Articles Tagged ‘singapore - Sayoni’

Hate Crime in Singapore

This news was reported in the Straits Times.

3 others in Orchard Towers brawl will be sentenced Nov 6
By Sujin Thomas

BIRTHDAY party celebrations at an Orchard Towers pub last November turned ugly when six men ended up beating another to death.

After he was assaulted in the early hours of Nov 23, Suhaimi Sulong, 37, was taken unconscious to the Singapore General Hospital.

He died an hour later from head and neck injuries.

Yesterday, three of his attackers – Muhammad Ridhwan Mohd Roslan, 20, Ho Ching Boon, 17, and Lai Chee Kuen, 17 – were sent to the reformative training centre.

Latest News of Bigotry (Singapore)

The National Council of Churches of Singapore is doing it again. In it’s latest attempt to uphold it’s medieval values of hypocrisy, homophobia and ignorant religious rant, the NCSS ‘encouraged’ the Singapore government to outlaw lesbian sex along with sex between men. Published in the monthly journal of the Methodist Church in Singapore, we
quote :

(c) We are aware that the proposed amendment to delete section 377 PC but on the other hand retaining section 377A PC may be controversial in some quarters. Nevertheless, we consider homosexual acts to be sinful, abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not. The NCCS commends the Government on taking a clear, unequivocal and bold stand of neither encouraging nor endorsing a homosexual lifestyle and opposing the presentation of the same as part of a mainstream way of life. At the same time, we do not condemn homosexuals as the Bible calls us to hate the sin but love the sinner. Given that section 377A PC criminalises homosexuality whether done private or publicly, we are of the view that a similar prohibition ought to be enacted in respect of lesbianism, considering that lesbianism (like homosexuality) is also abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not.’

Singapore is undergoing a major review of its Penal Code which the Ministry of Home Affairs is proposing to repeal Section 377 of the Penal Code which criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ while retaining 377A which criminalises ‘gross indecency between two males.’ Section 377A of the Penal Code provides a 2-year jail term. In short, heterosexual anal or oral sex will be ok but not homosexual sex.

Taking note of NCSS’s statement that totally ignored the proposed repeal of Section 377, the question for NCSS is, why are heterosexual anal or oral sex ok now for your dust-filled holy book?

A quick note to the reader :

The comment above is institution and issue specific and not to be viewed as an offense to the religion.

Relevant links :

Methodist Message

Statement from PLU

Sayoni at Penal Code focus group

Sayoni at Penal Code focus group 2

An excellent article on proposed changes in the Penal Code by Yawning Bread

A detailed reading into the Consultation Paper on the proposed penal code amendments by the Ministry of Home Affairs

Liberty League… not really for liberty

SINGAPORE : Focus groups to help gays and lesbians understand their sexual identity are just one of the things that newly set up Liberty League plans to put in place.

The non-profit organisation has received a S$100,000 grant from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.

Liberty League says it is the first community service group of its kind in Singapore.

Its mission is to promote gender and sexual health for the individual, family and society.

Singapore Gay-Ready!

Let me refer to the article by Detenber et al (2007). The famous article used to support the retention of 377A.
Reference:
Detenber, B. H., Genite, M., Ku, M. K. Y., Ong, C. P. L., Tong, H. Y., & Yeow, M. L. H. (2007). Singaporeans’ attitudes towards lesbians and gay men and their tolerance of media portrayals of homosexuality. Internal journal of public opinion, 19(3), 367-379.

The anti-repeal camp jumped upon this statement made in opening statement of the conclusion segment: “Overall, this study found that most Singaporeans hold negative attitudes toward lesbians and gay men, and are rather intolerant towards media portrayals of homosexuality.” (Page 373).

What the researchers did: they called up Singaporean citizens over a period of 5 days and conducted interviews. They found that 68.6% of the participants expressed negative attitudes.

Here’s the break-down of predictors for negative attitudes:
1. Religion: Specifically Christians and Muslims were found to be least tolerant among Buddhists and free-thinkers.
2. Age: Older people are less tolerant.
3. Educational level: More educated people are more tolerant.

 

Singapore says no. And maybe

Singapore has ruled out the possibility of following the Indian High Court’s lead, but leaves it open for the judiciary to interpret the law.

Law Minister says Govt careful of being ahead of public opinion

by Teo Xuanwei
05:55 AM Jul 06, 2009
TodayOnline

FOLLOWING an Indian high court’s recent landmark decision last week which overturned a 150-year-old British colonial era law criminalising homosexuality, is it time for Singapore – whose laws are “copied” from India – to repeal Section 377A?

The answer is no, says Law Minister K Shanmugam, because Singapore society is “not ready” for that. “There is a group that is actively committed to saying that homosexuality is okay,” said Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Second Minister for Home Affairs.

“But probably a majority of Singaporeans are still very conservative and say that this is totally not acceptable. So, the Government has to respect both sides.”

The Activist’s Dilemma

The recent hoo-haa surrounding MM Lee’s statements on homosexuality has ruffled my feathers and poked at the idealist in me. It was heartening to see so many others rise up and stand up for who they are, by writing into forums, newspapers to defend themselves and others.

It’s for the future, or so we say.

We spend our time and effort and our brain cells into mounting a suitable defense against the homophobes, against the naysayers. Furiously spending hours crafting that perfect rebuttal, hoping, with whatever slim chance there is’ that it’ll be published in the papers.

But is it enough?

The Old Man and the City-state (Singapore)

The wise old man has spoken, and pearls have come out of his mouth. One pearl had F1 race written boldly on it, and another had a rainbow sheen. Just a sheen, a trick of the light upon the smooth surface.

Minister Mentor Lee has, surprisingly, given his stamp of approval for the decriminalisation of homosexual sex in Singapore. Following this widely-publicised interview, Reuters questioned him further on his change of heart. As to the motivations of his statement, it is painfully clear that it is bourne out of economic sense than any amount of sympathy towards human rights.

 

Those who remember the furore over the penal code some months ago will understand the relevance of his comments. The bill has not gone through a parliamentary reading yet, and at this point, public debate is important if we are to change any minds. MM Lee's comments have indeed sparked a public debate. The Straits Times Forum page is evidence enough of this.

 

Update on Orchard Towers Homicide

In a further development of the story we published on the orchard towers “hate crime”, the remaining three assailants, the ones who started the assault on the victim Suhaimi, have been sentenced by a district judge.

Greater role, so trio get jail

Trio in the dock had each either punched or kicked victim on the head

Teo Xuanwei

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ALL six friends were involved in the brawl outside an Orchard Towers pub last November, but a district judge ruled yesterday that three of them had played greater roles in the fatal assault.

For that, a district judge sentenced Mr Muhammad Sufian Zainal, 21, and Mr Helmi Abdul Rahim, 20, each to four years' jail and six strokes of the cane. Mr Ahmad Nur Helmy Ahmad Hamdan, 20, was given four-and-a-half years in jail and eight strokes of the cane.

6 Men Charged under s377 and s377A for sex with teen (Singapore)

In breaking news of this week, 6 men have been charged under s377A and s377 of the Singapore Penal Code, for sex with a teen they met on the internet. We reproduce the AGC Media Briefing below.

PROCEEDINGS FOR UNNATURAL OFFENCES AGAINST NG GENG WHYE, QUEK HOCK SENG, SONG CHOONG CHEN THOMAS, BALASUNDARAM S/O SUPPIAH, MUHAMMAD HAFASHAH BIN MOHD ASLAM AND NG YONG YOU VICTOR

The abovenamed six accused persons have been charged for committing unnatural
offences with a 15 year old male student on occasions in 2006 and 2007. The six
accused persons met the victim while chatting on the internet. The accused
persons are charged as follows:-

A Conversation with K Shanmugam on LGBT in Singapore

Meeting with K Shanmugam

It all started on the 6th of October 2012 when, out of sheer frustration about the state of institutionalised discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Singapore, I left a note on the Facebook Page of the Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, K Shanmugam.

I wrote of friends leaving and the National Conversation making no effort to remember that we are Singaporeans too. I highlighted our trip to the United Nations last year to present our shadow report detailing the kind of discrimination that the government so often denies. As I wrote, I got a little bolder and said that if LGBT citizens are not wanted, please tell us, so that we can all forget this struggle and move on to wherever we need to be.

Minister Shanmugam kindly replied, “There can be no suggestion that LGBT citizens are not wanted.” The bigger question is, with the diverse viewpoints in our society and often held strongly by various groups, the government is often caught in the middle trying to decide what would be acceptable to the majority.

I replied by speaking about retaining laws like 377A, which in turn informs or influences policies, creating a cascading effect felt deeply by every LGBT person in Singapore. The exchange went on a few more times and Minister Shanmugam suggested that we meet for a proper chat for him to hear us more on the issues.

Advocacy for UN Child Rights Convention: Reflections Part 2

If you haven't already read my reflections from the 15th and 16th and would love to, please feel free to read it here first. This is going to be a LONGGGGG read, so get some snacks, sit down and play some nice music while you read haha...

(Some people have asked me to explain more about what exactly I am doing here in Geneva. I'm happy to explain!!!)
 
Okay, so, what exactly am I doing here in Geneva? Why did I have to come all the way here?

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) is the body set up by the United Nations (UN) to monitor the progress that States make in fulfilling their obligations with regards to children’s human rights. The Committee is composed of eighteen independent experts who are elected by States parties to the CRC. Countries get reviewed by the UN CRC once every few years, and Singapore's turn is this year!
 

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It goes a little something like this:
 
The Committee studies the State's report from the previous year + reports that NGOs have submitted to the UN CRC --> they think about questions they want to bring up in line with their interests and specific themes they are in charge of (they call it "clusters" here) --> They bring up these questions during the session --> the delegation attempts to answer these questions (the last two points repeat itself throughout the session)
 
The review took place over the course of two days (on the 16th and 17th) and all of us met for 3 hours each day (so 6 hours in total!).
 
After the sessions are over the Committee writes up a concluding report that they submit to the State, in which they will draft out some outstanding questions they'd want the State to address, and also put in apt recommendations to urge the government to follow.
So my job over at Geneva is really trying to lobby the Committee members to get them to represent at least some of the important points brought up in the report that we had submitted to the UN CRC and try my very best to urge get them to mention LGBTQ+ children and related issues in the concluding report. In essence, we are trying to (and hope to) get the government to better answer these questions about LGBTQ children in Singapore, or follow certain recommendations put out by the UN CRC (which, to be fair, is very difficult for Singapore). Lobbying would mean meeting with allies that can help introduce us to Committee members who are likely to be LGBTQ-friendly or those who are more open to helping us raise LGBTQ related questions (as with real life not all Committee members are, unfortunately!).
 
Okay so now that you are (hopefully!!) more clear about what the UN CRC review process entails and what I was doing all the way in Geneva, let me just tell you more about what had happened these two days...

16th May/ Thursday/ Childs Rights Connect + Review session 1

It was difficult to sleep last night because my heart just could not feel at ease, but not in a bad way. I sometimes think these moments of unease make me feel even more clarity and certainty about many things, ironically.
 
I woke up early to head to Palais Wilson (the place where the conference is held!) to have some lunch before a meeting with some folks from Child Rights Connect at 2. Before meeting I had looked through the previous review's State report and State reply (which are both available here!) again just to familiarise myself with the State's position on child's rights in Singapore. There were many things inside the report that made me feel very distant from Singapore, and despite having read it before, and having lived in Singapore all my life, there was something very deeply alienating about reading this report while inside the headquarters of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Palais Wilson!), while big standing posters on human rights quietly stand right outside where I was:

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My heart hurt reading about how certain the State sounded in their report about every child being as precious as the next and all children being valued equally. It hurt just a little bit more when I read about their staunch stance on defending the use of corporal punishment (aka physical punishment, such as caning), including in schools. My siblings and I (my sister more than me) were caned and punished physically growing up all the way to upper primary, and I remember my kindergarten teacher hitting me because I didn't finish my water in time. I remember a friend I had in primary school who had dark bruises, cuts and blood trickling down her calves, while she laughed to tell me it was "nothing much, just caning". Many of these memories send shivers down my spine. I looked over at the Sayoni report on discrimination and violence against LGBTQ children in Singapore, looked back at the State report at where they said they value all children equally and I chuckled under my breath thinking about how ironic and vacuous their assertion seemed to be in the face of our report.
 
2pm came along and I met up with Emma, Natalie and Ilaria from Child Rights Connect. Child Rights Connect is an independent, non-profit network made up of more than 80 national, regional, and international organisations. They work with these organisations to make sure that children can fully enjoy their rights, as defined by the UN CRC. They also work with UN CRC to organise and facilitate certain child rights events and discussions. They really were the sweetest people ever and I am eternally grateful I had met them during the stressful day. They gave me the best tips on how I could catch Committee members during the breaks (which is apparently, the best time because they might have meetings before and after, and they were right!) and how I could most effectively lobby during the short sessions. They comforted me when I told them about my concerns that LGBTQ issues would not be brought up during the session, and they told me they would support and help me in any way they could. They also told me about two Committee members I should get to know and speak to personally (José and Otani), and that proved to be of utmost importance during the sessions. Ilaria told me that in the six years she had been working at Child Rights Connect she had only seen two other reports on LGBT children, and she told me about how important our report is in encouraging other countries to do the same. I smiled a lot thinking about that (Mandy, if you are reading this, isn't that kinda incredible that the third report she has ever seen is from Singapore?) I think something Emma said that made me feel very, very empowered was that me physically being there really does show dedication to the report, and that she was sure the Committee members would be able to see that and realise that what we are writing about is extremely important and worth mentioning in the concluding reports. Their presence during the sessions were precious to me, because of just how alone I had been feeling (of course, theoretically I really wasn't because I had the support of so many people along the way but all of them were back home in Singapore but being physically there in the sessions alone is a whole other story to tell haha).
 
The moment I stepped into the conference room it immediately felt different from the Malta's review session I had sat in the day before. For a change, people sitting in the NGO section of the room (nearer to the back) spoke in the Singaporean accent but I felt like it made it feel even less like home. The energy was immediately tense because almost all of the folks sent by these (governmental *cough*) NGOs all knew one another, and were all dressed similarly - black blazers, black shoes, black hair... I stuck out like a beautiful thumb (not sore!!) because I was wearing my rainbow lanyard, large Sayoni badge and a flowery dress. I felt less at home, but not in a negative way at all! Instead, I felt very empowered because I felt very visible and very queer, and that feeling was most endearing and close to me. I felt comfortable and a little defensive when I saw that I was being constantly stared at by the rest of the black blazer-ed people.
 
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Before the review started, I had already spoken to both Otani and José, and both of them were so friendly and warm, and that put my heart at ease (or more like, I had turned my uneasiness into excitement). I told them about our concerns and that we hope they would ask the Committee some LGBTQ children related questions, and they told me that they would try their best. José was shocked to know that in Singapore's constitution ensuring equal rights for all, Article 12 recognises discrimination only in terms of race, religion, or place of birth, but excludes gender, sex, and sexual orientation.
 
The review started and the Singapore delegation spoke about 15 minutes about the things they were doing to ensure children's rights in Singapore. Once again the whole "every child to us is precious" rhetoric came up again (and again) and I sighed a little each time this was brought up. This time a very particular incident came to mind - about the first time as a child where my mother had told me that if she found out I was lesbian she would drag me to a psychiatrist to take medication to "become straight again". That incident had stayed very frightfully close to me growing up, because it had struck so much fear and hatred, not so much toward my mum, but within myself and the feeling had followed and tortured me for years as a child (and all the way to adulthood, too). I guess this incident came to mind because my mum had told me the same thing many times- that every child is precious... except for when they are LGBTQ+, I guess... I was slightly lost in my thoughts, experiences and memories at times during the review, which proved to be a recurring theme the rest of it, but for obvious reasons because of how this topic is so close to my heart.
 
Still, all I could do was to wait patiently and with eagerness for the questions and we had our fingers crossed, hoping for a mention on LGBTQ children.
 
The question came at around the 40 minute mark. Otani had asked two questions related to non-discrimination of vulnerable groups of children:

1. (On children of LGBT parents) In light of criminalization of same sex sexual acts in Singapore, I’m concerned with these children may suffer from discrimination and stigmatisation in society.

2. Related to this is the situation of children who are themselves are LGBT. Do you have any information that LGBT children are experiencing discrimination, bullying, intimidation or violence? Are they feeling safe in schools and community? What are the attitudes of parents, schoolteachers and public general toward those children?


The moment the word LGBT was being projected out into the universe that day my heart screamed in joy... I looked around and saw that of course, I was the only one jumping in my seat, and the man next to me (of course he was in a black blazer) stared at me because I was shaking in excitement and joy but that did not bother me one little bit. I thought, A-hah!! Now the Singapore delegation is being forced to account for LGBTQ children...

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Jean was right, it really was very special and that moment I shall keep with me for a long, long time. During the break I had ran up to thank Otani who was very, very kind and humble about everything. We spoke a bit about LGBTQ rights in Japan and Singapore, and she told me more about her experiences in working on some similar reports (but on rights in Japan instead) and it was really really nice getting to talk to someone about LGBTQ issues. She told me I was doing good work and my heart... I was getting emotional just being able to share about the state of LGBTQ rights in Singapore and hearing her speak about queer stuff... the feeling is very powerful and incomparable.

After the break, the Singapore delegation replied to Otani's question:

(On 1. and 2.) The Committee asked about whether LGBT children suffer from discrimination, bullying or violence, and whether they feel safe in our schools. Our concern is for all children regardless of whether they are LGBT or not. And we take a very serious stance against bullying and violence.

Upon hearing this I rolled my eyes so far back I almost lost my pupils (hah), not because I did not already expect this response, but it becomes so grossly artificial and empty when uttered by someone who is not LGBTQ, a ministry that had done no research on LGBTQ children, and in front of a room that wished very much to hold countries accountable to human rights ideals. The response made me sick to my stomach thinking about how performative everything was. This time another incident came to my mind, and this time it was regarding a very precious LGBTQ youth I know from the TBCSG youth group. One day at work he had urgently called me to tell me about how he was forced to hide in the school toilet, after one of the boys in his class laughed while he made a comment about how the Bruneian decision to stone people to death for being queer is too lenient and not enough of a punishment. Thinking about that incident and the fear and sadness in his voice, I became increasingly angrier with the responses to these questions given by the State, and tears had started welling in my eyes without me even realising...

The last round of questions for the day made me feel hopeful again because José had brought up a question on sexuality education, which was one of our primary concerns in our report:

3. I’d also like to know the approach adopted (referring to the abstinence-based approach for sexuality education), and I’m referring to sex education, when it comes to treatment of LGBTI persons.

After the session, someone from MSF approached me to say hi and asked me some questions about where I'm from, and when I had reached Geneva and whether it was my first time at the review etc. I quickly said hi back and left. I felt immediately threatened but at the same time I felt very emotionally and mentally drained thus I did not want to engage with them much... I was so drained I fell asleep while standing up for a few minutes on the bus home. I immediately went to a grocery shop to get dinner and headed right back to the hotel.
 
I am very very drained in so many ways, but also I felt very fulfilled that three questions related to LGBTQ children were brought up, and I really could not have asked for any more (I really could I guess, but I really went with not too much expectations because as a queer person you just prep yourself for disappointment anyway).

17th May/ Friday/ Taiwan + IDAHOT + Review session 2 + lots of emotionS!!!

I woke up to news of Taiwan legalising same-sex marriage. I was full of anxiety the night before not only because of the review but because of this Taiwan situation as well... I spent thirty minutes sobbing in bed from pure joy, happiness and hope (I literally am tearing up now thinking about this haha). For all who don't know me personally/ do not know of my thesis, my Masters' thesis is actually studying the social movement strategies employed by the LGBTQ+ movement in Taiwan, and I had spent a month in Taiwan speaking to activists from various queer organisations and groups in June, and it was honestly the most eye opening experience I had last year. Mostly I wanted to look at Taiwan because I felt like there were really many things queer organisations in Singapore could learn from them, and I also had, during my time there, shared with them about things we do here in the community as well (but more about that another time, maybe!!).
 
I think it was especially symbolic since today is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) as well, so I was already FULL of emotions (mostly happy ones) in the morning! The session today was at 10am, so I had to wake up early anyway, might as well wake up to the best emotions! Taiwan's news really rejuvenated me, and I felt very ready to give it my all during the last session (not that I did not before today, of course, but this time it was really a different kind of invigorating energy with Taiwan + IDAHOT).

Once again I stepped into the room of black blazer-ed people...
 

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Today I had my pink blazer on (hah, not-very-subtle) and I felt INVINCIBLE!!!

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Once again, I walked in to a lot of staring... and somehow it became increasingly more annoying. Literally every time I moved to take something from my bag, the man beside me stared. One time I was taking my sweet from my bag and he also felt the need to stare... truly... the gaze was very frustrating, disgusting and empowering all at once. The more they stared at me the more powerful I felt? Yet at the same time, it was almost like I wished they did not stare THAT much... Emma later told me that she had noticed the staring as well during the two days, and that she knew how uncomfortable I must have felt because it was really that obvious...
 
Either way I tried very hard to ignore the staring and was full of anticipation before the start of the session. When Otani and José had walked into the room in the morning I smiled very brightly at them and they smiled back!!! There was a lot of good energy in the room that morning (minus all the staring!!!) and I was already feeling very encouraged.
 
After patiently waiting for the Singapore delegation to respond to the sexuality education question posed by José yesterday, it happened:

(On 3.) The committee asked about the approach adopted for LGBT issues in sex education. Our overarching objective to empower students to be safe, confident and well-informed. We prepare them with social, emotional competencies for positive self development and self identity, so they learn to make wise and considered decisions. Students are also taught to not stereotype and appreciate one’s unique strengths and talents and the importance of respect and empathy for others who might be different, including those of LGBT background. Additionally teachers are trained to handle these issues sensitively.

Respect? Empathy? Trained? Sensitively? Sensitively??? I almost could not believe my ears hearing that, it was everything (EVERYTHING!!!) the report had fought against and this was completely contrary to everything in the report. I think I felt mostly upset not only because this is a cookie cutter textbook answer that they spent little thought on, but also because they brought this up without any concrete examples thinking they could slide past the José's question. I was frustrated with their just assertion without concrete proof and research, especially since they had not done research on LGBTQ children. I thought of not only my own experiences with sexuality education (I did not even know what LGBTQ really meant until I found out on my own through the internet), but many others' experiences as well (whether straight or LGBTQ). I thought of students who were/are taught that being queer is wrong and immoral, students who were/are taught that they needed to "change" their sexuality, students who were/are taught they have to look a certain way to fit their "gender", students who were/are taught their desires are nothing but a phase... I had to hold back my tears hearing these words being thrown around so very carelessly and thoughtlessly...
 
During the break while the black blazer-ed people were talking about their holiday plans and hotel stays, once again I had approached Otani and José to thank them for their help. I did this many times during these two days because I knew how damn important it is to be a visible reminder for the two, and this really proved to be super effective!!! José had brought up yet another question relating to sexuality education and LGBTQ folks:

4. Turning now to sex education… if a teenager decides to engage in sexual relations at the age of consent with another teenager, I’d like to know if they receive neutral counselling as to how to be protected and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and what would happen if that teenager comes from the LGBTI community?

I almost burst into tears when I heard this 4th question being uttered... not one... not two... but four questions!!! Previous UN CRC reviews nothing even remotely close to LGBTQ issues had been brought up, but 4 were brought up these two days alone... I had many, many emotions thinking about how amazing it was that I could be there and then listening to these questions being uttered. Later on after the review session was over, I approached José to shake his hand (I wanted to give him a big hug but was too scared to ask hehe) and he told me that he brought up the last question because he had seen me from the corner of his eye looking all loud, queer and emotional and he told me he remembered our concerns about sexuality education. Even just thinking of that moment now my heart swells with a lot of joy and happiness just thinking of how important these visual reminders are (thank goodness for the rainbow reminders, but also it really helps that the rest of the folks sitting on the tables were all dressed so boring it hurt)...

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Photo caption: me being v happy about José

Going back to talking about the session, the Singapore delegation's answer to José's question was what really broke me this last session, I guess...

(On 4.) Maybe I’ll reiterate our purpose for sexuality education which really is to empower our children to be well informed in how they make their decisions and to be confident and safe as they explore the sexuality journey themselves because they are going through adolescence for many of them, and they are going through a lot of change. So we want to keep our sexuality education very professional, the intent is not to impose personal values. Nonetheless we need to recognize that we operate in a society that has its societal norms and a certain mainstream attitude towards sexuality and relations and so and so forth… so what we do is that we do try to create a safe space in school psychologically and physically for children to express themselves, clarify doubts, seek help, seek support… so we do have specially trained teachers in sexuality education who would conduct this kind of counselling and support, specifically… because I think there was a special question on children from LGBT community… all school counsellors are trained and reminded that they would need to provide assistance to such children because they face more issues to deal with their psychological and emotional needs… so we would provide neutral counselling as far as possible in terms of answering the questions they may have but really the goal of allowing them to make well informed decisions.

At this point I think my heart, mind and soul was just so exhausted I felt like I wanted to pack my bags and go see my duck friends and cry a lot by Lake Geneva... I was especially triggered by this last response because well, I especially hated that they used the idea of "safe spaces" when this is so blatantly untrue for so many LGBTQ children in schools and in a wider context, just society in general. This made me so upset because many in marginalised communities use the phrase "safe space" to connote the idea that one can feel comfortable and feel like they can be truly themselves in that space, and schools are definitely not it for so many LGBTQ children. It was very alienating for me to hear this being spoken at an international level, if that makes sense? I felt like I was hearing the voice of someone who obviously had never been through what a LGBTQ child had been through growing up, and the fact that she got the opportunity to speak on behalf of LGBTQ children made me feel very, very sick. Who gave her the right? Who gave her the space to speak? Why is it she gets the chance to represent LGBTQ children when she herself is cis and straight? At that point in time tears were already starting to roll down my cheeks and I could feel myself wanting to throw up from the response given to the Committee. These are just some messages I had sent to someone during the time this happened, and though these are merely messages, I hope it can show y'all a glimpse of the rawest form of how I felt during that short but very painful period of time.

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The review ended shortly after that response. At that time I wanted to run out of the room to cry by the lake because I did not wish for anyone to see me cry and be very emotional of course. After the review was over I wiped my tears away from my eyes and approached José and Otani to thank them for all they had done. (This was when José told me about the whole noticing me from the corner of his eye thing... hehe a precious man...) Something that made me feel a ton better was that José, noticing that I was very shaken by the response, asked me if I was agreed with the Singapore delegation’s response to the sex education question and was satisfied with it… I of course said no vehemently and he said “Really?” and I said yes, and that we had spoken about how terrible Singapore's sexuality education is in our report. He told me he actually had thought that the government’s response was very good and complete and it sounded very great theoretically but he said he was happy I came up to him to talk because he wanted to ask me about it. I told him there were many flaws in the response they had for LGBTQ questions, and he told me we could send him our responses to their answers and he gave me his email. I was overjoyed thinking of how we were given that opportunity to clarify anything we wanted to, and of course we had used that chance to really challenge the State's responses to the questions.
 
I guess was still shaken when I went back to my table to pack my things because when I saw Emma I immediately started to tear up again... Emma was very kind and she empathised with my emotions and she gave me a lot of comfort... it was during this time people from MSF (including the Minister Faishal) approached me again to ask me to join them for food, I politely declined and left the room with Emma. She gave me a big hug outside and I was (and will always be!) very thankful for her support and encouragement during these two very intense and difficult days. We took a selfie after, hehe:

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We said our goodbyes and I immediately walked to Lake Geneva and started to cry... I walked along the lake and saw my duck friends and felt a lot better. I had many thoughts running through my head and it was drizzling, so that made it conducive for a lot of deep thoughts under a tiny umbrella. I had been very affected by the sessions, and it was very emotionally soothing to breathe fresh air and be able to see ducks (of course!!)

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I also managed to catch the Geneva water fountain from a distance... and tried to take a selfie with it of course!! My friend told me it looks like a huge bidet and i was like you are very right lol


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I also chanced upon this family of swans and this pigeon who tried to pretend to be one!!! And for some reason the moment I saw that I felt like I wanted to tear up again because I think a lot of us queer people can relate to being the only pigeon in the sea of swans... i don't know... i related to this pigeon... don't mind me...
 
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Other than that I stress-ate ice cream (which turned out to be a terrible decision because... sugar headaches are not fun + I'm lactose intolerant) but either way I felt like I needed it... and I did.

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I walked towards the Old Town area and guess what I chanced upon... okay this time I legitimately sobbed when I saw this but for the best reason...

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GENEVA SCREAMED GAY RIGHTS ON IDAHOT!!!!!! My heart........... truly.... this made me cry a little (or a lot!) in the best way... I felt like I could finally release some tension I had in my heart looking at the Pride flag flying very proudly in the wind. There was a wonderful complexity in not being able to differentiate the sound of the little waves hitting the sides of the bank and the sound of the flag folding in on itself.
 
I walked back to a bus station and took the bus back to the hotel. Dinner was the best I've ever had in four days... curry that didn't taste like melted fox candies and gyoza sauce that was actually savoury + vinegary??? I'm satisfied.

18th May: Some closing thoughts while waiting for a nine-hour transit at London Heathrow

These four days were some of the most anxiety-inducing, intense yet fulfilling and eye-opening four days of my life. (And trust me, I've had a lot of dramatic things happen in my life...) Less than two weeks ago Jean and Mandy had encouraged me to go on this trip and it was so utterly nerve-wrecking because I felt like I was completely unprepared, and did not know what I was meant to do, who I was meant to meet, how I was meant to act etc. I was not sure whether or not I could best represent Sayoni given it was such a last minute decision. I had a lot, a lot, of immense fear and uncertainty about this whole trip.
 
During the trip the fear and uncertainty stayed, mostly, but I think the turning point was really attending Malta's UN CRC session (if you haven't read about it, it's in my previous post! Link is above!). Hearing them debate issues regarding the welfare and wellbeing of trans and intersex children, as well as mentioning LGBTQ children and children of same-sex parents, really made me feel like this is the kind of conversation I wanted to bring (even just 5% of it) to the Singapore review sessions. A lot of my courage came from the support of everyone, but also just being constantly reminded about my own experiences of growing up queer, together with the experiences of other LGBTQ+ people around me, and the experiences of the LGBTQ+ children I know and are in contact with. A lot of courage also stemmed from the pain and hurt I had kept to myself for most of my life being a closeted queer kid. This whole experience (from the focus groups to the report writing to the going-to-Geneva-thing) was all part of the healing for me; It felt like I had took a walk back to my 10 year old self to give myself from the past the biggest hug I can ever give... many days I wake up in the morning and I cannot believe I am who I am today. I wanted to use this chance to extend that hug to all who grew up queer, especially all in Singapore. I have a lot of love and empathy for all of you.

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As Ryan had said here, this is a very big and important step for us, and I just have a feeling that, you know, this is all going to be a positive big and important step, too. It really is very significant in that queer kids' issues are (hopefully) going to be more spoken about in future UN CRC sessions, and that governments can be held increasingly accountable for the lives, survival and protection of these precious, precious children.
 
Jean was right when she told me that I'll never feel like I'm prepared enough to go for something as major as this. I am very, very, very grateful I got the opportunity to represent Sayoni and LGBTQ+ children/youths in Singapore. These four days I had the chance to see first-hand how something so seemingly "small" like a personal experience or struggle or narrative can translate into something so big on an international level. While I leave Geneva with hurt, pain and disappointment because of the responses from the Singapore delegation, I also leave Geneva with a lot of hope, motivation and good (!!!) energy. The only thing I wouldn't miss from these four days is really the food haha.
 
It has shown me what NGOs can try to achieve, even if they aren't sure if the outcome would be what they desire, but every small tiny step is still a step in the right (I hope!) direction. This whole experience also helped me feel more confident in running the collective, and that no matter how small I think something I am doing is, that it really has its impact somewhere, some place, some time, even if it's not visible now, or ever.
 
For now we are patiently waiting for the concluding statements and report to be out... fingers crossed!
 
I hope reading this has inspired you to think differently about being vocal about your own experiences, and the power of research, activism and advocacy. I also hope that we get to see more queer representation in UN CRC in the future, and that more NGOs across the world (especially Asia) would be motivated to send in their own reports on the situation of LGBTQ children in their own countries as well. All children are precious, including those who are LGBTQ+.
 
Look, ma, I made it to the a United Nations review session as a proud queer person!!! Maybe this time you can finally be proud of me for me (nah, my mum shall never read this and probably never would... I still want to stay in my house for a while more I guess...)

So thank you, thank you to all who have supported and encouraged me in so many ways, and even those who are just observing from the side but supporting me silently!! Even if we have never met, we are very grateful for your love and support, really!!! I have a lot I want to say about LGBTQ advocacy and activism, but I will write about that in a separate blog post! Lots of other things I plan to write too... so there's those to look forward to!

---------------------------------------------------------

- Sappy thank you notes -

There are people I wish to thank specifically, and these are people who play a v v v big part of this journey all the way from the start:

To Jean, thank you for having trust in Mandy and I to work on the report. Thank you for having faith in me, and for your constant support and encouragement before, during and after the trip. Thank you for being sort of a mother figure (hah!! you are the real aunty, not me!!! joking haha) to me and for believing in me always, even when I didn't believe in myself! Hope I have made you feel proud in some way or another :')
 
To Mandy, AHhhHHHhhHHHHh you are brilliant, wonderful and all things amazing!!! You had worked so much and so hard on the report and I wish you could have been there with me in Geneva T.T It is because of the report that this could even happen, so thank you for putting in so much hard work. I know how stressful and difficult it was for you, and I am so glad we worked on it together. When I was struggling during the period of time during the under-18s focus group you were there throughout, thank you.
 
To Claire + Cari + everyone else who helped with transcription, thank you so much for your help!! Transcribing is really not easy (I KNOW AND EMPATHISE!!!) and your transcriptions were so good + well-organised, thank you so much.
 
To Yen and Ryan, you both were so inspiring during the workshop that I just felt very compelled to work on the report. Thank you for providing me with so much support before, during and after the trip. Thank you for always reminding me to care for myself, and thank you for connecting me to these important organisations.
 
To ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, thank you for helping make this trip happen, I am very honoured to have had this opportunity to go on this trip to represent Singapore's LGBTQ children at the UN.
 
To Kseniya and Zhan (from ILGA), thank you both for being so sweet and friendly. I felt very welcomed and warmed by you both, and thank you for giving me so many useful tips regarding the sessions, I really really appreciate them all!!
 
To Emma, Natalie and Ilaria (from Child Rights Connect), all of you really were so important to me during the sessions. I felt very supported and cared for throughout because of your presence and smiles and words of support and comfort. I cannot thank all of you enough for being there for me, and for giving me so many brilliant and important tips. Thank you for also believing in our cause, and believing in me. I cannot thank all of you enough for your kindness. I told all of you I felt like y'all were my only friends in the sessions and it really felt very much like that :')
 
To all who participated in our focus groups + Sayoni's report, without all of your experiences and narratives this report wouldn't have been a reality at all. Thank you for being brave and for being willing to share so much and so intimately. Your bravery had touched and inspired me in many, many ways. I have a lot of love for all of you.
 
And finally, of course, to Alicia, I really could not have done any of this without you. Thank you for all the emergency phone calls (and non-emergency ones!!!), listening to all of my recordings (yes, even my silly food reviews and the unintentional 40 minute one lol), helping me out a lot with essentially all of the trip details (thank you to your mum too!) + research stuff without any complaints. Thank you for caring for me, for believing in me, for making me laugh, for being proud of me, for keeping me grounded and sane always. Though you weren't physically there with me this trip, it felt like you were always close to me, and never far at all. Thank you. An infinite times (and beyond heh), thank you.


Links to Organisations Mentioned
ASEAN SOGIE Caucus
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/aseansogie/
Website: https://aseansogiecaucus.org/

Child Rights Connect
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/childrightsconnect/
Website: https://www.childrightsconnect.org/

ILGA World
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/ILGAworld/
Website: https://ilga.org/

Sayoni
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/fbSAYONI/
Website: https://www.sayoni.com/

An Afternoon of Self-Care

self care afternoon1


On 3rd March 2019, Sayoni held a one-day symposium, or “feel tank”, on emotional well-being and self-care for LBTQ persons at The Moon, in collaboration with ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Brave Spaces, Inter-Uni LGBT Network and Queer Zinefest SG. The symposium comprised a panel discussion and two workshops.

The panel discussion, titled “Why Self-care isn’t Selfish - A Dialogue Session", aimed to uncover how our emotional well-being might be affected by the current social climate, as well as how LBTQ persons can support themselves and each other in periods of stress or vulnerability. The panelists involved were Rosie, a counsellor, Shan, a social worker, Rachel, Executive Director of Inter-Uni LGBT Network, and Alina, a volunteer from Sayoni.

1.    The Importance of Self-Care

All of the panelists agreed that self-care is crucial to our survival. Alina explained that due to the societal pressures faced by LBTQ persons, self-care is imperative and rooted in who we are, as we have to learn to cope and take care of ourselves.

Notably, panelists shared that we have to be aware that self-care is something that constantly evolves - while doing something on a particular day can make you feel better, it may be possible that doing the same thing may not have the same positive effects on you on another day. As Rosie said, “Self-care is a journey and process that continuously changes.”

An Honest Opinion (Singapore)

Image from Stonewallvets.org

Lee Hsien Loong has spoken, echoing both his predecessors in his views on homosexuality. It is interesting how the Father, the Holy Goh and the Spirit all seem to come down on the same side of the fence, willing to decriminalise but seeming to hold back for the fear of the “conservative majority”1

As of this moment, I will not deny that my morale is pretty low. It does not seem likely that the decriminalisation will take place in this penal code review. We neither have the time, nor the political climate, or rather, weather, on our side, given that the second reading is just 1 month away. In the first place, the announcement of the first reading took us by surprise, as it was originally slated to take place next year. By the time we learnt about it, it was too late.

AWARE Roundtable on SOGI Issues

AWAREposted a good overview of recent changes in the Asian LGBT landscape over the past few months. It included some info from a roundtable discussion held on Aug 16 where Sayoni's Jean Chong and Kelly Then spoke.

Here are some relevant parts, but I recommend reading the entire post.

From Beyond 377A:

Pressure from prevailing social attitudes are not countered by any significant State support. While there is no data for Singapore, the worldwide rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide are higher for LGBT youths; they are often teased and bullied in school because of their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. There is no information on safe sex for gay teens in the current sex education syllabus, and no state-sponsored institutions that have expertise in providing counselling for those grappling with LGBT issues.

Jean also mentioned that a study that has shown that many gay people go back into the closet when they grow old, because old folks’ homes are not open to the idea of same-sex relationships.

In the absence of decriminalization and State recognition, it is therefore crucial to include LGBT perspectives in areas such as research, advocacy, and social services, said Kelly. These include the Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), sex education, maternal and paternal leave, violence in relationships, singles, de facto relationships (where couples may cohabit for extended periods but not marry), ageing, poverty, and sexual harassment – all issues that impact the LGBT community.

How do you think our invisibility in the state mechanism affects you personally?

Breaking News: s377A appeal fails at High Court (Singapore)

This is breaking news: no other news media outlet has reported this at the time of publishing. Sayoni is able to report this based on our own sources closely involved in the case. At the time of writing, the judgment has not been published in Singapore Law Review, or been reported on Singapore Law Watch. The citation of the case, for those interested, is Tan Eng Hong v Attorney General, [2011] SGHC 56. However, Sayoni has obtained a scanned copy of the judgment, which we are glad to attach for the perusal of our readers. Once it has been reported on the Singapore Law Watch, we will be glad to provide that link for our readers.

 

The High Court of Singapore has dismissed the appeal against the decision of the Registrar to strike out the constitutional challenge to s377A, lodged by Mr Tan Eng Hong. The challenge to s377A arose out of the arrest of Mr Tan Eng Hong and another man in a public toilet months ago, as we reported then. He was initially charged under s377A.

Broken Promises – 377A and Non-enforcement (Singapore)

The following news story was spotted on the blog of a local gay blogger – the original newsletter that was sent out is not available for linking. Club 1-7 is a male-only sauna, and such saunas are popularly associated with cruising venues for queer men.

From 1-7 newsletter

Dear members,

Our water supply was turned off at 10pm on the 25th April 2008, Saturday. When we opened the back door to investigate and turn it back on, a few plain-clothed officers from the CID rushed in. Sam immediately tried to stop them and demanded to know what was going on. They told him that they were conducting a ’spot-check’. When asked what they were checking for, they simply repeated ’spot-check’. the officers refused to specify what they were checking for despite repeated demands. Sam also asked if they had a warrant to check the premises. They refused to reply.

At this point in time, we turned on all the lights upstairs and downstairs to alert the members that a check was going on. None of the members were stopped from dressing or leaving, nor were they searched or any particulars taken.

Fresh Challenge to S377A

Two men have filed a new challenge against Section 377A of the Penal Code. I'm sure most of us will be following the developments anxiously, to see if this law that signals that same-sex relationships are wrong will be overturned one day.

We reproduce the press release below.

--

30 Nov 2012 (Singapore) –A fresh challenge has been made today against s 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes physical relations between two men. Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, partners for 15 years, filed the challenge following a recent landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal in Tan Eng Hong v Attorney General (“Tan Eng Hong”) that clarifies that the very existence of an unconstitutional law in the statute books may suffice to show a violation of an applicant’s constitutional rights.

Singapore is the only one among thirty-five advanced economies [1] in the world that criminalises physical relations between men, and one of only four countries in East and South East Asia [2] to do so. Though the Prime Minister stated in parliament 5 years ago that s 377A would not be ‘pro-actively’ enforced, there have been cases since where individuals have been threatened and charged with s 377A by the police, which was remarked upon by the Court of Appeal.

“I don’t live in fear every day that I will get caught by the police because of my relationship with Gary but I know that s 377A labels me a criminal,” said Kenneth.

Gary adds: “While lawmakers have stated in Parliament that s 377A will not be ‘pro-actively’ enforced, this is not enough because it leaves the possibility of ‘passive enforcement’, should someone decided to make a complaint against us one day.”

Fridae’s Feeling Good party cancelled. Deja-vu anyone?

Feelin' Good, a party organised by gay and lesbian media and events company Fridae, has been cancelled after the venue, Ministry of Sound, received a telephone call from local police on Friday evening demanding that they cease venue provision for the event.

According to Mr. Clement Lee, executive director of Ministry of Sound's parent company LifeBrandz, Mr Kelvin Yeo, Compliance Management Officer from Tanglin Police called on Friday evening after office hours demanding that the club cancel the event, failing which enforcement officers would come to the club on Sunday to shut the party down. The reason given by the police to Mr. Lee over the telephone was that the party would 'promote gay activities'.

Whilst Singapore laws prohibit gay sex, there are no laws against being gay. As recently as 2003, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was interviewed in Time Magazine about the Singapore government's non-discrimination policy for employment in the civil service, and was quoted saying gays are 'just like you and me'.

Gay MP? 'Her private life is her private life': MM Lee (Singapore)

The article below was published by the Straits Times. Sayoni is proud of two of its actively contributing members, Irene and Olivia, for coming out publicly in mainstream media.

 

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.

Hiding Behind Rhetoric: A Rebuttal of Thio Li-Ann

Dear Ms Thio

I am not as learned as you in law. I am but a first-year law student. A law student who happens to identify as queer, and has spent the last two years working in the queer activism scene, who now loves a woman, who now wishes to rid this country of the blight known as section 377A.

Ms Thio, I am sure you know this section very well… in fact, you dedicated an entire speech to the impassioned defence of it, not even touching on things like marital rape immunity. I am surprised… I thought an educated, feminist woman like yourself would have some feelings on this section which effectively takes away the right of married women to their bodies…. but I digress. You expounded in detail upon the merits of retaining this law. You showed us all how much you hate us gay people – like we couldn’t tell from the letters to ST. When I read your speech, my first impulse was to laugh. Then as I read on, cringing at the leaps of logic, and wincing at the palpable hatred pouring out of the paper.

I will now proceed to rebutt you: point by point.

 

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