Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gay Singaporeans within the news frames of crime

(Unpublished - Sep 11, 2010)

I refer to the report “Gay website's founder faces drug charges” (Sep 11).

The news of a high profile person in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in court facing charges for drug possession, may cast a shadow over minority rights advocacy.

Dr Stuart Koe has long been an outspoken advocate for sexual minority rights in Singapore.

However, I believe it is important to warn against developing the misconception and generalisation that gay Singaporeans use drugs.

It is at the same time crucial to address drug use across various demographics.

Gay Singaporeans are already erroneously demonised with having a “gay lifestyle”, a homophobic morally-slanted false concoction of sexual perversion, promiscuity and drug use.

What remains the same is the selective publication of objective news which continues to present LGBT Singaporeans within the frames of crime.

Since 2001, the Straits Times has portrayed LGBT Singaporeans in the contexts of economy, disease, perversion and crime.

LGBT people have also been presented as subjects of globalisation, science and censorship.

The publication of articles and letters with suggestions and implications on LGBT rights only followed the views of prominent public officials, namely then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2003 and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in 2007.

Amidst the hard work put in by sexual minority rights advocates in Singapore for the past couple of decades, their issues get media attention only after a prominent public official says something.

This shut-out is ongoing while the newspaper continues to associate LGBT people with crime, disease, perversion and issues of moral contention, omitting the positive representation of LGBT Singaporeans and their achievements.

At the rate we are going with media representation of LGBT Singaporeans, we will never be able to fathom the idea of happy and successful LGBT people.

Moreover, the omission of positive portrayals of LGBT Singaporeans trivialises them and devalues their moral position in society, legitimising the hate and fear-mongering by homophobic and transphobic opinion leaders.

In any community, there will be those who may have committed acts of indiscretions with legal implications.

For the LGBT community, I sincerely hope their visibility in the mainstream media will not merely be articulated in terms of crime and perversion.

Ho Chi Sam

add: In terms of letters being published in the Straits Times Forum, my score so far for this year is 0.5/13. So mathematically, if I want one letter to be published, I would have to write 26 letters. This is a far worse than in 2007 when my hit rate was 1 in 5 (I had 10 letters published). So it has been a frustrating year for me, but life goes on and we can keep on trucking.

There is no blacklist or unfair treatment. The editors are merely picking the letters that are relevant to making a story meaty and live the long age of 3-5 weeks. Most issues and stories generally fade away after 1 week.

The Straits Times Forum appears very reluctant to publish letters that go against the grains of agenda-setting. But still, those 13 letters (on sex education, media representation of LGBT, more than half of them are calls for LGBT rights and recognition, one on Pastor Rony Tan).

But then again, if it is newsworthiness they are after, I am sure sex education, morality and LGBT rights are juicy items. Perhaps, the powers-that-be might have whispered some advice into the ears of the SPH executives and chief editors, to limit the exposure of certain stories, or pull the plug on others. After all, SPH is openly and unabashedly politically conservative (a.k.a. insert ruling party phallus into mainstream media oral cavity).

If the Straits Times Forum can publish letters by people making proclamations of heterosexuality, being a family man/woman and all that, just to share their homophobia, I'm sure they can publish letters by straight folks who believe in family values and are also LGBT-affirming.

It is difficult to raise awareness writing to the Straits Times, but possible. While there are many netizens that make proclamations they no longer subscribe to the Straits Times, the people in the business of change (activists and advocacies for various causes) see it as an important widely read English daily.

This is what I term the "information activist". (a little pseudo-theory for the SPP IPS folks who are currently reading this.... NAH, I'm just throwing in random alphabets to form a random acronym...) You have a cause, a message and you transmit this via existing information channels, to reach out to information consumers and hopefully change a mind or two. The "information activist" does not create new information channels, but leverages, almost guerrilla-like, on the communication platforms of organisations (newspaper forums, REACH, online forums, bulletin boards, etc.) and individuals (blog comments, etc.).

It is an approach any one can use, regardless of reputation or charisma. But the contributions are nonetheless important, and dovetails with the efforts of say, someone like Seelan Palay, who not only blogs and raises awareness on various issues. He creates (new) spaces for dialogue, and if there is no space, he makes demands for them.

To prove a point in a country that often turns a deaf ear to its citizens, he demonstrates peacefully. Mind you, demonstration is about drawing attention to your cause and message. But the government and mainstream media depict demonstration as drawing attention to yourself and your personality. They want to demonise the demonstrator as either insane or criminal, or both.

That is why activism evolves, or rather, awareness-raising and message/cause-spreading evolve. For example, there are individuals like myself, who encourage, at the social level, LGBT-affirming people to speak up or to correct those who adopt homophobic/transphobic attitudes and behaviour. It is much like the "Speak Good English Campaign" post-its they are having right now. This is no longer activism in the romantic sense, but simply awareness-raising and message/cause-spreading. They still do motivate some people to change a little bit, and that is good.

I have the privileged to talk cock with some activists and most of them, no matter how persistent and dead serious they are about spreading their messages and cause, they are surprisingly very patient and do not expect change to be immediate, or even within their lifetime. But they continue to work hard and do what they are doing, and they can laugh about it.

So the lesson I learn is to have patience beneath that persistence, have the grace and of course have the sense of humour. After all, it is about spreading the message that comes first, rather than determining how serious you should be taking yourself or want others to take yourself.

Do not frame your message as an assault on other ideologies or individuals, but rather show how your message is on its own beneficial to relevant individuals and gruops. That's the "grace" I'm talking about. If your message and cause is for a general good, why should there be an attack or an assault?

So all you potential Straits Times Forum letter-writers out there with agendas outside the frames of the paper, keep writing in! (especially those LGBT-affirming ones!)

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