Saturday, October 20, 2007

ST Insight: Email

Email to Straits Times. Oct 20, 2007.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am an Honours year student at the Communications and New Media department in the National University of Singapore, and I have been studying the news reporting of sexual minorities in the Straits Times in the past five to six years.

It appears that published forum letters and op-eds that are homophobic often come from particular families and groups. For instance, the Thio family, Su Mien and daughter Li-Ann, and Li-Ann’s senior essay supervisee student Angela Thiang Pei Yun. In the same law faculty, we have Yvonne Lee and alumnus Soh Chai Lih. Speaking of persons affiliated with the Law discipline, we have Claire and Boaz Nazar too, who also happen to have contributed online articles to Cornerstone Community Church, perhaps a clue of their religious affiliation.

There is also a tendency for the Straits Times to use ‘expert opinion’ such as those from doctors and reverends, to counterbalance other persons with respected honorifics. We have seen that between Reverend George Wan Tian Soo and Reverend Yap Kim Hao. We have plenty of doctors too, but most of their ‘educated elite’ and ‘expert opinion’ are homophobic, exemplified by Dr Gabriel Oon Chong Jin, Dr John Hui Keem Peng, Dr Ang Su Yin, Dr Vincent Chia Wei Meng and of course the now-popular Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang. Their views have challenged and grossly outnumbered those of Dr Yap Kim Hao, Dr Shirin Kalimuddin, Dr George D. Bishop, Dr Peter Goh Kok Yong, Dr Daniel Emlyn-Jones and Dr Tan Chek Wee.

To give the Straits Times credit, views of the layman have been published. However, homophobic views are always buttressed by notions of family, values, morality and religion. Pro-gay equality views, which not only have disputed and exposed the existence of diversity in these notions, have touched on a larger range of issues such as social justice, equality and love. Representation of anti-gay views is large, coming form a larger variety of people, while representation of pro-gay equality views is a lot smaller, often coming from certain individuals.

The Straits Times has a responsibility to its readers, and not only the systematic framing of issues to mechanically balance views from forum contributors. Perhaps the publishing of seemingly unreasonable letters is a ploy to invite greater debate from its readers. Us readers will never truly know. But when it comes to issues concerning sexual minorities, there appears to be a relationship between the number of articles and the releases of prominent public officials, and most of these articles and follow-up reports and articles tend to favour the views of these public officials (see Goh Chok Tong in 2003, Balaji Sadasivan around 2005, and Lee Kuan Yew in 2007).

There are a great proportion of the educated elite who are Christian, or who have conservative religious values. Their penetration into the Straits Times is also a lot stronger, given their eloquence and accessibility to the internet.

It is also very worthy to note the period of silence, perhaps an “eye-of-the-storm”-like silence for the entire month of June 2007, following engaging debates, including the ‘public conversation’ between Yvonne Lee and her detractors. Were journalists taking a breather? Well, Janadas Devan (un)knowingly lit a match and the whole issue exploded again, and sexual minority news and reporting were back in business. Any way, reporters wait for news while journalists look for news. Was anyone looking during the silent period, or was there a directive somewhere which declared a journalistic holiday on sexual minority news reporting?

The Straits Times has kept its fingers on the pulse of society when it comes to issues concerning sexual minorities, despite the mechanical attempts to balance views from both camps. Maybe journalists should start looking harder for views of minority communities, for instance, non-religious people.

Chua Hian Hou and Keith Lin seem to be very present in most of the reporting, just like Lydia Lim in the 2005. Chua Mui Hoong and Andy Ho have of course, always been there. Unfortunately, Andy Ho has been bashed one too many times for his views pertaining to sexual minority issues. When it comes to reporting on peripheral, yet relevant issues such as HIV and AIDS, we have had Arlina Arshad and Salma Khalik. Of course, it does affect how readers think if sexual minorities, namely gay men, are constantly associated with HIV and AIDS in news reporting.

Enough of my journalistic work on journalists/reporters in the Straits Times. I have my views too, some of it available at Yawning Bread (http://yawningbread.org/guest_2007/guw-144.htm), as Alex was kind enough to publish an article which had some grammatical errors.

I learnt and read that society is not homogenous; it is heterogeneous. This is especially relevant to that of Singapore society, which is a salad bowl rather than a melting pot. On other levels, society is almost homogenous, due to power relations, such as the prevalence of heteronormality and its hegemonic control over the way we live our lives.

As we become more educated and affluent, and as our needs go up the Maslow’s hierarchy model, we begin to worry about many other things. For example, some woman is sweating over the ‘immoral’ Mocca.com advertisement which features a bodybuilder selling his flat.

What is worse is that educated people, who may be religious to an extent, are trying to advocate their moral and value systems for the public, through the media. Any way, Chee Soon Juan does it and he gets arrested. Often forgotten is principle that we should be respecting the spaces of various communities.

Of course, there should be resistance and sanctions against persons who cause harm to society. Sexual minorities do not actually cause harm to you and me. While their beliefs may differ from ours, what gives us the right to say they are less right, less moral and so on? If so, is there a religion or a race in Singapore that is more right, more moral?

A problem lies in our perceptions of sexual minorities, most of which are fed by misinformation, dated information and irrational fears harboured by opinion leaders. This is exacerbated by the implementation of policies because of the ‘majority vote’. How can one vote responsibly when one is not properly informed?

Speaking of votes, the government is treading the minefield with great caution. Society, being heterogeneous, will always experience a plethora of differing views on similar issues. Homosexuality is a very divisive issue. Studies have shown that homosexuality is seldom debated in churches and poses a divisive problem. It has been observed that pastors and priests primarily want to maintain their parish, rather than be concerned enough to discuss homosexuality. The same thing applies to our government, which is primarily out to get the popular vote to stay in power, and that is probably why certain unpopular policies are implemented after every General Election and none of which are implemented a year leading up to the elections. Perhaps societal unhappiness has an expiry date.

Homophobia is harmful to our society. It is a social disease, because it spreads infectiously and is propagated by influential figureheads in various communities. Singapore institutionalises and legitimises homophobia and we have a responsibility to stop the fear and hatred of minorities.

Racial and gender discrimination are not tolerated. You are born with a skin colour. You are born either a male or female. It is thus very easy to understand discrimination based on birth and biology. What most people fail to understand is that it is equally wrong when you discriminate against other non-physical identity traits, such as religion and sexuality. Religious identity is acquired through learning or through familial socialisation, while sexual identity is formed after childhood (or sometimes during childhood).

Sexuality is different from religion in the sense that it cannot be ‘unlearned’ and discarded. More often than not, sexuality gets conflated with other trends and behaviours and the identity aspect of it is forgotten. In Victorian times, women and children were assumed to have no sexuality. Now children are thought to have no sexuality, but will develop naturally into healthy heterosexual beings. However, what has been disregarded is the heteronormative upbringing and socialisation, all of which are based of previous predispositions and gender expectations.

I do not believe that Section 377A will be repealed, at least not in the next five to ten years. I see that the repeal petition functions more than just a petition; it is actually trying to open up more information for the general public and at the same time, allow us to reflect on our homophobia. We have seen the publishing of ludicrous, irrational and outrageously homophobic letters in the newspapers and now have the opportunity to realise how silly we ‘majority’ folk are. And we herd accordingly like cows without actually consulting our feelings. The government will just simply follow the herd of cows because it has to be popular and loved to stay in power.

If people want to talk about majority as a homogeneous entity, it is my duty as part of the numerical majority to disprove that, because there are straight people out there like myself who have finally realised how horrible and ungracious we straight people have become. We have forgotten what our first generation leaders have continually drilled into us, that we should not take things for granted. We should not take our privileges and comfort for granted.

I shall repeat what I wrote when I was first published in late May this year. “We are Singapore. Let's not only embrace diversity, but also celebrate diversity while respecting one another's boundaries without encroachment.”

Ho Chi Sam

2 comments:

the little eastern heretic said...

A very well-written piece. :)

That said, I'm from Arts too. :)

Sam Ho said...

thanks a lot.

feel free to contact me at the email stated on the sidebar.

warm regards.