Tuesday, April 29, 2008

MDA: Morality Depends on Authority

(ST online forum, Apr 28, 2008) Right decision to fine MediaCorp over gay couple

I refer to the Media Development Authority (MDA) decision against MediaCorp in the article last Thursday, 'MediaCorp fined for airing show featuring gay couple'.

I agree with and applaud MDA's decision to fine MediaCorp for airing a show featuring a gay couple on television. In airing the show, MediaCorp is tacitly promoting a gay lifestyle. The act of airing such a show which promotes a gay (and alternative) lifestyle is detrimental to the common good, as well as societal values.

The media should not endorsing or promote the gay lifestyle and should not describe a gay couple as a 'family unit'. To do so is irresponsible and may lead to erosion of values and breakdown of the traditional family unit (father, mother and children). MDA must step in to ensure compliance and observance of the law and guidelines, which have been laid down to ensure good values and morals are upheld in society.

Jacelyn Chan (Ms)

(ST online forum, Apr 29, 2008) MDA high-handed in its fine on Ch5 for gay episode

I amdisappointed with the Media Development Authority's imposition of a fine on MediaCorp Channel 5 for airing an episode of a reality show depicting a gay couple with their adopted child on Jan 13.

Gay people living together with adopted children is a reality in countries such as the US. In censuring Channel 5 for carrying a television programme documenting the lives of one such couple, the MDA has denied Singaporeans the opportunity to reflect on the issue of 'non-conventional' family arrangements, and the merits or demerits of such a phenomenon.

I am saddened by the MDA's decision to once again adopt such a high-handed approach towards policing the media and determining what Singapore audiences can or cannot view on the soapbox. If children are to be protected from such issues as homosexuality, then the onus really should be on their parents and/or guardians to do the supervision.

Adult Singaporeans, I think, have enough prudence to decide for themselves on the feasibility and desirability of homosexuality within the Singaporean context.

Ken Lee Jun-Jie

My thoughts: Well, it is a pity my honours thesis only covered the Straits Times from January 2001 to December 2007. 2008 is still pretty eventful thus far, although paling in contrast with the years 2003 (Goh Chok Tong's non-discriminatory civil service hiring policy), 2005 (Balaji Sadasivan's logical link between gay parties and the spike in HIV) and 2007 (Lee Kuan Yew's views on homosexuality).

In it, I wrote that although sexual minority visibility has increased in the past few years (since 2003), it will articulated with the respective themes of morality, religion, crime, perversion, censorship and rights.

I have also noted in my study that the increase in civil rights-based discourses pertaining to sexual minorities in the newspaper has been met with resistance by conservative folk. The role of the moral police is thus decentralised, when you have the ordinary citizen as the moral crusader, and not only the media institution.

The problem with the issue of morality is not morality itself, but the persons and peoples who wear their moral subscriptions like badges. These badges justify their moral duty to propagate their brand of morality. They become experts of morality because they think they know best.

Of course, to play devil's advocate, moral relativism is grounded in some degree of certainty; you have to be certain to be relative. It is hard to conceptually prove that relativism works. But when it comes to people knowing it all and wanting to monopolise knowledge and systems of belief, you only have to question their agenda and motive.

Onus is on society and the dominant majority/elite to prove "right"-ness and "correct"-ness. All the marginalised have to do is to ask questions. No need to complain, just keep asking.

Example:
Statement: Gayness is wrong.
Question: Why is it wrong?
Statement: It is unnatural.
Question: Does that mean all things unnatural are wrong?

I am very perturbed by the open glorification of heterosexual relationships which are often framed in the context of a loving family with two or three or four (if you could afford) children, along with grandparents in tow. The government, through its community development initiatives, strive to shove this cultural goal/desire down our throats.

I had my appointment at the Registry of Marriages yesterday, to verify certain details for administration. A huge plasma television entertained us as we waited to be processed.

The programme was an educational guide to a healthy marriage, healthy sex life, healthy relationship with your in-laws, proper financial management and so on. It featured mostly the yuppie Chinese couple, along with the token appearances of ethnic minorities such as the Indian and Malay couples.

Basically, the instructional video embodies the middle-class Singaporean dream. For example, the "every girl"'s dream of having an elaborate once-in-a-lifetime wedding is a cultural goal deeply entrenched in her consciousness. Same goes for the guy too. You will spend and consume your way to fulfilling these desires, so that you can be "normal".

There is an iron-grip on the concept of "normal" in society. You have political, legal, social and economic structures all aimed at preserving this position of comfort called the status quo.

I quote Jacelyn Chan: The act of airing such a show which promotes a gay (and alternative) lifestyle is detrimental to the common good, as well as societal values.

What is the "common good"? What are "societal values"?

Whose "common good"? Whose "societal values"?

Is the "common good" an annihilation of minority groups which do not share the same "societal values" as us?

Jacelyn Chan should teach autistic children and persons afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome. Teach and reason with these individuals what is "good" and "bad" and justify them. How will you be able to convince them or answer the successive whys and hows? Stop at God and demand no more questions? Use physical disciplinary measures? Shock therapy? These individuals are only asking questions.

I have interacted with normal children, and are sometimes stumped by they asking lots of successive questions, because they are trying to make sense of something. When children grow up into adults, they have lost the spirit of inquiry. Trapped in the cold capitalist machinery, capitalistic rationality takes over.

If the "common good" and "societal values" are moulded in the interest of and meant for the straight majority, as claimed by the moral crusaders, how do you explain people like myself? I'm straight. Are you going to exclude me from your majority? How democratic is that?

I've been shrugged off as gay sympathiser (where "gay" is subject to its noun/adjective ambiguity), as someone who wants to politicise homosexuality and related issues in Singapore.

Firstly, I don't sympathise; I empathise. Discrimination, marginalisation, hate speech, stereotyping, disincentivisation, censorship, etc. - we all have been subjected to these at one point in our life. What makes it damning is that some people out there feel it is normal and okay to carry out these activities. Each of us have our own self-worth, dignity and some degree of self-respect. And I feel everyone has a right to at least prevent these from being eroded away.

Secondly, I want to politicise homosexuality in Singapore, because it is too depoliticised! People will think that homosexuality is simply reducible to a rational lifestyle choice, which is in turn reversible and discardable. In that logic, homosexuality can be cured since it is assumed to be a temporary "affliction". Stereotypes also exist wherein gay people are seen as richer, better educated, more creative and are hence important to our economy. Gay visibility is always articulated in these terms, while other strata and segments of sexual minorities become invisibilised or thought never at all to have existed.

When you politicise homosexuality, you bring to the spotlight social relations, social inequalities, the influence of institutions and the government, power relations, the cultural, historical and political background of rules, norms, values, and so on so forth. You look beyond the "disease" and the "irrationality" that is sexual deviance/diversity. When you depoliticise homosexuality, you take away the responsibility of the government, the various social institutions and other people in various positions of social power.

Essentially, I believe people are most threatened not by violence, force, incarceration, excommunication, usurpation, etc., but by others who continually ask questions.

"Can you explain what you mean by this this this?"
"To whom does this ultimately benefit?"
"What are all the properties that 'normal'-ness constitute?"
"On what specific assumptions are your ideas based?"
"WHY LIKE THAT???"

Monday, April 28, 2008

The brutality of the police and gender norms

On April 25, 2008, the police raided a sauna to conduct a "spot-check", reportedly without a warrant. Below is a release from sauna, Club One Seven:


Dear members,

Our water supply was turned off at 10pm on the 25th April 2008, Saturday. When we opened the back door to investigate and turn it back on, a few plain-clothed officers from the CID rushed in. Sam immediately tried to stop them and demanded to know what was going on. They told him that they were conducting a 'spot-check'. When asked what they were checking for, they simply repeated 'spot-check'. the officers refused to specify what they were checking for despite repeated demands. Sam also asked if they had a warrant to check the premises. They refused to reply.

At this point in time, we turned on all the lights upstairs and downstairs to alert the members that a check was going on. None of the members were stopped from dressing or leaving, nor were they searched or any particulars taken.

When a female officer tried to enter, Sam repeatedly shouted that she was not allowed to enter as we are a private men's club and insisted that she leave. Thereupon, the supervising officer threw Sam to the ground and twisted his arms behind his back to handcuff him. Because of this, Sam sustained cuts to his wrist and bruises on his left rib, for which he was later brought to the Singapore General Hospital for treatment.

The officers only removed several DVDs and Sam was arrested and spent the night in jail. He has been charged with assaulting (pushing) the officer that handcuffed him despite never having laid hands upon him. Sam is 74 years old. The officer was about 40.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and will give a free return visit to anyone who was here when the incident occurred - just tell the front desk.

We are open for business as usual for our 8TH YEAR from 11:30am to 11:30pm on weekdays and from 11:30am till 7am the following day on Fridays and Saturdays.

Club One Seven.


My thoughts: When I was in primary school, we were told that we must always ask the officer for his warrant or a search warrant if he wants to enter the house. I'm not really sure about the procedure for surprise raids though.

Well, if the sauna actually allowed the woman officer to enter and if she sights a man or two in the state of undress, will her modesty be outraged? Will that be another charge?

I wonder if the gender roles were reversed, what would have happened? The male officer wants to enter the sauna for women, but is stopped by a 74 year old woman. Well, just throw her to the ground, pin her and cuff her. The male officer can enter and perhaps get a chance to see women in various states of undress at the spa. They probably cannot take action against him, because he is just following orders and doing his job, or can they?

There is also something fishy about police operations. They may be raiding for suspected illegal activity X, but there is no sign of X when they arrive. However, they have serendipitously discovered activity Y, which may be seem suspicious enough to warrant a charge, confiscation, detainment, etc., perhaps anything to justify the raid. A fruitless raid will reflect badly on police intelligence.

On another note, imagine the retainment of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which is said not to be actively enforced. It could very well serve as a strategy for proxy prosecution. For example, if you're going to remove a political thorn in your side, charge him with corruption, defamation, contempt of court, and throw in a sodomy charge for good measure. You could also slap him/her in the face because that would be a non-seizable offence.

Back to the issue of the woman officer wanting to enter. Shouldn't she have backed off and have a male officer enter instead? Why of course, this is a society which has no concept whatsoever about male modesty, because men are seen to be the perpetuaters of perversion and crime, while women are viewed to be weaker and passive. Score for androcentric patriarchy (internalised by both men and women). It is probably the very same ideology which imprisons sexual minorities in our society, for it encompasses gender norms and expectations.

Considering that the female officer wanted to enter the exclusively male space, she must have been authorised to do so by her superiors. Does that mean male policeman can enter exclusively female spaces now?

What makes the episode a lot more suspicious is that the sauna is known to be patronised by gay men. People might come to suspect a targeting of a specific group of people by the police. It is like how an African-American will react when he's being picked on, "Is it because I'm black? Yes? It always must be the black guy, huh?"

I hope there is no "moral agenda" on the part of the police. A greater concern would be the force used against an aged person, and that one woman (in representing the police force) is able to transcend well-maintained boundaries, gives it a couple more reasons for debate.

In the army, and I am sure in the police force too, there is a lot of hyper-masculine rhetoric, accented in macho working-class ethic composite languages of broken English, various Chinese dialects and Malay. Homophobia is perpetuated and reproduced in such exchanges. Not only that, personnel who display this homophobia, also speak of beating up those "sissies/ah kwas/gays/bapoks".

The military and the police force are institutions where homophobia is learned and reproduced. These are also the places where manliness has its fixed standard operating procedures (SOP). Speak loudly, swear, use broken English, act working class (for real middle class personnel) - these traits do not contribute to a better national or home security. Well, the seemingly educated, English-speaking, seemingly middle-to-upper class personnel are often mocked to be sissy, weak, sheltered. I am sure outside the army and police force, there are full-time national servicemen who have that middle class aesthetic and behaviour, but in camp and in uniform, they suddenly become working class and a lot "manlier". There is more to the notion of "wayang" when you talk about national service.

Fundamental Christianity is not the only thorn in the side of sexual minorities, especially so in Singapore. We need to address the gender norms and stereotypes harboured by non-Christians too. We cannot allow homophobia to normalise, justify, glorify or celebrate the violence against sexual minorities, can we?

Homophobia and stereotypes perpetuated by MDA?

I sent the following letter to the Straits Times Forum editor. Looks like it is not published. It is very important that know whether if the authorities would prefer to depict gay people frivolously and abnormally, since positive and normal depictions are disallowed.

We are sending mixed signals to sexual minorities, welcoming them in the civil service and the economy, but denying their existence with media content regulation which censors them, replacing their representation with stereotypical and sometimes wrongful portrayals.

(Unpublished - Apr 25, 2008)

Homophobia and stereotypes perpetuated by MDA?

Dear Editor,

I refer to the recent $15,000 fine on MediaCorp by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

MediaCorp had aired a Channel 5 programme ‘Find and Design’, which featured a gay couple and their adopted baby. It contravenes MDA’s guidelines which restrict the “normalisation of the gay lifestyle” on free-to-air television.

If MDA does not condone what it deems to be the promotion, justification or glorification of the gay lifestyle, is it actually encouraging exclusively negative and stereotypical depictions of homosexuality?

The government and most Singaporeans may have made small steps over the years to integrate sexual minorities into the economy, but more can be done for their social integration.

The deliberate censorship and omission of positive representations of various segments of our community runs contrary to our development as a diverse society.

As such, media content regulation should be in tandem with how we are maturing as a people.

MDA should make genuine and progressive attempts to prove that Singapore is a place where minorities are not marginalised, underrepresented or misrepresented, especially so in the mainstream media.

The role of the media has time and again been marked by leaders to be integral in nation-building. Why should nation-building involve underrepresentation, exclusion, and the perpetuation of stereotypes?

Furthermore, depiction and representation do not equate to promotion or glorification of, in this case, homosexuality.

We are already steeped into reducing homosexuality to a lifestyle, popularly believed to be a reversible rational choice and hence can be discarded.

There already exists a stereotype enshrined within the regulatory system, and this is something we have to address.

MDA may claim that they represent the interests and values of the majority, which consists of people who identify themselves as normal and heterosexual. They should also bear in mind that I too am part of that majority.

We cannot let the definition of "normal" and "abnormal" be monopolised by one dominant group.

At the same time, media content regulation should not be entirely based on outdated media theories which posit that the media can directly and wholly influence people’s behaviour and sexuality.

Moreover, this belief will divert attention away from the inequalities and social injustice perpetuated against minority groups by dominant groups of relatively larger political influence.

Censorship of real and positive depictions of minorities will not bode well for media regulation in an era of increasing media literacy.

Media regulation should instead ensure fair and proper representation of various peoples.

Ho Chi Sam

Thursday, April 24, 2008

SIA: Slapping Is Alright

I do not condone violence.

Tan Siew Hoon, the 61 year old wife of Venture Corp CEO Wong Ngit Leong, slapped a Singapore Airlines stewardess after the stewardess was alleged to have flirted with him. They had an out-of-court settlement, a civil claim settled with the stewardess. In the courts, Tan was acquitted.

I think there are many problems on many levels here.

First, the issue of service. You just can't please everyone. If you didn't work hard enough in the service line, your service standard sucks. If you worked a little harder, you are a flirt and you deserve a tight slap. Any way, who are the people who are complaining of Singaporean service? What is it in our culture that is causing us to have a certain kind of service standard? Don't blame the people, look at the culture.

Next, if Singapore was the popular reality television series Survivor, who will be the ones in possession of the immunity idol? Social and political elite?

Out-of-court settlements, gag orders, media manipulation - these are few of many other apparatuses the powerful can employ to manage their image. The accumulation of wealth and power works for itself, and a person/family that owns it may have a better chance of being above the law and out of the media spotlight. Of course, the media, far from being the watchdogs, have become the lapdogs.

It is all about image management. Settle it out of court and away from media scrutiny, pay people to shut up. I once thought these things only happened in the movies, but this happens in Singapore.

Based on the brave and generalistic assumption that everyone is 'dirty', why are local politicians and powerful persons so 'clean'? It is not only attributed to their saintliness and virtuousness, but also how public information on them is controlled - controlled in a way so as to maintain their status of power. This is topped off by a good well-oiled public relations machinery, making the elite a lot more holier than the rest of society.

Let us look at this from another perspective that might be too fluffy for the most of us. Capitalism has made them rich and powerful, also empowering them to have connections with the media and the political and legal structure. Capitalism, in order to survive and perpetuate itself, needs the presence and existence of rich and powerful people. Capitalism is the dominant mode of production that will seek to protect its own interests. That is why the rich and powerful enjoy more safety nets and layers of protection than the rest of us.

There is always an economic and commercial imperative in the dealings of the modern judicial system. For all we know, the judicial system is a function of the larger capitalist economy. Why don't we conduct an experiment and get people of different social divisions (gender, race, age, sexuality, class, economic status, income, etc.) to slap an SIA stewardess?

The differential access to resources such as good lawyers, connections with powerful people and the press, as well as truckloads of material wealth, will be few of many factors that determine the sanctions taken against those who slap a national icon.

We also need to adopt an empathetic position. Why are people so feisty and aggressive? Is it their fault that they cannot control their stress and anger? Why blame individuals? If we invoke psychology to explain all these, its positivist derivations will blind us to the possibility that larger social, economic and political phenomena are actually at play.

As Singaporeans, we are often too quick to individualise problems. You are poor because you are lazy. You are sickly, because you are poor and lazy. You get depression because you don't know how to handle yourself. It is your own problem.

The government has continued to drive the rhetoric and ideology of meritocracy into our consciousness. We are sheep. Little Bo Peep wears the blue circle and the red lightning, and wields her staff, whacking all of us into conformity.

One intrinsic problem with meritocracy is that while if you work hard, you will succeed, it assumes that failure comes if you do not work hard. Meritocracy diverts attention away from the economic and political structure, away from the political elite and its ideologies. As we follow, we also embrace its ideologies, often looking at problems as they are atomised and individualised. It is not the fault of society or the government or the economy, it is only your fault. This is how we come to rationalise.

I also find it intriguing that the law is harsher on certain social divisions of people. Male versus female. Lower class versus upper class. Majority versus minority. Maybe we will never know. The law is such that people follow but cannot question. That is why lawyers practise law and not question it.

There is also another problem with the law. It does not care about "small things" that happen at the ground. In capitalism, yes, we are protected from crimes of theft, robbery and stuff that involve property, because people do own private property. When I speak of small things I refer to physical altercations, or even situations in which someone opens the car door and hits and scratches your car. How will these be resolved? Does the law care? Or does the law want us citizens to settle it on our own?

Let us say, the SIA stewardess slapped Tan Siew Hoon in retaliation. How will this be resolved? Is it resolved at all? A young woman assaulting a woman 35 years older than her, isn't that crazy? Or why not let Tan flirt with the partner of the SIA stewardess to get even?

An SIA stewardess was assaulted while doing her job. Won't SIA be responsible and take action against the assailant? Wasn't the stewardess wearing her kebaya while performing her duties? Maybe if a working class man flying in economy class were the culprit, SIA will sue the living daylights out of him and make sure he will be a bankrupt, and that is only a civil suit; they could always report him to the police and a criminal prosecution will ensue.

Yes, the rest of Singaporeans may have an axe to grind against the richer folk. That is always a common grouse amongst the working class, who probably hate the guts of the middle class; and for the middle class who own computers, and have blogs, they will be grumbling against those on the upper strata of the social and political ecosystem. But all these people aren't stupid (although they like to engage in the occasional witch-hunt, probably it is rather empowering to be part of a lynch mob). Why the coincidence time and again, when we observe that people in positions of wealth and power "get away with it"?

Sometimes I wonder, what if Tan Siew Hoon conjured enough saliva and phlegm and spit at the stewardess instead? Will she get away with it without a civil hearing?

Essentially, the problem is not Tan Siew Hoon or her anger. We should be looking at the relationship between the law and people in positions of wealth and power. We should be looking at the stresses that people get in society. Let's not individualise our problems too easily, for they are always connected to something bigger, but we have taken things for granted too often. We wouldn't want to see signs on our public transportation and airlines reminding passengers not to assault the crew, would we?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ISD: Unintelligent intelligence unintelligible

As quoted from the Straits Times on Tuesday, "the security lapse at the Whitley Road detention centre 'came as a rude and painful shock to them'".

When there is something glorious to gloat about, the pronoun becomes "us"; but when there has been a mistake, distancing takes place and the pronoun becomes "them". This reminds me of criticisms levelled against local Manchester United fans many years ago. They were alleged to be only aligned with the winning team, using a word like "us" when referring to the team; and when the team lost, the word "us" changed to "them".

The change in pronouns also reflects a shift in responsibility. The rude and painful shock, in this case, applied to the three men tasked to look after Mas Selamat, an alleged dangerous man.

The buzzword for now is "complacency". This applies not only to the three guards, but also to the entire Singaporean population. This is the lesson to be learnt.

However, does bringing forth the general moral of the story actually divert attention from the people who are essentially and specifically responsible for such a lapse? From the bottom of the chain-of-command all the way to the top?

When it comes to taking credit, the top of the chain-of-command often gets the largest slice of the pie. When it comes to taking blame and responsibility for a mistake, there is great reluctance and the chain-of-command breaks off like a farther-end train carriage in a high-speed drama you see in movies or video games. I guess accountability is all about getting the lower ranked pawns to take the fall, take one for the team.

Any way, the problem of the Mas Selamat episode is not about Mas Selamat or the three guards. The Internal Security Department (ISD), the Singaporean version of the Gestapo secret police, along with the Internal Security Act (ISA) which legitimises detention without trial, should be reexamined.

The Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC) is not a legitimate prison. A prison is where a charged and convicted person becomes legitimately incarcerated. Detention without trial, or responsibly and sugar-coatedly termed as "preventive detention", is partly unconstitutional (saved for the ISA) and a violation of human rights.

If there could be proof that Mas Selamat is dangerous, and has plotted to carry out terrorist activities, as so described by the media, shouldn't he be charged in the first place and rightfully incarcerated in a proper prison?

Wong Kan Seng, in response to Sin Boon Ann's query on family visits at WRDC, says that family visits help in rehabilitation. But isn't the whole existence of the ISD and its "prevent detention" initiatives about beating, threatening and torturing information out of its detainees? If you want to rehabilitate a person, put him or her in the very institution you best deem fit for rehabilitation - the prisons system (never mind its rather high recidivism rates).

There is something seriously wrong with the system here. The job of politicians is to continue to reinvent, change, update and question it - for the sake of a better and safer Singapore; not just follow orders.

Why does the government recruit so many top brains, creative minds, in the form of scholars, just so they can follow orders and be mere spokes in the wheel of the state agenda? Shouldn't the scholars actually help with the evolution of governance, rather than the maintenance and continuity of hegemonic political ideologies?

Wong Kan Seng should take one for the team this time, in order to uphold the integrity of the government. How many more "terrorists" do we have to let loose before a top government/public official resigns?

If the media can continue to provide dangerous descriptions of Mas Selamat, make him look dangerous and discredited, which are enough to warrant a libel suit from the average person, why can't he be charged and trialed in the first place?

Put him in a maximum security prison and this kind of problem would not have occurred. We must start asking more questions now. Why couldn't Mas Selamat be put in a prison? Did they want to further torture information out of him at ISD?

ISD is the undercover prison doing undercover things, and the public does not know much about it. The prison is the legitimate institution doing legitimate things, and the public knows a lot about the prison.

If Mas Selamat is captured again, provided that he is not initially and unintentionally murdered by ISD and later dumped at some remote location and be a surprise find by our hardworking police/army/Gurkhas, how will he be detained? Will he go to jail for escape? Is it criminal to escape detention under ISD? If ISD is the unofficial prison, wouldn't an escape from it also be unofficial?

ISD is a place where your basic human rights are violated, but nobody else will know. It is similar to a police interrogation where you will be physically assaulted by trained personnel who know how not to leave a mark or a bruise (c.f. Anwar Ibrahim, the alleged corrupt sodomite).

In the prison system, physical assault is legitimised by the Penal Code. You get caned. The public knows about it. You get caned more than necessary, the public will also know and the relevant lower-ranked personnel will dutifully resign.

In the ISD, there are a lot more secret activities under the vaguely-described veil of "intelligence". "Intelligence" of whom, for whom, for what purpose, what kind?

Any government will have problems addressing their secret police publicly. You could detain (without arresting) literally any one you see as a threat to national security. Furthermore, you have the power to define what is national security. Maybe political dominance is essential to national security, so you could detain people you discredit and deem as "political dissidents".

Moreover, with the ISD linked to the Home Affairs Ministry and linked to members of the ruling party, the ruling party will always have the upper hand on intelligence and can always leverage on it during the elections. They have huge divisions of civil servants working over-time, waiting and ready to be mobilised like national service reservist personnel, to provide the latest information to them so they could maintain their political competitive advantage. This is probably why we cannot have a one-party government; it's a slippery slope.

If the top dogs are able to take credit for that their pawns do, they should also be able to take responsibility for the mistakes at every level below them on the chain-of-command. The three guards, the window, the CCTVs and the urinals - Wong Kan Seng is answerable and responsible for all of them. "Them" is "us" is "Wong Kan Seng".

Sorry, Mr Wong, I just feel that way. Home Affairs is a dirty job, but you only need to be unlucky once.

-added 11.25pm-

First, Mas Selamat was alleged to be wearing brown pants. Now he was alleged to be wearing greenish grey pants. What on earth is happening? Why the inconsistency? So the eyewitness who saw a topless man, with a limp, wearing brown pants, would have been a hoax, wouldn't it?

Maybe I can follow the logic of having a safe and secure home by sawing the handles off my windows. Maybe if there's a breach due to my mistake, I could get a bunch of subordinates to conduct an inquiry.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

We also have a right not to have a religion

(Published - ST Forum, Online Story. April 19, 2008)

I read with interest the article, 'Couple charged under Sedition Act' and letters by Mr Goh Ah Seng ('Is it illegal?'), Mr Julius Koh ('One can always say no to hard-sell religion') and Mr Dudley Au's ('Incident was not against the law') (ST, all April 16), the latter of which are in response to Mr Wee Feng Yi's letter, 'Let's respect a person's private space in public' (ST, April 12).

We may need to question and reconsider how religious freedom is being defined in the Singapore Constitution.

While I feel the adoption of religion should be voluntary, the notion of its propagation should be rethought.

We only have to look at history where various religions have exercised sexism, racism, xenophobia, discrimination and the condescending discrediting of other religions, class discrimination and other exclusions.

There is, apart from doctrinal baggage, the cultural, political and historical baggage in the propagation of religion.

As society becomes multicultural, owing to colonisation and immigration, religious institutions have to adjust themselves to allow for inter-faith integration. This results in a reinterpretation of otherwise authoritative scriptures, and a re-branding and marketing of the faith.

Hence, the concept of religious harmony now does not centre on wholesale conversion and homogenous communities, but coexistence of religious diversity. Coexistence is very problematic when there are communities that profess to have the one and only true set of beliefs.

Doctrinal ideas that once promoted social exclusion now have no place in diverse modern society, and are eventually harmful to the economic imperative of the ruling class or the state. That is why rules are in place to ensure no 'hate', as however appropriately defined by those in power, is expressed.

As much as everyone has a right to religion, we also have a right not to have a religion. I believe there should be adequate protection against public religious-oriented speech and expressions that could induce guilt, fear, anger or hate.

When different religions enter the public domain, there will be a contestation of many different ideas, despite their sharing many similarities. Furthermore, in the midst of such dialogues, we should also consider the interests of the non-religious, who are as equal a stakeholder as any one else in this country.

With this in mind, religious doctrine should be at best confined within religious communities and spaces.

Ho Chi Sam

Friday, April 18, 2008

Religion should be within religious boundaries

I thought the following letter was not going to be published, so I actually posted this on Friday. While reading the Straits Times Forum on Friday, I spotted the list of published online letters, one of which was titled "Religious Freedom: Also means freedom from religion", but the article was no where to be found. I thought it was my letter (usually renamed by the Straits Times), and thought it might have been taken off. Surprisingly, it was published online the next day on Saturday.

Here it is.

(Published - April 19, 2008)

Religion should be within religious boundaries

I read with interest the article ‘Couple charged under Sedition Act’ and letters by Goh Ah Seng (‘Is it illegal?’), Julius Koh (‘One can always say no to hard-sell religion’) and Dudley Au’s (‘Incident was not against the law’) (ST, all April 16), the latter of which are in response to Wee Feng Yi’s letter ‘Let's respect a person's private space in public’ (ST, April 12).

We may need to question and reconsider how religious freedom is being defined in the Singapore Constitution.

While I feel the adoption of religion should be voluntary, the notion of its propagation should be rethought.

We only have to look at history where various religions have exercised sexism, racism, xenophobia, discrimination and the condescending discrediting of other religions, class discrimination and other exclusions.

There is, apart from doctrinal baggage, the cultural, political and historical baggage in the propagation of religion.

As society becomes multicultural, owing to colonisation and immigration, religious institutions have to adjust themselves to allow for inter-faith integration. This results in a reinterpretation of otherwise authoritative scriptures, and a re-branding and marketing of the faith.

As such, the concept of religious harmony now does not centre on wholesale conversion and homogenous communities, but coexistence of religious diversity. Coexistence is very problematic when there are communities that profess to have the one and only true set of beliefs.

Doctrinal ideas that once promoted social exclusion now have no place in diverse modern society, and are eventually harmful to the economic imperative of the ruling class or the state. That is why rules are in place to ensure no ‘hate’, as however appropriately defined by those in power, is expressed.

As much as everyone has a right to religion, we also have a right not to have a religion. I believe there should be adequate protection against public religious-oriented speech and expressions that could induce guilt, fear, anger or hate.

When different religions enter the public domain, there will be a contestation of many different ideas, despite their sharing many similarities. Furthermore, in the midst of such dialogues, we should also consider the interests of the nonreligious, who are as equal a stakeholder as any one else in this country.

With this in mind, religious doctrine should be at best confined within religious communities and spaces.

Ho Chi Sam

Monday, April 14, 2008

Letter to Today Paper: MDA needs to rethink censorship

(Unpublished - April 10, 2008 - Letter to Today Editor below)

MDA needs to rethink censorship

Dear Editor,

I refer to the recent $10,000 fine imposed on StarHub Cable Vision (SCV) by the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore. SCV featured two girls kissing in a commercial on MTV’s Mandarin-language channel.

While MDA sees it as a threat to dominant social and moral norms, alleging that the commercial “promoted lesbianism as acceptable and romantic”, we need to understand that there are diverse sexualities and sexual orientation that exist in our society.

Rather than promotion, we should be able to see it as a representation of lesbianism, which is unfortunately often either invisible, stereotyped or misunderstood. We should thus not allow the tyranny of the majority to marginalise other peoples.

Furthermore, it is not criminal here that two women are in passionate embrace and kissing. Such a policy only reflects the sex-negativity of Singaporeans and the denial of homosexuality as part of society. It also says a lot about the degree to which the government will allow sexual minorities to be represented.

The fears of the promotion, celebration and “spread” of homosexualism all stem from a stereotypical misunderstanding of homosexuality. Many are quick to assume that the media is all powerful and can totally influence or change one’s sexual orientation in this case.

It seems that MDA formulates its policies based on the positivist findings of Albert Bandura’s 1961 Bobo doll experiment, wherein children in the experiment are observed to assault the Bobo doll after watching an adult hitting it. Sexual orientation, like violent behaviour, is thought by the authorities to be learned, hence the need for disciplining through media control.

With a blinkered focus that only takes into account an audience’s relationship with media, we forget about the political influences of dominant moral communities, based on their numerical superiority, which shape the production and dissemination of media messages and images. Too much attention is placed on how we can censor and ban, so that people do not become “corrupt”, however defined by the dominant groups.

What I also find mystifying is that there is relatively not much attention and debate focused on the pervasive depictions of violence in the media, but rather larger concerns on homosexuality, which does not result in bloodshed or death. There are many television programmes that depict violence, its glorification, as well as vengeful violence. Acts of media violence often go unpunished and acts of love gets SCV a fine of $10,000.

Ho Chi Sam

From AsiaOne News:

SCV fined for airing lesbian kiss in music ad

CABLE television operator StarHub Cable Vision (SCV) has been fined $10,000 for airing a music video that showed two women kissing for about nine seconds.

The clip for Sha Hai Zi (Silly Child) by Mandarin pop singer Olivia Yan aired over MTV Mandarin Channel on Nov 26 and 28 last year. It shows Yan kissing and embracing actress Pei Lin.

According to the Taipei Times, Pei has been getting kudos from netizens for her portrayal of a lesbian in the music video, supposedly a first for Taiwan.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) said in a statement on its Web site on Wednesday that 'romanticised scenes of two girls kissing were shown and it portrayed the relationship as acceptable'.

The statement added: 'This is in breach of the TV advertising guidelines, which disallows advertisements that condone homosexuality.'

TV Mandarin had classified the music video as a commercial for Olivia Yan's album.

MDA had consulted the Advisory Committee for Chinese Programmes and the committee agreed that the clip had promoted lesbianism as 'acceptable and romantic'.

Caitlin Fua, StarHub's Corporate Communications Manager responded: 'We are disappointed with MDA's decision to impose the penalty.'

She added however that SCV understood MDA's concern and will work with their content partners to ensure that local broadcasting guidelines are adhered to.

From Today Online:

StarHub fined $10,000 for 'lesbian kissing scene'

The Media Development Authority has fined StarHub Cable Vision $10,000 for airing a commercial that depicted "lesbian kissing scenes".

The MDA posted a statement yesterday on its website about the cable operator's breach of TV advertising guidelines, "which disallows advertisements that condone homosexuality".

The commercial, which aired over two days in November on MTV's Mandarin-language channel, was to promote a song by pop singer Olivia Yan (picture).

Her music video from the album Silly Child featured two scenes of herself and Taiwanese actress Pei Lin in a "passionate embrace", as described last November in the Taipei Times.

The portrayal of a lesbian in a music video was supposedly a first for Taiwan, the paper reported.

According to the MDA, in the commercial, "romanticised scenes of two girls kissing were shown and it portrayed the relationship as acceptable".

The MDA had consulted the Advisory Committee for Chinese Programmes, which concurred that the commercial had "promoted lesbianism as acceptable and romantic, especially when shown together with the lyrics featured".

The MDA said it had taken into account the "severity" of the breach and that the commercial was aired on a youth-oriented TV channel, as well as SCV's explanation on the matter before deciding "a financial penalty was warranted".

StarHub expressed disappointment at the authority's decision to impose a fine but said it would follow broadcasting rules. "We understand the authority's concern, and will continue to work closely with our regional and international content partners to ensure that the local broadcasting guidelines are fully adhered to," said StarHub spokesperson Caitlin Fua.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Homosexuality in Singapore: Only a case of religious-motivated homophobia?

Wrote an essay for one module recently. It could probably be considered a spin-off of my thesis, which focused on the newspaper representation of sexual minorities. This essay problematises homophobia and the criticism of homophobia in Singapore - it may not be purely motivated by religion, but a host of other factors too. Have a fun read. Hope it's not too dense because it's for a sociology class.

Homosexuality in Singapore: Only a case of religious-motivated homophobia?

In my 2005 interview with Joanna Hoe-Koh, vice-president of Focus on the Family Singapore, she said, “Homosexuality in any religion, not only Christianity, is a sin, and morally it is wrong,” and proceeds to say that this was congruent with the fundamental beliefs of her organisation. Is religion behind homophobia and the control of homosexuality in Singapore?

The attribution of “sin”, “unnatural”, “wrong” and “immoral” to an identifiable trait that is homosexuality, informs of the heterocentric language that resides within a socio-religious space. Saussurean structural linguistics would ascertain that these labels are just mere reconfigurations of a static system of language provided to a people at a point in time, wherein the heterocentric parole is crafted from the available langue. The sociological imagination (Mills, 1967) does not stop here. We have to analyse the structures, apparatuses and mechanisms that influence such a linguistic reconfiguration to acquire a heteronormative spin.

A preliminary understanding of deviance is firstly required. Homosexuality, existing within a heteronormative matrix, transgresses cultural norms and becomes socially ascribed with deviant meanings and properties. Through labels and social categorisation, society has found a way to deal with this form of liminality (Douglas, 1966). In this process, society comes to identify homosexuals as “outsiders” (Becker, 1963) or as subjects existing in the outer limits of the “charmed circle” (Rubin, 2002). Using Becker’s (1963) concept of deviance, homosexuality is a rule-breaker, flouting the rules which reflect certain social norms held by the majority of society. The perceived breaking of such rules will result in the labeling of deviance by persons in positions of power.

Davies (1997) has examined the establishment and sustenance of socio-religious boundaries for the maintenance of order, as however defined by religious leaders. Anthropological concepts figure extensively in his paper. It has to be noted that studies in linguistics influenced anthropology. Boundaries, according to him, help maintain the distinction between “fundamental categories of human experience” (p.40), such as human/animal and male/female, and also justify the condemnation and punishment for those who disobey. Such socio-religious boundaries are observed to be strongly maintained in communities which have undergone generations of ‘social inoculation’ (i.e. exile, persecution), such as the Jews and Parsees, who place great emphasis on keeping apart separate categories, for example, clean/unclean, insider/outsider, natural/unnatural. Mechanisms of discipline, cure, excommunication and punishment will act to deal with any threat to these boundaries and categories.

Max Weber will contend that human beings are rational meaning-seeking and meaning-creating creatures. Such rationality will justify the presence of boundaries, about which meaning and sense-making are circumscribed and enframed. The conceptualisation of sexual deviance is a form of sense-making that allows for the creation of some sense of social order.

Across various disciplines, there is a common understanding of the disciplinary nature of structure and society. Antonio Gramsci contends that hegemonic culture is sustained through coercion and consent of a people, and in this case, also involving their internalisation of dominant gender norms and sex roles. Louis Althusser notes the presence of ideological and repressive state apparatuses, mechanisms which seek to discipline society. The Freudian tradition asserts that society is the superego, which acts to regulate the id that is natural human desires. Structure does play a role in institutionalising homophobia and oppressing homosexuality.

Emile Durkheim (1915) sees religion as separating the sacred from the profane. In this perspective, religion crafts the socially desirable identity. Whichever attribute that falls outside the desirable, will find itself on the opposite end of the dichotomy. Religion serves to maintain an orderly distinction between the desirable self and the undesirable other – the heterosexual being and the homosexual deviant.

Religious leaders are important in maintaining the continuity of religious orthodoxy and societal observation of religious values. Religious leaders, being pious ‘vessels’ for their respective religious ideologies, will be most concerned to condemn deviant sexual practices, which basically are anything but a man-woman sexual relationship. The presence of leaders brings to light the notion of power relations and power disparity within the religious community, and also the issue of surveillance and discipline (see Foucault, 1975; Rabinow 1984). Wesolowski (1962) believes the unequal distribution of authority is a necessary condition for the regulation of social life in groups, and hence bringing about social order.

Socio-religious institutions and boundaries provide the necessary markers and definitions for episteme and morality, contributing to a creation of a natural order and its maintenance. Silverstein (2006) have found that with the “foundation of conservative religion to support the window out of which one looks upon the development of lust” (pp. 253), mental health professionals have resorted to following techniques: Surgically transplanting testicular cells from a heterosexual man into the testes of a gay man (Schmidt, 1984; Wolff, 1986); castration of gay men (Bremer, 1959); implanting stereotaxic leads into the brain of a gay man (Moan and Heath, 1972); cerebral ablation of “sexual deviants” (Rieber and Sigusch, 1979; Schmidt and Schorsch, 1981); androgen replacement (Tennent, Bancroft and Cass, 1974); aversive conditioning, including electrical, chemical and covert (Cautela, 1967; McConaghy, 1969; Bancroft, 1974); hypnosis (Freund, 1977); and psychoanalysis (Bergler, 1956). Treating and curing a society ridden with the illness of homosexuality is an aim toward restoring a sense of social order.

The concept of illness, as ascribed upon homosexuality, is one major component in the values system of the homophobic religious institution. Medical and scientific truths become intertwined with religious doctrine, and internalised by devotees. Homosexuality is thus still seen as reversible and treatable through reparative therapy, a move encouraged by Liberty League, Exodus and the religious right. The medicalisation of homosexuality diverts away attention from the institutions and structures which discipline it.

The socio-religious institutions and boundaries have mechanisms which avert any suspicion of their complicity in treating homosexuality as a reversible trait. In viewing sexual deviance as a choice and lifestyle, members of moral communities residing within these boundaries see homosexuality as a ‘repent’-able sin, a temporary state of confusion, a lapse in moral vigilance or an erroneous transgression of established moral boundaries, remediable through submission to the dominant moral authority and conformance with dominant group values and norms. This is how structure comes to influence group relations, wherein the problem that is homosexualism becomes depoliticised and individualised, and it is the obligation of the moral community to rectify it.

The increase in visibility of and debate on homosexuality in Singapore is a result of a host of reasons. Among them is the economic imperative of the PAP government as articulated in a release by then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2003 on the non-discriminatory employment policies of the civil service. The post-independence nation-building rhetoric of pragmatism and ‘the need to survive’ still resonates in such discourses.

Internet technology and media savviness have loosened the state’s iron grip on political discourses, necessitating a shift from Lee Kuan Yew’s high-handed draconian censorship policies and Goh Chok Tong’s “kinder and gentler Singapore” (see Heng, 2001) with “OB markers”, towards an “open society” as championed by the Lee Hsien Loong administration. Civil participation and discourses, components of the rhetoric that is an “open society” are now allowed. The educated and articulate are now able to vocalise their views in the domains of mainstream and internet media.

At the same time, increased literacy and media savviness, although playing a part in the greater awareness of sexual minority issues, created an environment in which Christianity is embraced to be true, objective and rational (Tong, 2004). Tong observes an increase in the proportion of Christian devotees, made up mostly by middle-class English-educated Chinese. Interestingly, those who advocate gay rights are also mostly middle-class English-educated Chinese. There is thus a polarisation of views on homosexuality in Singapore, one side often evoking Christian morality as a benchmark for sexual morality policing, and the other side making secular claims for tolerance as critical to sustaining diversity in the island-state.

The deviancy of sexual orientation is thus seen a middle-class contestation, which occasionally breaks into the domain of the mainstream media and the internet. With the moral theme of homosexuality thrust into mainstream media debate, Curran (2002), in observing studies of media moral panics, discovers a common argument which states “stereotypical and misleading portrayals of ‘outsider’ groups in the media helped to deflect wider social conflict and help reinforce dominant social and political norms” (p. 109).

‘Asian values’, a term derived in the wake of China’s economic ascension (Rodan, 2006; Xu, 2005) and later intertwined into the PAP government’s nation-building agenda (Lazar, 2001; Hill, 2000), is also complicit in the institutionalisation of homophobia when it acquired a sexual moralistic dimension. This allowed the rhetoric of ‘Asian values’, one that posed a moral binary opposite to the perceived decadence of the “foreign devil” that is Westernisation (Leong, 1997, p. 139), to fit hand-in-glove with the heterocentric norms and values of religious doctrine.

With a moral conglomerate, held up by a Christian spine, homosexuality is labelled as deviant. Becker (1963) says that there is no intrinsic or inherent deviance in an act until a socially powerful group labels it. Moral entrepreneurs, in the form of rule creators and rule enforcers, seek to maintain dominant norms and values in the community. Their access to various social institutions, such as education, religion and the workplace, allow for the continuity of transmission and sustenance of homophobia. Homosexuality is seen as deriving from the liberal individualist West, coming to threaten the conservative collectivist Asian values of Singaporeans; hence homosexuality is made “paradigmatic of otherness” (see Barry, 1996). The demonisation of Westernisation on the one hand and on the other, the consideration of Western and Victorian socio-religious values that influence and exacerbate homophobia in Singapore, present a paradox.

So much so is the institutionalisation and pervasiveness of homophobia that the phenomenon is depoliticised. Attention is focused on how homosexuality in society can be curbed, treated and disincentivised, rather than on how the conservative political groups and the educated elite continue to advocate the agenda of moral conservatism. It is observed most letters written against acceptance and integration of sexual minorities come from persons with religious affiliations, in this case Christianity, for example Thio Su Mien (2003, 2004) and her daughter Thio Li-Ann (2004, 2005, 2007a, 2007b), plus Claire (2007) and Boaz Nazar (2007), who both penned online articles for Cornerstone Community Church. Like Soh Chai Lih (2007), Yvonne Lee (2007a, 2007b, 2007c, 2007d), who is Thio Li-Ann’s colleague at the National University of Singapore Law Faculty, and Angela Thiang Pei Yun (2007), whose senior essay was supervised by Thio Li-Ann, all the abovementioned are legally trained and members of the intellectual elite. Persons from the legal and medical profession offering homophobic views are seen by Becker (1963) as legitimising the moral creed espoused by moral crusaders.

The issue of homosexuality is an elite contestation. The conservative elite are engaged in a semiotic war, carving moral boundaries within their circumscribed socio-religious boundaries. Olson and Cadge (2002) discover that while homosexuality is the most divisive topic in churches in general, the clergy, pastors and religious leaders are more concerned about denominational struggle, split and membership loss and choose not to discuss such a topic. The educated and articulate take it into their hands to suppress and oppress homosexuality in Singapore, evoking the rhetoric of public and sexual morality as well as playing on the concept of a ‘moral majority’. Not only is deviancy produced here through the labelling, otherisation and demonisation of homosexuality, mechanisms for its control and containment are also created.

With recent state and civil initiatives to integrate religious diversity into the Singaporean social fabric, it remains to be seen if such inter-faith solidarity would lean on the commonness of homophobia. After all, religious fundamentalism has been studied to be a predictor of prejudice and homophobia (Laythe, Finkel & Kirkpatrick, 2001).

However, we must not be too quick to prime religion as the motivating factor of homophobia and the disciplining of homosexuality. In a society like Singapore, patriarchal values permeate every social strata and division, whether of monotheistic religion, usually more authoritarian and sexually ascetic (Davies, 1997), or of polytheistic religion. It is in patriarchy that gender roles and expectations are embedded and reproduced in the daily lives of Singaporeans. Confucian values, common among the Chinese and also reproduced through institutions of education, is one vessel through which patriarchal norms and values are transmitted.

Insitutionalised patriarchy in the school and military systems reproduces gender stereotypes and expectations. While the visible disciplining of homosexuality may almost be exclusive to the domain of the middle class, we should also appreciate the internalisation of homophobia by the working class, and moreover among them those who are neither Christian nor Muslim. Religious-motivated homophobia may enter the mainstream media and education system given the access the middle-class are privileged to have, and such homophobic norms and values are also in agreement with those of the working class; hence many are able to see and agree that homosexuality as deviant.

It is more than just religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism that contribute to a heterocentric division of society, but also the internalisation of patriarchal norms and values through Confucianism and institutional indoctrination. These provide a very accessible framework for the identification and labelling of sexual deviance. Certain labels will legitimise disciplinary mechanisms to contain deviance. In that sense, a person like Joanna Hoe-Koh, in embodying the sexual conservativism of her Christian organisation, will be open to sanctions against homosexuality in Singapore; and that is not only because homosexuality is just wrong in the eyes of the religious institution, its tag of sexual deviance continue to be sustained by structures other than religion.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I got outed as gay by the Straits Times!

Hi, my name is Sam. I am 25 this year. I am going to be married at the Registry of Marriages to my girlfriend of 5 years on May 2, 2008. I think I got "outed" by the Straits Times today, just by them changing the title of my letter (note the underlined). Their editorial work is a slippery slope to conflating people with different ideas all into one.

One step forward for acceptance of diversity, but many more steps to go

(Original article - written March 31, 2008)

I refer to the article by Chang Ai-Lien ‘MM's reassuring comments seal researcher's move here’ (ST, Mar 29).

The article reports that Professor Kerry Sieh, who is gay, has recently accepted to work at the region’s biggest earth observatory because of the increased tolerance of gay people in Singapore.

Also cited in the report are Lee Kuan Yew’s views in an interview last year, which state that while homosexuality is genetic and the lives of gay people should not be interfered.
While this is symbolic of tolerance of sexual minorities in Singapore, we need to exercise caution at how egalitarianism is strategically practised in Singapore.

In 2001, Michelle Lazar has written a paper ‘For the Good of the Nation: Strategic Egalitarianism in the Singapore Context’, addressing how the granting of equality, to women in this instance, is contingent upon meeting particular pragmatic nationalist objectives.

As such, I feel that while tolerance and acceptance of diversity should not be expressed primarily in terms of economic progress and development, it should also extend beyond the mere inclusion of non-Singaporeans.

If the increased tolerance of sexual minorities in Singapore is purely symbolic and articulated for the economic imperative, for example the attraction of foreign talent, I worry for the local sexual minority community, for little will be actually done to improve public education and the social integration of people of other sexual orientation. I hope this does not result in a double-standard treatment of local and foreign sexual minorities.

At the same time, we should be quick to debunk the myths and stereotypes we hold of what are Asian values and conservatism, and how we use the rhetoric to almost exclusively associate the West with corruptive moral liberalism. Such a view will lead to a stronger denial of homosexuality in Asian communities, rendering sexual minorities invisible and emotionally unsupported.

As Singaporeans so ingrained with the values and rhetoric of economic pragmatism, we should be aware of how we accept diversity.

People should not be solely accepted based on what we perceive them to be worth, but be fundamentally accepted for who they are.

Ho Chi Sam

Article below published in the Straits Times Online Forum, April 2, 2008.

Gays: Be careful of double standards

I refer to last Saturday's Science section article by Ms Chang Ai-Lien, 'MM's reassuring comments seal researcher's move here'. The article reports that Professor Kerry Sieh, who is gay, has recently accepted to work at the region's biggest earth observatory because of the increased tolerance of gay people in Singapore. Also cited are Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's views in an interview last year, which state that while homosexuality is genetic, the lives of gays should not be interfered.

While this is symbolic of tolerance of sexual minorities in Singapore, we must exercise caution at how egalitarianism is strategically practised in Singapore. Tolerance and acceptance of diversity should not be expressed primarily in terms of economic progress and development. It should extend beyond the mere inclusion of non-Singaporeans.

If the increased tolerance of sexual minorities is purely symbolic and articulated for the economic imperative, for example, the attraction of foreign talent, I worry for the local sexual minority community, for little will be actually done to improve public education and the social integration of people of other sexual orientation. I hope this does not result in a double-standard treatment of local and foreign sexual minorities.

As Singaporeans so ingrained with the values and rhetoric of economic pragmatism, we should be aware of how we accept diversity. People should not be accepted based solely on what we perceive them to be worth. They should be accepted fundamentally for who they are.

Ho Chi Sam

Afterthoughts: I got "outed"! Yes, I got a bit of my message across, but the people at the Straits Times have changed the title to "Gays: Be careful of double standards".

Knowing some basic English, the title means that there is a group of people called "gays" who are saying something, i.e. "Be careful of double standards", a phrase that is placed after the colon. Since I wrote the letter, I might be considered gay!

Of course there could be another interpretation, where the topic is on gay people, hence the topic "Gays"; and the sub-title would be "Be careful of double standards".

Shouldn't the title be "Straight man: Be careful of double standards"? I feel I've been grouped with the gay community, which totally undoes my intentions to prove that people from different segments of society may share different beliefs. I want to prove that there are people in fairly privileged positions, such as being heterosexual, that stand for the rights of others who are marginalised.

Not only am I a "gay" who warns of double standards, the word printed was "gays", which meant that I was part of a group trying to send a message across.

As mentioned before, I also believe that the word "gay" should be used as an adjective and not a noun. The press has yet to develop a sensitivity towards sexual minorities comparable to that towards other minorities. I mean, you don't label a segment of people with special needs "mental retards". We should not isolate one aspect of a person's identity and assume it to be his/her sole identity. Such simplistic labelling will engulf his/her other traits.

Of course, maybe the word "gays", followed by the colon and subtitle, was meant to refer to the topic of gay people and gay rights, rather than the speaker/writer/representative of the community. I hope.

Gays: Be careful of double standards

(Published - ST Forum. April 2, 2008)

I refer to last Saturday's Science section article by Ms Chang Ai-Lien, 'MM's reassuring comments seal researcher's move here'. The article reports that Professor Kerry Sieh, who is gay, has recently accepted to work at the region's biggest earth observatory because of the increased tolerance of gay people in Singapore. Also cited are Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's views in an interview last year, which state that while homosexuality is genetic, the lives of gays should not be interfered.

While this is symbolic of tolerance of sexual minorities in Singapore, we must exercise caution at how egalitarianism is strategically practised in Singapore. Tolerance and acceptance of diversity should not be expressed primarily in terms of economic progress and development. It should extend beyond the mere inclusion of non-Singaporeans.

If the increased tolerance of sexual minorities is purely symbolic and articulated for the economic imperative, for example, the attraction of foreign talent, I worry for the local sexual minority community, for little will be actually done to improve public education and the social integration of people of other sexual orientation. I hope this does not result in a double-standard treatment of local and foreign sexual minorities.

As Singaporeans so ingrained with the values and rhetoric of economic pragmatism, we should be aware of how we accept diversity. People should not be accepted based solely on what we perceive them to be worth. They should be accepted fundamentally for who they are.

Ho Chi Sam