Feb 6, 2014

My thank-you email to MOH and HPB

In view of the recent discussion on Singapore's Health Promotion Board FAQ on Sexuality, here is a letter to Health  Minister Mr Gan Kim Yong, and HPB's CEO Mr Zee Yoong Kang written by one of our members.

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Dear Mr Gan Kim Yong and Mr Zee Yoong Kang, 

I would like to thank you for your brave work in publishing the FAQS on Sexuality. If there was such a resource, my family might not be where it is today. I strongly urge you, Sirs, not to take down the FAQs in the face of pressure from a vocal minority nor even the silent majority, if there should be one, because I believe our government does not pander to ignorance and irrationality. 

My story
Sirs, I was once the pride of my parents. I went to a top school, I am going to read Law in university later this year, I have never, seldom, given my parents any problems. But everything changed when I came out to my parents last year. 

My parents had little to no thought or knowledge about homosexuality before I came out - this issue just never occurred to them. In the beginning, my parents were shocked but knowing their attitudes, I thought they were simply worried and concerned. I offered some information regarding this issue to them from brochures I took from Oogachaga and online. Unfortunately, they had ventured online in search of information themselves. All they found were highly negative reports about this issue. There was no objective information provided by a reliable authority then. If only there was, my family might not be as broken as it seems to be now. The information they found were all biased, skewed reports on the high incidence of HIV/AIDS among gay men, the "natural" promiscuity of gay men and their inability to have long, lasting relationships and the confusion of sexual orientation and gender identity. It led to my parents' deep misconceptions and misunderstandings that I cannot correct even until now. 

Protecting the family
Because of my own experience with dealing with uninformed parents, I urge you, Sirs, to stand your ground on providing accurate, reliable information on the issue of sexuality to concerned parents. If I may quote Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, then Minister for MCYS in his speech on the casino debate in 2005: 

"Every Singaporean destroyed by gambling addiction is one too many.  And it is not possible to place a dollar value on one life or one family's happiness lost." 

Sirs, in the same vein, every Singaporean destroyed by the politicisation of the issue of sexuality is one too many. In this case, it is not possible to put the abstract ideal of "traditional family values" ahead of any Singaporean or his or her family's happiness. We have families too and it is far too easy to claim that homosexuality undermines the foundation of the family. The only threats to the foundation of the family with an LGBT family member are ignorance and stereotypes, and I believe the FAQs will surely help in defending the loving bonds of these families. 

Safeguarding mental health
Furthermore, it will also surely help in safeguarding the mental health of the family members and the LGBT individual. During the very tumultuous period after my coming out, I contemplated suicide many times because of how hopeless the situation felt. My parents were very upset and my mother cried everyday. They even went to the extent of calling SOS for help once out of sheer desperation and hopelessness. This could all have been avoided if only they were informed by the correct and objective information they needed on sexuality. 

Separation of religion from public policy 
It is also clear from the current online debate over the FAQs, and past debates on these issues, that the most passionate and vocal against these FAQs, and homosexuality in Singapore in general, belong to certain religious groups, but I urge you Sirs not to let religion interfere with public policy, and especially with medical and health policies. If I may quote the previous Minster-in-charge of Muslim Affairs: 

"Nevertheless, there are many things that exist around us which we do not agree with as Muslims, but accept as part of the wider landscape.  Gambling, drinking and other activities that Muslims consider vices are not banned in Singapore.  We understand that in our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, it is not tenable for Government policies to be dictated by the views of one or any groups. If we go down that road, then should we ban abortion or the use of condoms because some religious groups are against them?  Or, should we ban the sale of meat in line with the convictions of groups who believe that animals should not be slaughtered for food?  It is in the interest of all Singaporeans that policies are not dictated by the views of any group." 

The government has always taken a pragmatic view on matters in the best interests of the country and the reality is these FAQs will not "turn" a heterosexual youth gay and I speak from experience - I have always been open about my sexuality to all my camp mates during NS and no one turned gay from interacting with me in the whole two years, which I believe is much stronger as an influence than a webpage. In fact, the only consequence of these FAQs is the prevention of stories like mine from happening in future. 

Sirs, I am a citizen of this country and I am not shy to proclaim, as proudly as the "pro-family" camp does, that I am pro-family. It will take some time for me to reconcile with my parents to mend our family but I hope that no other young member of this country will have to go through the same thing as I did because of an ironically abstract, invisible threat to "traditional family values". 

On this note, I would like to thank you again for your immensely laudable work and I give HPB and MOH my fullest support in defending not only the mental health but the foundation of the family in Singapore. 

Yours Sincerely
Daryl Yang