ST: More youths going public, seeking help

Friday, June 2, 2000

More youths going public, seeking help

Intro: young people in Singapore are "coming out" into the open about their homosexual orientation, and a steady stream is seeking help on coping with it.

Singapore Planned Parenthood Association's president, Mr John Vijayan, believes this is because "more are looking for support from others with similar experiences and struggles", and that the younger generation is more accepting of gay persons. In the last three years, the SPPA, which advocates family-life education programmes and offers advice on sexual matters, has counselled about 40 people each year. Their ages ranged between 13 and 30, and their concerns included fear of their own inclinations and confusion about their feelings.

Some grappled with self-hatred and anger at their parents and society, while others fought depression and suicidal tendencies, says Mr Vijayan.

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP S. Vasoo, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee on Community Development, notes "Singapore is globalising and one cannot but be confronted with various social changes which are brought about by human interaction and IT [internet technology?]). "Some of these can affect our social values and, in turn, our life courses and choices." The young must be taught, he adds, "how to live their lives at their best, with due concern for others". Father Bernard Teo of the Novena Church says his staff members working among youth have reported that many are going through the phase of sexual confusion and talking about it.

It may be due to peer pressure to come out, he says. "Some go along with the flow, some grow out of it, while others affirm it." Finding out their child is gay "comes as a shock to some parents. They don't know how to handle it", adds the Catholic priest. This does not mean, of course, that the number of gay people in Singapore has shot up. No official data is available, but, going by the average in most countries, the homosexual community here should make up no more than about 5 per cent of the population. In the United States, about 4 per cent of men and 2.3 per cent of women are exclusively homosexual. In China, surveys have found that about 5 per cent are homosexual.

In any case, when it comes to human rights, numbers do not settle the question. The Indian community in Singapore is also about 5%, the Eurasian, Baba or Sinhalese, much, much less. For that matter, the ballroom dancing, golfing or cricket enthusiasts too. Would we be justified in criminalising them, denying them their public forums, societies, films or reading material because they are not numerous?