neutral"
May 10, 2009
|In ‘Homosexuality is not neutral’, (May 8), Mr James Ray makes an astute observation in the pressing necessity to tackle sexuality issues, especially in the context of a growing collective conservatism that marks the social ethos of Singapore. However, I disagree with many of the points raised in his paper. Sexuality is the silent pervasion of society: it is the thread that weaves society into a larger, single fabric - at which we have now found ourselves at odds. Mr Ray’s argument, that the physical nature of sex involves the union of 2 differing sexes, fusing with the purpose of creating another human being, is an archaic antithesis of the real state of the country’s sexual psychology. The stark truth of the matter is that such dominant sexual exclusivity, whilst still a majority, has given to a greater diversity of differences in sexual choice. To myopically insist otherwise would be to delude oneself on the facts of a changed, and changing societal mentality.
Further, to fixate on the alleged moral wrongs of any other possible sexual arrangement would be completely schizophrenic, for the simple fact that
sexual activity is not always conducted on the premise of procreation. Moreover, ignoring such blatant discrimination on homosexuality - failing marriages, adultery, pre-marital sex, and teenage pregnancies are more immediate, and tangible effects of a breaking social fabric. These are the issues of the day, to discuss, to debate, to salvage.
The youth of our nation have enjoyed a privileged education, whose purpose is not just to impart knowledge, but to instil sound logical ability to discern for themselves. I take pride in the very fact that I am a product of such a superior system, and am grossly insulted by the commotion that Mr James Ray orchestrated over the listing of homosexuality as ‘neutral’ in Aware’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education training materials.A mere listing of neutrality by an organisation, whose focal point was never on sexual preference to begin with, has been misconstrued, and taken too far out of context. By no stretch of implication, does the fact that a neutral stand on homosexuality mean an approval or promotion of it. Rather, it protects cohesion by choosing not to promote hatred and animosity towards any sexual minority - and, in so doing, allowing a deeper understanding for society as a whole, as opposed to vehemently divided
parts of the same piece.
We can't discriminate based on sexual orientation
May 10, 2009
|I would like to highlight and counter some fundamental flaws in the arguments presented by Mr. James Ray (‘Homosexuality is not neutral’, May 8).
First, to demand that the sexual union between homosexual couples fulfill the same potential of creating another human being before being considered as “natural” is illogical because of the obvious physiological differences in both circumstances. While procreation may be the natural outcome of the sexual union between a man and a woman, it is dogmatic to impose this arbitrary criterion on homosexual couples for their relationship to qualify as natural.
Second, the writer is all for his children attending talks “based on the fact that homosexual acts are not normal” and not otherwise because children are “young and impressionable”. While I respect the writer’s stand on his children’s upbringing, he is effectively saying that when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, the young should not be presented facts in an even-handed manner and be left to decide their own stand as an informed
individual. Instead, they should be fed only one point of view, without being presented the merits of any other. I fear that such thinking will only perpetuate bigotry in our society and lead us further away from egalitarianism while other progressive societies surge ahead.
Last, the writer states that homosexual acts are illegal under Singapore law, and thus cannot be considered as neutral. The law is indeed a useful defense for those whose arguments have run out of logical ground. Penal codes are by no means an accurate reflection of what is moral and acceptable. Some countries have laws restricting the movement and action of women. Does the writer suggest then that women’s rights be forsaken in those countries?As a part of the larger global community that denounces gender, racial and religious discrimination, it has become morally untenable in Singapore to support discrimination based on sexual orientation. A balanced, neutral sexuality awareness education drive is but one small step in eradicating such discrimination that belongs only in the dark ages.
Phrasing homosexuality as 'neutral' is a good way to go.
May 10, 2009
|We refer to “Homosexuality is not neutral” (May 8).
Mr James Ray claimed that homosexuality is not neutral based on his argument that it is “not natural” and that it is illegal.
The argument on the “natural order” of things is a straw-man argument. Biologically, there are increasing evidence by psychologists and scientists to suggest that sexual orientations go deeper than mere lifestyle choices and that there may be genetics at work that swing persons one way or another. Even nature (animal
kingdom) has numerous bisexual, asexual and transsexual examples as biology evolves with its environment.
Socially and culturally, different sexual orientations exist thousands of centuries ago (eg. Greece, China, etc.) and continue to exist today. The
law that makes homosexuality illegal in Singapore is inherited from the British Victorian code of conduct, underpinned by Christian morality, instituted then to impose heterosexuality on the society in order to facilitate making women the property of men.
Homosexuality is not neutral as long as heterosexuality is not unbiased.
For the record, we are a happily married heterosexual couple and proud parents of one. As concerned parents and with one of us having gone through a convent education, with its obligatory sex education programme that preached only abstinence (complete with a scary abortion video), we applaud Aware’s comprehensive sexual education programme. It is high time youngsters are given a more realistic and complete picture of what is involved as they develop sexually, to be taught not to be ashamed of their body and respect it at the same time, that pleasure is not a sin and yet may come with negative consequences, including HIV/Aids.
We hope the Ministry of Education (MOE) will also consider the feelings of
parents like us who are neither “liberal” nor “conservative” but are concerned that our child gets a well-balanced progressive education, not premised on the morality of a single group in society.Singapore is a multicultural and multi-religious society and MOE must recognise that not all religious groups and non-believers think of homosexuality as immoral or criminal. At the end of the day, what we want for our child is that he grows up non-discriminative and non- prejudicial, is able to make critical decisions and to love and be loved. Phrasing homosexuality as neutral is a good way to go.Please do not deny our child such an education simply because a select group is more vocal and louder than the rest of us.
STI 02 May 2009
Civil societies are subject to secular, not religious, scrutiny
Yuen Kwong Chow
|REFER to Wednesday's report, "EGM venue changed to Expo Hall 2". It is worrying to read that a religious leader reportedly said: "We don't want our nation crossing that line." The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) is registered as a civil body, not a religious body, and should remain so. Leaders of religious bodies are welcome to express their views on moral values and practices, but to be involved directly in the leadership tussle of a civil society because of differences in beliefs arising from their religions is a different matter. In multi-religious Singapore, it is most critical that the conduct and affairs of all civil bodies are subject to the scrutiny of the relevant secular authorities and not religious bodies. The comments in the article, attributed to a weekend sermon by Pastor Derek Hong of the Anglican Church of Our Saviour, were unfortunate. It is a great blessing that different religions flourish freely and co-exist peacefully in Singapore, thanks to a secular government.|
STI , 02 May 2009
Lim Li Koon (Ms)
The inescapable irony of religious righteousness
I AM a Christian and the irony does not escape me that I find it all the more alarming that the new executive committee (exco) of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) consists of mainly Christians, backed by their church leaders and members.Senior pastor Derek Hong of the church to which most of the new exco members belong reportedly called on his flock to support new Aware president Josie Lau and her "sisters" at the organisation.Members of the old guard responded by urging their own supporters to join the women's organisation.Forgive me if my knowledge of the Bible serves me wrong, but I don't think all this is in the spirit of Christianity, or Christ, for that matter.Surely Christ's call is to "be the light of the world", to live a life of love and integrity that would benefit people around us, and thus influence others to be likewise.
Ms Lau and her band of "sisters" would have got my respect had they set up an alternative Christian women's organisation to Aware, through which they would then have had complete legitimacy to promote their religious values concerning many issues, including homosexuality.Instead, Singaporeans now wait with bated breath for today's face-off when a mainly homogeneous Christian group pits itself against a more diverse group of individuals who had come together because of a proven concern for women's issues.While it is anybody's guess what the outcome would be, history has shown us that, more often than not, religious fervour is a powerful force to contend with.
Ex-Aware panel members voice distress at 'sacking'
ST Forum, 02 May 2009
Azmeen Moiz (Ms)
|AS COMMITTEE members of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), we are disturbed by the sacking of not just the chair, Ms Braema Mathi, but also the entire sub-committee.
On April 16, honorary treasurer Sally Ang of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) informed Ms Mathi by e-mail that the latter's term had ceased as of the date of the annual general meeting (AGM). On April 18, she said in an e-mail: 'May I reiterate that under the Aware Constitution, the Cedaw sub-committee that you chaired had been dissolved and your office as chairman ceased on the date of the AGM, March 28.'
We say sacked because:
# To the best of our knowledge, no other committee or chair was informed under the Constitution that it had been dissolved - only the Cedaw committee;
# The Constitution does not state that the office of a chair of a sub-committee will automatically lapse with a new executive committee (exco). Instead, the Constitution specifically states that members of each sub-committee may elect their own chair and that the appointment of the chair shall be approved by the exco; and
# In the past 24 years of Aware's history, no chair or sub-committee of any ongoing project has had its term cease in such a manner.
We still do not know why.Ms Sally Ang's e-mail dated April 18 also suggested that we did not produce the draft Cedaw shadow report by the time of the AGM. At the AGM, Ms Halijah Mohamad, a Cedaw member, had clarified that the draft report was not ready.We wrote on April 22 to the exco to protest against Ms Mathi's sacking and to reiterate that we were not behind schedule to submit the final report to the United Nations. No response was received. Instead, Aware president Josie Lau wrote a letter to the Forum Page on April 24 ('Aware chief: Sub-com head was not sacked'), implying inefficiencies.So we repeat: The original deadline for the Cedaw sub-committee was March, but it was changed for reasons including the need for further research. We will be in time for submission to the UN whose website shows no date of submission right up to 2010 for a country report on Singapore.Many of us had the honour of producing the last Cedaw shadow report in 2007. We note that none of the new exco members has ever expressed interest in joining our ongoing Cedaw sub-committee. We are distressed at being sacked without consultation.
30 April 2009
Termination had nothing to do with performance, says ex-employee
Schutz Lee (Ms)
THERE are a number of factual misrepresentations in last Saturday's article, 'Centre manager sacked for insubordination, says vice-president' , which I wish to clarify.I started work in Aware in February on a part-time short-term contract basis. My contract was to end on May 31. I was not meant to work part-time after May as reported.April 10 was 13 days after the annual general meeting (AGM) on March 28, not 'very shortly after the election results' as Aware vice-president Charlotte Wong said about reporters contacting the new exco members. On April 10, Mr Wong Kim Hoh's story on the AGM was published. On April 11, in an e-mail message, Ms Wong complained to me about breach of confidentiality.The fact is, I was away from Singapore on a holiday from April 1 to 8 and went back to the office only on April 9. I had no access to the files while away. Mr Wong certainly did not get the numbers from me as Ms Wong alleged.On April 14, when I discovered the powder-filled envelope, Ms Wong was besieged by reporters in the Aware centre. I did not want to alarm the reporters further. I slipped out quickly and quietly as my priority was not to put health at risk if the powder was a bio-terrorism substance.
Similarly with electronic newsletters to members. I wanted members to get the extraordinary general meeting notice sooner as they were asking for it. If I knew what to do, why did I need to wait for an executive decision? How is it insubordination?When faced with IT problems, I will call our vendors. On April 17, at around 4.30pm, I gave Ms Wong the password for the president's e-mail that had been used previously by Mrs Constance Singam. She tried and told me the password was wrong. I had no idea the password was changed. I called the administrator to rectify the problem immediately. Within an hour, I gave Ms Wong a new password before she left for the day.Whenever Ms Wong complained to me about online registration of members, I alerted the webmaster. He has since enabled his programmer to receive e-mail confirmation of every online registration so mistakes may be spotted right away. As far as I know, the problem is looked into. I have done my job. It has nothing to do with my performance.
|30 April 2009
Straits Times print forum
AWARE'S SEXUALITY EDUCATION PROGRAMME
|THE clarification and statement by Senior Minister of State for Education S. Iswaran, as well as yesterday's letter by Ms Deeksha Vasundhra from Aware's former Comprehensive Sexuality Education development team ('What the school programme teaches students'), should put to rest the concerns of the current executive committee of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) regarding homosexuality being taught during sex education in schools.
It is also gratifying to learn that the Ministry of Education (MOE), in its letter yesterday, 'MOE: No complaints from parents, Dr Thio', has endorsed the programme offered thus far, with no complaints from Dr Thio Su Mien and parents. This is a sure testimony that there is no issue with the content.
It is even more reassuring that MOE had permitted this programme to be taught in schools, even if it contained minor information on sexual identity and orientation, as we know how prudent MOE can be - to the point of being prudish at times - when it comes to such matters in sex education.
In recent years, MOE has engaged our centre to offer training to full-time school counsellors in understanding and counselling students with gender identity issues. The aim is to equip them with knowledge and skills to provide guidance and counselling to students who have such issues.I appreciate the concern of the newly elected Christian exco members that Aware should not be pro-gay or promote a homosexual lifestyle.Unfortunately, this concern should have been expressed to MOE or been clarified and debated at Aware's platform, instead of by ousting the old guard.Since the members are Christians from the same church, they should use a religious platform to deal with this issue and not invade a civil society that is meant to be non-sectarian and secular.I have also been involved in my professional capacity with various programmes and projects of Aware for more than 15 years. In all these years, I have not encountered any of the newly elected Christian exco members. Nor had I the faintest idea that Aware was in any way pro-gay or promoted a homosexual lifestyle.Now this has been raised by these members, it is indeed a stunning revelation, not only to me but also to many who have been involved with the work of the committed old guard of Aware.
Today Online Wednesday, April 29, 2009
|THE saga playing out at Aware, Singapore’s women’s-rights group, is now cause célèbre. So far the local media and observers have responded to the saga in three different ways. These responses are interesting because they are a telling indication of the brand of civil society politics that different quarters desire for Singapore.
a marketplace of ideas
The first response is a kind of interested ambivalence. Many see the Aware drama as part and parcel of civil-society politics and that, in the marketplace of ideas, it should be allowed to unfold naturally if we want to mature politically as a society.
The underlying rationale of this response is that if Aware is permanently subsumed by Christian conservatives, then it only means that the liberals were quite properly taught a humbling lesson in self-organisation. If the Christian conservatives are voted out it would be testimony to fighting for one’s beliefs.
There is a flaw in this “marketplace of ideas” rationale.
In a marketplace of ideas, like-minded individuals come together to form a group to champion a cause or belief alongside contradictory views for public appraisal. This is not happening with Aware.
Instead, the new leadership, vis-à-vis this takeover, has sought to straightjacket the antithetical views within Aware in the hopes that theirs may be promoted unchallenged.
Ms Josie Lau has spoken of Aware “losing its focus”, becoming “too diversified” and in need of “consolidation”. It does not take a stretch of the imagination to know that this means eschewing the inclusiveness of Aware by dropping gay and lesbian causes (Aware received flak for screening Spider Lilies, a lesbian film) and endorsing only conservatively defined pro-family programmes. This is not the recipe for diversity and the healthy competition of ideas.
Bring in the super-nannyAnother common response is that this bickering has gone on long enough, and that if the two parties cannot resolve the problem, the state should step in.This type of reasoning does local civil society no favours as it swings to the other end of the spectrum from the first response.Here, people prefer an artificial veneer of calm over civil society. They seem to be more at ease with a quiet and sterile political landscape than a boisterous and vibrant one, and would probably prefer that the authorities intervene.Needless to say such an attitude is perfect for keeping Singaporeans politically infantile while cementing the Government’s role as a cane-wielding father figure.Playing the religious cardThe last response is probably the most serious and politically retarding. There are some who feel it is wrong to draw links between the exco’s Christian faith and lifestyle views, and the direction this would take the NGO.The rationale here is that identifying the new exco as “Christians” is akin to playing up the politics of religion. Expressing this view is a senior writer in the The Straits Times who wrote, “Unfortunately, the label that I have heard some people apply to the new crowd at Aware is not just a simple ‘conservative’ tag. It is ‘Christian conservative’ or ‘fundamentalist’ ... I think that what is worrying, and dangerous, is that this camp has chosen to throw down and play the religious card”.Such warnings push a lot of panic buttons in multicultural Singapore, which is why it must be debunked.The strong religious links here should not be ignored. It has been discovered that many of the new exco members belong to the same church and one must at least consider the possibility that their Christian faith may influence their direction for Aware.After all, it is not the Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu and Muslim “conservatives” who are agitating for a new Aware. This is in no way an attempt to paint the entire Christian community in Singapore with a broad brush but an empirical observation of the acts of certain segments within this community.There are signs that some within the broadly-tolerant local Christian community have become more pro-active in making their views heard on public policies.
In 2004, religious conservatives campaigned vigorously to resist Government plans to built the two integrated resorts, with the Christian conservatives the most vocal. In 2007, the parliamentary debate over Penal Code 377A, a law that criminalises homosexual sex, served as a public platform for the community’s vivid expression of its anti-gay sentiments.Beyond self-mobilisation, a minority of Christians have had a history of inappropriate proselytising in multicultural Singapore.The 1990 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, for example, which guards against insensitive proselytising and pulpit politics, was passed in part due to the alarming incidents of Christian students attempting to convert students of other faiths on university campus in the late 1980s.More recently, a Christian husband and wife were hauled to court for mailing over 20,000 “seditious and objectionable publications” against the Islamic faith, as well as over 20 tracts to their Muslim colleagues. When asked if the purpose of her act was to convert Muslims, the woman replied, “I am sowing the gospel seed, but it is God that converts”Given these trends, warning against “playing the religious card” is but a disingenuous attempt to pretend that such Christian activism does not exist in multi-religious Singapore.This is unhelpful.Instead, it would be more constructive to urge the more moderate and liberal Christians to speak out. The local Christian community is not homogenous but one that contains a gradient of values, and it’s time for those who are more inclusive and tolerant of differing life choices to stand up and be counted. WEEKENDVTRA
Tussle For Aware
|YOU could feel the difference, the moment you stepped out of the lift at the fifth floor of Junction8 office tower.
GAME TIME: Before the press conference started, Mr Mark Goh (in spectacles) gave a briefing to the penalists. --TNP PICTURES: CHOO CHWEE HUA
At 6pm yesterday, the press conference organised by the Aware veterans was about to begin.
There was easy banter, cheerful chatter and warm smiles that lit up the room like a cocktail party.
Unlike the tense, terse affair which was the press conference given by the new exco on Thursday, this one was decidedly different.
You could almost smell the scent of victory. You could almost spot a hint of glee in the eyes of the old guard members.
On Thursday night, the new exco had chaired an emotion-charged press conference at the Raffles Town Club that, among other things, was disrupted by a heckler.
There were shouting matches as they stumbled over their answers and contradicted one another. At the end of it all, many questions were left hanging.
They had messed up big time. And the old guard, experienced old hands that they were, knew it.
In the office of the Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully, a converted dance studio where the press conference was held, they moved about with ease and confidence, offering drinks and smiles aplenty.
There was none of the distrust, fear and apprehension that hung in the air of the new exco's conference.
'We are not here for a tit-for-tat. ..' said former president Dr Kanwaljit Soin, as the press conference began. 'We are giving out fact sheets and letting the facts speak for themselves.'
That set the tone for the evening - dignified, proper, yet casual.
'We do not have a lesbian desk, so to speak,' said DrSoin to laughter, as she used newsroom jargon to answer a reporter's question about whether the old exco was pro-homosexuality.As members of the panel took turns to speak up passionately about the saga, Dr Soin spoke again, to laughter:'You may be here for a long time... we hope you have tah pao (slang for ordered out) your dinner.'Charm offensiveThe charm offensive was clearly on but for the old guard, many of whom have been at Aware for eons.The rapport between the panel of 11 Aware members and the media was apparent.Perhaps that was why the ugliness of the whole affair, the name-calling, the heckling, the dispute at the Aware centre that had required police intervention - twice - on Thursday night, was far from everyone's mind.Instead, it was the experience and the diversity of the old exco that stood out.The 11 panel members was made up of nine women and two men.They came dressed in saris and smart suits. There were Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.They had been quick on the uptake, organising this press conference immediately after the new exco spoke up.And they sat there, smiling, yet ready to draw swords.3 questions on everyone's lipsWAS OLD EXCO PRO-GAY?'We are anti-discrimination . We are anti-anti-anything. '
- Ex-president Constance SingamWHAT IS AT STAKE?'What has happened at Aware is a threat to S'pore's pluralistic society.'
Tussle For Aware
She burst onto the Aware stage at the press conference of the new guard, claiming to have 'mentored' most of them. But most of the old guard don't even remember who she was
|SHE gave herself the grand title of 'Feminist Mentor', claiming to have been involved with Aare in its eadays.
But at yesterday's press conference, few claimed to know her.On Thursday night, Dr Thio Su Mien, a former law dean, made a surprise appearance at the press conference of the new exco at Raffles Town Club.She sat at one end of the table, denying suggestions that she was the mastermind of the takeover at Aware.Her appearance added a new twist to the already convoluted saga.Dr Thio is the mother of Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann, who has spoken up strongly against homosexuality in Parliament.'I'm not sure. I know who are the founding members of Aware and I don't remember seeing Dr Thio at any of the meetings or her name mentioned,' said former president Dr Kanwaljit Soin, who was a founding member of the 24-year-old Aware.She added to laughter: 'But I'm not known for a good memory. I have not heard of Dr Thio as a feminist but, you know, we do have closet feminists.'The microphone was passed to founding member Ms Lai Ah Eng.
Laughter'I do not recall... what's her name...' began Ms Lai earnestly, before turning to the rest of the panel, which broke out in laughter.When reminded, Ms Lai prepared to continue what she was trying to say, but was interrupted by Dr Soin.'Should we delete that?' she said, turning to legal advisor Dr Mark Goh in mock horror.'No, we should leave that!' came the reply.Ms Lai went on to explain that she was not familiar with Dr Thio, although she has read articles written by her.Panel members mentioned that they have heard her name before, here and there, but no way was she the Feminist Mentor she claimed to be.'I know of her... I might have met her at one or two social occasions, but I don't know her,' said Dr Soin.'It is important to have a institutional memory of Aware, of what Aware did in the past 24 years, instead of allowing one particular item, as raised by Dr Thio, to be the sole criteria by which Aware is judged,' said Ms Lai.The answers were quickly snuffed out by MrGoh, who interjected halfway, saying that the panel was not here to discuss Dr Thio.Despite further probes by the media, the topic quickly moved on to other related matters.'As a staunch Roman Catholic, I'm disturbed by this act that seems to be motivated by Christians.. .' said veteran member Corrina Lau, rebutting Dr Thio's stance that the old exco was pro-homosexuality.'Christianity is about love.'
|25 April 2009
Why neutral stance on homosexuals
Sexuality programme gives information 'in a non-judgmental way'
THE Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) sexuality education training manual suggests that homosexuality should be viewed in 'neutral' terms, rather than positive or negative.It goes on to explain why: 'Homosexuality is perfectly normal. Just like heterosexuality, it is simply the way you are. Homosexuals also form meaningful relationships, and face the same emotional issues that heterosexuals do.' It was this statement that raised the ire of four new leaders of Aware - president Josie Lau, honorary treasurer Maureen Ong, honorary secretary Jenica Chua and committee member Lois Ng.At their press conference on Thursday, Ms Ong, a mother of three, said it was the sexuality education programme that made her worry about what Aware was teaching children. 'I'm concerned. I'm a parent. It's shocking,' she said.It spurred her to join Aware, and be part of its takeover last month.But former Aware president Constance Singam said yesterday that the programme was a comprehensive one, designed to provide teens with information in a non-judgmental way. 'We do not teach kids to impart judgment, we just give them information, ' she said. 'Their values come from their family, and their religion. Words like 'homosexuality' , 'sexy' and 'virginity' are neutral words because Aware is non-judgmental' .The sexual education programme started in 2007 and has reached about 12 secondary schools, run for small groups of students selected by their teachers to attend. To date 500 students, mostly girls, have attended the workshop, which comprises two three-hour sessions. It was only recently offered to boys.
The programme was developed over a year in consultation with parents, youth social workers, teachers, and academics from a range of institutions. Mrs Singam said it was put through a rigorous process of testing before being taken to schools.It was run by volunteers who were selected after an interview. Before they could conduct the programme, they had a three-day training workshop including testing, two shadow-training sessions, and a number of assisted workshops.Each three-hour workshop consists of games, role-play, discussions, and a presentation, covering topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, contraceptives, negotiation skills to resist peer pressure and building healthy relationships.Mrs Singam also explained that Aware believed in a comprehensive sex education programme that did not teach only abstinence.'International reports, including the 2005 American Psychological Association report, have shown that only comprehensive sex education is effective in protecting adolescents from pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses,' she said.'Just look at the statistics, the huge increase in pregnancies, abortions in Singapore is worrying. About 1,300 abortions were performed on women below the age of 20 in 2005 and also in 2006. From 283 cases of sexually transmitted infections in 2002, it hit 657 in the first nine months of 2007.'She stressed the need for young people to have reliable information.
'Kids sometimes get very misguided information from the Internet and their peers. We want to empower teens and young women with the right facts and the knowledge to make informed decisions, to understand the consequences of their decisions and to protect themselves.'Aware trainers who conduct the workshop said they volunteered because they believed in what the organisation aimed to do through the programme.One of them, Mrs Mathangi Kumar, who has two daughters, said the topic of homosexuality was only a 'very small part' of what the workshop covered.She said that whenever the topic came up in her sessions, she focused on getting the youngsters to realise there is a diversity of views on such issues and to respect them even if they disagree with them.Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of Youth Services in the Singapore Children's Society, said teachers, counsellors and parents should not avoid the topic of homosexuality. 'It's the reality for teens these days,' she said. 'There are gays all around them. What do we do? Ignore it and not talk about it?'That's dangerous - because then your child will learn about it from their friends and the Internet.'She agreed that when broaching the topic, it is important to avoid making value judgments.'Just present them with the facts, what it is, what do the laws say about it, what different religions say about it, encourage them to talk about it to their parents and then let them make up their own mind based on their own value system.'Two fathers whose daughters attended Aware's sexuality education programme in school had differing views on the group's approach. One said he was concerned when his daughter told him about the discussion on homosexuality.
'They didn't exactly say it was wrong, so I was worried that my daughter came away thinking that it was acceptable,' he said. 'Organisations that run sex education programmes must be careful about giving such messages to teens who are at an impressionable age.'But the other father felt that the Aware trainer handled the topic well.'The trainer discussed how people view homosexuality differently, which led my daughter to quiz me on how exactly our religion views it,' he said.'I thought it was a healthy approach to a very difficult topic. But the last thing I would want is for issues like this to be ignored.'The Education Ministry said yesterday that in addition to its sexuality education programme, schools can collaborate with other agencies, including the Health Promotion Board, to run programmes.In doing so, schools are left to ensure that programmes run by an external agency are secular and sensitive to the multi-religious makeup of our schools'MOE's sexuality education programme aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills to make responsible values-based choices on matters involving sexuality,' it said.'It is premised on the importance of the family and respect for the values and beliefs of the different ethnic and religious communities on sexuality issues.'It said schools should inform parents beforehand and allow them to opt out if they do not want their children to attend the programme.The two fathers interviewed said they were told beforehand of the Aware workshop.
More parents seek help about gay kids
|MORE parents are seeking counselling to come to terms with their children's homosexual tendencies.
Psychologist Daniel Koh saw three such cases of parents last year, which is more than the number he saw two years ago.
He told The New Paper of a case involving parents who had brought their 18-year-old son for counselling last year because he was leaning towards homosexuality. The boy felt confused and stressed because he was not interested in girls, and was interested in images of men in magazines.
When their only son spoke about his frustrations to his parents, they took him to a psychologist.
The boy's father, who is in his 40s, insisted that homosexuality does not exist, and demanded that the boy be 'changed'.
The parents tried to get the boy to dress in sports jerseys, shorts and clothes with military motifs.
They also tried to get the boy to play football and adopt more masculine mannerisms.
Outside of sports, they discouraged him from hanging out with male friends, and tried to introduce him to girls.
These efforts, however, were strongly resented by the boy, who began avoiding the issue of his sexuality. At one point, he stopped talking to his parents altogether.
The psychologist tried to get the parents to understand the boy's position, and tried to open communication between the two parties.
Eventually, the parents backed off, and let the boy live his own life.
Mr Koh said: 'This case shows that being hard and forceful will only make matters worse. If parents push too hard, they'll just push their children away.'Mrs Kam-Poh Ee-Lyn, a family life educator who has counselled young lesbians and their parents, says that when parents find out their children are gay or lesbian, they tend to go through psychological stages, like people who are grieving.First, these parents may be in shock.Then, they may deny their children's tendencies, rationalising to themselves that the latter are just going through a phase.When they realise that such tendencies are a real issue, they might blame themselves for their children's sexuality, before coming to terms with the situation.In any case, Mrs Kam warns that such conflicts may lead to more serious issues, like children running away from home.She said more parents may be seeking counselling about their children's homosexuality because gay youth are becoming more upfront about their relationships.Family therapist Juliana Toh, who is seeing more parents with gay children, also suggested that the increase may be due to the fact that more children are feeling confident about their relationship with their parents, so they are comfortable in disclosing their gender leanings.She said: 'The most important thing is to help the parents see that they have not lost their son or daughter. He or she is still the same person.''And at the end of the day, all parents want their child to have a companion, to be loved and cared for, regardless of this companion's gender.'
Booklets available in store
Jan 29, 2009
THE lawyer defending a couple on trial for distributing seditious tracts argued yesterday that the materials published by an American firm were openly available in a Christian bookshop in Singapore. Tecman, at Bras Basah Complex, sold the Chick Publications tracts, said Mr Selva Naidu, as he showed pictures of the store in Bain Street with the materials on its shelves to an official from the Media Development Authority (MDA) for his response. As such publications are openly and freely available in Singapore, a member of the public will not know that it is an offence to give away or even possess such materials, argued Mr Naidu. Also, a member of the public may not know that such publications may promote feelings of ill will, hostility, enmity or hatred between different classes of population in Singapore. Mr A.R. Madeei, the MDA's senior assistant director (publications), replied by saying that action would be taken against the book store as 11 of the tracts were objectionable. Testifying at the continued trial of Ong Kian Cheong, 50, and his wife, Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 45, Mr Madeei said the contents of those 11 publications could cause hatred and ill will between different religions. The booklets are published by Chick Publications, an American firm that produces and markets Protestant fundamentalist pamphlets, DVDs, VCDs, videos, books and posters. Its best-known products are the Chick tracts, which are comic tracts available in nearly 100 languages. Mr Madeei told District Judge Roy Neighbour that it is not possible for the MDA to examine each and every publication sold in bookshops here as close to two million books are imported. 'We allow the industry to self-regulate and refer to us publications that are in doubt,' he said. In response to a question by Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala, the witness said a tract had a greater propensity for damage as it could easily be read and accessed compared to a book. And if there were illustrations, he said it would definitely create more impact than words. In his cross-examination of Mr Madeei, Mr Naidu read excerpts from four books and asked if those passages were objectionable. The four were: God Is Not Great, The End Of Faith, The Da Vinci Code and The God Delusion. Mr Madeei's reply was that these passages had to be looked at in context, and they might not be objectionable. But a tract, he said, was targeted, easily accessible and understood by the young and vulnerable. 'In a tract, there is no room for debate at all. Mere statements. A book, on the other hand, encompasses different points of view and arguments,' he added. Mr Madeei's testimony took most of the day's hearing, and he would return today. The MDA is the regulatory authority on publications. In the afternoon, Madam Farhati Ahmad, an administration manager with the Education Ministry, testified that she felt offended and angry after reading The Little Bride. She made a police report on March 6, 2007.
First workshop here dealing with same-sex couples
|SAME-SEX couples, like heterosexual couples, seek affection, comfort and fulfilling relationships, says American family therapist Dr David E Greenan.
Both face similar problems, such as difficulties in having their emotional needs understood and met.
Dr Greenan, 55, conducted a workshop in Singapore last Tuesday on how practitioners can help same-sex couples.
This is the first workshop in Singapore dealing with same-sex couples.
Dr Greenan says that same-sex couples do face stress in their relationships.
But in Singapore, they are also less likely to seek help due to a lack of professionals trained in same-sex couple therapy, he added.
Dr Greenan said that in same-sex couples, there is a knee-jerk response to end the relationship as soon as the partners encounter difficulties.
This is because they do not have a model for reconciliation, and because they face a sense of isolation and disconnectedness within greater society.
Maintain stable relationships As a result, same-sex couples find it harder to maintain stable relationships.
He said: 'Heterosexual couples are much more committed to working through their difficulties because they have a legal involvement and they may have children.'
Dr Greenan has conducted presentations all over the world, and specialises in working with same-sex couples. About 50 counsellors, family therapists, social workers and psychologists from private and public practice attended the workshop. The workshop's aim was to acquaint practising professionals in same-sex couple therapy.It was organised by Oogachaga, a non-profit personal development and counselling agency founded in 1999 for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.In collaboration with Counselling and Care Centre, Oogachaga organised a workshop in 2007 on how practitioners can help young people who are attracted to others of the same sex.
More gays seek help for relationship problems
|THEY have little support in the wider community. So, more people in same-sex relationships are seeking help from professional counsellors.
This is the observation of five counsellors interviewed by The New Paper.
One counsellor, who declined to be named, said he has seen a growing number of same-sex couples, mostly gay men, seeking help in their relationships.
Gay men in a relationship might argue about gender roles.
One may be the breadwinner while the other does housework at home.
The breadwinner might then ask the homemaker: 'Why am I the only one earning money?'
The counsellor said: 'In same-sex couples, they have to negotiate the gender roles, as they have no models to follow. They need to create a different set of rules.'
Another counsellor said that a year ago, a gay male client in his 20s came for counselling partly because of relationship troubles.
Depressed and tearful He was depressed, suffered from crying spells and could sleep only for three to four hours a night.
He had been dating another man, also in his 20s, for about a year. But he felt insecure about the relationship because his partner liked to go to parties, while he spent most of his time at home.
The two didn't live together, and the client felt his partner wasn't spending enough time with him. They hadn't had physical intimacy for months.
The client was broken-hearted because he felt he wasn't attractive enough to his partner, and felt the latter wanted to see other men.To rub salt into the wound, the client was supporting his partner's expensive lifestyle, as the client was a well-educated professional, who earned more money than the latter.But the client felt he couldn't tell his problem to either his family or his colleagues, because they didn't know he was gay, and he was afraid to disclose his sexual orientation.He also didn't share his problem with the handful of gay friends he had.'That's how the client ended up talking to me,' the counsellor said.The counsellor didn't want his client or himself to be named to protect counsellor-patient confidentiality, but said he sees about two homosexual clients a month.Similar feelings The counsellor said: 'The problems which my client faced - feelings of inadequacy and insecurity - are quite similar to those experienced by heterosexual couples.'But unlike opposite sex couples, my client didn't have much family or peer support to fall back on.'Mrs Juliana Toh, clinical director of the Counselling and Care Centre, is also seeing more same-sex couples.Her centre saw about 10 same-sex couples last year. Five years ago, she would see at most one a year.She believes there are more people in same-sex relationships coming for counselling because there are more gay-friendly services available, compared with 10 years ago.She added: 'It's like with divorce. Gay people today are less marginalised, although they still have to look very carefully for who they share their problems with.'The fact that both parties are of the same gender does influence the dynamic in same-sex relationships, she said.Mrs Toh noted that lesbian relationships are more stable than those between gay men, because women tend to be better at communicating their emotional needs to their partners.
Hong Lim Green’ to turn somewhat pink
The New Paper
25 Sept 2008
Organiser plans gay pride parade at Speakers’ Corner
HONG LIM Park (once called Green) is open for demos of all shades and hues (except unlawful ones, of course). So it is no surprise that the gay lobby here wants to use it in November to make a statement. Riding on the new, relaxed rules on protests at the park’s Speakers’ Corner, Mr Roy Tan, 50, is planning a gay pride parade. But the response to it has so far been uncertain. Mr Alex Au, 55, one of the leaders of gay advocacy group, People Like Us, likes the idea but he questions if it should be called thus. He said: ‘I am sceptical of calling it a parade if they can’t walk down the streets. A parade requires linear movement.’ Ms Jean Chong, 32, a lesbian who is self-employed and also from People Like Us, said she was aware of the parade but was not sure if she would be attending. She told The New Paper: ‘I think most of them (the gay community) are standing on one side and thinking about it. ‘Most don’t see Hong Lim Park as a big step towards more freedom. It’s a form of tokenism.‘On the one hand, they feel they want to support it (the parade). But, on the other hand, they are against the concept of Hong Lim Park because you should have the right to demonstrate anywhere.’ Following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech to slowly liberalise the political scene here, rules were changed such that from 1 Sep, public demonstrations can now be held at Speakers’ Corner as long as they do not touch on race or religion.
Organiser Mr Tan, 50, who works in the healthcare industry, said: ‘I thought it would be good for someone to organise the first pride parade and, hopefully, it would be the first of many and be part of the cultural landscape.’ Mr Tan said that even if he were the only one at the park for the event, he would march round the place holding a placard on Section 377A - a section of the penal code that criminalises gay sex. Mr Tan said he would be marching three times round the park singing We Shall Overcome, a civil rights anthem, to represent the struggle for equality. He expected people to come but he did not think many would be marching. He said: ‘Many people are not prepared to do it at the moment.
The first step is the most difficult one.’ The management of Speakers’ Corner used to be under the police, but now comes under the National Parks Board (NParks). Demonstrators only need to register on the NParks website. Yesterday, an NParks spokesman confirmed that it had received a registration for a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual pride parade at the Corner on 15 Nov. It is slated to last from 3 to 7pm. According to the NParks website, Singapore permanent residents can also take part in a demonstration at Speakers’ Corner and are required to apply for a police permit only if they want to organise a demonstration themselves or to speak at the Corner. Foreigners will have to apply for a permit to conduct or take part in any activity at the Corner.
Why such leaders should reveal income
Straitstimes Forum - Printed letters, 19 Sept 2008
LAST Thursday, the Commissioner of Charities made known to the public a good initiative introducing measures of accountability and transparency in the report, 'Watchdog finds four areas for improvements'. If there is any reason for its implementation, it is for the good of all. Is it religiously and morally justifiable to remunerate religious and charity leaders from donations relatively on par with the remuneration of captains of commerce and industry? The perceived morals of religious and charity groups is at an all-time low now. This is due to the misdeeds of a handful of religious and charity leaders. It is good and just to weed out pilferers and plunderers in mega organisations. What prompted them to deviate from the original, sacrificial nature of remuneration to a secular standard of reward has contributed to their offences and consequent fall from human favour. It is unbecoming of religious leaders to 'exact' heavily from the tithe and offerings of the church, so that they can own luxurious houses and limousines, pay for first-class flights and more, while their congregation slog it out to meet their family needs and scrimp to pay church tithes and offerings.
We must consider the large sums donated to these mega churches by thousands of donors of all income groups, who do so because they want their contributions spent on proper and justifiable causes. Hence, publishing the gross remunerations and personal assets of all mega religious and charity leaders, as brought up by Mr George Lim's four-fold proposal in his letter last Saturday, ('Publish the incomes and assets of leaders'), is not only fair and proper, but also, more importantly, tangible, moral and ethical. Leaders are morally obligated to disclose their earnings as they are living on public donations. Donors have the right to know.
Funding: 'Religious and charity organisations should not be run as flourishing enterprises with endless funding.'
Straitstimes Forum, 19 Sept 2008
I AGREE with Mr George Lim's letter last Saturday. ("Publish the incomes and assets of leaders") and share his sentiments that it would be a cognitive disconnect and social incongruence for religious leaders to lead a luxurious life. The four proposals are concrete steps to transparency in governance. I feel grey areas need to be addressed, too. Looking from different perspectives, I propose clear-cut directives to prohibit donation money to be channelled to investments or businesses. Commercial activities are fundamentally contrary to the objectives of donations and contradictory to the spirit of charity. Religious leaders should abstain from diverting donation money to other activities and concentrate diligently on disbursing the funds to needy beneficiaries. Where is the need to increase yield when donations come in millions?
Strict rules should be in place to prohibit charity organisations to channel donation money for investments or business in any form. When the fund runs low, appeal for more donations. Reserves should be parked as fixed deposits in banks. Period. Business holdings and commercial interests of religious leaders are private and need not be made public if they receive no remuneration or benefits in kind from the charity. But if they do, for the sake of accountability and transparency, whatever they receive from the charity should be made known to the public.Cut off commercial activity in charity organisations and you don't have 'conflict of interest' from related parties. The worshippers and donors are not "stakeholders" of the funds in the hands of the keepers. The only noble duty of the custodians (servants of God) is to disburse the money to the needy and less fortunate. Nothing else. Religious and charity organisations should not be run as flourishing enterprises with endless funding. For true transparency, remove investment, loans and commercial activity from all charity organisations.
Big business now: 'I am awestruck at the payscale of local church pastors. These churches are now like mega corporations.'
Straitstimes Forum, 19 Sept 2008
I REFER to the report, "Seven major religious groups with annual incomes of over $10 million each and who heads them" (Sept 11). I am awestruck at the payscale of local church pastors. Many are paid more than chief executive officers (CEOs) of business entities. These churches are now like mega corporations. The question, however, is whether church pastors can justifiably draw huge salaries from the tithes and offerings which are meant for God's work. As a former City Harvest Church and Faith Community Baptist Church goer, I have given my fair share of offerings, hoping to see that 90 per cent of the money could be spent doing God's work. Little did I realise that much of it has been used to fuel the lavish lifestyles of the church founders.
To circumvent the misappropriation of donors' funds, there should be clear guidelines on what church pastors should be paid and the ceiling for their salaries and allowances. From what I understand, these churches make it mandatory "in the name of God" for all true Christians to contribute 10 per cent of all their earnings to be pledged as tithes for the church. I remember these church leaders telling me that one would be "robbing God" if 10 per cent is not rightfully returned into God's kingdom (based on the scripture of Micah). However, the grey area is that the Bible did not specify what percentage the church leaders should draw from the collections. It is then up to the authorities to determine what is the ceiling that church pastors should draw in remuneration. Many mega church leaders feel that it is their right as God's ambassadors and spiritual leaders to command high salaries for doing the ultimate, which is God's work, but do they actually have a God-given right to exploit that? To draw a salary of $2 million a year would be considered excessive for a pastor who draws from funds given by the public, but to draw $20 million to $35 million per annum is ridiculous.
Stop making A mockery of rule of law: Let's accept gays
SINGAPORE is known to be economically liberal, but socially conservative. It is a rules-governed society with clear parameters for behaviour, whether political, economic, or social. And within the "OB markers" (out-of-bounds markers) of these do's and don'ts, it is a transparent and fair social order, with no favouritism for anyone operating outside the parameters.
This state of affairs governed the issue of homosexuality in Singapore for many years. Not only was gay sex illegal, but every manifestation was openly discouraged — some would say suppressed — and discrimination against gays in the public domain (the civil service, the military, the police, schools, and so on) was commonly accepted. Indeed, because it was public policy to promote heterosexual family life as the only norm, any other lifestyle was considered deviant and handled accordingly. Repressive though it certainly was to gays, it was at least very predictable.
Today, official attitudes towards homosexuality in Singapore are quite different. They are certainly ambivalent and ambiguous — some would even say, schizophrenic. On the one hand, many gay Singaporeans are feted and lauded for their creative contributions to Singapore, and warmly accepted by even senior figures of the establishment. On the other hand, gay sex remains a criminal activity, even after much public debate on the issue, and any kind of activity which is seen to promote a gay lifestyle remains off-limits.
To those who believe that the non-persecution of gays is already something to be grateful for, one could argue that allowing a black person to sit in the front of the bus while legally forbidding it, is something to be grateful for. Or, in an analogy closer to home for the supposedly homophobic heartlanders, should a Chinese person be grateful if the edict forbidding Chinese and dogs to enter parks in Shanghai in the '20s were relaxed in reality, but maintained in the law?
At another level, my gay friends argue cogently that non-prosecution (or non-persecution, for that matter) signals, at the most, simple tolerance of them, and nothing more. There is a difference between being tolerated because gays are seen to be at the leading edge of the "creative class" — which Singapore is trying to develop as part of its new knowledge-based, creativity-oriented economy — and being accepted because of the recognition that fundamental human rights and the dignity of the individual extends to gays as much as to anyone else.
The somewhat schizophrenic decision to not prosecute an illegal activity has ramifications beyond the gay community, and has disturbed some sections of the larger community, which is not particularly interested in gay issues.
To many thoughtful citizens, Singapore has always openly claimed that the Rule of Law, possibly even more than the formal mechanisms of democracy, is a vital component of good governance. Yet, to criminalise gay sex and, in the same breath, state that anyone breaching this law will not be prosecuted, makes a mockery of the Rule of Law.
Minor though this violation of the principle may be, the proponents of the concept that the Rule of Law is a sacrosanct pillar of the Singapore ethos lament that the Government did not take the bold step to simply decriminalise something which the rest of the developed world has long decriminalised; which most Singaporeans (except, perhaps, the most fervently fundamentalist Christians or Muslims) don't care that much about one way or the other; which the police, courts, and legal community would welcome simply to remove an archaic, Victorian-era statute; and finally, which the gay community would embrace as an important signal that their right to privacy — a fundamental human right — is considered to be more important than the right of anti-gay groups to proselytise about morality.
Optimists hope that the decriminalisation of gay sex — a yawn to anyone except the homophobic and the gays themselves — will eventually occur. In reality, rather than in law, gays in Singapore today have never had it so good, and should within a short time, become fully-accepted — not just tolerated — members of an increasingly diverse, and therefore vibrant, Singapore community.
But if we pat ourselves on the back for being so "bold" as to accept casinos and Formula 1 events into staid Singapore, why can't the boldness extend to a simple act to enable gays to realise their dream — indeed, their simple right — to be normal Singaporeans like anyone else, no more and no less.
The writer is chairman ofSingapore Management University,executiv e chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings and chairman of MediaCorp.
Lessons on courage
Wong Kim Hoh talks about meeting and understanding transsexuals.
OVER the last couple of months, I've been getting some lessons on courage.
My teachers were unlikely ones: Transsexuals.
Yes, those folks whom some deride viciously or treat piteously.
I have to confess my own feelings toward them vacillated between awkwardness and fascination prior to doing this week's special report.
I might not stare but I would definitely steal more than a glance when I saw one in public.
Is he? Isn't she? How can? Why did? Alas, I never had a close transsexual friend who could answer all these superficial questions dancing in my head.
And then, over several weeks, I sat down with more than a dozen of them.
They told me about an existence I've wondered, but never really thought deeply, about.
What I learnt was sobering.
I may not be the most well-adjusted invididual in the world but I've never had to agonise about who I am and where I fit in the world.
I've never grappled with agonising confusion, debilitating guilt and searing shame.
I've never had to make decisions which would break the heart of my parents, shame loved ones and incur the derision of strangers.
And I've never encountered hopelessness so wrenching that I would want to kill myself.
They have, and lived to tell the tale.
I'm sobered and chastened by their courage to fight, live, and in some cases, continue living.
And I wish more of us will have the courage to stop judging them.
|Home > ST Forum > Online Story
April 2, 2008
Enlightened policy deserves praise
IT IS certainly laudable that Singapore has attracted top talent like Professor Kerry Sieh as the founding director of Nanyang Technological University's $300 million Earth Observatory, which is this region's largest, 'MM's reassuring comments seal researcher's move here'. In a recent TV interview in Melbourne, Dr Sieh predicts that yet another tsunami will strike and this will be the grandaddy of them all.
Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao
Feb 10, 2008
FIRST, let's make it clear where this review is coming from. This novel is not a work of great literature, at least not in the lyrical sense. Diary-like in its artless, earnest tone, a typical sentence goes like this: 'The memories which washed over me came not in a gentle cascade but in a drowning torrent, not so much in a montage of images as deep stirrings in my consciousness. ' But as Lee has said numerous times in interviews, he has no illusions of being praised for his prose style, but is more concerned with writing a novel which speaks to people. With that in mind, it's safe to say that he has succeeded. As his cliched but generally likeable characters undergo soap opera-worthy trials, readers will quickly find themselves invested in their lives and rooting for them to find happiness, or at least hope. Our hero is Ben, the son of a wealthy family who has lived in London since his university days. Recovering from a bad break-up with his partner of seven years, he heads back to Singapore in an attempt to heal himself. On touchdown, he catches up with his old friend Yusof, a renowned playwright who has written a play based on Singapore's first gay novel. In a rather self-deprecating moment, the writer has his narrator comment: 'The author left the country immediately after the book's publication. So he was a quitter, just like me.'What he was quitting and whether things have changed since then is revealed as the story shuttles between London and Singapore. The development and reakdown of Ben's long-term relationship is contrasted with his budding relationship with Peter, an actor in the play.This is not a novel for those who appreciate subtlety. It has plenty of overtly cinematic and symbolic bits, such as a climatic conversation between Ben and a lover which takes place on National Day, with fireworks and fighter jets whizzing overhead.
As the novel is a semi-autobiographic al examination of the writer's
own experiences as a gay emigrant returning home, it unabashedly draws
on real life for major characters and events. Arts lovers will enjoy
the thinly veiled representations of local theatre personalities, from
an enfant terrible named Yusof to a flamboyant impresario named Ignatius.It is also no-holds-barred in its critique of a perceived lack of
freedom of expression in Singapore, particularly with regard to gay
pride. Lee disapproves of heavy-handed censorship, citing examples
such as the bans slapped on events such as a picnic and a lecture.Yet, amid such pointed criticism, the writer also presents the
perspective of a pragmatic older person, and how someone like that can
appreciate the Singaporean brand of freedom.At one point in London, Ben hears on the news that a gay man has been
badly beaten up in what is obviously a hate crime: 'I said to Holly
the first thing that came to my mind: 'This would never happen in
Singapore.''Indeed, one of the book's strongest points is its ability to capture
the conflict of being caught between worlds - a universal, yet at the
same time uniquely Singaporean, condition.There is the despair of a lost love warring with the hope of loving
again. And there is the yearning to escape a suffocating environment
for the larger world, yet the inescapable desire to be drawn back into
the embrace of home.
TODAYBANKS AND THE POOL OF PINK TALENT
Wednesday January 30, 2008
AMERICAN investment bank Lehman Brothers is planning an unusual initiative in Singapore, Financial Times reported recently. It is specifically targeting gay and lesbians who aspire to be bankers. This follows the success of a presentation and buffet dinner for 50 gay students in Hong Kong. Today has learnt that the banking giant is not alone. Global banks around Asia are breaking new ground to attract and retain the best and brightest. Increasingly, their hiring and diversity policies are taking into account the homosexual community, which makes up as a significant part of the talent pool.At UBS Singapore, for example, benefits including health insurance are extended to a staff's "significant other", defined as "a person who has cohabited with an employee for a continuous period of 12 months". The couple does not need to be married, and sexual orientation is not an issue. Money is a factor in the competition for talent, but keeping up with social changes is also important. "This is why our benefits policy is designed to be as flexible and inclusive as possible," said Ms Leona Tan, UBS Singapore's diversity advisor. Merrill Lynch, on its part, has four professional networks in the Asia-Pacific region for its staff, one of which is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender network, set up last April. The other networks are for women, young professionals and parents. The firm even has an annual diversity week, when it hosts speakers, events and conferences for the various networks. "Our efforts in the area of diversity are about how we can create the most effective and inclusive environment, one in which we value diversity rather than simply tolerate it," said Mr Roman Matla, spokesperson for the bank's diversity and inclusion team.
Besides Merrill Lynch and UBS, however, other banks Today contacted were less willing to provide details of exactly how they are catering or wooing gay employees. Gay bank staff whom this newspaper spoke to were not surprised by the taciturnity of their employers."We are not fully aware of the firm's diversity policy, as it is not widely publicised," said a 34- year-old employee of a European bank here. "I've heard that Lehman and Goldman Sachs are the more progressive firms, in that they are more explicit in talking about their policies, normally through email or employees' handbooks."But are more events organised specifically for gay employees the way to go?Perhaps not, the employee said. "To be honest, I feel it's not an agenda that needs to be singled out - for example, a skincare workshop for gay employees. I would just like for the policies to be more explicitly stated."It does seem, however, that when it comes to diversity initiatives, offshore banks are ahead of their local counterparts. Three major local banks told Today that they did not have staff specifically handling the issue of diversity. OCBC, however, added that its human resource policies "do not discriminate against employees' personal backgrounds including gender, race or religion".
Dec 16, 2007
|A large number of those young people had been in state or city care at some point before they ended up on the street. NEW YORK - AT least 3,800 of the people in New York City's homeless population are under age 25, according to a new survey. A publicly funded report by the Empire State Coalition said a large number of those young people had been in state or city care at some point before they ended up on the street. About 28 per cent had been in the foster care system. Four in 10 had spent time in jail or a juvenile detention facility. A disproportionate number, 28 per cent, were gay or bisexual.The group's findings were announced on Friday by the City Council, which paid for the study. The estimates were based on surveys of 1,000 young people last summer. They survey found that while a majority of those young homeless went nightly to city shelters, 42 per cent slept instead on the street, in the public transit system, or in empty buildings.|
Once-banned gay pop duo given green light for concert here
IN A sign that authorities are prepared to work with civil society groups to tackle the HIV problem, a once-banned gay pop duo has been given the green light to take part in a concert here next month.And the HIV Outreach, Prevention and Empowerment (Hope) Concert will have as its guest of honour, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts).The gay duo, Jason and deMarco, had a planned performance here cancelled two years ago after the Media Development Authority (MDA) rejected an application by the organiser, Safehaven, a gay-affirmative Christian support group, for an Arts and Entertainment Licence.The MDA had then cited "alternative lifestyles are against the public interest" as its ground for rejection.Explaining its change of heart, the MDA said that the organisers had assured the authority that the aim of the Dec 13 concert is Aids education and HIV prevention."The organiser for this concert has rated the performance R18 and has given the assurance to MDA that the concert is targeted at the high-risk group," said Ms Amy Tsang, MDA's Deputy Director (Arts & Licensing) of the Media Content Division in an email reply to Today.Dr Balaji's scheduled attendance at the concert is not surprising since he had earlier touched on the need for the authorities and non-governmental organisations to work together in tackling the spread of HIV.Out of the 357 new HIV cases reported in Singapore last year, 26 per cent were contracted through homosexual sex.
In an interview with this newspaper in August, Dr Balaji noted that in the Australian state of New South Wales, the number of HIV cases reported each year had, on the whole, been dropping over the past decade.Dr Balaji had earlier went on a study trip to Sydney, accompanied by Ministry of Health (MOH) officials and representatives from Action for Aids (AFA), gay web site Fridae.com and Oogachaga, a local gay and lesbian affirmative counselling agency.Referring to the Sydney trip, Mr Paul Toh, AFA's Director for fund-raising and programmes, said yesterday: " I guess the Government has learnt from other developed Western countries how they can cope in terms of managing the epidemics within the alternative lifestyle community."Mr Toh said while everyone has a role to play in addressing the HIV problem, the Government "bears more weight" because it has the "political will to move things at a faster pace".Jointly organised by AFA and Safehaven, the HOPE Concert aims to raise awareness on HIV and Aids in the gay community, said Mr Alphonsus Lee, the chairman of Safehaven.The concert will be held at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre, which can house a 1,100-strong audience. The one-night only performance will also involve local artists such as Chua Enlai as MC, Hossan Leong and Selena Tan.Concert tickets are available only through AFA and restricted channels, such as nightclubs, saunas and gay website Fridae.com."We are very conscious of the mainstream view of such a concert and we would like to be respectful of their views ... So, we are willing to restrict ourselves," said Mr Lee.Although this is a "once-off event the official nod for the HOPE concert is "good news" since it will help increase local Aids and HIV awareness, said Mr Bryan Choong of Oogachaga.
Nov 12, 2007 Today Online You are not welcome here, club tells Leona Lo
She has written about life as a transsexual woman and has given talks on transsexual issues. But on early Saturday morning, Ms Leona Lo was asked to leave a Clarke Quay nightspot, apparently for being a "lady boy". Ms Lo was at The Pump Room with a Singaporean Chinese man and woman and an American Chinese man. She said in an email to the media: "The bouncer … asked one of my friends if he knew me. My friend replied 'Yes'. Still, the bouncer … asked me to show him my ID. He said the bar did not welcome 'lady boys'." Ms Lo told Today she refused to show him her identity card because it was unfair that she was "being singled out". Ms Lo and her friends then left the bar. Her IC states her sex as "female". A spokesperson for The Pump Room would neither confirm nor deny the incident yesterday, saying there was not enough time to investigate the matter. Mr William Graham, director of the club, said: "The Pump Room has no general policy to exclude any particular groups other than the age guidelines we publish.
"We do however reserve the right to refuse entry, at our discretion, to any individuals whom we feel are not in adherence to our entry policy."For example, if the customer does not adhere to our dress code, is below our age guidelines, or if we feel they might create a disturbance or misbehave in the establishment based on prior experience, we might not welcome them."
According to the bar's staff, the age limit is 21 for women and 23 for men on Fridays and Saturdays, and 18 for everyone on other days. The dress code bars sandals, slippers, shorts and sleeveless shirts.Ms Lo, 32, said she was wearing a "typical silver dress"."I've been there before. The band has even sung 'Happy Birthday' to me," she said.In her email, she added: "Ironically, Pump Room's anchor band is Jive Talking, which features a transgender lead singer."Ms Lo recently launched From Leonard To Leona, a book chronicling her experience as a post-operation transsexual. She underwent sex assignment surgery in 1997 in Thailand.
Nov 10, 2007
Peter Lee Peng Eng
|THANK you for presenting Dr Thio Li-ann's case on the repeal of Section 377A to the public, 'A fiery NMP gets her baptism of fire' by Ms Li Xueying (ST, Nov 2).
I think Dr Thio is right to express her moral position on this issue. However, I think a lot of the negative reaction she is getting may stem from the fact that she is perceived to be solely targeting the homosexual community with her views on sexual licentiousness and gross indecency. As sexual licentiousness is a problem afflicting all genders and sexualities, Dr Thio must be equally outraged about unnatural and immoral acts among heterosexuals as well, all of which are not criminal acts in Singapore, such as:
1. Oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples (after all, this is also akin to 'drinking with a straw through the nose' and must be equally repugnant to her).
When your journalist, Ms Li, asked her about her views on other moral issues, she gave a rather vague reply. As Dr Thio believes policy making in Singapore should be guided by some form of morality, and has made a stand on sex between homosexuals, suggesting that what is morally unacceptable to her should be considered a criminal act, she must make equally strong stands on the abovementioned issues. These are sins of equal magnitude in Christianity, all of which are as detrimental to family values as homosexuality. Unless she makes fervent calls for the criminalisation of these directly related issues, she may well seem to the public to have double standards, and a hypocritical viewpoint, and to be a homophobic 'hate-mongerer', bullying only a particular segment of the community. In order not to be perceived as a hypocrite, Dr Thio must also address abortion and the death sentence, as Christianity does not condone killing another human being. These are far more important moral issues than homosexuality, and I hope that as our NMP, she will not be, in her own words, a 'lousy friend', or in this case, a 'lousy citizen' or 'lousy NMP' by keeping silent on these issues, and make known her views with even greater fervour and directness. Remaining silent and/or equivocal on these issues will only affirm her detractors' worst criticisms.
Nov 8, 2007
I REFER to the letter by Mr Shawn Tay Liam Yaw, 'Homosexuals should know that change is possible' (Online forum, Nov 6). I disagree with his assertion that homosexuals can change, and that the degree of change depends on the motivation of the one seeking help from recovery support groups. The 'recovery support groups' Mr Tay mentions are, I believe, practitioners of so-called reparative therapy, a disingenuous term used to describe attempts to change a person's sexual orientation through behaviour modification or religious counselling. Reparative therapy tends to emphasise the physiological ability to engage in heterosexual intercourse, or the suppression of the homoerotic response. Both of these outcomes fall short of the complex set of attractions and feelings that constitute sexual orientation, and cannot be seen as definitive proof of a change in sexual orientation.
Medical authorities have challenged the purported effectiveness of reparative therapy, with the American Psychiatric Association concluding in a statement in 2000 that 'in the last four decades, reparative therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure'.Indeed, proponents of reparative therapy have failed to provide rigorous, objective assessments of their findings, relying instead on self-reports and the subjective impressions of their therapists.Moreover, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks of reparative therapy, which include depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour.The Australian Psychological Society noted in 2000 that reparative therapy tends to overstate the treatment's perceived accomplishments, while glossing over the potential health risks to patients.Given the dubious success rate and detrimental effects of reparative therapy, individuals grappling with their sexual identity should think twice about programmes that seek to force a change in their sexual behaviour.It would be healthier for them to sort out their feelings in a non-judgmental environment, by enrolling in counselling programmes by Oogachaga or other neutral support groups in Singapore. Eugene Quek Wei Liang
Nov 8, 2007 ST Forum
WE REFER to the letter, 'Allowing SMU students to launch booklet, event on gays sends wrong message' (Nov 3), by Ms Low Xiang Jun as well as various other letters responding to this matter. Ms Low raised an important and valid point about the role of tertiary educational institutions in Singapore. SMU's mission is to develop socially responsible leaders and innovators who will help shape the future of Asia. Fundamental to this mission is our commitment to provide students, faculty and staff an intellectual forum for open discourse and dialogue, even on controversial matters. The highest aim of education is not to teach students what to think, but to teach them how to think - critically, rationally and creatively. We encourage students to express their views, but equally important, to recognise and respect the views of others, which may differ widely from their own.
In this instance, a group of undergraduates has developed a project aimed at giving a voice to an under-represented group by sharing their stories. Their purpose is to educate and promote understanding - not to advocate a particular lifestyle, but rather to provide insight that will enable their fellow students to develop a more informed perspective. This is not inconsistent with the objectives of the 'Leadership & Team Building' course. Ms Low may wish to note that the group has stated very clearly in the publication that the members are 'not representative of gay activism' and many of them 'come from backgrounds that neither condone nor promote homosexuality' . The intent of their publication is neither contentious nor divisive. The group has stated that they are only presenting voices which are 'real and come from real people'. Readers are given the latitude to form their own views and opinions. The university should support such mature and sensitive actions on the part of its students, not restrict them. Our role is to respect and protect open dialogue and learning, permitted that the means employed to create awareness do not infringe university regulations or the laws of Singapore. Professor Howard Hunter President Singapore Management University
|19 Oct 2007
Why S. Africa allowed same-sex marriage
GOH CHIN LIAN
SOUTH Africa became the fifth country in the world to recognise same-sex marriages last year. Having had rights denied during the apartheid era, which lasted for more than four decades from 1948, the country wanted to ensure there was equality for all, including those who were gay or lesbian, South African Constitutional Court judgeAlbie Sachs said yesterday during a panel discussion on family law at the International Bar Association' s conference here. 'Because of apartheid, the majority knew what it was like to be discriminated against because of who you were, not what you've done,' he told The Straits Times. 'And people who suffered discrimination could understand how others would feel.' During the panel discussion, South African lawyer Zenobia du Toit outlined the legal developments marking those changes. In 1996, South Africa became the first nation with a Constitution that forbade discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
This formed the basis for subsequent court decisions on issues like allowing same-sex partners to jointly adopt children. In November last year, a law on same-sex marriage came into force. Asked about a bid by some groups here to get the Government to repeal a law criminalising gay sex, Justice Sachs said he did not have advice for Singapore. But he explained that in South Africa's case, the Constitutional Court declared the sodomy law unconstitutional because it 'invaded the protected rights to equality, to privacy and to dignity'.
|A prayer to scrap anti-gay law
Fri, Oct 19, 2007
The Straits Times
By Lydia Lim
On Monday, Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong will read an unusual prayer out in Parliament - a plea to repeal section 377A of the penal code. That is the part of the law that criminalises sex between men. Mr Siew will be presenting a Parliamentary Petition to scrap 377A on behalf of gay activists. The appeal is called a 'prayer' in legal speak. His move has already sparked fierce debate in some quarters.
A conservative group has just launched a keep377A online petition, which charges that a repeal would foist homosexuality on a society that is not ready for it.While MPs have welcomed the use of this 'legitimate channel' by an interest group to put its views across, there is also a concern that if the gay lobby pushes too hard, it might provoke a conservative backlash.MP Irene Ng says that to date, the conservatives have not called for the law to be enforced rigorously and that 'live and let live' attitude has given homosexuals the space to live as they want to.So where is the ongoing tussle over 377A likely to lead?
ST FORUM18 Oct 07
NMP in no way overstepped his role
| WRITE in response to Ms Jenica Chua Chor Ping's letter, 'NMP overstepped role in championing gay cause' (ST, Oct 17).
While Mr Siew Kum Hong is supposed to be non-partisan as a Nominated MP, the non-partisan nature of his appointment refers to neutrality where party political affiliation is concerned.It does not mean that he should remain non-partisan on matters of great public interest, such as the debate on whether Section 377A of the Penal Code should be repealed. Otherwise, what would be the value of appointing NMPs?
Indeed, the constitutional provision for the appointment of NMPs in 1990 was made to ensure a wide representation of community views in Parliament.This being the case, there is nothing wrong with NMPs choosing to represent community views that they believe are valid and justified. Thus Mr Siew, in sponsoring the Parliamentary Petition to repeal Section 377A, has in no way overstepped his role as an NMP. In fact, considering that Mr Siew is a 'straight' man and has therefore no cause to be associated with homosexuality, his willingness to represent that community's views in relation to the repeal, in the face of widespread opposition, is admirable and should be applauded. Ooi Jian Yuan
ST FORUM18 Oct 2007
SHOULD SECTION 377A BE REPEALED?
MS LIM Poh Suan wrote that repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code - a law criminalising gay sex - would threaten the family unit and 'lead to the disintegration of our social fabric' ('Removing Section 377A threatens family unit'; ST, Oct 16). She forgets that gays are part of a family unit and many parents, siblings and other relatives - who are concerned that the law would discriminate against their gay loved ones - do support the call for the repeal.
In some ways, it is similar to interracial or inter-religious marriages - I have witnessed parents who were initially disapproving coming around after they got to know their child's partner and see the sincerity and realness of the relationship. Section 498 of the Penal Code, which makes it an offence to entice, take away or detain a married woman with the intention of having illicit intercourse with her, will be repealed. One may argue that repealing such a law would signal to society that adultery is acceptable, and this would threaten the family unit and children especially - more so than Section 377A, as it is applicable to all families.The Ministry of Home Affairs explained that Section 498 concerns an archaic offence which is no longer relevant in today's context. How is it that Section 498 is deemed 'no longer relevant in today's context' but Section 377A is still relevant? Tan Yen Ling (Ms) --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A family is not broken up just because a friend, a neighbour or even a relative is gay. It is absurd to blame parenting failure and family problems on external forces and the Government.Repealing Section 377A is about love and compassion, and seeing all people as equals. Let not religious dogma deny fellow Singaporeans their right to exist. Chua Chee Hiang
Straits Times Oct 1, 2007
WHILE working on last week's story about youth attitudes towards homosexuality, I found myself thinking about the time I went through a sea change in my own perceptions about this issue.Until I entered university, I had always fancied myself as someone who could strike an adequate balance between reason and matters of faith.But it wasn't until I made my first gay friend, Mark, that I realised the unbridgeable gap between the two.Mark and I met and clicked on the first day of class at university in England when I was 19. What with me being a typically sheltered Singaporean youth - my previous experience with homosexual issues was limited to gossiping about the resident lesbian couple at junior college - I found Mark's sexual orientation fascinating.It was a novel experience hanging out with him, just as I would with any other girlfriend, chatting all day about guys and Christina Aguilera's latest fashion disaster.But as our friendship deepened and the novelty wore off, Mark shared with me the constant struggles he faced to be accepted as a gay person, not only with his devoutly religious family, but also in society in general.As I began to see him more as a person rather than just 'the gay friend', I also became aware that I had been 'exoticising' Mark. By deliberately preventing myself from seeing him as a regular person, I was not facing up to the fact that his homosexuality was something I was supposed to see as an abomination.
Having been brought up in a conservative background, I had always subscribed to the notion of 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. Gay people were all right, I thought, just as long as I didn't have anything to do with their 'wrong' lifestyles.But as Mark and I grew closer, I began to see how difficult it was putting that truism into practice.Being gay wasn't a detachable part of Mark's identity. His sexual orientation was also embedded in every aspect of his life, from his relationships with his family to his outlook on life, to how he treated others.So how could I as a friend truly love him for who he was, when I could not accept every single part of him?At this point, I began to question what exactly was so wrong about homosexuality. From what I saw in Mark's life, gay people were just like everyone else, and fully capable of holding stable, loving relationships, unlike what I had been taught previously.After some soul searching, I realised that not only could I not accept the illogical flaws of that truism, but I also had to make a stand about what had become obviously clear to me - that homosexuality is not something intrinsically wrong.I'm sure that a number of young people reading this are facing a similar dilemma when it comes to dealing with homosexual friends.My advice? If you really want to love the 'sinner', don't call it a sin. Otherwise, it would just be pure hypocrisy.
STRAITS TIMES Sep 22, 2007
'My view is that gayness is something which is mostly inborn, some people are like that, some people are not. How they live their own lives is really for them to decide. It's a personal matter,' PM Lee said. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM THE decision on whether or not to decriminalise gay sex is a very divisive one and until there is a broader consensus on the matter, Singapore will stick to the status quo.Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was explaining the Government's decision not to repeal section 377(A) of the Penal Code, even as it introduced to Parliament recently a raft of proposed changes to that law.He was responding to a question from a Law undergraduate, who said she was concerned about the kind of image Singapore's stand on this issue left on foreigners, including the talent that it wished to draw here.
Mr Lee said in reply: 'If everybody felt like you in Singapore... we could change 377A and we would de-criminalise gay sex.'But the fact is many people in Singapore feel passionately to the contrary to the point of view which you have argued. And you have to take cognizance of that.'He said that the Government's view was that it should not push forward on this issue but follow along as societal views shifted.'And as of today my judgment is the society is comfortable with our position. Leave the clause' he said.Sharing his own views on homosexuality, he said it seemed to him that it was a trait people were born with.He stressed, however, that that did not mean gays should set the tone here.'My view is that gayness is something which is mostly inborn, some people are like that, some people are not. How they live their own lives is really for them to decide. It's a personal matter,' he said.'I think the tone of the society should really be set by the heterosexuals and that's the way many Singaporeans feel.'He also made clear that the issue was something Singapore would deal with on its own. It did not need foreign speakers coming here to 'add sugar and spice' to the debate.He was referring to a recent decision by the Police to cancel the permit for Canadian academic Douglas Sanders to speak in Singapore on the subject.'Within Singapore, we will have to work this out in our society, and I think that's what we will do,' he said.
Dr Peter Goh Kok Yong
I REFER to Mr Paul Jacob's article, 'A teacher's disclosure and the issue is out in the open' (ST, Sept 15). I applaud Mr Otto Fong's honesty and courage in coming out as a gay person and a teacher. It is indeed a milestone in the gay debate in Singapore. Despite the large number of passionately argued letters that have appeared on the gay issue over the past months, we actually have not progressed very far. As Mr Jacob pointed out, the loudest voices come from both ends of the spectrum of tolerance. Neither end is likely to be swayed by the other. Sitting silent in the middle is the largely conservative majority who may yet change their opinion of gay people if only they get to know them. That is why Mr Fong's coming out is so significant. Unlike black people striving for racial equality in the US in the 1960s, gay people are invisible in many societies, including Singapore. Hence, the debate remains largely conceptual, with highly skewed academic data and examples thrown in by the opposing camps. What is so obviously missing is the subject of the debate itself - the gay people. For fear of societal rejection and discrimination, most gays in Singapore remain in the closet. While Mr Fong does not represent every gay person in Singapore, his identity and life humanises the gay issue in a way no amount of well-constructed arguments can ever achieve. What is equally significant is the fact that Mr Fong is a school teacher. The concern raised by Mr Jacob is whether Mr Fong is able to provide neutral, unbiased advice to young students who may be uncertain about their orientation.
The reality is that there has never been any neutral, unbiased advice given to students on sexuality. Heterosexuality has always been the biased model. While the Education Ministry may want to acknowledge the concerns of parents who are uncomfortable with gay teachers in schools, it would do well not to continue to hide them in the closet. It should publicly acknowledge the existence of gay teachers and assure parents that all its teachers, gay or straight, are expected to uphold the utmost standards in their professional conduct and will not impose their personal values, including sexuality, on the students.
|Where is the Demon, Patrick Lee, 08 Sept 2007||
I began as a zealous christian attending the Church Of Our Saviour in 1975 and finally resigned as one of their Divisional Pastors in 1995. I did not recognized it then but I was a victim of their intimidation and control through the use of the Bible to incalcate fear and guilt in my mind and heart concerning sin and morality. Consequently I felt compelled to tell them about my homosexual lifestyle which blossomed when I was 8 years old in 1968. I responded to their counselling and severed all soul ties with all my gay friends for almost 20years. Strangely I seemed to have received "special strength" to stop my gay cruising and thus seemed to have been healed or "changed". But I was not sure whether I was truly healed or it was just a vain attempt to lead a celibate gay life. I had doubts because I still found men sexually attractive but was afraid to act upon my gay fantasies due to fear of eternal condemnation. This was during the mid-1970s and at this time my homosexual struggles were not seen as a spiritual problem but only as a consequence of the fall of Adam. But in the mid-1980s, the Church of Our Saviour stumbled upon the "Deliverance Ministry" and it was taught that every sinful act is under the influence of a ruling demon. This is derived from a scripture in Ephesians 6:12 which states: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." The Deliverance Ministry was initially spearheaded by a Lucy Tan and subsequently came under the leadership of Douglas Koh. All of a sudden there were more demons let loose than there were hungry ghosts during the Chinese 7th Month Festival. Chained smoker were told they were possessed by the spirit of nicotine. Overweight men were told that they were possessed by the spirit of obesity. Others such as spirit of lust, spirit of adultery, etc, etc.... alas it is not me who did it but the spirit in me that did it. Again this erroneous enlightenment is based on the scripture written by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:19 & 20 which says "the good which I want to do, I do not do. But I practise the very evil I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing that I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin dwells in me." There is so much folly and errors but all christians seemed to have been struck blind. They have been taught to accept and respect their pastors as God's chosen mouth piece. Hence they rendered blind obedience and dared not to search out the scriptures to validate what have been taught to them. Had they read the Bible in the Book of Acts chapter 17:11, they would have known of the Berean Christians who did not simplistically accepted the teachings of Paul but studiously studied the scriptures to make sure that the teachings of Paul were not fasle.I had my reservations about the Deliverance Ministry but as a Divisional Pastor in the church I should not have doubts but faith. So to enhance my healing from my homosexual past I yielded myself to the Deliverance Ministry, to let them cast out of me the spirit of sodomy. Most people who underwent deliverance usually would shout, scream, cough and spit out bags and bags of yellowish/greenish saliva. But there was no visible signs of any demons leaving my body and I was told to have faith in what they have done for me and that some demons leave the body in a quiet manner. !2 years after I was appointed as a Pastor; I decided to quit from the Church. I could no longer continue in denial that I was a naturally born gay man. There had been moments in the 12 years as a Pastor, that I have given in to my gay fantasies. I have never kept it as a hidden secret but always confessed it to Derek Hong.In the end, there were 2 faces in the mirror. I saw my gay sexuality as a mystery gift from God and that He has appointed me as His servant. But Derek saw me as a man who saw the Light but loved the darkness more than the Light. (John 3:19)It was inevitable but we have to part way. Nonetheless, I give Derek credit for giving me a wonderful written testimonial acknowledging my many contributions in the development of Church of Our Saviour. I wonder if he has any regrets but this is what he wrote:"He held the position of a Divisional Pastor and was responsible for duties such as preaching, baptisms, weddings and funeral services. Patrick also coaches people in dance and drama, and has directed several successful dance musicals. In the past few years, Patrick also helped the church to participate in community service projects. He has an ability to teach clearly and interestingly. Patrick undertakes tasks with determination and diligence. He has often shown himself to be reliable in the areas of his competence"The church may not be able to accept my gay sexuality as a gift from God but they cannot deny I have an anointed and a proven ministtry. Love always,
AN OPEN LETTER FROM OTTO FONG
08 Sept 2007
I am Otto Fong. I have been teaching Science in Raffles Institution for the last eight years. Being a teacher has been the most rewarding part of my professional life thus far. My students continue to amaze me daily with their wit, maturity, independent thinking and leadership. It is very fulfilling that I am a part of an institution that moulds the future generation of Singapore’s leaders.Leaders are people who can rise above the tide of popular opinion, people who are guided by the conviction of rightness and justice and in being so guided, lead others towards that right path. Recent events leading to my action Recent events have made me decide to write this open letter. In April this year, Minister Mentor Mr Lee Kuan Yew – one of the school’s greatest alumni – called homosexuality a “genetic variation”, questioning the validity of criminalising gay sex. In July, MP Baey Yam Keng expressed support for the repeal of Section 377A of the penal code (which criminalises gay sex acts). In August, Malaysian columnist and ordained pastor Oyoung Wenfeng released his inspiring new Mandarin book “Tong Gen Sheng”, encouraging gay men and women to come out of the closet.A few evenings later, I attended a forum organised by People Like Us on gay teachers and students. A few brave twenty-something guys asked, “Why has there been so little guidance available to me as a gay teenager?” It was a question that I had asked myself often, growing up.When I became a teacher in 1999, I looked back on the good guidance my own teachers gave me as a template, and tried to be a better teacher to my students. Besides teaching them Science, I spent considerable effort in imparting good social values: give up your seats to the needy, save the handicapped parking lot for those in wheelchairs and their caretakers, respect people regardless of profession or social status.How hate is perpetuatedYet, in the eight years I have taught, I have done little for that small group of students who are gay. When the religious group Focus on the Family masqueraded as sex guidance counselors and gave a talk full of misinformation about homosexuality to our students, I was furious but kept my mouth shut.When my niece returned from school saying, “Gays are disgusting!” I knew she learnt that hatred from a classmate, who had in turn absorbed that hatred from a parent. I knew that this hatred has been perpetrated for generations. But hatred grew out of fear, and hatred, as a line in a movie goes, “leads to the Dark Side.” This is the same environment of hatred I grew up in, as a gay teenager and student.Until Section 377A* is repealed, there will be precious little the Ministry of Education can do to help these students. As a teacher, I am bound by my professional duty to follow the directives of my superiors.While these events helped crystallize my decision to come out of the closet, my motivation remains deeply personal.My family and I. As far back as primary six, I have been aware of my attraction towards classmates of the same sex. For those who argued about nurturing factors of the family, my brother and sister grew up under the same parents and remained heterosexuals despite growing up with me in close proximity.As a teenager, I was very quick to sense society’s aversion towards the ’sissies’ in my classes. I worked hard to distance myself from them. While I was successful in modifying my outward behavior, my sexual orientation remained unchanged. My denial gnawed at me, and the suppression of my true self resulted in self-destructive behavior during my overseas university years.Fortunately, my American fraternity mates were supportive. I began to see a counselor who helped me accept myself for who and what I am.Returning to Singapore, I came out to my family. My father, mother, brother and sister, out of love for their son and brother, walked the long road to acceptance. It was not easy for them, but they loved me before I came out, and they love me after. When I finally settled down with my longtime companion (we have been together for more than nine years), my entire family made sure my nieces and nephews included us in their lives. I loved my family too much to keep them in the dark, to deny them the chance to really know me. And they loved me too much to let some old prejudice tear our family apart.I kept my sexual orientation a secret at work, and only a handful of my colleagues knew about me.I don’t want to be a bonsai tree. Not counting my childhood, I have spent more than twenty years in the professional closet. I am nearing my fourth decade on Earth. While I have had some successes in life, I am not content to be just average. As I have often told my students, “Why be average when you can be your best?”Do you know what a bonsai tree is? A bonsai tree is an imitation of a real tree. It is kept in a small pot with limited nutrients, trimmed constantly to fit someone else’s whim. It looks like a real tree, except it can’t do many things a real tree can. It cannot provide shelter, it cannot find food on its own; its life and death are totally reliant on its owner. It is the plant version of the 3-inch Chinese bound foot for women: useless and painful.Being in the closet, pretending to be straight, trimming our true selves to suit the whims and expectations of others, is just like being a human bonsai tree. By staying in the closet, we cannot even hope to be average, much less above and beyond average.I felt that in order to reach my fullest potential as a useful human being, I must first fully accept myself, and face the world honestly. I have lived long enough to know that what I am is not a disease, an aberration or a mental illness.Hate is not a religious valueMany people have cited many ‘reasons’ for hating homosexuals, just as many people tried to justify their views that the Earth was flat, that the darker skinned should always be inferior, and that women should subjugate their lives to men. The teachings of the world’s great religious traditions offer many words of wisdom, but the interpretations of their human followers are not infallible. As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount (yes, a personal Bible was given to me by a great lady and I honored her by reading the book), we must love our neighbors as ourselves. It is a simple teaching, but one that’s rarely followed by those who seek to oppress people different from themselves. The path to enlightenment always faces stubborn resistance. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you…”There are some people who are using homosexuality to advance their personal ambitions vis a vis religion. They claim that the homosexual ‘agenda’ is to make the whole world gay and threaten the stability of the family. Yet, let us examine the evidence: Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the first countries to legalise gay marriage, are more stable than ever – their population has not been converted by gays and their heterosexual divorce rates have even decreased since gays have been afforded legal rights. (William N. Eskridge, Jr and Darren R. Spedale, Oxford University Press, 2006).The only agenda gay people have is to be able to live with the same rights and dignity as our heterosexual brothers and sisters. Our very vocal opponents are the ones actively preying on innocent people, recruiting them to their cause by spreading fear and misinformation. I hope thinking people will quickly see that it is this small group of vocal objectionists who have a more dangerous agenda, that their fight with gay people has nothing to do with what’s right or wrong, but is merely a litmus test of their political influence. For peace and prosperity to continue, Singapore must always uphold secularism, where each different segment of the population respects the beliefs and rights of the others.Can a country with no natural resources afford to drive away its own citizens?There is a very pragmatic reason that you should support the rights and dignity of gay Singaporeans: in this globally-competitive era, Singapore needs her gay sons and daughters, just as we need our Singaporean Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, immigrants, men and women, old folks and young. Most importantly, we need those gay sons and daughters because those gay sons and daughters are Singaporean Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, immigrants, men and women, old folks and young. Can a country without natural resources continue to flourish when it starts to drive away its own children? As I said before, leaders are people who are guided by the conviction of rightness and justice and in being so guided, lead others towards that right path. I am still a teacher. My main purpose and joy is to teach our youngest citizens, the same ones who will be the leaders of our nation tomorrow. But, I feel I am shortchanging both society and myself by staying in the closet. I must be true to myself. If my colleagues and students, both gay and straight, see that being true to one’s own self has great value, perhaps we can produce a new generation who is truly courageous. A new generation of young people who are proud to be themselves, no matter what difference they have from their classmates. Then I will have succeeded in providing them a better education than I had the opportunity to receive during my years in school.So here’s what I am, and I am a friend in need at the moment So here it is: I, Otto Fong, have always been and always will be a gay man. When you ask about my spouse, I will say he is a man. I am as proud being gay as you are proud being straight. I am not, as some people like to label gays, a pedophile, a child molester, a pervert or sexual deviant. I did not choose to be gay, just like heterosexuals did not choose to be straight. I am not going to hell (not for being gay anyway). I am not going back in the closet. When you ask me who I am, I will answer: I am a son, a brother, a long-time companion, an uncle, a teacher, a classmate, a colleague, a part of your community, a HDB dweller, a Singaporean. And I am also gay.I would like to enjoy the respect that all other Singaporeans enjoy. I will not let the closet bind my feet, because I am made to sprint. I am not interested in being a bonsai tree, my DNA is programmed to climb higher. My heart aspires to reach my fullest potential as a human being.I hope, dear friends and colleagues, that you look back and remember what I am, and see that I am not someone you fear. I am essentially the same person – flawed, imperfect, but brought up properly by two loving parents to lead a productive, beneficial and meaningful life. My friends and family love me for who I am, and I hope you can too. I come out to you with as much hope and trepidation as when I first come out to my mother and father. Your support and understanding are very important to me at this moment.Thank you, may you prosper in health and soul.Yours sincerely,Otto Fong8th Sept 2007
|The Straits Times September 4, 2007
ST Forum - Online Letter - Yap Kim Hao
We cannot afford to wait
for conservative views to change
before dropping laws against gays
I refer to your report, 'S'pore must stay connected globally to grow'. (Aug 31) Minister Mentor Lee Yew cited the homosexual issue again and re-affirmed his positive views on the issue after what we can always expect was very careful study and analysis. His need to balance the interests of different groups in our pluralistc society is appreciated. The interesting fact that emerges in his interview with the International Herald Tribune is that China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have 'allowed and accepted gays'. He is convinced that it is a matter of time before Singapore follows suit. But the question is how much time. The headline of this article states that Singapore must stay connected globally to grow. Growth is essential, but can we afford to wait, or grow slowly? We have a conservative sector of our population, but they should not hold back the growth of our nation. They should not impede the progress of the country in becoming a world-class society. Allowing and accepting gays is necessary and shows respect for the laws of the country. To have a law and not enforce it can only mean that it is redundant and must be removed from the statute books as soon as possible. The rationale of keeping the law to satisfy the conservative minority brings the legal system into disrepute. It is simply not right to label a minority of the population criminals because they were born homosexual. What makes the consensual same-sex sexual act a criminal offence? All the allegations about irresponsible sexual acts apply to consensual opposite-sex acts as well. We can ill-afford to wait and watch the world progress ahead of us. We need to stay ahead of our competitors in attracting foreign talent and foreign investment. MM Lee has warned us of our nation's vulnerablities. We have been able to overcome one crisis to another thus far. Let us stay connected and continue to grow. We cannot retain a fishing-village mentality in the 21st century. Let us work together in harmony irrespective of race, creed, gender and sexual orientation to make pluralistic Singapore a continued success. Dr Yap Kim Hao
16 Aug 2007
Section 377A should be repealed - reputation in legal and multinational
community at stake
IN RECENT months, significant debate has raged in the press on the
Many arguments favouring retention of section 377A appear to be
religious dogma masquerading as universal truism, which it isn't. When Singapore's Law Society urged the repealing of section 377A, it
stated that those arguing for its retention were a 'minority'. Many in
Singapore also hold belief systems fundamentally grounded on acceptance
and tolerance. Sometimes the arguments are clouded by excessive facts and figures. For
example, Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang's contribution, 'Beware the high-risk
'gay lifestyle' ' (ST, Aug 8), highlighted the promiscuity of gay men
with this statement: '28% of them have more than 1,000 partners'. Would
he then suggest the unthinkable, that gay marriages be allowed so that
overactive libidos can be contained? Dr Chin further laments that 'not enough has been done to warn our
youth that leading a gay lifestyle is not cool'. I disagree. In a society where continuing of the family name is of utmost
importance, gays are often threatened with being disowned, disinherited
and ostracised by family, friends and colleagues. Indeed, I sometimes
wonder why any sane person would choose to be gay. Perhaps MM Lee is correct in suggesting that this is genetic. If so,
then should we blame God for this genetic aberration, or blame it on
the parents who conceived such a child? Frankly, keeping section 377A and not enforcing it is an unnecessary
burden. First, it changes nothing. Second, as asserted by Singapore's Law
Society, 'retention of unprosecuted offences on the statute book runs
the risk of bringing the law into disrepute'. Worse, if an openly-gay opportunistic expatriate sues his multinational
company for posting him here, thereby knowingly endangering him given
that his lifestyle is a criminal offence in Singapore, assertions that
the law will not be pursued would prove a weak defence. Such a suit
could prove financially lucrative for him, but detrimental to
Singapore's standing with MNCs. For the greater good, Singapore should repeal section 377A. Our
reputation in the legal and multinational community is important.
Retaining section 377A will just keep this albatross on Singapore's
neck forever. Repeal it and the gay community may celebrate, but it will prove a
Pyrrhic victory. The moment will be consigned to forgotten history in
months, if not weeks. In the long run, our conservative majority that continues to frown on
gays, the Aids epidemic, the promiscuous gay lifestyle and their
inherent inability to procreate will conspire to keep this minority
group a minority.
16 Aug 2007
Heterosexuals who visit prostitutes greater risk than gays. I REFER to Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang's letter, 'Beware the high-risk 'gay lifestyle' ' (ST, Aug 8). Using the good doctor's own logic, look at it this way: As of July, Singapore's population is 4,553,009, with a gender ratio of 0.954 male to female, meaning about 2,171,785 males of which 2.8 per cent are gay (60,809), leaving you with 2,110,976 men who are heterosexual. The journal Sexually Transmitted Infections asked 11,000 men in a survey in 2000 if they frequented prostitutes, and one in 10 said 'yes'. That comes to about 211,097 cases comprising men having sex with prostitutes (MSPs). Based on the prevalence of 97.2 per cent of men being heterosexual, and with 9.72 per cent using prostitutes, you have to wonder about the real risk and which lifestyle is 'not cool'. Some of the Third World countries have as many as 7 per cent of their adult females infected and working as prostitutes while in the developed world, typically, the percentage of infected prostitutes is 1 per cent. If MSPs sleep with this 1 per cent daily, that's 2,111 men exposed to HIV daily, or 770,515 annually. The virus is not easy to transmit heterosexually but, over time with multiple exposures, infection is inevitable. These men then act as a conduit to bring the virus home, their other casual sex partners and to their wives. Sounds to me like MSPs are a higher-risk group than MSMs (men who have sex with men) which is, by its very nature, is a statistically smaller pool. And since I don't sleep with men, it's these MSPs who are worrying me, as they spread their infections to hetero non-prostitute women, and it's why there are more of them with HIV than MSMs - because of their 'lifestyle' which is chosen, unlike MSMs. For a great hetero viewpoint on gay rights, check out this article by Cher Tan on www.think.cz/ issue3/29/ 5.html.
|The Straits Times
July 16, 2007
MP Baey all for repealing anti-gay law
By Jeremy Au Yong
A PEOPLE'S Action Party MP yesterday spoke out against the non-review of the law banning homosexual sex. Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said if it comes to a vote in Parliament, he would say 'yes' to doing away with the law which makes it illegal for men to have sex with other men. He was joined by Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong who had previously made public his opposition to Section 377A of the Penal Code which bans homosexual sex. Both were members of a forum panel yesterday that included gay activist Alex Au, founder of gay media company Fridae Stuart Koe, and Methodist church leader Reverend Yap Kim Hao. They were discussing the legislation with about 100 participants. When the Home Affairs Ministry proposed changes to the Penal Code last year, it said it would retain the ban on acts of 'gross indecency' between men. One participant, academic Russell Heng, 56, asked Mr Baey for his position if Parliament took a vote on this issue. He said he would vote to repeal the law, a response which drew loud applause. Explaining his stand, Mr Baey drew an analogy between homosexual sex and drinking or smoking. 'There should be a distinction between what the Government wants to discourage, and what it wants to criminalise, ' he said. 'The Government can make it more difficult to access drinking and smoking, but you are still allowed to drink and smoke. So, you can discourage homosexual sex without criminalising it.' He believed the Whip should be lifted if Parliament were to debate this issue. But he conceded that - from his understanding - not many MPs would share his views on decriminalising homosexual sex. Lifting the Whip means MPs can vote according to their convictions, and do not have to toe the party line. But Mr Baey emphasised that he did not think this issue would be decided through public consensus. 'From what I understand of how the Government works, I don't think the Government will make a decision based on a survey...The Government would want to make its own stand and position on issues like this,' he said. Changing the law would require 'some progressive thinking and also people who are able to influence the Cabinet's thinking'. Thus, recent remarks by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew were welcome, he added. 'We should be happy he made those remarks, and that will pave the way for some change in the thinking of the current Government.' In an interview with Berita Harian published two weeks ago, MM Lee said the Government should not act like moral policemen, 'prying on consenting adults'. He also reiterated his view that homosexuals 'were mostly born that way', but also recognised that Singapore is a conservative society and cannot go as far as some countries that recognise gay marriage. Yesterday's forum also touched on issues about the gay community and what the religious view on the matter was. Offering his view, Rev Yap said: 'Contrary to the majority of the Christian views... I personally would call for it to be repealed on the basis that this is God's purpose - the existence of the homosexual community... We know there will always be a proportion of the population, generation after generation, who will be homosexual, and they are created by the heterosexuals. ' At the end of the forum, both Mr Baey and Mr Siew said it was good to have open discussion to increase awareness of the issue, but the absence of a different point of view meant the discussion lacked balance. Said Mr Baey: 'We were talking to the con
|Monday, July 16, 2007
On Section 377A ...
Forum on gay law well-attended, but change unlikely:
|THE room was packed, the panellists were passionate and the questions came fast and furious. This was the mood yesterday as over 200 people gathered to discuss a hot issue - should homosexuality remain outlawed here? Leading the discussion, organised by local theatre company W!ld Rice at the National Library, were an eclectic mix of five individuals: MP (Tanjong Pagar GRC) Baey Yam Keng; Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong; gay activist Alex Au; CEO of gay community website Fridae.com, Dr Stuart Koe; and Reverend Dr Yap Kim Hao, a former Methodist bishop who serves on the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) council. Although Section 377A, which criminalises homosexual acts, may come up for debate in Parliament as part of the Penal Code changes, for two panellists at least, the prospect that it would be repealed any time soon seems highly unlikely. Said Mr Baey: "Personally, I think the whip should be lifted for a very open debate and open expression of opinion by the MPs. And if that was so, I would vote for a repeal of the act. From my understanding of my parliamentary colleagues, my guess is that I will be in the minority." However, Mr Siew told the audience - most of whom indicated during the forum that they wanted Section 377A repealed - that the battle was not to convince the naysayers, but those who are undecided about whether homosexuality should be decriminalised. The NMP said change would only be possible "once you get that mass, enough people in the middle, to agree with you", but added: "I don't think we're at that point." Mr Siew cited a heartland survey published in May by Today, in which 62.3 per cent of 300 respondents disagreed that homosexuality should be legal. "That shows that a clear majority are saying that homosexuality of people is not acceptable to them." But even if more people were to support decriminalisation, that may not be enough. Said Mr Baey: "From what I understand about how the Government works, I don't think the Government will be making a decision based on a survey ... The Government will want to make its own stand and position on issues like this, and for this it requires a mindset shift." And to change mindsets, "you've got to frame it in a lingo that will convince the Government", Mr Siew suggested. "And what's that lingo? I think we all know. It's all about growth, jobs, money. If you can make a convincing case that 377A is somehow affecting that, I think you've got a really good chance." He acknowledged that changing the laws on homosexuality would put Malay/Muslim MPs in a difficult position with their community. But it is not just the Muslims who feel strongly about the issue. Reverend Dr Yap said that within the Christian faith in Singapore there was a "minority which is vocal" which strongly opposes any move to repeal the Act. Mr Au, however, argued that the debate on Section 377A was not one of religion, but civil rights. In response, Mr Siew pointed out: "Pitching your arguments in terms of civil rights ... will not take it very far." His suggestion of linking the decriminalisation of homosexual acts to economic benefits drew a range of responses from the audience - as well as other panellists, including Mr Koe, who said he would feel insulted if the decision were to depend on dollars and cents. Whatever their stand, almost everyone present agreed that such a forum would not have been possible five years ago - a sign that Singapore is now a lot more open to different points of view.|
StraitstimesJuly 7, 2007 THINKING ALOUD
By Janadas Devan, Senior Writer
I HAVE a good friend who is a lesbian. She believes she was born one, not having experienced any heterosexual inclinations since she became sexually conscious in puberty. My friend has a partner. They are not legally married, since the state they live in in the United States does not recognise gay marriages. But their partnership was solemnised in a Quaker ceremony, witnessed by family and friends, including myself. To all intents and purposes, theirs is a stable marriage.It is also a fruitful marriage, for my friend has two children, both biologically hers. She conceived them by means of artificial insemination, the sperms having been donated by suitably screened men.Apart from the fact that there is no father in the picture, my friend's family is normal and exemplary in every way. The two children are healthy, cheerful, intelligent and well-behaved. They have two loving parents. My friend and her partner are highly educated, with five university degrees between them. They own the home they live in, they pay their taxes, they save for their children's education, they are charitable, they never fail to vote, they attend church every Sunday. They are model citizens. Of course, there are any number of other model citizens - in the US and Singapore, in China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere - who would think my friend's family is anything but normal. Homosexuality is against the laws of God and Nature, they would say. Artificial insemination is all well and good for heterosexual couples - but not for homosexual ones. A family must consist of a husband, a wife and children - not same-sex parents with children. I find all these assertions incomprehensible.If homosexuality is against the laws of God and Nature, how come there are so many homosexuals? What sort of iron-clad laws can these be if they can allow for so many exceptions to the rule?The demographics on sexual orientation is hazy, but it is evident that a fair number in any population is either homosexual or bisexual. Alfred Kinsey's famous studies of sexuality in the 1950s claimed that as much as 10 per cent of American males were homosexual. Most experts today believe this was an over-estimation.Recent studies suggest 3 to 6 per cent of adult American males, and somewhat fewer adult females, are homosexual. Surveys in other countries reveal similar or somewhat lower proportions. It is possible such surveys underestimate the number of homosexuals, since homosexuals are often reluctant to admit to their sexual orientation.Whatever the correct figure, it is impossible to believe God (or Nature) is of the view that Socrates and Alexander the Great, Walt Whitman and Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, are all somehow deformed versions of humanity simply because they were gay.'Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.'It is astonishing the number of people who profess to be religious who manage to forget this most momentous of statements in Christ's Sermon on the Mount. (There are similarly powerful statements in all the major religions.)As for the belief that there is an ideal family unit - father, mother, children - and that any straying from this model is somehow dangerous, it is worth remembering that the nuclear family as we know it was not always considered the norm.
Till recently, the norm in many cultures was the
extended family. Some cultures are matrilineal, with
the line of descent and inheritance being determined
by the mother, not the father.No single model of the family has dominated throughout
history. The traditional nuclear family just happens
to be a structure that contemporary society finds
stable and workable - and it too is changing, as women
become more educated and have careers. And even among
today's supposedly ideal nuclear families, how many
live up to their billing?One in two heterosexual marriages in the US ends in
divorce. Are the children of divorced heterosexual
couples better off than the children of my lesbian
friends?How about the children of single mothers or of
constantly bickering heterosexual couples locked in
loveless marriages?No matter how happy and well-adjusted the children of
lesbian couples may be, they are always, by virtue of
their parentage, morally suspect in comparison to the
products of broken heterosexual marriages?The only problems the children of my lesbian friends
would face derive, not from the circumstances of their
birth, but from the nature of the wider society in
which they may find themselves. Fortunately for them,
they are growing up for now in a university town, a
liberal and tolerant milieu. If they were growing up
in Utah, say, it would be a different story. 'You've
two mothers and no father? You're a freak.'One can imagine the taunts they might face in school
if they were growing up in Utah or Alabama instead of
Massachusetts or California.What about Singapore?It is probably closer to Utah than to California in
this matter. Despite none other than Minister Mentor
Lee Kuan Yew saying 'homosexuals are mostly born that
way, and no public purpose is served by interfering in
their private lives', there is considerable social
resistance to accepting gays as equals.Male homosexual acts remain, officially, crimes under
Section 377A of the Penal Code. The Singapore
Government has in effect adopted a 'don't ask, don't
tell' policy where homosexuality is concerned. And as
for gay marriage, Mr Lee himself, despite his
progressive views on homosexuality, has said: 'We
cannot go that far. We are a more conservative
society.'What are homosexuals in Singapore to do?They really have no alternative but to accept the
somewhat larger scope the Singapore Government has now
afforded them and work to change society. That is not
going to be easy, given the deep-seated views - the
prejudices, actually - of the majority.The fact that the Government - usually never shy of
forcing through a policy, no matter what the public
resistance to it might be, if it believes the policy
is correct - finds it necessary to give way to public
sentiment in not officially decriminalising male
homosexual acts, indicates the depth of the prejudice
against gays.On the hopeful side, two factors would favour
homosexuals in the long run: One, the growing vidence
that homosexuality has a genetic basis. And two, the
growing cosmopolitanism of Singapore.What will those who hold that homosexuality is against
the laws of God say when it is definitively
established that homosexuality has a genetic basis?
That God deliberately made a mistake with the DNA of
gays - and wishes us to persecute them for his
mistake?And what will they say when they discover homophobia
renders Singapore a less attractive place to the talented and creative, both local and foreign? There
is a reason why some of the most creative cities in
the world - San Francisco, Boston and London - are
also among the most accepting of gays.Clever people cannot abide intolerance.
|July 2, 2007
MM LEE'S INTERVIEW WITH BERITA HARIAN
|July 2, 2007
MM LEE'S INTERVIEW WITH BERITA HARIAN
No prying on gays but no marriages either GAY marriages are recognised by some countries, but Minister Mentor
Lee Kuan Yew does not see Singapore going that way. Singapore, a more conservative society, wants to keep its social
norms, he said. But the Government should not act like moral
policemen, 'prying on consenting adults', he added. MM Lee made the point in an interview with Malay daily Berita Harian,
published yesterday. He said: 'At present, the West accepts
homosexuals, and some countries even recognise gay weddings. 'We cannot go that far. We are a more conservative society.'
Citing the Church of England, Mr Lee noted serious tension between the Anglican church in England, which was more tolerant of homosexuality, and the Anglican communities in Africa and Asia that rejected it totally. 'In Singapore, we want to maintain our social norm, which is that men and women marry and form stable families within which they bring up children,' he said. But neither should the Government pry on consenting adults, he added, reiterating a view he has expressed a couple of times this year. 'We must take cognisance of the contemporary world that has become more accommodating. ..Homosexuals are mostly born that way, and no public purpose is served by interfering in their private lives,' he said. Mr Lee also said the integrated resorts (IRs) and Formula One racing will increase Singapore's buzz, attract a few million more tourists and make the island a lively place to visit and do business.
The IRs are expected to open from 2009, and Singapore will host the
F1 Grand Prix from next year. Mr Lee said: 'If we remain static and unchanged, known only as clean
and green Singapore, but otherwise with an international reputation
for being a dull and antiseptic place, we will lose out in this fast-
changing world. 'High-level executives want to be posted to a country not just for an
increase in their pay but also what lifestyle they and their families
can enjoy.' Hence the need for a lively pop culture like the IRs and bars, and a
vibrant high culture like concerts, he said. MM Lee also stressed the need for Singapore to attract foreign talent
and foreign workers to thrive. Foreign talent will create more jobs for Singaporeans, while foreign
workers will do jobs locals avoid and bear the brunt of layoffs in a
recession, he said. 'The more talent - local and foreign - we have, the more dynamic our
economy and the better-off Singaporeans will be. 'The less talent we have, the less our economic vitality with fewer
jobs, and more unemployed.'
|21 May 2007
THE GAY DEBATE AND THE BREAKTHROUGH WE NEED
by P N BALJI
NO amount of print or pressure, or even persuasion, is going to change the Government's stand on what is being described by some as an archaic and discriminatory law: A law that makes overt homosexuality a crime in Singapore. That is the only black-and-white certainty in the on-going debate on gays. The rest, as they say, is all grey. So why bother even talking about it, asked a friend exasperated with the glacial pace in the politics of change here.Over lunch, we tried to jog our collective memories on the number of occasions when the Government introduced a new law or changed a stand because of overt influence from the outside.Two stick out like sore thumbs: Former Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Woon's push in 1995 for a law to force children to pay for their parents' maintenance - the only Act passed by Parliament since 1965 not initiated by the Government - and the official embrace in 2001 of a group of nature lovers who wanted to save Chek Jawa from reclamation. There have been instances of Government reversal (such as on the graduate mothers policy) and tweaking (to allow the restricted viewing of certain movies). But these have all originated from within, with no overt pressure or persuasion from without.The Jeremys of this world, as quoted in Today's weekend report, need to know that this is a government that guards jealously its self-imposed change-from- within mandate.For every Jeremy and partner who want to pack up and go because of the legal discrimination against gays here, there is a Dennis and partner, who swear by Singapore's enlightened attitude - covert though it may be - towards gay couples like them.
I met Dennis, his partner and two other gays at a 31-year-old lady's
birthday a month ago. They led me into a world of highly-intelligent,
highly-articulate and highly-successful people. They have an opinion - a penetrating and alternative one, mind you - on
nearly everything that is happening in Singapore and around the world.
That is definitely refreshing in a place where debate and discussion,
even in a dinner setting, is lacking.Even more refreshing was to see how the four gays took care of the two
straight women at the table. They fussed over the women, talking about
the latest fashion trends and bitching about nearly everything and
everybody under the sun. The dinner ended with one of the women
whispering into her husband's ear: "They are God's gift to women!" I am sure many of the 62.3 per cent of the heartlanders who said, in a
Today survey, that they are against legalising homosexuality would have
a different view if they got to mingle with these people more often.That is what happened with Britain's Ministry of Defence which allowed
gays to serve in the armed forces. Today, seven years later, the ministry's verdict: None of its fears of
harassment, discord, blackmail and bullying have come to pass,
according to an International Herald Tribune report. If it can happen in a macho and tightly-regulated environment like the
armed forces, then Singapore society in general should pose no great
barrier. Singapore needs gays, not just because of the pink dollar and the
economic value they bring, but also because they add a colourful and
intellectual vibrancy to our city.With the law and the politics on gays unlikely to change for sometime,
the next best thing is for us all to get to know them better.They have the same emotions we have. A teacher friend once told me,
misty-eyed and all, about the pain he suffered after breaking up with
his partner. Another, a doctor, spoke of how he is consumed by guilt
every time his parents ask him why he is not getting married. Yes, gays are normal people and they should be treated normally. That
is the breakthrough we need to achieve in this gay debate.
22 May 2007
Dr Yap Kim Hao
I REFER to Ms Yvonne Lee's letter, 'Gay debate continues: Writer responds', (Online forum, May 17). Ms Lee has quoted from the affidavit for a court case of one medical doctor, John R. Diggs, Jr, MD, that homosexual acts are inherently unhealthy. A closer examination of the affidavit whose source is supplied by Ms Lee herself shows that Dr Diggs observed: 'People who engage in homosexuality have the same basic sexual equipment as people who do not.' This meant that heterosexuals have the same sexual organs and some can also engage in what is regarded as 'homosexual acts' as well. Unsafe sex by heterosexuals and homosexuals can result in the same medical and health risks like those listed by Ms Lee - promiscuity, multiple sexual partners, assault and battery and anal intercourse. Homosexuals do not have the monopoly of such risks. In reality heterosexuals carry higher risks and spread sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/Aids to their sexual partners and unborn children. In the discussion on natural drives, Dr Diggs wrote: 'We discourage heterosexual promiscuity, cigarette smoking, and intoxication of various sorts, even though there may be a natural inclination to do these things.
Some claim a natural inclination, as adults, to sexually exploit children. This society discourages to the point of making it criminal.' Dr Diggs is right that we should discourage heterosexuals from expressing such inclinations. At the same time I agree with him that we should do the same with homosexuals. But homosexual orientation is not an inclination or a tendency that we must curb. It is just as natural an orientation as the heterosexual to engage in heterosexual and for some homosexual acts as well. Sexuality is common and the health risks of sexual acts are the same. The distinctive difference is that of same-sex and opposite-sex acts. Why do we criminalise one and not the other? This is where there is a need for equality before the law and justice needs to be seen to be served.
|May 9, 2007
The freedom to disagree, respectfully
By Victor V. Ramraj, For The Straits Times
|IT HAS been argued that the decriminalisation of sodomy is the first
step on a slippery slope towards a 'homosexual agenda' that includes
civil unions and same-sex marriages.
I disagree with this view and the arguments advanced in support of it.
Still, the debate on this subject has provided us with a key lesson on
the importance of public discussion on matters of deep moral
significance - and the importance of respectful disagreement. First, a few comments on some of the claims in the debate. Even in societies abroad where legal structures such as same-sex civil
unions have been introduced, this did not happen overnight, but only
after significant shifts in social and political attitudes. If the majority of Singaporeans find homosexuality offensive, then
there is little reason for them to worry that the entire legal
landscape will change in an instant. If change eventually does come, it will follow only after open and
respectful debate and a conscious choice on the part of Singaporeans to
become a more tolerant and hospitable society. Others, particularly in cyberspace this past week, have challenged the
accuracy of empirical claims behind the argument to retain sodomy as a
crime - and the debate will no doubt continue. I will not repeat these
arguments here. As for constitutional law, formal constitutional
doctrine on such matters is hardly conclusive. In 1930, Lord Sankey
likened a Constitution to 'a living tree capable of growth and
expansion within its natural limits'. Particularly in Singapore, where
the methodology of constitutional law is still evolving, there is much
to be said for this vision.
Intolerant vs criminal I WANT to turn, however, to a rather different point that arises from this controversy. Does branding opponents of decriminalisation 'intolerant' undermine or effectively censor free speech? Surely, the answer to this question is no. Indeed, the reverse may be more likely; opponents of decriminalisation effectively silence others by continuing to regard the behaviour they oppose as criminal. To be branded intolerant is one thing; to be branded a criminal is quite another. The publication of letters and commentary in this newspaper shows that those who disagree with decriminalisation are perfectly free to express their views. Perhaps, then, the deeper concern is not that these views will be censored (plainly, they haven't been), but that others will not find them convincing. If that is the true concern, then rigorous and respectful persuasion would be the answer. If the discussion on Singapore blogs is any indication, recent exchanges about the decriminalisation of sodomy have provoked an important debate, one that demonstrates that Singaporeans, including many tertiary students, are far from apathetic when it comes to issues of great social significance. An issue of profound social importance is receiving the serious public attention, reflection and debate it deserves. The sources of identity FOR those who choose to engage in this debate, let us remind ourselves that our words have profound personal impact on those around us, on both sides of this controversy.
Those whose religious views are tolerant of homosexuality, and
especially those of us with secular-humanist inclinations, must remain
sensitive to the deeply personal and communal role that religious
doctrine plays in the lives of many. At the same time, we must have faith that those who oppose the
decriminalisation of sodomy on religious grounds will acknowledge that
personal identity need not be a matter of religion at all. It is
possible, even common, to define one's identity outside of religion -
in terms of one's intimate relationships, career goals, community
service, life-long projects and deep personal convictions. A person's
sense of identity is no less worthy of respect in the public square on
account of its secular sources. I can only imagine the deep personal anguish experienced by gays and
lesbians in Singapore when confronted by the criminal law. Their voices
should be heard in the spirit of an open, respectful and meaningful
discussion. Whatever is said in the course of this debate, it is clear that
someone, somewhere, will take offence. But the ability for all to speak
out should not be taken for granted. There are reasonable limits to be
placed on hateful speech - a view that I have defended elsewhere. But
in the present context, in a society that is increasingly more open, I
find myself drawn to the pithy comment sometimes attributed to
Voltaire: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death
your right to say it.' The writer is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law, National
University of Singapore. This essay reflects his personal views only.
Sraitstimes, May 1, 2007
Susan Yap Siu Sen (Ms)
Whether heterosexual or gay, treat all equally.
SAFE is a group of family and friends who affirm and support gay and
transgendered people as persons with equal rights to respect, dignity,
acceptance and empowerment in society.
We are writing to express our thanks to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for his recent comments at the dialogue with Young PAP and in the
interview with Reuters.
We appreciate the two cogent points he made:
That homosexuality is a genetic variation, not an aberration.
That the law against homosexual acts is outmoded.
We at Safe are hopeful that the law that criminalises homosexual acts
will be abolished. Whether heterosexual or gay, we believe that all
Singapore citizens and residents should be treated equally under the
We cannot agree with a law that proclaims our sons, grandsons,
For far too long our gay loved ones from a young
age have suffered deep internalised oppression, often resulting in the
disintegration of family, compromised relationships, low self-esteem,
stunted maturity and unavoidable deceitfulness.
We support the decriminalisation of oral and anal sex as proposed by
the Ministry of Home Affairs, and ask that it apply equally to all
Homosexual men and women enrich our lives through their participation
in business, the professions, the arts and government. As we focus on
the richness gay people bring to our lives and our love and support for
them, we not only liberate them, but we also become a society committed
to the Asian values of real family.
|Official editorial of the Straits Times
Saturday, 5 July 2003
About gay tolerance
PRIME Minister Goh Chok Tong dropped something of a small bombshell this week when he revealed to Time magazine that the Singapore Government had changed its policy on hiring homosexuals in the civil service. 'In the past, if we know you're gay, we would not employ you,' he said. 'But we just changed this quietly. We know you are. We'll employ you,' he revealed. The Government does not seem to have adopted quite the same policy as the United States military's 'don't ask, don't tell', but the effect is analogous. Gay people do not have to declare their sexual orientation - nobody in Singapore is required to, actually - but Mr Goh seemed to suggest it wouldd be best if they did, so as to avoid being blackmailed, especially those in sensitive positions. 'Disclose, and we won't bother' would seem to encapsulate the new policy.This newspaper welcomes the change. As the Prime Minister explained, broader changes in the laws regarding homosexuality will have to await changes in the beliefs and attitudes of what remains, by and large, a conservative society, but this is a step in the right direction. Homosexual acts will still remain an offence - but as everyone knows, these sections of the Criminal Code are not strictly enforced. Singaporeans are not about to witness gay parades or festivals - but as everyone knows, private gatherings of the gay community are not prohibited. And the Government is not going to institute in the near future a strict anti-discrimination policy towards homosexuals - similar, say to anti-discrimination policies on the grounds of race or religion - but as Mr Goh made clear, the Government itself will not discriminate against gays, and large segments of the private sector have long ceased to make an issue of it. No homosexual in Singapore is starving because of his or her homosexuality; no homosexual is jobless because of his or her sexual orientation. What Singapore has, de facto if not de jure, is a live-and-let-live attitude towards homosexuality. 'So let it evolve,' as Mr Goh put it, 'and in time, the population will understand that some people are born that way. We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me.'Some American studies have suggested that as much as 10 per cent of any population is homosexual. In all probability - the science on this is not settled - homosexuality is as genetically determined as heterosexuality, or one's height, for that matter. Ethically and logically, it is as untenable to exclude people on the basis of their sexual orientation as it is to exclude them on the basis of the shape of their noses or the colour of their hair. If it is 'natural' to have snub proboscis as it is to have high ones, it is as 'natural' to be a heterosexual as it is to be a homosexual. There is no one model of the natural; nature is by definition various. Why should anyone be faulted simply for possessing certain traits - of gender, race, sexual orientation, or inherited disability, or even body type - over which they had no control? 'Blaming' someone for being homosexual is equivalent to faulting that person for simply existing. But this is not a position that everyone would agree with. Many religions - or more precisely, segments of many religions - explicitly prohibit homosexuality. These views are sincerely held, and no society, not even avowedly secular ones like the US, can ignore them. If Western Europe, Canada and Australia are any indication, attitudes towards homosexuality will change in the long term. But the process cannot be forced.