ST: My Space (Youth Ink) (Nov 29)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nov 26, 2007
We are free to love and hate - and not afraid to say it out loud
Five of YouthInk's top writers talk about living in and liking
Singapore. This week, Edward Choy contemplates personal happiness
THE Section 377A debate was really what defined this year for me.

As an actor, theatre student and writer, I have many friends and
acquaintances who stand firmly against Section 377A and believe it to
be a gross violation of human dignity and freedom.

Because of my faith, I have many friends and acquaintances who firmly
support 377A and believe it to be a vital pillar of our nation's moral

But as a Singaporean, I am delighted at the amount of interest and
discourse generated by the issue.

For now, the dismissive cries of apathy from the pockets of civil
society that exist in Singapore have been silenced. They have been
replaced by heartfelt and often well-considered calls for the people
of this island to rally to their side of this issue.

Even the supposedly silent majority has been spoken for - with
Professor Thio Li-ann bravely wandering into a minefield of passionate

Still, I believe that as the majority, there was never a real need for
those in favour of keeping 377A to take action, not least in the
manner that those opposed to 377A felt they needed to in order for
their opinions to be heard.

The debate has been vital to Singapore, but it remains to be seen
whether the momentum generated will energise future issues of contention.

Take the reaction to the goods and services tax rise this year and the
hike in transport fares. Or rather, the lack of reaction.

It seems as if Singaporeans have come to accept that the Government
knows best when it comes to handling our money.

This is exemplified in the simmering discontent over the pay of
ministers, evident in the discussions of many Singaporean netizens,
coffee-shop uncles and taxi drivers.

To the leaders of Singapore: It is hard for the people to hear or read
that you earn a million dollars a year when they are struggling to get
by on $50 a day.

Let us face it, statistics show there is a widening income gap in
Singapore. People get annoyed when they see fellow citizens driving
cars that cost more than their flats. They cannot help it, it is human
nature to be jealous. So please, do something about it.

On a more personal note, I made a conscious decision not to take sides
on the 377A debate.

I must confess, before I discovered my faith, I used to be homophobic
and bigoted. Now I have learnt to love and accept and cherish those
who are different from me.

This has really been a watershed year for me in terms of personal
growth. I look back on my hate-fuelled years and recognise now how I
was free to make decisions for myself every step of the way. I was
free to choose what to see, what to believe. I was free to hate, and
now I am free to love.

In comparison, I think of the indoctrination that creates cults of
personality for the leaders in countries like North Korea and Cuba.

I think of how the state-imposed religious rule of law makes life
difficult for women and religious minorities in many countries.

I think of people scrambling and fighting for scraps of rotten food in
slums all over the world, who cannot think past the piercing hunger
that haunts their every breath.

Now when I think of the fierce debate that raged across the media
barely a month ago on the 377A issue, I cannot help but smile.

Today, we are free to believe what we want, and not only that, to say
it boldly in a country where the rules exist to keep the hate out of
speech. Some might see that as a restriction on freedom of speech.

I honestly think it is good that we are not allowed to shoot our
mouths off and spread hate and intolerance.

Despite what anyone thinks about the education system, laws governing
speech and the media, there is a large number of Singa-

poreans who can think for themselves and are not afraid to say what
they think.

I am honoured to be part of a group of young Singaporeans who prove
this point every week in these pages.

We are freer than we think we are. The trick is whether you want to
concentrate on the few things you cannot do or the many things you can do.

The writer, 27, recently completed a master's in theatre studies at
the National University of Singapore


Today, we are free to believe what we want... to say it boldly in a
country where the rules exist to keep the hate out of speech.

Some might see that as a restriction on freedom of speech.

I honestly think it is good that we are not allowed to shoot our
mouths off and spread hate and intolerance.

Time: A Passionate Poet from Straitlaced Singapore (Nov 28)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007
A Passionate Poet from Straitlaced Singapore
By Ishaan Tharoor

It is one of the more delicious workings of karma that Singapore, which criminalizes homosexuality, should have as its leading young poet an openly gay man. But while Cyril Wong relishes waving "a purple flag" in socially conservative faces, his work expands beyond simple sexuality — being "just a gay poet," as he puts it — to embrace themes of love, alienation and human relationships of all kinds. His latest volume of verse, Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light, is due to be published this month, hopefully to burnish further the international reputation that the previous five collections have established for him.

Wong, 30, burst onto the scene in 2000, with Squatting Quietly. It was, like many debut collections, a document of rebellion — in this case, against the values of his Christian, middle-class Chinese upbringing, and the social alienation that his sexuality entailed. Much of the latter had been brought into stark relief during 21/2 years of national military service, during which, he jokes, he was "too campy in the camp." His natural levity masks the loneliness and vulnerability he felt in the barracks. But ultimately it was poetry, rather than humor, that gave Wong a means of working through the frustrations driving him, at times, to a suicidal state of mind. "It helped me wash my dirty linen in public," he says.

In this respect, Wong's poetry differs from that of older Singaporean poets such as Edwin Thumboo and Lee Tzu Pheng, who typically concerned themselves with questions of national and cultural identity (indeed, Thumboo has spoken of Wong's "remarkable inwardness"). Wong worries less about his cultural provenance and more about his own isolation amid the boom and bustle of the cityscape. In one poem, he bemoans his distance from his mother: she "sits in front/ of the television every day,/ afloat in a dress too large/ for her body, fanning herself/ with a magazine, feigning contentment." He compares his father, who has refused to accept Wong's sexuality, to a cockroach hiding in a chair. "We are furniture to each other," says Wong. (The two men still don't speak.)

Some of Wong's rawness was tempered in Unmarked Treasure (2004) and Like a Seed with Its Singular Purpose (2006) — two volumes praised for their probing, reflective study of love and desire. In the poem "Practical Aim" from Like a Seed, Wong asks: "After deep loss, what does the heart/ learn that it has not already understood/ about regret? When all light finally/ forsakes a room, do we take the time/ to interrogate the dark, and to what end?" Other poems simmer with sexual energy; an aircraft landing on the tarmac becomes heady foreplay with the "slow lick of its wheels/ against the runway's/ belly."

Wong ran afoul of Singapore's censors when they threatened to pull National Arts Council funding from his second volume due to the gay content of some poems. But he learned to cope with the restrictions, and they haven't prevented him from attaining mainstream acceptance, represented by his winning the Singapore Literary Prize in 2006. If he's proud, Wong doesn't show it. Self-deprecating and mirthful, he describes himself as lazy, living off his partner's patience and generosity. Though he cites the succinct, confessional styles of American poets Sharon Olds and Raymond Carver as his most direct influences, he feels little in common with contemporary American poetry, which he sees as solipsistic. "There's a boring sameness to it all," he says. "I wish they would stop harping on about their penises and their nose hairs."

Not that Wong has been above some of that in the past. But his recent work strikes boldly into new territory. Tilting the Plates emphasizes the musicality of poetry rather more than his previous collections, while taking as its core a love story between two shape-shifting Hindu deities. Like those beings, the poet also enjoys inhabiting different avatars. At literary festivals from Adelaide to Edinburgh, Wong, a trained opera singer, has been known to "invoke Whitney Houston," belting out renditions of I Will Always Love You that leave stunned fellow authors wondering how they are going to follow on. If straitlaced Singapore is unhappy about being represented by charming camp like that, well, you could call it poetic justice.

FCC Service: Transformation Series, Speaker: Gary Chan (Nov 25)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

25 Nov 2007 (Sun) - 10.30am
All are welcome!

FCC Main Hall
56 Geylang Lor 23
Level 3, Century Technology Building

Transformation Series

Worship Leader - PAUL WANG
Keyboards - VICTOR LEE
Guitars - KELVIN NG

Service Pastor - PETER GOH

ST Insight: Secularism - not from theory but bloody history (Nov 24)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nov 24, 2007
Secularism - not from theory but bloody history
By Janadas Devan

MY COLLEAGUE Chua Mui Hoong wrote an invaluable piece last week, 'Rules of engagement for God and politics' (ST, Nov 16).

She argued that the only basis upon which the religious of different faiths, as much as the non-religious, can intervene in discussions of public policy is to appeal to a 'public reason' common to all.

Religion may influence one's view on an issue, Ms Chua, a person of faith herself, acknowledged. 'But when arguing your case in the political arena, you need to present arguments understandable and acceptable to those of different faiths.'

Like Assistant Professor Tan Seow Hon, who wrote a piece last month making a similar point, Ms Chua quoted the American philosopher John Rawls, who first used the term 'public reason', as authority. As authorities go, the late Professor Rawls, who died in 2002, is impeccable. That people of different faiths - Ms Chua, Prof Tan and I
- can find common cause in the centrality of 'public reason', testifies to the theoretical scope and force of his arguments.

But it is important to note, too, that secularism is not just theory. Theory is important - and some political theorists, like Prof Rawls, are especially important - but secularism did not issue from theory. Nor did it issue from the debate on Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code. Nor did it issue from Mr Lee Kuan Yew asking the late Mr S. Rajaratnam one day to pen the Pledge - 'We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.'

There is a history, a politics - bloody experience - behind the secular state. If we forget that history, the most finely wrought theories would be worse than useless. Like the 'strongest oaths', they would be like 'straw to the fire i' the blood', as Shakespeare put it.

In Singapore's case, the founding generation's uncompromising commitment to the secular state arose from their experience of the terrifying race riots of 1964, which were not totally unconnected to religion, and the searing two years Singapore spent in Malaysia.

They also remembered the Maria Hertogh riots of 1950, sparked by a court decision to return custody of Maria, then aged 13, to her biological Catholic Dutch mother after she had been raised as a Muslim by her adoptive Malay family. Eighteen people were killed in those riots.

And that was a minor tempest compared to what happened in India in 1947-48, just three years earlier. Singapore's founding generation came to political consciousness in the 1940s. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, when the British Raj began to be dismantled and people long suppressed found utterance. Singapore's founding
generation witnessed Jawaharlal Nehru - a much admired figure in the anti-colonial movement and a forceful advocate of secularism - being stunned by the absolute ferocity of the Hindu-Muslim riots that accompanied the partition of British India. An estimated one million people died.

And behind all this searing direct experience, there is the history of the longue duree. How did secularism arise in the West? Not from theory.

It emerged out of the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the treaties which ended the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) and the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648), pitting Catholics against Protestants. The Westphalian system established the principle of cuius regio, eius religio - 'whose the region, his the religion' - which stopped the carnage; and that
principle slowly gave rise to freedom of religion being enshrined as a human right.

And what carnage it took to get to that point! Historians estimate that in 1618, at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, the population in the territory that now constitutes Germany was roughly 21million. By 1648, it had shrunk to about 13million.

That is a casualty rate close to 40per cent, way beyond genocidal levels. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were prodigious monsters, but even they never quite came close, in proportionate terms, to inflicting on their societies the kind of destruction that warring Catholics and Protestants visited on theirs in 17th-century Europe.

The Enlightenment absorbed this history. The writers of the United States Constitution were the heirs of the Enlightenment. It was history that produced that first sentence in the US Bill of Rights: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.' That was a tremendous thing that America's founding fathers did, for nobody anywhere had ever said anything like that before. Their vision came from experience. Theory was there, but it was informed by history.

To return to Singapore: People who argue - as some have in this paper, pressing for a greater role for religion in public policy - that Singapore is not as secular as the US do not understand either Singapore's history or politics.

In some respects, Singapore is more secular than the US. Singapore's Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, for instance, explicitly bars religion from politics. Its Societies Act has been used to disband certain religious sects. The US State Department routinely utters a mild tut-tut for these 'restrictions on religious freedom' in Singapore. It does not understand religion can still be a 17th-century
affair in many parts of the world.

It is not possible in Singapore for any politician to go before the electorate and say: 'I'm a Buddhist, a Muslim, whatever - vote for me.' It is not possible for temples, mosques and churches to be mobilised for political purposes.

Nothing in the US Constitution prevents either. All it says is that Congress cannot establish a state religion. But US politicians can, and do, make religious appeals; and churches have been mobilised for electoral purposes - African-American churches for Democrats and evangelical churches for Republicans.

But in some respects, Singapore is less strictly secular. The state helps to fund mosque-building and mission schools, for instance. Such compromises arose from either pragmatic political considerations - to reassure Malay/ Muslims, especially after Separation; or from pragmatic public policy considerations - mission schools, among the best in Singapore, had to be incorporated into the public school system.

But even here, there are limits. For instance, Muslim girls have been barred from wearing the headscarf or tudung in schools, so as to maintain their 'common secular space'.

And in 1992, the Ministry of Education reminded mission schools of Article 16 (3) of the Singapore Constitution, which states: 'No person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own.' Students cannot be compelled to attend religious service, mission school principals were told.

Why is it necessary to send such strong, unambiguous signals? Because religion is 'a very profound and fundamental tectonic divide', as MM Lee put it once. He did not learn that from Prof Rawls.

And because more Singaporeans are leaning towards 'strongly held exclusive beliefs' and 'this trend is part of a worldwide religious revival', as the 1989 White Paper on Religious Harmony put it. That did not come from Prof Rawls either.

To deny religion a formal role in either politics or public policy does not mean - can never mean - denying the religious of whatever faith a role as citizens. The secular state is neither atheist nor agnostic; it is simply neutral on questions of faith. And this neutrality must involve respecting the immeasurable value of each
soul, religious or otherwise, or neutrality would have no meaning.

But the secular state must also insist that every soul has to relate to other souls, within the common space shared by all, in terms, not of this or that faith, but of a public reason accessible to all.

It is absolutely crucial, though, to realise that this demand does not issue from theory. It is enforced by history, experience - and not mine or yours, but humanity's. There is an extraordinary wealth of bitter experience pointing to the ethical superiority of secular societies.

Those who forget this bitter experience will be condemned to retaste it.

AFP: Singapore OKs concert by US gay couple (Nov 23)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Singapore OKs concert by US gay couple

SINGAPORE (AFP) — In a rare move, Singapore has given approval for an American gay couple to perform next month as part of a concert to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

The Los Angeles-based Christian gay couple Jason and deMarco were barred in 2005 from performing in the city-state.

But the Media Development Authority (MDA) said it had approved a concert this time because organisers had given assurances that they aimed to highlight the HIV/AIDS issue.

"In 2005, a similar concert featuring the pop duo was disallowed because the concert was open to general members of the public," the MDA's deputy director for arts and licensing, Amy Tsang, said in a statement Thursday.

She said concert organisers have "given the assurance to MDA that the concert is targeted at the high risk groups.

"The organiser has also assured MDA that the aim of the concert is AIDS education and HIV prevention," she said.

The duo is to perform on December 13, the Today newspaper reported.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's second minister for information, communications and the arts, has said the city-state was liberalising but retained a very strong conservative core.

As part of major revisions to the Penal Code approved by parliament last month, Singapore legalised oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples but retained a law which criminalises intercourse between gay men.

TodayOnline: Once-banned gay pop duo given green light for concert here (Nov 22)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Once-banned gay pop duo given green light for concert here

Thursday • November 22, 2007

Alicia Wong

IN A sign that authorities are prepared to work with civil society groups to tackle the HIV problem, a once-banned gay pop duo has been given the green light to take part in a concert here next month.

And the HIV Outreach, Prevention and Empowerment (Hope) Concert will have as its guest of honour, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts).

The gay duo, Jason and deMarco, had a planned performance here cancelled two years ago after the Media Development Authority (MDA) rejected an application by the organiser, Safehaven, a gay-affirmative Christian support group, for an Arts and Entertainment Licence.

The MDA had then cited "alternative lifestyles are against the public interest" as its ground for rejection.

Explaining its change of heart, the MDA said that the organisers had assured the authority that the aim of the Dec 13 concert is Aids education and HIV prevention.

"The organiser for this concert has rated the performance R18 and has given the assurance to MDA that the concert is targeted at the high-risk group," said Ms Amy Tsang, MDA's Deputy Director (Arts & Licensing) of the Media Content Division in an email reply to Today.

Dr Balaji's scheduled attendance at the concert is not surprising since he had earlier touched on the need for the authorities and non-governmental organisations to work together in tackling the spread of HIV.

Out of the 357 new HIV cases reported in Singapore last year, 26 per cent were contracted through homosexual sex.

In an interview with this newspaper in August, Dr Balaji noted that in the Australian state of New South Wales, the number of HIV cases reported each year had, on the whole, been dropping over the past decade.

Dr Balaji had earlier went on a study trip to Sydney, accompanied by Ministry of Health (MOH) officials and representatives from Action for Aids (AFA), gay web site and Oogachaga, a local gay and lesbian affirmative counselling agency.

Referring to the Sydney trip, Mr Paul Toh, AFA's Director for fund-raising and programmes, said yesterday: " I guess the Government has learnt from other developed Western countries how they can cope in terms of managing the epidemics within the alternative lifestyle community."

Mr Toh said while everyone has a role to play in addressing the HIV problem, the Government "bears more weight" because it has the "political will to move things at a faster pace".

Jointly organised by AFA and Safehaven, the HOPE Concert aims to raise awareness on HIV and Aids in the gay community, said Mr Alphonsus Lee, the chairman of Safehaven.

The concert will be held at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre, which can house a 1,100-strong audience. The one-night only performance will also involve local artists such as Chua Enlai as MC, Hossan Leong and Selena Tan.

Concert tickets are available only through AFA and restricted channels, such as nightclubs, saunas and gay website

"We are very conscious of the mainstream view of such a concert and we would like to be respectful of their views ... So, we are willing to restrict ourselves," said Mr Lee.

Although this is a "once-off event the official nod for the HOPE concert is "good news" since it will help increase local Aids and HIV awareness, said Mr Bryan Choong of Oogachaga.

AP: Chicago Lutheran Church Ordains Lesbian (Nov 20)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chicago Lutheran Church Ordains Lesbian

A Lutheran church in Chicago has ordained a lesbian who refuses to take a vow of celibacy, becoming the first to test a new resolution that gives bishops leeway in disciplining such violations.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America requires vows of celibacy for gay but not for heterosexual clergy -- a policy the Reverend Jen Rude, 27, calls discriminatory.

Chicago's bishop, Wayne Miller, did not try to block Rude's ordination at Resurrection Lutheran Church on Saturday, but he also didn't attend the ceremony. While he has said he believes the celibacy rule should reversed, he also has urged bishops to follow rules set by the church.

''My goal is to keep people in the conversation, and I do not see this as an issue that should be dividing the church,'' he said before the church ordained Rude.

Rude, whose father and grandfather are both Lutheran ministers, expressed gratitude to the congregation.

''It's meaningful to me in the sense that my call is being affirmed not only by God, but the people of God,'' she said.

Some of the more than 100 members of the congregation cried as Rude stood before them during the ceremony.

''We all realized that sexual orientation has nothing to do with how well a person can minister a congregation,'' said Kathy Young, a church member.

At a national assembly in August, Evangelical Lutherans urged bishops to refrain from defrocking gay and lesbian ministers who violate the celibacy rule, but they also rejected measures that would have permitted ordaining gays churchwide.

Advocates for full inclusion of gays were encouraged at the time, calling the resolution a powerful statement in support of clergy with same-sex partners. Conservatives, however, said bishops would feel more secure in ignoring denomination policy.

Miller said he met with Resurrection's congregation last month to discuss the possible consequences of Rude's ordination if national church leaders decide to enforce the policy later. Among those consequences: the congregation could be expelled from the denomination.

Like other mainline Protestant groups, the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been struggling for decades to reconcile differences on the issue.

An ELCA task force is near the end of an eight-year study on human sexuality, which is expected to culminate in the 2009 release of a statement that will influence church policy.

The 4.8 million-member ELCA is the country's largest Lutheran denomination. (AP)

Come to the HOPE Concert (Dec 13)

Monday, November 19, 2007

The HOPE Concert (short for HIV Outreach: Prevention and Empowerment) represents Safehaven and FCC's greatest outreach event to date, simply because of the audience number (Kreta Ayer can hold a maximum of 1100 pax), and the involvement of so many different performers (Hossan Leong, Selena Tan, Jason and deMarco, and others).

The purpose of the concert is simple. To raise HIV Awareness and to get people talking. Which is also the theme of the concert: Conversations. To raise awareness, we need to get everyone talking about this strange, and often taboo, creature called HIV. We sweep the topic under the carpet so much so that no one dares to admit they are HIV positive to friends and family, when what they need most is support and encouragement. Even the officials from MOH advise you to keep quiet about your status, to avoid prejudice and bias.

To buy tickets, please email

Sydney Morning Herald: Selective Tolerance is not Tolerance for All (Nov 19)

Selective tolerance is not tolerance at all
Michael Kirby - Michael Kirby is a judge of the High Court of Australia. This article is based on the Griffith Lecture, which he delivered in Brisbane on Friday.

19 November 2007

Freedom of religion does not have an easy relationship with revealed religions. It is difficult for many believers to tolerate the postulate of error: the possibility that another God or earthly messenger may exist, different from their own, or indeed that there may be no God.

Lina Joy was born in Malaysia into a Muslim family. At birth she was given the name Azalina binti Jailani. In 1998 she decided to convert to Christianity. She announced her intention to marry a Christian man. Under Malaysian law she would be unable to do so unless her new status as a non-Muslim was officially recognised.

Azalina applied to change the name on her identity card to a Christian name. She was successful. However, the regulations required that the identity cards of Muslims state their religion. Therefore, when Lina Joy received her new identity card, the word Islam still appeared. In effect it stood as a barrier to her marriage.

She then applied to have the word Islam removed from her identity card. Her application was rejected. She contested the policy, invoking the Malaysian constitution, which provides that: "Islam is the religion of the federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the federation."

Upon the rejection of Lina Joy's application by both the High Court and Court of Appeal, she appealed to the Federal Court, the country's highest judicial body. She argued the requirement that she must obtain the approval of a third party to exercise her choice of religion was unconstitutional. By a majority of two to one the judges found against her. Inevitably, it was noticed that the two majority judges were Muslim. The dissenting judge was a non-Muslim.

In earlier times Christianity had a very similar approach to renouncing religion. It was most evident during the bloody wars, forced conversions and burnings of heretics that accompanied the Christian Reformation and Counter Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church of my youth in Australia did not permit Protestants to marry in its churches. This was only 50 years ago. We have overcome this sectarian divide.

It is important for those who support the universality of human rights within Islam to realise that the primary source of Islamic principles, the Koran, expressly states that "there is no compulsion in religion". The foundation of human punishment for apostasy by Muslims is essentially found in an interpretation not of the Koran but of the hadith, or recorded sayings, of the prophet Muhammad.

In Australia the case of Lina Joy has come as a surprise. We are entitled to express our concern about it. We know the one universal principle that is shared by all the world's great religions is the Golden Rule. To do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you.

One of the foremost critics of the Lina Joy decision was Dr Thio Li-ann of the National University of Singapore. She observed: "There is a certain agony about this case, which at its heart concerns a woman who wishes to make a change in religious profession and to marry and have a family."

When I read this critique I applauded Dr Thio's views. Imagine my disappointment to read the Hansard record of remarks by the same Dr Thio, a couple of weeks ago, as a member of the Parliament of Singapore, opposing proposals to repeal the criminal laws of Singapore directed against homosexual men.

Speaking from a standpoint as a Christian believer, Dr Thio rallied the opposition to reform. She denounced "the sexual libertine ethos of the wild, wild West". She declared "you cannot make a human wrong a human right". She warned against "slouching back to Sodom". We have all heard all this type of language from religious zealots in Australia. Fortunately, recent evidence suggests that we are growing up.

My point is that it is not good enough for Christians, or people of the Christian tradition, to be selective about tolerance and acceptance. We cannot selectively denounce Islam for its views on apostasy but then do equally nasty and cruel things to others by invoking imperfect understandings of our own religious tradition.

Universal human rights are needed to permit each and every one of us to fulfil ourselves as our unique human natures, intelligence and moral sense demand. For Lina Joy and her fiance this means the freedom to worship God as they believe, and to marry and live, in their own country. For a homosexual man in Singapore, it means freedom from the fear of harassment and humiliation by outdated criminal laws.

Lina Joy should have our support because she is a human being standing up for the integrity of her basic rights. Those rights are not, as the majority judges in Malaysia said of her case, her "whims and fancies". They are precious manifestations of deep-seated human feelings that express part of the very essence of what it is to be a human being.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has criticised the Anglican Church and its leadership for its attitudes towards homosexuality.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has criticised the Anglican Church and its leadership for its attitudes towards homosexuality.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, he said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had failed to demonstrate that God is "welcoming".

He also repeated accusations that the Church was "obsessed" with the issue of gay priests.

He said it should rather be focusing on global problems such as Aids.

"Our world is facing problems - poverty, HIV and Aids - a devastating pandemic, and conflict," said Archbishop Tutu, 76.

"God must be weeping looking at some of the atrocities that we commit against one another.

"In the face of all of that, our Church, especially the Anglican Church, at this time is almost obsessed with questions of human sexuality."

Criticising Dr Williams, he said: "Why doesn't he demonstrate a particular attribute of God's which is that God is a welcoming God."

'Extraordinarily homophobic'

Archbishop Tutu referred to the debate about whether Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, could serve as the bishop of New Hampshire.

He said the Anglican Church had seemed "extraordinarily homophobic" in its handling of the issue, and that he had felt "saddened" and "ashamed" of his church at the time.

Asked if he still felt ashamed, he said: "If we are going to not welcome or invite people because of sexual orientation, yes.

"If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn't worship that God."

Dr Williams has been working to limit divisions between liberal and traditionalist Anglicans that came to the fore following Bishop Robinson's consecration in 2003.

Following his plea for compromise, leaders of the Episcopal Church in the US agreed to halt the consecration of gay priests as bishops, to prevent a split in the Anglican Communion.

In the interview, Archbishop Tutu also rebuked religious conservatives who said homosexuality was a choice.

"It is a perversion if you say to me that a person chooses to be homosexual.

"You must be crazy to choose a way of life that exposes you to a kind of hatred.

"It's like saying you choose to be black in a race-infected society."

Gamespot: Singapore unbans Mass Effect (Nov 16)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Singapore unbans Mass Effect
Media Development Authority has a rethink, decides girl-on-alleged-girl love is ok after all.

Yesterday news arrived that gamers in Singapore weren't going to be able to get their hands on the highly anticipated Xbox 360 sci-fi action role-playing game Mass Effect.

The game was banned in the country after the Media Development Authority objected to a scene in which the main character (if selected to be a woman) kissed and caressed an alien character of female appearance as part of a romantic subplot.

Today, however, The Straits Times is reporting that the ban has been lifted and the game has been issued an M18 rating instead.

The Board of Film Censors issued a statement saying it would be creating a games-classification system in January, and in the interim, it would be selectively using game ratings to "enable highly anticipated games to be launched in Singapore."

To date, Singapore has been the only country to ban Mass Effect, however temporarily.

ST Forum Online: The key difference between homosexuality and abortion/capital punishment (Nov 16)

Nov 16, 2007
The key difference between homosexuality and abortion/capital punishment

I REFER to the humorously written letter by Mr Peter Lee Peng Eng (Online forum, Nov 10), who commented that NMP Thio Li-Ann should also speak up equally fervently on other moral issues that the Singapore laws condoned in order not to be branded as a hypocrite. Specifically, Mr Lee exhorted NMP Thio to speak up against abortion
and capital punishment because 'Christianity does not condone killing another human being'.

To correct Mr Lee's confusion, I believe that most major religions do not condone killing of another innocent human being. Hence by logical extension, abortion is frowned upon by most religious orders.

Of course, strong emotive arguments abound between pro-life and pro-choice advocates, especially with regard to rape victims who become pregnant or when the mother's life is being threatened. On the other hand, most major religions also permit capital punishments though the conditions differ somewhat from religion to religion. As a secular society, we can certainly debate on which crimes are heinous enough to deserve capital punishment.

However, Mr Lee missed the point when he chose to lump the debate on Section 377A with that of abortion and capital punishment.

Perhaps he was too busy to read NMP Thio's parliamentary speech, so allow me to quote one section of her speech - 'It is true that not all moral wrongs, such as adultery, are criminalised; yet they retain their stigma. But adulterers know they have done wrong and do not lobby for toleration of adultery as a sexual orientation right.'

Similarly, those who had undergone abortion(s) or administered capital punishment (or committed adultery for that matter) are not thumping their chest with pride over what they had done.

In arguing for Section 377A to be repealed, the supporters in Singapore ultimately want homosexuality to be accepted by society and possibly celebrated (in future) as an alienable right, similar to race, language or religion. This is the key difference in this debate that Mr Lee should be cognisant of.

Alex Tan Tuan Loy

EDGE Boston: Singapore Bans XBox 360 Game for Lesbian Content (Nov 15)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Singapore Bans XBox 360 Game for Lesbian Content
by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Boston Contributor
Thursday Nov 15, 2007

Gamers in Singapore won’t be seeing the new XBox 360 offering Mass Effect, it was announced Thursday. The reason: a scene showing two women in a lesbian encounter.

An AFP news item posted today cited a statement from Singapore’s Board of Film Censors, in which it was announced that because of "a scene of lesbian intimacy," the Board has determined that "the game has been disallowed" for consumption by Singapore residents.

Mass Effect is scheduled to the worldwide market next week, the AFP article said.

The statement was made by the deputy director of the Board, which operates under Singapore’s Media Development Authority. Singapore is known for its close censorship of media.

Mass Effect is not the only video game to be banned there. The statement reference precedents: a game called God of War II was barred from Singapore because of depictions of nudity, while another title, The Darkness, ran afoul of censors for its level of violent action, as well as for foul and religiously disrespectful language, the AFP article said.

The deputy director said that games for sale in Singapore are not allowed to "feature exploitative or gratuitous sex and violence, or denigrate any race or religion."

Microsoft, which manufactures the X Box gaming platform, answered AFP’s query via email, the story said.

Read the note from the US firm, "We strictly adhere to the laws, regulations and norms of the markets we operate in."

Besides its strong censorship, Singapore is known for its anti-gay legislation. Just last month, oral and anal sexual contact between heterosexuals was decriminalized, but sexual contact between gays remains illegal, AFP reported.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

AFP: Singapore bans Xbox game over lesbian scene (Nov 15)

Singapore bans Xbox game over lesbian scene

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Singapore has banned the sale of an Xbox video game that features an intimate scene between two female characters, a statement received Thursday said.

The "Mass Effect" game, a futuristic space adventure, contains "a scene of lesbian intimacy... as such the game has been disallowed," the deputy director of the Board of Film Censors said in the statement.

The board is part of the Media Development Authority (MDA), Singapore's media watchdog.

Under local guidelines, video games sold in Singapore cannot "feature exploitative or gratuitous sex and violence, or denigrate any race or religion," the official said.

"Mass Effect" is to be launched globally next week.

US software giant Microsoft, maker of the Xbox gaming console, said it respected the media watchdog's action.

"We strictly adhere to the laws, regulations and norms of the markets we operate in," the company said in an e-mail reply to AFP.

MDA said a new video games classification system to be introduced next year could allow titles such as "Mass Effect" to be passed and classified appropriately.

Singapore is Southeast Asia's most advanced economy but the government maintains strict censorship laws.

Earlier this year the city-state banned two other video games, "God of War II" for nudity and "The Darkness" for excessive violence and religiously offensive expletives, the statement said.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's second minister for information, communications and the arts, has said the city-state was liberalising but retained a very strong conservative core.

As part of major revisions to the Penal Code approved by parliament last month, Singapore legalised oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples but retained a law which criminalises intercourse between gay men.

DPA: Irate gamers blast banning of game with same-sex love scene (Nov 15)

Irate gamers blast banning of game with same-sex love scene

Nov 15, 2007, 2:28 GMT

Singapore - Irate gamers criticized Singapore's censors Thursday for banning a highly anticipated space adventure game containing a sex scene between a human woman and a female alien.

The game, called Mass Effect, is the first from Microsoft to be prohibited in the city-state. It was to be launched next week.

Microsoft submitted Mass Effect last week to the Media Development Authority (MDA) as part of the routine procedure to get games distributed.

'We respect MDA's decision,' a company spokesman said.

The scene triggering the ban depicts the human-alien duo in suggestive positions and ends with the alien saying, 'By the Gods, that was incredible, Commander.'

Homosexual scenes in other media such as films are rarely allowed and shown only if they do not promote a gay lifestyle.

Germaine Ong, deputy editor of a local website, told The Straits Times that she has received many complaints from gamers.

'Banning the game because of one scene has caused a huge backlash from gamers, and I don't think it is worth it,' she was quoted as saying.

'People will just try to buy it from overseas sites or download from illegal sites, which is a step backward for us.'

Two other games were banned in the past, one for nudity and the other for excessive violence and religiously offensive expletives.

© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

TODAYOnline: You are not welcome here, club tells Leona Lo (Nov 12)

Monday, November 12, 2007

You are not welcome here, club tells Leona Lo

Monday • November 12, 2007

Phin Wong

She has written about life as a transsexual woman and has given talks on transsexual issues. But on early Saturday morning, Ms Leona Lo was asked to leave a Clarke Quay nightspot, apparently for being a "lady boy".

Ms Lo was at The Pump Room with a Singaporean Chinese man and woman and an American Chinese man.

She said in an email to the media: "The bouncer … asked one of my friends if he knew me. My friend replied 'Yes'. Still, the bouncer … asked me to show him my ID. He said the bar did not welcome 'lady boys'."

Ms Lo told Today she refused to show him her identity card because it was unfair that she was "being singled out". Ms Lo and her friends then left the bar.

Her IC states her sex as "female".

A spokesperson for The Pump Room would neither confirm nor deny the incident yesterday, saying there was not enough time to investigate the matter.

Mr William Graham, director of the club, said: "The Pump Room has no general policy to exclude any particular groups other than the age guidelines we publish.

"We do however reserve the right to refuse entry, at our discretion, to any individuals whom we feel are not in adherence to our entry policy.

"For example, if the customer does not adhere to our dress code, is below our age guidelines, or if we feel they might create a disturbance or misbehave in the establishment based on prior experience, we might not welcome them."

According to the bar's staff, the age limit is 21 for women and 23 for men on Fridays and Saturdays, and 18 for everyone on other days. The dress code bars sandals, slippers, shorts and sleeveless shirts.

Ms Lo, 32, said she was wearing a "typical silver dress".

"I've been there before. The band has even sung 'Happy Birthday' to me," she said.

In her email, she added: "Ironically, Pump Room's anchor band is Jive Talking, which features a transgender lead singer."

Ms Lo recently launched From Leonard To Leona, a book chronicling her experience as a post-operation transsexual. She underwent sex assignment surgery in 1997 in Thailand.

ST Forum: MPs should be able to speak their minds freely (Nov 10)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

ST Forum: MPs should be able to speak their minds freely

I WAS shocked and saddened to read of another threat being made against Nominated MP Thio Li-ann. A mark of real progress for our nation is when Members of Parliament, whether elected or nominated, can speak their minds on issues without being abused or threatened. Speaking for retaining Section 377A might have put Prof Thio in the
spotlight but she is not a one-issue person. She has, in fact, ably articulated views on other subjects, both in Parliament and in articles published by The Straits Times and academic journals. In many ways, she is a fine example of a person with a good mind and a clear voice whom we should encourage and support to enrich public discourse and help to define the content of our common good.

Any MP - and any thoughtful Singaporean - should be free to share his views without fear or favour, and none of them should be subject to any threat. Threats and bullying tactics are usually associated with gangsters, desperate people and tyrants in their attempt to silence good people and dismiss sound arguments.

Daniel Koh Kah Soon

ST: There are gays, and there are gays... (Nov 10)

Nov 10, 2007
There are gays, and there are gays...
By Andy Ho

PROFESSOR Thio Li-ann who spoke up in Parliament against the decriminalisation of homosexual sodomy has become the lightning rod that attracts the vilest attacks from the most militant gays here.

The Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) who teaches law at the National University of Singapore (NUS) just made her second police report in three months. The first was filed against a poet, Alfian Saat, who heaped abuse on her in an e-mail, the second after an anonymous letter-writer threatened her and her family members with bodily harm.

The fact that a fiery debate over the issue was held at all in Parliament might have been perceived by some as legitimising the identity politics of (homo)sexuality here.

Identity politics is made up of efforts to define and defend who you are, or hope to be, or hope to be seen to be. Gay identity politics means some citizens are mobilising as a group around their sexual orientation to shape or alter the exercise of power to benefit group members.

Since it is an enterprise motivated by the imagination of what is or ought to be mine or ours, some welcome it. After all, self-definition matters to everyone, they say.

Others counter that this is a bad development as it simply purveys differences rather than similarities and highlights grievances rather than bonds. As proof, they point to the gut-wrenching viciousness swirling around Prof Thio. Another NUS law professor, Yvonne Lee, has also made a police report after she was crudely flamed online, with threats made against her person after she wrote a column for these
pages that was not supportive of the gay cause.

In and of themselves, differences and grievances are fine for they drive political action among those who bear them. Contending with one's adversaries is not necessarily inconsistent with respect for one another. In a nation that is looking for its democratic legs, emotional interlocution that remains respectful can be woven into the patriotic fabric that binds us together.

But identity politics turns sick when grievances transmute into an all-consuming demonisation of one's opponents. For example, both law professors have been repeatedly asked online something to this effect: 'Are you stupid, a Christian, or both?' If 'conservatives' or 'Christians' are remorselessly assumed to be redneck hatemongers whom you can't respect as equals, then your politics has degenerated
into a pharisaic narcissism.

I don't know which is worse, this or those who lose in a confrontation claiming victimhood. Already, in the parliamentary debate, there were claims of 'minority' group status for homosexuals. I also have an e-mail - obviously from a legally trained mind - asserting that gays form a 'discrete, insular and disadvantaged

By self-identifying as 'a minority', the claim is that his group will inevitably be ignored or victimised by the (demonised) majority. This would suggest that his group will never be part of a winning majority coalition.

Yet all political majorities are coalitions whose composition can change, so losers can become winners somewhere down the line - if they are willing to modulate their interests to form a winning coalition with others.

But the gay lobby finds it difficult to do so for it tends to reduce complex human beings to one trait - homoerotism. That is, it regards all individuals who have this orientation as being, in essence, the same in (all) other respects.

This 'essentialist' thinking is less than coherent. For example, people who share race or religion can differ in many other ways, including being able to hurt others of the same race or religion. For example, I may be Chinese but that does not necessarily mean I champion the need to be fluent in Mandarin.

Or: Every woman has a race, so how she experiences her womanhood is informed by her race, and what race means to her is also inflected by her gender. What about being of the same race and gender but not the same religion? What about age? Should we not accord minority status to, say, 'aged Indian lesbians'?

So group definitions are problematic. The Catholics may claim you, but do you claim them? Group identities are too narrow to encompass what we share in common as humans but too broad to capture our specificities as individuals. The simplistic gay versus straight opposition obscures the fact that each of us stands alone at our own
unique conjuncture of the different groupings like race, gender, age, profession or religion to which we belong.

Because we move from one grouping to another fluidly as the situation demands, our personal group borders are never fixed. Because we are affiliated to so many groups, we may be more 'multicultural' individuals than a multicultural nation. But this fact is that which allows for non-conflictual give-and-take since our interest might
differ on one dimension but map onto one another on a different one. However, identity politics ignores this. Instead, it balkanises, promoting an obstreperous, rancorous self-pity about the 'tyrannical majority'.

For good reason, we give the identity politics of race and religion a wide berth. Formal procedure requires that a parliamentary petition - like the public petition over homosexual sodomy that NMP Siew Kum Hong submitted - be vetted in committee first.

The House agreed to waive the requirement and an angry debate ensued.

If Prof Thio's travails are anything to go by, setting that procedure aside appears to have been a mistake that has, regrettably, fostered the identity politics of sexual orientation here.

ST Forum: NMP Thio must also address abortion and death sentence in order not to be branded a hypocrite (Nov 10)

Nov 10, 2007
NMP Thio must also address abortion and death sentence in order not to be branded a hypocrite

THANK you for presenting Dr Thio Li-ann's case on the repeal of Section 377A to the public, 'A fiery NMP gets her baptism of fire' by Ms Li Xueying (ST, Nov 2).

I think Dr Thio is right to express her moral position on this issue. However, I think a lot of the negative reaction she is getting may stem from the fact that she is perceived to be solely targeting the homosexual community with her views on sexual licentiousness and gross indecency. As sexual licentiousness is a problem afflicting all genders and sexualities, Dr Thio must be equally outraged about
unnatural and immoral acts among heterosexuals as well, all of which are not criminal acts in Singapore, such as:

1. Oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples (after all, this is
also akin to 'drinking with a straw through the nose' and must be
equally repugnant to her).

2. Adultery between heterosexual couples.

3. Premarital sex.

4. Prostitution.

5. Masturbation.

7. Sex between lesbian couples.

When your journalist, Ms Li, asked her about her views on other moral issues, she gave a rather vague reply. As Dr Thio believes policy making in Singapore should be guided by some form of morality, and has made a stand on sex between homosexuals, suggesting that what is morally unacceptable to her should be considered a criminal act, she must make equally strong stands on the abovementioned issues. These are sins of equal magnitude in Christianity, all of which are as detrimental to family values as homosexuality. Unless she makes fervent calls for the criminalisation of these directly related issues, she may well seem to the public to have double standards, and a hypocritical viewpoint, and to be a homophobic 'hate-mongerer', bullying only a particular segment of the community.

In order not to be perceived as a hypocrite, Dr Thio must also address abortion and the death sentence, as Christianity does not condone killing another human being. These are far more important moral issues than homosexuality, and I hope that as our NMP, she will not be, in her own words, a 'lousy friend', or in this case, a 'lousy
citizen' or 'lousy NMP' by keeping silent on these issues, and make known her views with even greater fervour and directness. Remaining silent and/or equivocal on these issues will only affirm her detractors' worst criticisms.

Peter Lee Peng Eng

ST Online Forum: Sympathy for NMP threatened with harm (Nov 9)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sympathy for NMP threatened with harm

I REFER to the article, 'NMP Thio files 2nd police report after getting threat' (ST, Nov 8). I am sorry that Prof Thio Li-ann has to endure harassment from threats issued under the cloak of anonymity. I was impressed by Prof Thio's speech in Parliament against repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code, a law criminalising gay sex.

I admire her courage in speaking up for the many (especially those with young children) who are petrified at the prospect of an uncertain, unfamiliar social setting without S377A. I thank her for speaking up for my family, my friends and others who wished we could fight our case as eloquently and passionately.

Like Mr Stuart Koe, co-organiser of the unsuccessful petition to repeal S377A, I hope that the culprits will be brought to justice.

Lim Su-Fern (Ms)

Women's Nite - November 2007


'nuff said.

So come. Whether you are single or attached, join us this Women's Nite as we discuss everyone's most talked-about topic.


Women's Nite November 2007
Saturday 24th Nov, 7pm
Venue (in Singapore) will be disclosed upon registration.

Limited to 30 invites, so please register with your full name, contact number, the full name/s of your guests, if any, and the type of halal food or drink you would be contributing to the potluck.

Although Women's Nite is open to women of all orientations, please let us know if you are straight, or are bringing along straight guests, so that we can be sensitive to the needs of all women present.

Please send your details to [women dot snite at gmail dot com]

Registration closes at midnight 23rd Nov 2007.


About Women's Nite

Women's Nite provides a safe, neutral and alcohol-free space for lesbians and bisexual women in Singapore to discuss the issues relevant to their lives.

The event, held on the last Saturday of every month, was started in December 2003. Over a potluck dinner, we hold discussions on wide-ranging topics like self-acceptance, homophobia, relationships and identity. We also invite special guests to field questions on legal issues and sexual health, and conduct art and dance therapy nights.

To check out the past months' events, or find out more, please go to

To get email updates on each month's event, please visit to join our mailing list.

TODAY: Protect Open Discussion (Nov 8)

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Phobia of openness
Letter from HO KONG LOON

I REFER to the report, “NMP Thio gets threatening note” (Nov 7).

The threats against Professor Thio Li-ann, following her speech in Parliament on keeping the Section 377A law on homosexual sex, is simply uncivilised behaviour.

It appears that someone out there has a phobia of discussing a contentious issue rationally, calmly and openly.

A vigorous exchange of views would lead to better and more rounded perceptions of the issues discussed.


Avoid law changes to prevent violence

IT IS unacceptable that NMP Thio, or anyone who voices his or her opinion, should be threatened in such a manner.

I urge the police to look into the issue.

If Singapore is not ready for open and responsible debate, then a wise decision would be to keep the status quo for all current laws to prevent the polarisation of society and any outburst of violence.


How well are public figures protected?
Letter from AMY ANG

I WOULD like to know what safety precautions are in place for public figures under such circumstances.

And what is the Government’s take on the threats against Prof Thio?

AFP: Failed AIDS vaccine may have increased infection risk (Nov 8)

Failed AIDS vaccine may have increased infection risk
AFP - Thursday, November 8

CHICAGO (AFP) - - A once-promising vaccine for AIDS may have inadvertently increased the infection risk of people participating in clinical trials, researchers said Wednesday.

The multinational trials involving more than 3,000 HIV-negative volunteers were cancelled in September after a large-scale study found it was not effective at preventing infection.

Further analysis showed that those who received the vaccine had a higher rate of infection than those who received a placebo, said US pharmaceutical giant Merck, which helped develop the vaccine.

The study volunteers who received the vaccine are being advised of their potentially increased susceptibility, Merck said.

"We are analyzing the data to try to determine if the results are due to immune responses induced by the vaccine, differences in study populations, or some other biological phenomenon we don't yet understand, or simply due to chance," said Keith Gottesdiener, vice president of Merck's vaccine and infectious disease clinical research.

"It will take some time before we understand why the vaccine did not work and why there was a trend toward more cases of infection in volunteers who received the vaccine," he said in a statement.

The experimental vaccine cannot cause infection, Merck said.

It was a modified cold virus used to deliver three synthetically produced HIV genes in the hopes of stimulating a response from the immune system.

Unlike earlier failed vaccines which tried to get the immune system to produce antibodies, the V520 vaccine stimulated T cells, the main disease fighters of the body.

These are the cells which HIV infects and uses to replicate itself, leading to a drop in the number of T cells available to fight off other infections.

It's possible that the volunteers became more vulnerable to HIV infection because the vaccine stimulates an increase in the production of T cells, a spokeswoman told AFP.

The randomized, double-blind trials were conducted in various sites in the United States, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Australia and South Africa beginning in 2004.

Volunteers, who were already at high-risk of contracting AIDS, were given prevention counseling in addition to the vaccine or placebo. But dozens became infected anyway.

All but one of the infections among those given the vaccine were in male volunteers and the bulk of those infected were homosexual men.

Those with a higher level of pre-existing immunity to the modified cold virus used to deliver the vaccine were twice as likely to have been infected if they received the vaccine.

The initial analysis found 21 cases of HIV infection among the 392 men who received the vaccine while only nine cases were reported among the 386 men with a high level of pre-existing immunity who were given a placebo.

The results are "both disappointing and puzzling," said Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which co-sponsored the trials.

"Certainly, the failure of this HIV vaccine product was unexpected," he said in a statement.

"But this setback should not and can not diminish our commitment to developing an effective HIV vaccine."

About 12,000 people become infected with HIV every day and vaccines have historically been the most effective tool against infections diseases like polio and smallpox.

While scientists work on developing a vaccine, politicians need to implement proven prevention methods, Fauci said, adding that "Less than 20 percent of the world's population currently has access to proven HIV prevention services."

There are currently about 40 million people living with HIV infection and more than 25 million people have died since the virus was identified in 1981. The majority of the victims are in sub-Saharan Africa.

ST Online Forum: Think twice before seeking to force change in sexual behaviour (Nov 8)

Think twice before seeking to force change in sexual behaviour

I REFER to the letter by Mr Shawn Tay Liam Yaw, 'Homosexuals should know that change is possible' (Online forum, Nov 6).

I disagree with his assertion that homosexuals can change, and that the degree of change depends on the motivation of the one seeking help from recovery support groups.

The 'recovery support groups' Mr Tay mentions are, I believe, practitioners of so-called reparative therapy, a disingenuous term used to describe attempts to change a person's sexual orientation through behaviour modification or religious counselling.

Reparative therapy tends to emphasise the physiological ability to engage in heterosexual intercourse, or the suppression of the homoerotic response.

Both of these outcomes fall short of the complex set of attractions and feelings that constitute sexual orientation, and cannot be seen as definitive proof of a change in sexual orientation.

Medical authorities have challenged the purported effectiveness of reparative therapy, with the American Psychiatric Association concluding in a statement in 2000 that 'in the last four decades, reparative therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure'.

Indeed, proponents of reparative therapy have failed to provide rigorous, objective assessments of their findings, relying instead on self-reports and the subjective impressions of their therapists.

Moreover, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks of reparative therapy, which include depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour.

The Australian Psychological Society noted in 2000 that reparative therapy tends to overstate the treatment's perceived accomplishments, while glossing over the potential health risks to patients.

Given the dubious success rate and detrimental effects of reparative therapy, individuals grappling with their sexual identity should think twice about programmes that seek to force a change in their sexual behaviour.

It would be healthier for them to sort out their feelings in a non-judgmental environment, by enrolling in counselling programmes by Oogachaga or other neutral support groups in Singapore.

Eugene Quek Wei Liang

ST Online Forum: Booklet on gays: SMU should support students' mature actions, not restrict them (Nov 8)

Nov 8, 2007
Booklet on gays: SMU should support students' mature actions, not restrict them

WE REFER to the letter, 'Allowing SMU students to launch booklet, event on gays sends wrong message' (Nov 3), by Ms Low Xiang Jun as well as various other letters responding to this matter. Ms Low raised an important and valid point about the role of tertiary educational institutions in Singapore. SMU's mission is to develop socially responsible leaders and innovators who will help shape the future of Asia.

Fundamental to this mission is our commitment to provide students, faculty and staff an intellectual forum for open discourse and dialogue, even on controversial matters. The highest aim of education is not to teach students what to think, but to teach them how to think - critically, rationally and creatively. We encourage students to express their views, but equally important, to recognise and respect the views of others, which may differ widely from their own.

In this instance, a group of undergraduates has developed a project aimed at giving a voice to an under-represented group by sharing their stories. Their purpose is to educate and promote understanding - not to advocate a particular lifestyle, but rather to provide insight that will enable their fellow students to develop a more informed perspective. This is not inconsistent with the objectives of the 'Leadership & Team Building' course.

Ms Low may wish to note that the group has stated very clearly in the publication that the members are 'not representative of gay activism' and many of them 'come from backgrounds that neither condone nor promote homosexuality'.

The intent of their publication is neither contentious nor divisive. The group has stated that they are only presenting voices which are 'real and come from real people'. Readers are given the latitude to form their own views and opinions.

The university should support such mature and sensitive actions on the part of its students, not restrict them. Our role is to respect and protect open dialogue and learning, permitted that the means employed to create awareness do not infringe university regulations or the laws of Singapore.

Professor Howard Hunter
Singapore Management University

Sydney Star Observer: Melbourne goes gay for summer (Nov 8)


Clear your calendar in January and February 2008 and have your sunscreen, cameras and racquets at the ready: Melbourne’s biggest queer sporting event is about to arrive. The annual Midsumma Festival and Pride March will join forces with the inaugural Asia Pacific Outgames (the latter to be held from 30 January to 3 February) to form one giant cultural, sporting and political celebration.

There’ll be competition in 12 sports: badminton, dancesport, field hockey, lawn bowls, rowing, running, squash, swimming, tenpin bowling, tennis, volleyball and water polo.

Outgames co-president Peter Sagar says these sports were chosen because of the strength of the Melbourne clubs, which will host the competition and provide teams as well as officials.

The decision, Sagar says, was also based on numbers.

“A regional or continental Outgames is to be smaller with eight to 12 sports than a world Outgames which may have 25 and more,” he said.

Although registrations are not yet final, up to 3,000 competitors are expected from within Australia and overseas.

Outgames will include a two-day human rights conference. Two keynote speakers have been announced. Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, from Sri Lanka, is the co-secretary-general of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and Dede Oetomo is an Indonesian academic, AIDS activist and health worker.

Already both the sporting events and conference have attracted interest from across the Asia-Pacific region, in particular New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, China and Taiwan.

The organisation has instigated a Champions program with representatives in various Australian cities and across the Asia-Pacific region to promote the event and encourage participants to attend, especially those who face severe discrimination in their home countries.

For more information about registering to compete, volunteer, or become a sponsor, and event times and dates, visit or the QSAM website,

Today: NMP Thio gets threatening note (Nov 7)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

She gets physical threat, makes second police report in 3 months

It looked innocuous enough: A brown envelope with a single, printed A4 sheet inside.

But the contents of this letter were hateful enough — indeed, the words "hate", hatred" and "hurt" were repeated no less than 10 times — that its recipient made a police report on Monday night. It is the second police report Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann has made in three months.

But while she has said she will not sue her first antagonist, poet Alfian Sa'at, who sent her a four-sentence insulting email, the situation is different now.

"This is a physical threat, different from the usual insults," said Professor Thio. The threats are ugly and worded unambiguously, and Today, which has a copy of the page-long letter, chose not to reproduce its content.

But, if carried out, the threats are serious enough to be treated as offences causing grievous hurt. And the anonymous letter writer even threatened her family.

"Singaporeans need to know the tactics that have been employed and what I really want to see is free and open debate without intimidation," said Prof Thio, who disclosed last month the first email incident, after she gave a strongly-worded speech on keeping Section 377A, the law on homosexual sex.

While she declined to say if she would take precautions, Prof Thio said making a police report was the "responsible thing to do". Police spokesman Stanley Norbert confirmed her police report. A probe is ongoing, while the email incident is under investigation.

Criminal lawyer Anand Nalachandran, a partner at Harry Elias Partnership, said the letter was "malicious", and that anonymous threats to cause hurt or death would attract stiffer punishments because of the "ominous" factor of not knowing the threat's origin.

The punishment for criminal intimidation to cause hurt or death is a maximum seven-year jail term or a fine, or both. If the threat is anonymous, an additional jail term of up to two years could be imposed.

NMP Siew Kum Hong, who had differed with Prof Thio in Parliament, was outraged by the threat, saying: "There is no place for such things in our society. Whoever sent that letter crossed the line. The police should look into it."

Mr Siew, who has received his share of abuse for asking for Section 377A to be repealed, said he has not received threats of "this extent". "This is outrageous … I unequivocally condemn this ... Nothing anyone says could possibly justify such a despicable act."

ST Online Forum: SMU students' launch of booklet on gays: We need to be more open minded (Nov 6)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Nov 6, 2007
SMU students' launch of booklet on gays: We need to be more open-minded

I AM writing in reply to Miss Low Xiang Jun's article, 'Allowing SMU students to launch booklet, event on gays sends wrong message' (Online forum, Nov 3).

Miss Low wrote to disapprove the launching of a booklet, done as a project by SMU first-year students, that discussed the discrimination faced by homosexual youths in Singapore. She said that the book launch condones an alternative lifestyle and will create a negative impression on the values of SMU students.

I am a conservative but I must disagree with her words.

I strongly believe that a university should be an environment within which any perspective and idea can be discussed. In that setting, our learned faculty will provide necessary guidance. For university students, this is the time to learn about the world and be exposed to new ideas and thoughts. We should understand that there are individuals within our society that pursue an alternative lifestyle.

The project was a booklet that sought to discuss the issue of homosexual prejudice as well as to facilitate understanding. It was not a parade that cajoled students into turning gay.

Being in a conservative society does not mean that we should isolate ourselves from what some may believe to be negative influences. While we must hold fast to our values, we do not gain from being insulated.

The liberality in United States colleges is not something granted to its students. It is a culture of tolerance born from a society that has grown and learned from a history of prejudice and racial segregation. I believe that this culture is a mark of strong values and ethics and is not an unwholesome symptom of a decayed moral compass. We are entitled to our views as conservatives but as members of a plural society, we must seek to understand others who may hold differing beliefs on sexuality, religion, politics, philosophy and so on. Let us come together and agree to disagree.

Seeking to understand the people we may disagree with draws the fine line between tolerance and ignorance. I believe that SMU students, being socially responsible citizens and future leaders, understand that tolerance is a necessary ingredient for harmony and peace. I also believe that we will continue to uphold this value with pride.

Ahmad Firdaus Daud
SMU Students' Association
Singapore Management University

ST Online Forum: Dictating to university students what views they should take insults their intelligence (Nov 6)

Nov 6, 2007
Dictating to university students what views they should take insults their intelligence

MISS Low Xiang Jun, in her online letter, had condemned SMU's decision to allow their students to publish a booklet and hold an event on gays.

I take particular exception to her view on how SMU should treat its students. She appears to imply that universities should impart 'right values' and 'wholesome ideals' and suppress those to the contrary, and that being 'socially responsible' implies conforming with the views of the majority of society.

Universities are institutions that should first and foremost emphasise intellectual and moral integrity. To dictate to university students what views they should take and what values they should hold not only undermines the process of intellectual and moral discovery, but also insults the maturity and the intelligence of the top 25 per
cent of our school cohort.

I have no doubt that the SMU students in this case are acting on their intellectual and moral conscience, which is the responsibility of citizens in a democracy. Singapore is a democracy and students, like all citizens, have the right to express their views, regardless of what the opinion of the majority may be. Going by her flawed argument, the unpopular but necessary policies of the Government such as CPF reform would be 'socially irresponsible'.

Indeed, instead of dismissing divergent viewpoints from our own, we should critically consider their merits and demerits and seek to question our own assumptions, and through that process form more enlightened and considered conclusions. And the ability to do so is exactly what a university education should impart.

Matthias Yong Peng Chew
Cambridge, UK

ST Online Forum: Homosexuals should know that change is possible (Nov 6)

Nov 6, 2007
Homosexuals should know that change is possible

I REFER to the letter, 'SMU students launch booklet, event on gays' (ST, Oct 31), where a booklet containing stories of young gays, lesbians and bisexuals was highlighted. The sadness and desperation portrayed by 'Fairus' in one of the stories has prompted me to respond.

While Mr Leonard Ng encourages more gays and lesbians to come out, he fails to understand that some of them, like Fairus, just do not want to remain gay. As someone who has had my fair share of sexual confusion, I fully empathise with Fairus and those like him, who do not want to remain gay, lesbian or bisexual.

I want to tell Fairus, and others like him, that change is possible for homosexuals. However, the degree of change depends on the motivation of the one seeking help, and the support that is given to him/her.

In Singapore, recovery support groups, such as CHOICES, do exist to help homosexuals and lesbians in overcoming unwanted sexual desires and behaviour. Although no one chooses to be a homosexual, one can certainly choose not to remain one. Unfortunately, very few people know that change is possible, but it is.

Shawn Tay Liam Yaw

ST Online Forum: Families and gays must keep an open mind (Nov 6)

Nov 6, 2007
Families and gays must keep an open mind

IN LIGHT of the recent debate over Singapore's gay sex laws, I have this much to say.

I myself have been gay for as long as I can remember. From the moment I became aware of my sexual urges, they had always been directed towards other males.

I never faced much direct oppression for my sexuality. My very much Christian family, instead of disowning or forcing change on me when I came out to them, were gentle and supportive, as they realised the extremely difficult and unjust position I was in.

Sin or not aside, I could face much prejudice from the public, who treated homosexuals like serial killers. My family understood that being homosexual did not make me one-dimensional. I was still everything else I was before sexuality ever entered the picture: the winner of a school science quiz, the teachers' pet, the artist, their eldest son.

I have gradually come to understand that, objectively, being gay may not be a permanent condition in me. But I also realise change does not come overnight. My family taught me to keep an open mind about everything, no matter what it was. I have a wonderful boyfriend and the both of us have reached mutual understandings with both our families. We both intend to stay together, but we are open enough to change that should time and tide prove otherwise, then we shall gladly pursue heterosexual relationships and remain good friends.

I am not asking for a legalisation of gay sex laws, or for complete freedom as a homosexual to do whatever I want. I merely ask for the majority to uphold the family values they so fiercely defended and love their homosexual members as any other member of the family.

Diseases are a product of promiscuity, not homosexuality. Gays do not deserve hate (or hell) any more than the average person. It's not a 'special' sin in any way. If God were to judge humanity the way we judge one another, we're all doomed, straight or gay. Do not force change either; gently coax it out and allow it to develop naturally.

I also, in turn, suggest to other homosexuals that they re-examine themselves and keep an open mind about their sexuality. Do not be so stubborn and shut to the prospect of change. If we muse to ourselves that straight people can be converted, so it is vice-versa as well.

Kevin Lu Zixian

Towleroad: Malaysian Police Raid Gay Sex Party at Gym, Arrest 37 Men (Nov 6)

Thirty-seven men between the ages of 20 and 45 were arrested at a fitness center in northern Penang island on Sunday in Malaysia, where sodomy is illegal. Those arrested included a Chinese national and a man from the UK.

According to the AP, "Police found used condoms strewn all over the floor, seven tubes of lubrication jelly, 20 gay magazines, four pornographic VCDs and six boxes of new condoms... Investigations are ongoing but he said the operator of the premises could lose his business license if he is found to have abused it, and the men, who have been released, could be charged with committing unnatural sex acts."

Said police chief Azam Abdul Hamid: "Based on our information, the center was regularly used for these gay activities. This is against our culture, our way of life."

Police say they were offered a tip which led to the raid. Those arrested face the possibility of 20 years in prison and lashing.

Malaysian police say they broke up gay sex party, arrested 37 men [ap via iht] Government Does Not Endorse Gay Lifestyle: Singapore Minister (Nov 5)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Government Does Not Endorse Gay Lifestyle: Singapore Minister

Singapore’s government does not want to endorse a homosexual lifestyle, a senior cabinet minister said Monday, as parliament debated a rare petition to repeal a law that criminalises gay sex.

A member of parliament filed the petition to repeal the relevant part of the Penal Code on the grounds that it is discriminatory and violates constitutional safeguards on equal rights.

It was the first time in more than two decades that parliament had heard a petition, local radio reported, and coincided with debate on the most extensive amendments to the city-state’s Penal Code in 22 years.

The MP, Siew Kum Hong, who is not gay, said the government’s proposed changes would allow anal and oral sex between two consenting heterosexual adults.

However refusing to decriminalise the same acts between homosexual and bisexual men is discrimination, said Siew, who filed the petition after an online campaign to repeal the section.

Arguing for the section to be retained, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, Ho Peng Kee, said Singapore remains a largely conservative society.

"While homosexuals have a place in society... repealing section 377A will be contentious and may send a wrong signal that the government is encouraging and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as part of our mainstream way of life," Ho said.

Public feedback on the issue had been "emotional, divided and strongly expressed," he said, but most people wanted to retain the section.

"The majority find homosexual behaviour offensive and unacceptable," Ho added," noting that police nevertheless have been lenient in implementing the law.

However, Siew said private, consensual sexual acts between adult males would "not impact on the safety and security of society."

"Now is the time, not to do the pragmatic or easy thing, but to do the right thing," he said.

Stuart Koe, chief executive of the Asian gay portal,, and one of the people behind the petition, said that for gays in Singapore, Section 377A has been like "a gun pointed to their heads."

Singapore celebrities joined the campaign to repeal the anti-gay sex section by appearing in a rap video posted on the YouTube website.

ST: Debate on Homosexuality: It's not a big deal for most Singaporeans (Nov 3)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Nov 3, 2007
It's not a big deal for most Singaporeans
By Andy Ho

IN THE recent debate over the decriminalisation of homosexual sodomy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong observed, in passing, that HDB heartlanders weren't too concerned about the issue.

Mr Jeffrey Tan, a teaching fellow in the China division at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), nuances the picture somewhat.

First, there is the Chinese intelligentsia here who are 'quite pro-gay', he said. These are the Nantah graduates and those who have gone to Taiwan or China to study, whose world views are coloured by their media and literature, which they continue to consume and which have become very libertarian in the 1990s in so far as same sex issues are concerned.

Secondly, there are non-cosmopolitan Chinese here who are non-confrontational when it comes to sexuality because their culture is suffused with Taoist and Buddhist values, wherein there is no concept of God or sin.

They would be like their compatriots in China and Taiwan, where 'most people do not find same sex attraction sinful or deserving of punishment, even when expressed physically', according to Dr Wu Cuncun who teaches at the University of New England in Australia.

Some might feel sad that a son or daughter might not grow up like 'other boys and girls', but the behaviour would not lead to disgust or them being disowned - unless someone deliberately set out to offend, she added.

Sexuality in traditional Chinese culture was regarded as part of life and not as something that spoke to some essence in one's personality. It did not define one's identity in society. That is, no one thought of a male who had sex with another as a homosexual - in the way Western activists push gay identity politics today, pitting
conservatives against liberals today.

Dr Wu said: 'In China, historically, homoeroticism had little to do with being conservative or liberal. Instead, standards of conduct were based on a world view encompassing the complementary forces of yin and yang.

'But yin and yang were never absolutely separate, so women and men fulfilled complementary roles and shared complementary places,' she added. Thus, there was no sense of sin if a man found another 'erotically attractive'. Such a male was just seen to be indulging in one possible form of sexuality.

Many emperors engaged in sex with both women and men, Dr Wu noted. Yet this guiltless relaxation towards same sex eroticism - famously depicted in Hongloumeng or Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the four great classics in pre-modern Chinese fiction - was largely something to be found within the upper classes. These dominated and used the
lower classes in the form of compliant bodies, male or female, for purposes both sexual and nonsexual.

Outside of the aristocracy and literati, for much of Chinese history, a man of commoner status was 'probably more likely to offend another man if he was incautious in approaching him with erotic intentions, and such a situation would usually be bereft of...romance', said Dr Mark Stevenson of Victoria University in Australia .

Yet, by the 19th century, more than any other time in Chinese history,in Beijing's world of theatre, at least, both young and old males from outside the scholar-official class, particularly merchants, were indulging in sex with young men quite openly.

Dr Stevenson thought that 'so many men felt unashamed about (this because there was) no Godhead in Chinese culture, so that the population as a whole was relatively free of hang-ups' around questions of sin in the forms that sexuality took.

Dr Wu agreed: 'In Chinese moral thought there is an absence of concern with God or sin.' Perhaps our immigrant forefathers brought with them this worldview which continues to animate the HDB heartlander.

In practice, everyone in the family knows about the homosexual son but no one talks about it. Mr Tan observed: 'In fact, it is the gays who are left behind to take care of ageing parents as their siblings get married and move out to start their own families.'

In such cases, it is 'very common in Singapore', Mr Tan said anecdotally, for gays to move in and stay with their boyfriends and their aged parents, who just accept the whole deal quietly.

This is reminiscent of Lee Ang's 1993 movie, The Wedding Banquet, in which a gay Chinese man who has a live-in white boyfriend fakes a wedding with a woman friend to please his ageing parents. Later on he 'outs' himself to his mother but not his father, who realises quietly that his son is homosexual.

The old man later invites his son's white boyfriend to go with him for a private stroll, during which he gives him an angbao as a gesture of accepting him as his 'child-in-law'.

This is perhaps the practical way in which many heartlanders deal with homosexuality in the family (which would be statistically rare at any rate) - a 'don't ask, don't tell; don't reject but don't promote' approach.

Finally, there are the heartlanders who are Christianised who reject homosexuality in the family vigorously, Mr Tan observed. These are the 'horror stories, where the gay son is hauled off to church to be exorcised and so on', he said.

Linking Christianisation to colonialism, Mr Tan lays it all down at the feet of the British, who brought in Section 377A of the Penal Code anyway. Dr Wu agrees that it is more likely to be Singapore's colonial legacy that explains any anti-gay attitude that may be found here.

But since there are more non-Christians than Christians in Singapore in general, the non- confrontational model is probably more widespread. For these folks, rice bowl concerns are paramount, added Mr Tan, which is why 'they don't give two hoots' for (any confrontation over) homosexuality.

ST Lifestyle: The gay debate (Nov 4)

Nov 4, 2007
The gay debate
For moderates like me, the vitriolic exchanges made me wonder: Why can't we just live and let live?
By Sumiko Tan

I DON'T think I was fully aware of what homosexuality was all about until I was in my 20s.

It wasn't a subject that ever cropped up at home. In the late 1970s when I was growing up, a cluster of houses was built in my neighbourhood and a sign on the wall outside read 'Gay Garden'. No one in the vicinity batted an eyelid.

Perhaps the contractor's surname was Gay, hence he named the development after himself. Or he just wanted a happy, alliterative name for the place.

In my all-girls secondary school, there were jokes about how boys from a certain all-boys Catholic school tended to be sissies. The word used was 'pondan', but I didn't understand what it meant. But I'd laugh if someone mimicked the boys by showing a limp wrist.

There were a lot of female crushes going around in my school, though. I had my fair share of them and was also the subject of a couple. Little presents, precious autograph book scribblings and happy sightings of the girls we hero-worshipped were all part of growing up.

In junior college, I studied next to boys for the first time. It did occur to me that there were some who were rather effeminate and not all that interested in us girls. Many were involved in drama activities.

There were also a few girls who gave off boisterous, boyish vibes and whom I found frightening, but my attention was trained elsewhere - on the football and swimming jocks.

When I was in university, I went out with a guy who had a 'gay' brother. That was when the other meaning of the word entered my vocabulary (and I started wondering how my neighbours living in Gay Garden felt).

The brother was good-looking, wore nice clothes and was a bit aloof.He didn't have girlfriends but a male friend of his would sometimes go over to the family home for dinner and they appeared close. I started piecing things together.

My friend's parents must have been in their 60s then but they seemed totally cool with that relationship. I took my cue from them.

Then I started work and learnt more about homosexuality.

The creative industries tend to attract gays and the media is no different. I've came to know many gays through work, especially over the last decade as I've been based in a section that deals with such lifestyle topics as the arts, entertainment and fashion. There is a larger proportion of gays in these areas.

Some have become good friends. At the risk of generalising or sounding patronising, gays make good company for women.

They often have discerning taste, interesting views and a zest for life. You also don't have to deal with the tiresome cross signals that can crop up in a man-woman relationship.

Some gays talk freely about their sexual orientation, others don't. Some keep it a secret but I know they are gay and they know I know, but we don't acknowledge it, and that's fine.

Some like to play up to stereotypes (adopting a campy tone for laughs,for example) while others would never dream of doing so.

The upshot is, homosexuality has become so commonplace for me, because of the environment I am in, that it has become a non-issue.

I know it exists and I accept it. I don't subscribe to it and I never ever will, but it is not a big deal for me. Certainly I don't feel I am in a position to judge the way they live their lives.

As a (straight) friend puts it and I agree, everyone is entitled to his individual space, and if that space doesn't encroach on somebody else's, especially in a harmful way, there is no reason to interfere with it.

BUT I am also acutely aware that not everyone is as relaxed as I am about homosexuality.

For the majority of Singaporeans, including my family and almost all my non-office friends, being gay is just not something on their radar screens, and they frown on it.

Statistics bear this out. A survey found that 69 per cent of Singaporeans have a negative view of homosexuality, 23 per cent are positive and 8 per cent neutral.

When confronted with the topic, the majority feel very uncomfortable, and I have learnt when to keep my mouth shut about it. Even my sister is leery of the topic.

In editing the Life! section of The Straits Times, too, I am aware that the majority of our readers disapprove of homosexuality, which is why we don't ever play it up.

As the recent parliamentary debate on Section 377A of the Penal Code showed, some people will use every moral and intellectual argument they can muster to put forward their case against homosexuality.

The result has been much mudslinging between them and the pro-gay camp, much of it played out on the Internet. It was fascinating to see how the debate raged and how arguments were posited with renewed vigour every day.

But it was also disturbing and sad for me because so much of what was said - from both sides - seemed grounded in anger and hate.

Still, one has to remember that these are views from very articulate polarised camps. What of the middle ground? Do they feel so strongly? Do they even care?

My guess is that while the majority of Singaporeans are anti-gay, they aren't into gay-bashing either, and were probably bewildered by the extremes of emotions displayed.

My mother, for example, disapproves of homosexuality but her view is that 'it's none of my business what others do'.

For folks like her, what she doesn't see, she doesn't know and doesn't care about, and she adopts a 'live and let live' attitude.

That is also a view I subscribe to, although I must also say I had no problems with Parliament choosing not to repeal Section 377A, which makes sex between men a crime.

If Singapore isn't ready to accept homosexuality, perhaps no change is required - at least not yet.

SOME good has come out of the vitriolic debate. Views have been aired and even if you don't agree with the other person, at least you now know where he is coming from.

A gay colleague said he was comforted to learn that not all Christians are into gay bashing, and that it would be wrong for him to tar all of
them with the same brush.

For me as a journalist, the biggest gain has been how some of Singapore's 'OB markers' have been redefined.

One year ago, I would not have dared write a column about homosexuality. But now that the issue has been aired so thoroughly, and in no less a forum than Parliament, the subject is no longer inside the closet, so to speak.

And it can't be bad for the country that we are freer to talk about once taboo topics.

You can never persuade those of extreme views to agree and as we go forward, it is perhaps up to the middle ground - which includes newspapers and, yes, people like me whom I like to think are the moderates - to ensure civility is maintained even while the gay debate continues.

P.S: Some years ago, the Gay Garden name was changed to one reflecting the road the houses sit on - a sign, too, of the changing times.

FCC Service: Building Relationships Series

Saturday, November 3, 2007

4 Nov 2007 (Sun) - 10.30am
All are welcome!

FCC Main Hall
56 Geylang Lor 23
Level 3, Century Technology Building

Building Relationships Series

Worship Leader - PAUL WANG
Communion - CYRUS HO
Service Pastor - SUSAN TANG

ST: A fiery NMP gets her baptism of fire (Nov 2)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Nov 2, 2007
A fiery NMP gets her baptism of fire

She is the woman at the centre of a stormy debate over gay men and their sex lives. Nominated MP Thio Li-ann has made headlines for her stance against repealing Section 377A. Who is she? Why does she feel so strongly about this issue? LI XUEYING finds out

SHE was a 'very, very arrogant' atheist, who scored an A1 in Bible Knowledge for her O levels, and ripped apart the beliefs of her Christian friends when debating religion with them.

Then, at the age of 19, she converted to Christianity.

Professor Thio Li-ann smiles wryly as she casts her mind back to that day in October 1987.

Having just entered Oxford to study jurisprudence, she attended a Christian Union talk at a friend's invitation.

Wanting to leave halfway, she was 'stopped' by a voice.

'I basically had a sense that God was talking to me,' she recounts.

'I had stood up to walk out and I heard someone say, 'Stop'. And no one was around me. Everybody was busy doing their own thing. I was one of only one or two Chinese girls in this whole room of ang mohs.

'And then I just had the sense that I had encountered God, that he knew my name and I was shocked.'

Since then, Prof Thio's faith has underscored her values and beliefs.

And certainly, a certain messianic zeal is discernible in her mission to uphold Section 377A of the Penal Code in the recent parliamentary debate over whether gay sex should be decriminalised.

Homosexuality is immoral, she asserted. 'Repealing 377A is the first step of a radical, political agenda which will subvert social morality, the common good and undermine our liberties!' she said in a speech in Parliament last Monday that was widely disseminated and dissected, both in the mainstream media and the Internet.

While supporters called her 'fiery' and 'passionate' , she also attracted a storm of negative comments from detractors - gay and straight.

She has been called a homophobe, a bigot, and not least of all, a fundamentalist.

Others viewed her tirade as a 'hate speech'.

So is she a right-wing Christian, you ask her straight out.

'I am a Christian,' says Prof Thio who attends an evangelical church in the eastern part of Singapore. She declines to give its name but says it is an 'independent non-denominational church'.

'I don't know what right wing is. This is funny because I was always considered a political leftie and now I'm a rightie.

'There's a proverb I like. It says: 'Examine the contents and not the label.''

'Innocence lost'

SITTING down with her for an interview that stretches beyond an hour, you soon realise that whether you agree with her views or not, the 39-year-old, who is single, is personable.

She is likeable. She is funny. She arms herself with self-deprecating wit.

During the photo shoot, you suggest jokingly that she strikes the thinker's pose.

'I'll look like a pretentious snot!' she responds in mock horror.

'I've been called so many names, I'm not going to give them more fuel!'

And while she is clearly very knowledgeable - she was 'very heavily into philosophy' and Friedrich Nietzsche, Herbert Marcuse and John Stuart Mill were part of her reading diet - she also tries very hard to come across as your everyday gal.

For instance, she confesses to how in her college years, she 'had a big, big weakness for very handsome men with brown hair'.

'It was the whole stupid Mel Gibson phase in my life, which all my friends know because they couldn't bear to watch Lethal Weapon with me because I'd shout stupid things,' she says with a laugh.

Musing on the events of the past month, she agrees she has 'lost her innocence'.

'This is my baptism of fire,' she says. 'Eight months ago, I was a happy, quiet academic, writing my little articles that no one ever knows (about) except the poor 200 students who must sit for my exams. And maybe three academics abroad.'

But with the hate mail she received since her Section 377A speech - at its peak, she was getting 25 to 30 a day - she clearly feels victimised.

'I am just cautioning self-restraint for myself. But I don't necessarily mean that you can go all your way out to provoke me because as a human being, you have limits.

'So I'm trying very, very hard to be gracious but I'm going to tell you it's not easy.'

But she fired the first salvo with her speech, you point out.

No, she declaims.

'I think that's a completely wrong conception. The other side pushed the issue. If they had not so aggressively petitioned, so aggressively debated it in the press and in cyberspace, most people wouldn't have cared.'

In fact, she 'would have preferred to stay out of it', she claims.

'But because of all the spurious arguments that were being put out over the airwaves, in the newspapers, how could I sit by and just let a whole lot of what I consider untruths and propaganda float?'

While her explicit description of anal sex - like 'shoving a straw up your nose to drink' - has elicited disapproval, she dismisses such sentiments as 'hypocritical' .

'You think about it. Why do you have an offence of gross indecency?

'Because it creates a sense of moral opprobrium or repugnance. It's shocking and we can't put it into words but the truth of the matter is we do instinctively feel certain things are repulsive. I could easily say, do you pour butter into a car. So straw up the nose.'

Meanwhile, she is frustrated her 'reasoned' arguments have been obscured by the 'colourful' bits. She is also uneasy by what she perceives as attempts to paint her as a distraught, emotional speaker.

'I was passionate but I speak that way,' she says. 'You may disagree with the premises but I would say look at my arguments, tell me that they are irrational, tell me that they're not legally sound and you want to contest it on a legal basis rather than saying, oh, you're so rude.

'I find it ironical that homosexual activists say it's a Victorian and archaic law and then when someone talks about straws, they become so coy and Victorian themselves.'

There's a choice

THROUGHOUT the interview, Prof Thio does not use the word 'gay', plumping instead for 'homosexual' .

The latter, when used as a noun, has pejorative overtones as it is a throwback to the era when homosexuality was seen as a mental illness.

Her choice of words is deliberate.

'I take the position that there is a degree of choice. Someone said you might have a genetic predisposition but we all know we don't act on our impulses,' she says.

'You could have the hiao gene, right? It doesn't mean you sleep with every man you come across. There is some degree of control, some degree of choice. And yes, the social environment will condition it.

'So my fear is if you've an increasingly permissive society, which we are seeing, then people will just continue with sexual experimentation and it's going to harm people.'

But why spend time waging war on homosexuality and not on another 'sexual morality' issue that affects far more people, say, prostitution?

While saying that she is not a 'one-issue person', Prof Thio adds:
'Because it's been so weakly rebutted.

'I really have done a lot of research and I really do think that the homosexual agenda is very dangerous.

'The agenda will not stop at repealing 377A. It will go on because first and foremost, the online petition said so - we don't just want to be tolerated, we want to be endorsed.

'When you cross the line from tolerance - which means I disagree with you, keep your distance butlive and let live - to endorsement and celebration, it becomes coercion, it becomes tyrannical.'

In other countries for instance, there are 'homosexuality training workshops', and same-sex unions, she says. 'People are being forced to rent out apartments to homosexuals whether or not you are a conservative Muslim or Christian or Jew and you don't want to.'

She says that she is 'not against homosexual people'. In fact, she has two gay friends, both American. One has 'left' the community, and the other 'never came out and struggles with it', she says.

Spark of defiance

IT IS almost a certainty that Prof Thio will henceforth be largely defined by the public as the 'anti-gay NMP'.

This despite that as an academic and as a parliamentarian, she has contributed incisive articles and comments on a wide range of subjects - from constitutional law to civil liberties and human rights, from the elected presidency to ministerial pay.

While perturbed by this, a spark of defiance remains.

She says: 'My students know what I'm like as a person. They know the risks I took, stood up in the past and being critical of Government.. .I've always spoken my mind. Why do you expect me to shut up now and be excessively polite?

'If people want to define me in some way, that's fine, because at the end of the day, this public thing will end soon enough. You want to remember me that way, it's fine, but at the end of the day, it's people who love you that matter, people who know you.

'So people who have a certain perception of me, well - God bless them.'