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Sayoni Camp: An Enduring Journey Crafted for Women by Women
Articles - Sayoni Camp
Sunday, 26 June 2016 00:00


This year, Sayoni Camp offers the opportunity to get in touch with yourself and start a journey to becoming your intrinsic, authentic self.

Do the words authentic self, emotional self, life position, resilience, well-anchored, contentment and presence stir something in you? If so, this camp is for you. Get to know the self. Be empowered with insight into how you have been automatically operating. Transform your current life position and get to a place you desire to be.

Self-discovery is also about fun. We promise excitement and loads of laughter if you are willing to come play with us! You will be in the company of like-minded women in an atmosphere created for self-discovery. Previous campers have raved about the surprises and joys they have experienced – you can too.

This camp will be led by two facilitators and supported by volunteers who are devoted to the empowerment of women. Much effort and heart has gone into planning this to create a safe, conducive environment for your fun and growth.

Click here to find out more about the camp! Sign up before 30 June 2016 to enjoy an early bird discount.


Sentiments of the Facilitators

“We believe that mastering our emotional state is the main ingredient in healthy and contented living. Being aware of and sensitive to our own emotional states and those of the people interact with helps us better manage ourselves and how we interact with the world. This provides us with the environment to make the best of our lives.

“We are passionate about the well-being of women and derive indescribable contentment from experiencing an individual’s increased self-awareness, and ultimately the joy and steadiness it brings to her life.”

Facilitator Bios

Mei Ling
A certified Human Behaviour Analyst, she has formal training in couple counselling, deep process work on the self and authentic leadership. Her academic qualifications include BA (Management Science), MBA (Management) and BA (Psychology). 

A certified professional executive coach, she is also a registered counsellor with the Singapore Association for Counselling and is a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. She holds an Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment and Advanced Transactional Analysis certification, with accreditation in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality profile and the DiSC Dimensions of Behaviour profile.


Sayoni Camp 2016
Articles - Announcements
Friday, 17 June 2016 00:32

Sayoni Camp is back! Our self-development getaway will run from 6-8 August 2016. Make new friends, have fun in the sun, and enjoy a journey of discovery!

We aim to provide a fun-filled and meaningful experience for all campers. Our goal is to promote self-development and growth.

We welcome all queer women to join us for an unforgettable weekend getaway. Limited early bird rate ends 30 June.

More details at


The Chiongs on Queer Politics, Media and Kids
Articles - Family
Written by alina   
Thursday, 25 February 2016 23:46

Sayoni sat down for a chat with Olivia and Irene Chiong last year. (This interview was posted late, so some information may be outdated.)

The Chiongs have been receiving some attention in recent years, with Olivia’s blog gaining traction online and their same-sex parenting group (Rainbow Parents) advocating for equality for LGBT parents and children. But over the course of the interview, it became clear that Irene and Olivia do not want to be solely defined by their same-sex parenting activism. Other topics that came up in the course of the chat included media representation, children's rights, and queer politics.

Olivia has released her first book, The Unbusy Entrepreneur and is taking preorders for her second book, titled Baby Zoey: Our Search for Life and Family.

Note: The views represented here are those of the individuals and may not represent Sayoni's stand.

Irene (left) and Olivia. Photo courtesy of the Chiongs

How would you describe yourself?

Irene: I've done quite a bit of queer activism and language activism, working on issues that affect me personally. I would like to work on issues that don't affect me personally, like racism or transgender issues. I'm a queer parent. I'm also interested in the intersections between feminism and the tech space; other related issues are sex work, queer rights and transgender rights. I don't want to use the umbrella term "queer rights" to cover transgender rights, because there are unique challenges.

Olivia: I'm an accidental activist. Still accidental after all these years. I like to think that I put my family first at this point in my life. I'm enjoying my work and hoping to build an empire helping small business owners. My politics are different from Irene's, in that I'm passionate about things that touch me personally. For example, encountering someone who is transgender helped me to understand and want to contribute to that.

What's the image you're trying to present?

Irene: I'm not trying to present an image, but I don't want to buy into the thinking that queer rights is based on being safe, monogamous and having children. It should not be the case. So part of me is thinks that we shouldn't be so visible, not because I am closeted, but because queer rights is about everybody.

You mean it should be about the whole spectrum of queer people and not just a certain group.

Irene: Yeah, not only monogamous, married queer couples are entitled to certain rights. I'm quite uncomfortable with using couples or families as the face for queer rights.

Last Updated on Saturday, 09 April 2016 15:48
Sayoni's Letter to ST Forum on Sexual Abuse Article
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by alina   
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 00:00

This is Sayoni's unpublished letter to the Straits Times Forum following its report on a transgender man who sexually abused a minor ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"). We feel strongly about this issue and hope that the mainstream media will strive for more accuracy and respect in its reports about LGBTQ persons. Thanks to all who contributed to the writing of this letter.

Using incorrect pronouns for transgender people reinforces stigma

Sexual abuse is a serious crime. We at Sayoni, a community of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, condemn it regardless of age and gender. The emotional and psychological effects of abuse can last many years. However, we find that the language used in the recent report ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"; Dec 8) is damaging to transgender people, reproducing negative stereotypes.

Firstly, describing the accused’s gender identity as ‘a bogus identity’ is inaccurate. According to the article, he has already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and should, therefore, be identified using male pronouns or by his name.

Failing to do so misrecognises a transgender person’s chosen identity. It does not acknowledge that transgender people may have good reason not to reveal their sex at birth, such as facing potential rejection by partners or family members or discrimination and violence from members of society.

The choice of words also undermines the legitimacy of a transgender person’s family life. For instance, scare quotes are unnecessary when referring to the accused's partners and daughter. Diverse families that go beyond the traditional heterosexual structures are being formed every day. But these families lack the state assistance given to the conventional family unit, such as Personal Protection Orders against abusive partners.

Furthermore, is the accused’s gender identity relevant to a case of sexual assault of a minor? The real issue is the act of abuse, the harm to the child and the power imbalance between the minor and the adult.

Transgender people already face a disproportional amount of discrimination and violence in their lives. In our move to become an inclusive society that seeks to build strong families and communities, we caution against reporting that disparages transgender individuals. We hope that the media can present gender identity fairly and avoid further stigmatising an already marginalised group of people.


Edit 18/1/16: Sincere apologies for committing the same mistake ST did and reproducing the word 'woman' instead of 'man' in the blurb.

UPR Statement by Sayoni at UPR Pre-Session
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by sayoni   
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:30

Sayoni's Jean (right) with We Believe in Second Chances at the UPR Pre-session.


On behalf of the LGBTQ communities in Singapore
UPR Pre-Session, Geneva, 16th December 2015

Dear representatives of the Permanent Missions,

1- Presentation of the Organisation

This statement is delivered on behalf of SAYONI, a queer women’s group which works to organise and advocate for the human rights of all LGBTQ persons based in Singapore. Sayoni submitted two UPR reports to this session. First, together with a coalition of 10 civil society groups named the ‘Alliance of Like-minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS) as a civil society stakeholder to highlight the intersectional discrimination of LGBTQ individuals in the civil and political space. Second, with a coalition of international LGBTQ organisations and national groups to point out the systematic discrimination faced by LGBTQ persons in Singapore

National consultations for the drafting of the national report

There were one grassroots open consultation held in January 2015 by Sayoni and about 30 individuals and groups attended. There were two national consultations held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which approximately 20 NGOs attended. A third subsequent dialogue session was arranged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the civil society coalition I am part of, ALMOS.

Plan of the Statement

The statement will address:

I. Criminalisation of consensual sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore

II. The right to freedom of expression - Media censorship, disallowing neutral or positive portrayal of LGBTQ persons

III. The right to freedom of association - To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations with the authorities as a Society or Non-Profit Organisation

IV. The right to family life for LGBTQ persons

V. Rights of Transgender people

VI. Workplace discrimination


I. Section 377A of the Penal Code

A. Follow-up to the first review

In the first cycle of the UPR, France raised the question of the abolishment of the provisions of the Penal Code related to private relations between consenting adults, which was noted by the state of Singapore. Similarly, the issues related to sexual orientation were raised by the UK, and in advance by Canada, Ireland and The Netherlands.

New developments since the last review

In reply, the state has consistently stated that there is no discrimination towards LGBTQ persons in Singapore and Section 377A has not been proactively enforced. We think that the state is being misleading and ignoring the cascading and intersectional effects of 377A.

Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code criminalises "acts of gross indecency" between men, including sodomy, and imposes a term of up to 2 years' imprisonment. The section applies specifically to men, and may be applied regardless of whether those acts are committed in public or private spaces. The continuing criminalisation of sexual activity between men, together with the legislative and administrative framework of discrimination against LGBT persons, constitutes violations by Singapore of a number of rights under international human rights law, including the right to privacy and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

In October 2014, the Singaporean Court of Appeal ruled to uphold the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, international non-governmental organisations and Singaporean LGBT groups have expressed dissatisfaction at the Court's decision. Despite government claims that 377A will not be enforced, gay men continue to live under the threat of harassment and enforcement of this section. It also influences public policy formulation that discriminates against the entire LGBT community.


Repeal legal provisions criminalising sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex


II. Right to Freedom of Expression - Media Censorship

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.

Developments since the first review

The Media Development Authority Act, the Films Act and the Broadcasting Act empower the Media Development Authority (MDA) to ban, classify and, through licensing, restrict the content of various media. The MDA effectuates these powers through conditions attached to licences that it issues, and through published "guidelines" which include prohibitions and restrictions on material with LGBT characters and themes. E.g. film and free-to-air television classification guidelines say: "Films should not promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle. However, non-exploitative and non-explicit depictions of sexual activity between two persons of the same gender may be considered for R21" (R21 means viewings restricted to adults of 21 years and above).

In practice, these guidelines are treated as binding rather than advisory and are interpreted in risk-averse ways, with films and television programmes containing LGBT themes and characters censored or restricted even when no sex is involved, either by the MDA itself or by producers required to abide by the MDA's licence conditions.

Depictions of LGBT characters in a normal or positive light, or any speech that advocates for their dignity and rights are routinely cut out or barred. The result of this stereotypical, negative and skewed depiction is a perpetuation of prejudice and stigma to the public of the LGBT community. Such censorship policy also means that LGBT persons are deprived of positive role models in the media, reinforcing low self-esteem and rendering them accepting of discrimination and rights abuses.


We therefore urge that the continued practice of state-sponsored censorship in the media to be raised during the upcoming UPR, and that the following recommendations are made. To:

· Remove all censorship policies/guidelines that allow for the discriminatory treatment of LGBT-related material and viewpoints

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 19 protects the right to the freedom of expression.

The right to freedom of association. To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.

New developments since the last review

The Societies Act gives discretionary power to the Registrar of Societies to approve or disapprove a society (defined as any group with ten or more persons), with appeals against his decision directed to the minister in charge. The Societies Act does not require the Registrar or the minister to give reasons for whatever decision they make. Section 14 of this Act defines any unregistered society as an "unlawful society" whose leaders and members are liable to criminal prosecution.

LGBT groups were denied registration by the Registrar of Societies and given reasons like "contrary to the national interest" as response. No elaboration was given on how LGBT interests could be contrary to the national interest. In recent years, LGBT organizations have also not been allowed to register as non-profit organisations and given the same reason. Thus, LGBT groups operate under the threat of arrest and prosecution. Even without such clampdowns, the lack of legal status means an inability to self-actualise, organise or raise funds in any organised way, and denial of access to mainstream media as well as other public or private services wary of giving legitimacy to unregistered groups.


· Allow registration of LGBT-related groups under the Societies Act or as non-profit organisations.

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 22 protects the right to freedom of association.

The right to family life - Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter that defines marriage as between a man and a woman

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.

New developments since the last review

Neither the law nor the state recognises same-sex relationships. Even marriages contracted in other jurisdictions between same-sex partners are specifically not recognised in Singapore. Under Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, this has been a major cause of discrimination and lack of protection as experienced by same-sex couples and those in transnational same-sex marriages in Singapore. In particular, legally married transnational same-sex couples have not been able to stay in the same country as their legal spouse.

Consequently, many benefits and rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples are denied to same-sex couples. These include employee benefits that extend to spouses, medical visitation and next-of-kin rights, rights to purchase subsidised public housing from the state and tax breaks for married couples.

Children born in same-sex families do not enjoy the same rights, benefits or tax breaks as other children since the legal standard is applied to them as a single parent. These children do not enjoy the same legal rights and hence have no way to be legally cared for and maintained by the non-legal parent, the right to have guaranteed continuity in the event of separation of the same-sex couple or the death of the legal parent, or even to acquire kinship with the non-legal parent.


· Amend Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter and permit registration of same-sex marriages.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights and duties of same-sex partners.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights of children from same-sex households.


V. Rights of Transgender people

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.

New developments since the last review

The National Registration Act requires each citizen to be issued with an identity card and to have recorded such details as the Commissioner of National Registration requires. This includes one's sex and race.

The administrative practice is that a transgender person has their sex at birth recorded on the identity card even when the person clearly identifies with and presents themselves as someone of the opposite gender. The “sex” entry on the identity card, and by extension the passport, is not changed unless the individual can prove that he or she has undergone the full scope of sex-reassignment surgery.

For the majority of transgender people, this is neither affordable, practicable, nor wanted. The result is a life lived in contradiction, between their documented sex and lived gender. The state issued identity card thus becomes an instrument by the state and others to inflict social humiliation. Furthermore, while transgender people have been identified as a key affected population by UNAIDS and the WHO, statistics on HIV/AIDS in Singapore are not disaggregated for transgender people. This results in policies and services not being sensitised to the particular needs and behaviours of transgender men and women.


· Issue Identity Cards that correctly identify the chosen sex for the transgender person without proof of surgery through an effective and fast administrative procedure.

· Focus on more targeted public health interventions for transgender men and transgender women by first identifying and disaggregating the national HIV data for this specific group.


VI. Workplace discrimination

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.

B. New developments since the last review

  • Workers face significant widespread employment discrimination on the bases of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status and disability. With limited exceptions, there is no legal duty for employers not to discriminate and workers facing discrimination have no legal right to redress.
  • The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) and the Ministry of Manpower may receive complaints from workers, but TAFEP has no enforcement powers and the Ministry acts on a purely discretionary basis.

C. Recommendations

  • Enact legislation
    • (i) to prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or disability;
    • (ii) to form a specialised employment tribunal to adjudicate complaints arising under this legislation; and
    • (iii) to prescribe that contraventions of this duty of non-discrimination carry civil liability for compensatory damages.


Supported by:

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 22:16
Job Opportunity: Sayoni Program Executive
Articles - Announcements
Written by sayoni   
Tuesday, 10 November 2015 12:03




Founded in 2007, Sayoni is a community of queer women, including lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, who organize and advocate for equality in well-being and dignity regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. We are looking for a full- or part-time staff member to drive our programs and start new ones. Fresh graduates are welcome – we promise you will learn a lot on the job!


The Program Executive helps to conceptualize, manage and execute programs for Sayoni, including the following duties:

  • Run programs and organize events in line with strategic plan
  • Support advocacy for Sayoni's programs and other related issues at the local and international levels
  • Engage with relevant state- and non-state stakeholders
  • Assist in drafting materials (e.g. for human rights reports)
  • Coordinate internal and external meetings
  • Create presentations to market programs and proposals
  • Provide support for relevant programs as required


  • Work part-time for 3–4 days a week OR full-time from home
  • Pay package will be commensurate with your experience and qualifications


  • Singaporean or PR
  • Identifies as queer and feminist, and shares Sayoni’s values
  • Interest in/knowledge of SOGIE (LGBTIQ) rights/human rights mechanisms preferred
  • Interest in social sciences and humanities research a plus
  • Excellent interpersonal and event management skills
  • Able to communicate fluently in English
  • Willing to travel overseas
  • Motivated and able to work independently
  • Tertiary qualifications preferred


How to apply

Interested? Email [email protected] with your resume/CV and a cover letter about your skills and background by 29 February 2016.

If you have the right skills, passion and politics, we want to hear from you. Please mention ‘Program Executive’ in the subject line.

Last Updated on Monday, 18 January 2016 22:31
Sayoni at 2015 ILGA-Asia Conference
Articles - Activism
Written by sayoni   
Sunday, 08 November 2015 00:11

sayoni at ilga-asia conference

Several Sayoni volunteers attended the 2015 ILGA-Asia regional conference held in Taipei, Taiwan, from 28-30 October this year. Besides learning from other Asian activists at the formal sessions, we also took the opportunity to share strategies and ideas in informal settings. This year's conference coincided with Taipei's 2015 Pride Parade, the largest pride march in the region.

It was the first time that this lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) conference was held in Taiwan. Co-organised by the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, the conference saw 300 activists from 30 countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Malaysia and Singapore. Over a period of three days, activists held talks and workshops about the work they were doing within their organisations and regionally.

We heard about experiences from other countries that gave us much to reflect on. The host city, Taipei, was itself an interesting case. Even as its same-sex partnership bill has stalled in Parliament, Taiwanese activists Jennifer Lu and Victoria Hsu are standing for political office in Taipei; Lu also got married to her partner recently. And they are hardly the only out LGBTQ candidates in the city, which has a burgeoning civil society space. On our end, Sayoni's Jean Chong presented some of her thesis findings at a session with other Asian activists, explaining how Singapore, leaning on Asian exceptionalism, has exerted political control over the private lives of its citizens.

One of the key ideas that emerged from the conference was the concept of intersectionality, an idea that the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, which Sayoni is a part of, actively incorporates in its positions. The Caucus is a network of diverse human rights activists in Southeast Asia that aims for the inclusion of SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) in human rights mechanisms in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As Ryan Silverio, Regional Coordinator of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, said, “Applying intersectionality in our activism requires us to go beyond single-issue politics. We recognize that our experience of discrimination and marginalization is not just because of our sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

Despite the success of the conference, there were also gaps in the formal sessions, particularly when it came to women's issues. A petition that was eventually signed by most of the participants pointed out "the lack of space and diversity, including gender, age and other status on panel and plenary sessions". One of its recommendations was a quota system for sessions at the next conference to "ensure issues faced by diverse women are meaningfully addressed". (See the full statement here.)


Last Updated on Monday, 09 November 2015 01:10
On Speaking
Articles - Commentary
Written by Alex Serrenti   
Sunday, 31 May 2015 19:57

I have been trying to withhold judgement on this whole Amos Yee saga and trying to maintain a compassionate position to all parties. Some of you know that I've had my private scruples. But today, I confess that I am absolutely appalled by the whole affair. It's not that I wasn't disturbed before both by the first video that ignited this whole controversy and also by the responses that people had toward that.  But Amos Yee's new "prank" on the mainstream media (alleging molest by the youth counsellor who posted bail for him) is on a different scale altogether. And this time, I am no longer able to keep silent.


When a person makes an allegation about sexual offences committed against her such as molest or rape, it is a hard thing to do. A report often means the beginning of a humiliatingly intrusive process of questioning and interrogation … almost as if she was the criminal instead of the victim of a crime. She has to put up with ridiculous amounts of scrutiny of her private and public life. She is often distrusted and asked if she was "mistaken" about what happened or whether she “gave the wrong signals" -- with the subtext being that she deserved to be molested because she led her attacker on. Most of the women I have helped (and the vast majority are women sadly) are positively traumatised by the experience and many walk away without reporting legitimate offences.


What Amos Yee did (in accusing a youth counsellor of molest for the sake of baiting the media) damages and harms every single person who ever tried to call attention to sexual offences committed against them. His “prank” will now be cited as proof that there are people who wantonly "cry rape" and "cry molest" in order to "get people into trouble" or for ulterior personal motives, making it that much harder for women and men to come forward to break their silence about sexual assault. “After all, how do we know they are not doing an 'Amos Yee' and falsely accusing their molester for frivolous reasons?”


I am disgusted by what Amos Yee did. And more importantly, I am disappointed by my liberal friends who support him under the rubric of freedom of speech.


Freedom of speech has always faced (in the original formulation by J.S. Mill) one primary limitation -- and that is the harm principle. For some reason, in the parliamentary systems we have in place, harms are restricted solely to physical harm. I don't see why.


Let us be clear about this. Speech harms. Words harm. They harm the marginalised. They harm the grieving. They harm the dignity of persons when deeply held convictions are rubbished rather than debated and spoken of with respect in the face of disagreement. They have the potential to lead to mental illness, to suicide. They have the potential to fracture entire communities and cause genocide. They can cause death.


Words harm. We do NOT have the freedom to use them wantonly.


If this statement makes me anti-liberal, I've reached the stage where that's acceptable. Because if this is the face of liberalism, I want no part of it. In the same way, as if mouthing off vulgarities are a substitute for sustained critique (which is what freedom of speech was enshrined to ensure), I want no part of it either.


Liberalism is dying. All over much of the Anglo-Saxon world, liberalism is under threat. Is that solely because of the organisational skills of conservative forces? Or the "stupidity" of the masses? Or should we liberals be reflecting on the possibility that maybe people are not voting liberal because liberalism no longer reflects a political ideology that they identify as deserving support? Who wants to vote for a movement that legitimises and defends intellectually flaccid crudity ("fuck you", "fuck", "fuck", "fuck") in place of principled protest, failure to protect an ideal of human dignity in the guise of "freedom of expression", and a refusal to condemn behaviour that demeans and harms others in the name of "critique and satire".


Liberalism is broken folks. That doesn't mean that authoritarianism is the answer. But fobbing off legitimate community concerns by sloganising and picking poor poster-boys for the cause and then spin-doctoring unsavoury aspects of their behavior aren’t good ways of going forward.


What Amos Yee did was not a “prank”. It is beyond satire, beyond the unknowing transgressions of youth. It was a cynical exercise in media manipulation and he did it knowingly. That the media fell for it and devoted time to repeating allegations that it did not first confirm is damning to it. But this article is not about the media. It is about Amos Yee and what it means to have the right to free speech.


When we call something a prank, we regard the act with an attitude of indulgence towards mischief which is inconvenient but not harmful.We have indulged Amos Yee long enough. It is time for this to stop. Because Amos Yee’s behavior is harmful and we need to recognise this. With this publicity stunt, he has concretely harmed the youth counsellor -- an individual who relies on trust in his ability to maintain appropriate boundaries with youth as an essential part of his profession. He has now also confirmed in the minds of many that baseless allegations of molest for personal reasons are easy to make and thereby harmed a whole bunch of women and men who have been victims of sexual assault and who will find it even harder to seek justice.


People say that Amos is just a child and thereby should not be judged harshly because he lacks the appropriate mental and emotional capacities to be fully conscious of the implications of his actions. If that is true, then he also lacks the capacities for principled action required of a political figurehead and cannot be lauded as a conscious political “dissident”, “beacon of freedom” or symbol of liberalism. If we are going to treat him as a child, then let us treat him as a child consistently. Conversely, if he has the capacities to be a freedom fighter or principled dissident, then he has the requisite capacities to stand trial as an adult.


We cannot have our cake and eat it my liberal friends. This is not about social punitiveness. This is about a principle of consistency that makes our words and political platform meaningful. Thoreau and Gandhi who wrote about civil disobedience also wrote about accepting the consequences of the law when they choose to violate it. Sadly, it seems we no longer read our own seminal texts or rather that we are quite happy to receive all the positive benefits and freedoms they speak of but none of the responsibility they call us to.


I am grateful to Amos Yee. I am grateful because he confronts us with a tangible caricature of what we liberals are becoming -- insouciant, insensitive to the grieving and marginalised, deaf to the harms we cause to the dignity of others and also our own. Is this the meaning of liberalism in the 21st century? Is this what we want to hold up as the beacon of freedom or the beacon of a new liberalism?


I didn't sign up for this.


I signed up for a Liberalism that meant the ability to critique power. But in the version I signed up to, the critique of power was not undertaken for its own sake but was a principled exercise undertaken for the sake of building a political commons that cared for all its members and which maintained the inalienable dignity of each person.  The cynical manipulation of the press, capitalising on the death of statesmen, insensitivity to the grief of families, falsely accusing an individual who wanted to help you of a criminal offence, entrenching social myths about molestation reporting -- none of these maintain nor extend our dignity, our freedoms or our welfare. This is not liberalism. This is not freedom. And we liberals need to say that this is not what we stand for and that this is not okay.


Liberals, we need to put our own house in order. And that begins when we make some painful decisions about what it means to speak and to be responsible for our words. Words are things of power. And with anything that has power, they have the power to harm.  And it’s about time we took some responsibility for articulating what it means to exercise our freedoms with dignity and responsibly. No one is going to take us seriously until we do.


© 15 May 2015 by Alexandra Serrenti. All rights reserved.

Author's Note: This article may not be reproduced in any online or print publications/magazines/blogs without the express permission of the author, Alexandra Serrenti. (alex.serrenti @ You may share this post only in its entirety—that means without any edits whatsoever and with appropriate attribution.

Last Updated on Sunday, 31 May 2015 20:15
IGLHRC's In Their Own Words Series
Articles - Activism
Tuesday, 12 May 2015 22:53

Brian Tofte-Schumacher of IGLHRC sat down with Raksha Mahtani of Sayoni, a Singapore-based group that organizes and advocates for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women’s issues. Mahtani is a volunteer coordinating a human rights documentation project on violence and discrimination. The interview took place in NYC, during her visit for the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women conference in March. Mahtani, 26, has represented Sayoni at the newly formed Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Caucus, the ASEAN People's Forum and the ASEAN Youth Forum. Before volunteering for Sayoni, Mahtani worked with AWARE, a gender equality organization in Singapore.

Q: What would you say are the biggest challenges for LGBT people in Singapore?

A: I think some of the biggest challenges are quite personal. I think that's a big narrative in Singapore because the society is already multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and generally conservative in that many don't see being LGBT as “natural” or “normal” or “acceptable.” So often because of this, LGBT people are demonized, vilified, and seen as “things” to be corrected. People come out to their families and risk being subjected to corrective therapy or reparative counseling, often involving religious leaders. These can happen in the private sphere, and go unnoticed by most.

Read the full interview here. Sayoni's research project is ongoing and scheduled to be released next year. Thank you to all who have generously shared their stories.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 22:59
In Search of the American Dream
Articles - Activism
Written by alina   
Sunday, 12 April 2015 18:40

Rainbow crossing in San Francisco's Castro district

The US has shaped global LGBT history and culture in many ways. In some states, same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws exist, yet LGBT-related violence is not unheard of. So it was with great curiosity that I travelled to the US as a Sayoni volunteer, one of 19 participants from as many countries participating in an International Visitor Leadership Program exchange.

Our specific programme focused on civic engagement. The group received an overview of the US political system and, through a series of meetings, a better understanding of how its civil society organisations and government agencies advocate for civil and human rights. The journey took me to four states, Washington DC, South Carolina, Utah and California, with a final stop in San Francisco.

History of a movement

Over the course of three weeks, I met many organisations working to achieve the American narrative of equal opportunity and others that pointed out gaps in that same narrative. I saw geographical mobility and individualism in action while talking to random people who had crossed state and national lines to build the life they wanted. It was clear that the American Constitution and democracy was central to their efforts, a stirring, flawed but attractive ideal.


Part of the Martin Luther King Jr memorial

Understanding the historical context of the African American civil rights movement helped me to see its LGBT movement as a natural extension of the struggle for the rights of women and African Americans. Activists have built upon the work of those who came before, whether in harnessing the power of the media or building effective coalitions – Rosa Parks was hardly the first to refuse to give up her seat on a public bus in segregated America, but she was the right person at the right time, supported by the weight of experienced activists. The struggle is also not static, and victories come and go. During our visit, Indiana signed a law to allow businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people in the name of religious freedom. These are lessons that hold true across movements in any country. I was reminded of the short, fraught history of Singapore civil society and that we were still young in many ways.

I also had the opportunity to meet a civil rights icon, Democratic Congressman John Lewis, and passionate grassroots advocates such as Harriet Hancock, who founded a PFLAG chapter in Columbia, South Carolina, for families and friends of LGBT people. It gave me hope to see that the struggle for change shares certain characteristics across national lines, even as our strategies may differ according to context.

Another source of inspiration was the other participants, who are all engaged in meaningful work in their own fields, whether it was helping LGBT people, women, children and other less advantaged groups, or driving political participation in their countries. It is one thing to hear about struggles or oppression in far-off US, Europe or the African region, and quite another to call a distant activist a friend.

Coming home overseas

What I didn’t expect was facing my own issues with national identity and culture. In one of the meetings, I was asked by an academic what my language was. I froze, struck by the irony of hearing the question in an immigrant nation that had also inherited English from its forebears. As a researcher, he was firm that we should begin with an awareness of our own heritage, but there was no easy way to explain what Singlish was. (A creole language, perhaps?)

The national discourse really hit home when founding father Lee Kuan Yew passed away and Singapore mourned en masse. Random strangers in a shop or on a taxi would ask me about him. “I’m sorry to hear about your President,” they said – the title of the head of state varies around the world. Next came the news about Hong Lim Park’s Speakers’ Corner, closed in tribute to Lee, and of the charges against Amos Yee. As I spoke to each person about the nation, I came to understand the mixture of pride and discomfort I and many Singaporeans grapple with.

Outside the programme, I took time out to visit an LGBT centre in Sacramento and a protest in Utah against police mistreatment of a transgender teen from Guatemala, Nicoll Hernandez-Polanco. Apart from wishing that we had a broader range of support services for LGBT individuals in Singapore, I couldn’t fail to see how there was a similar need for awareness surrounding issues of race, sexual orientation and gender identity in both countries.

And that was how I left the US – aware of various facets of the American Dream, both positive and negative, but also with fresh ideas and perspective on my own activism. Perhaps there are some questions that are best asked away from home. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to confront them.


Last Updated on Monday, 13 April 2015 12:32
Silent Protest at EEAS Human Rights Seminar
Articles - LGBT Rights, Politics & World News
Written by sayoni   
Thursday, 04 December 2014 14:29

And this is what happened at the actual event, a day after the civil society statement. Thio Li-Ann, law professor and anti-gay rights crusader, was there to speak on the topic of international human rights law.



Activists stood in front of the stage with their placards and taped-up mouths, while two others positioned themselves with a rainbow flag in Thio's line of sight. Notably, they kept their silence, and their protest carried on alongside Thio's speech.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 April 2015 09:40
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