Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why identity is relevant to rational and informed debates

(Published - ST Forum, Online Story. August 16, 2007)

I refer to Ms Angela Thiang Pei Yun's response, 'Beware loose use of term 'sexual minorities' ' (ST, Aug 10), to my letter on public interest, 'Why is gay forum against public interest?' (ST, Aug 8).

I would like to specifically address the last point she made on identity of the letter writer and the relevance of it.

This is to show that there are people of diverse identities and voices in the public. Many a time, we would witness individuals claiming to be fathers, mothers, professing to be of a certain faith or even giving the suggestion of it, sharing their views in the media.

I want to show that there is such a thing as a heterosexual man, who has a happy relationship with a heterosexual woman, and believes that something should be done about the discrimination and homophobia towards sexual minorities in Singapore. At the same time, there are also religious people who share this belief.

What I find risky is that writers and speakers sometimes do not reveal their background, beliefs, predispositions and religiosity, and proceed to share their views on issues that may be potentially divisive. When it comes to views, it is difficult for one to be objective or absolute.

Hence, it would not hurt to be humble and open when attempting to present 'objective' facts. This is for readers to understand from where these views and 'facts' have come.

We should not take for granted that people of a specific identity or demography will share homogeneous views and values. At the same time, such diversity need not be subject to overestimation and be seen as a threat to society because society itself is made up of many different sets of views and values.

Not everyone stands in line and some cannot help standing out of line. We may seek to punish, discipline and discriminate against them, but it will do little for the growth of a diverse society and the recognition and respect of the different identities that form it.

Identity is relevant to rational and informed debates. Without identity, there will be no recognition. Without recognition, you become invisible. No Singaporean should be left behind, should they?

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Why is gay forum against public interest?

(Published - ST Forum. August 8, 2007)

The Ministry of Home Affairs banned a public forum scheduled for yesterday which would have featured a talk on the topic, 'Sexual orientation in international law, a case for Asia', saying that it was contrary to public interest.

The forum was to have been open to one and all who are interested to hear views and opinions related to society. How could it be against public interest?

I am a straight member of the public who wants to understand issues that sexual minorities confront, especially in an Asian country like Singapore.

Another reason cited for the ban was that 'foreigners should refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Singapore', a reference to the invitation to a foreign-based speaker to participate in the forum.

I believe that views and feedback from foreigners can improve our society and make Singapore stronger. This is important for Singapore as a cosmopolitan country, open to talents from all over the world.

It is a pity that the forum was banned, depriving people like me of the education and awareness it could have given with respect to minorities in our society.

Should we subject ourselves to censorship due to the vague notion of public interest?

What then is public interest?

Instead of a ban, restrictions such as an age limit could have been imposed. A small compromise from the authorities would go a long way for education and awareness.

Ho Chi Sam