Thursday, August 19, 2010

Singapore can be a safe place for our LGBT friends and family

(Unpublished - August 14, 2010)

Unknown to most Singaporeans and blacked out of the mainstream media, this month of August marks the sixth time IndigNation is organised.

IndigNation is a month-long series of events organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, comprising talks, forums, film screenings and recitals.

A large portion of these events are aimed at increasing awareness on issues LGBT Singaporeans confront.

They also serve to empower LGBT and LGBT-affirming Singaporeans to create safe spaces for LGBT persons in Singapore to become confident and contributing citizens.

It is a deadly combination of bigotry, ignorance, irrational hatred, lack of firm antidiscrimination laws and their implementation, state-enforced negative media portrayal of queer people, purposive mainstream media censorship, and the resultant internalised fears and hatred by LGBT persons themselves, that have led to the LGBT community to be Singapore's dirty little secret.

I believe IndigNation need not be the only avenue for the LGBT community to speak up and be understood. The mainstream media plays a role too.

There remains an unjustifiable, outright discriminatory and blatantly unconstitutional regulation on media representation of LGBT people, in which positive portrayals are disallowed.

This not only destroys the voice LGBT people have, but also trivialises the lived daily realities they face and cannot articulate in the public domain. This media regulation demeans LGBT Singaporeans and does nothing to debunk the myths and stereotypes held against LGBT people.

Moreover, non-LGBT people like myself do not have the opportunity to speak up or represent our friends and family, and share with the rest of Singapore the implications of certain policies, social attitudes and political rhetoric on the lives of LGBT Singaporeans.

LGBT-affirming people like myself make the effort to create dialogue and safer spaces for LGBT Singaporeans to participate, but have ended up being silenced. For example, our letters to newspaper editors have mostly been disregarded in favour of homophobic and transphobic opinions perpetuating hatred and fear towards LGBT people.

The only window for opportunity for LGBT and LGBT-affirming Singaporeans to speak up in the press is when the mainstream media decides it is newsworthy following any relevant statement from prominent public officials or an event of great public interest.

Because of insincere and intermittent media coverage of LGBT Singaporeans and issues, the mainstream media is complicit in the marginalisation of queer-identified Singaporeans. LGBT people have too long been treated as fodder for news, rather than using news to improve social awareness and debunk stereotypes and malicious myths.

The media regulation barring the positive representation of LGBT people is another perplexing barrier, which encourages the wrongful villainisation of LGBT people.

This regulation has to go, and in tandem with that, the mainstream media have to understand their ethical role in journalism and put Singaporeans in a better position to be heard, understood and respectful to one another.

Ho Chi Sam

Add: I guess the Youth Olympic Games is a more pressing social issue than rights of Singaporeans. I hope there is no ST Forum blacklist and even if there's one, I'm not on it.

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