ST Forum: Gay teacher's outing a milestone in debate (Sep 18)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sep 18, 2007
Gay teacher's outing a milestone in debate

I REFER to Mr Paul Jacob's article, 'A teacher's disclosure and
the issue is out in the open' (ST, Sept 15).

I applaud Mr Otto Fong's honesty and courage in coming out
as a gay person and a teacher. It is indeed a milestone in the
gay debate in Singapore.

Despite the large number of passionately argued letters that
have appeared on the gay issue over the past months, we
actually have not progressed very far.

As Mr Jacob pointed out, the loudest voices come from both
ends of the spectrum of tolerance. Neither end is likely to
be swayed by the other.

Sitting silent in the middle is the largely conservative majority
who may yet change their opinion of gay people if only they get
to know them. That is why Mr Fong's coming out is so significant.
Unlike black people striving for racial equality in the US in the
1960s, gay people are invisible in many societies, including
Singapore. Hence, the debate remains largely conceptual, with
highly skewed academic data and examples thrown in by
the opposing camps.

What is so obviously missing is the subject of the debate itself
- the gay people. For fear of societal rejection and discrimination,
most gays in Singapore remain in the closet. While Mr Fong
does not represent every gay person in Singapore, his identity
and life humanises the gay issue in a way no amount of
well-constructed arguments can ever achieve.

What is equally significant is the fact that Mr Fong is a school
teacher. The concern raised by Mr Jacob is whether Mr Fong
is able to provide neutral, unbiased advice to young students
who may be uncertain about their orientation.

The reality is that there has never been any neutral, unbiased
advice given to students on sexuality. Heterosexuality has
always been the biased model.

While the Education Ministry may want to acknowledge the
concerns of parents who are uncomfortable with gay teachers
in schools, it would do well not to continue to hide them in the

It should publicly acknowledge the existence of gay teachers
and assure parents that all its teachers, gay or straight, are
expected to uphold the utmost standards in their professional
conduct and will not impose their personal values, including
sexuality, on the students.

Dr Peter Goh Kok Yong