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Who will the moderates choose? April 26, 2011

Posted by laïcité in Liberalism v Conservativism, Politics, Religion, Singapore.
Tags: , , ,

It’s already a given that hard-line conservatives will come running to Vivian Balakrishnan’s call to arms when he decided to bring up the issue of Vincent Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation and the accusation that the SDP has a “gay agenda”. It doesn’t matter if it was an ad hominem attack and it doesn’t matter if the PAP attempts to retract his statements. His message has already been sent and it rings clearly in the hearts and minds of staunch conservative Christians: your fellow believer needs your vote, especially now that he is running against a homosexual.

On the other end of the political spectrum, I’m sure that this incident of Vivian rearing his ugly homophobic head has pretty much secured the vote for the opposition for the liberal-inclined residents of Holland-Bukit Timah. Any apprehension or indecision about who to vote for has pretty much disappeared for these people. The answer is now simple: vote for those who did not resort to underhanded, sneaky, homophobia-motivated religiously-aligned smear campaigns to direct attention away from questions about their own competence.

But despite the huge wave of criticisms against Vivian’s gutter politics that has suddenly taken over the internet, and despite the real and scary threat of a growing hard-line conservative streak amongst the Christian elite, I’m convinced that these people make up but a minority of residents. The people who really hold the fate of Holland-Bukit Timah in their hands are not the gay activists or the Thio Li-Ann’s, but the religious and social moderates who are now finding themselves having to make a real choice for the first time.

In any other elections, these moderates would be politically apathetic or slight PAP-leaning, content with the status quo that lets them live in relative comfort. But now that Vivian has resorted to such unsavoury tactics, their educated, rational minds can no longer reconcile with what their PAP candidate is spouting out: making irrelevant insinuations about the opponent’s sexual orientation, oblique and clandestine remarks about an “agenda”, and rambling innuendos accusing the opponent of having something to hide. It’s now not as simple as voting for the status quo anymore

If you are a social/religious moderate from Holland-Bukit Timah, I implore you to make your choice wisely. Yes, on the one hand, you may have been brought up to believe homosexuality is wrong, and perhaps you still do. But on the other hand, surely you don’t believe that one’s sexual orientation has any bearing on one’s ability to be a good MP, and of course you don’t believe the right-wing conservatives’ fearmongering attempts to associate homosexuality with paedophilia. Moreover, surely you see through the personal attacks and insinuations and realize that Vivian has simply dodged criticisms against him and has yet again avoided a direct confrontation with the opposition in the form of a debate.

Now that religion and sexual orientation have been brought into politics, there are many more pertinent questions to ask yourself – magnitudes of importance greater than a single candidate’s sexual orientation:

  • Do you think religious-secular relations in Singapore will ever be the same again if Vivian’s actions are not only condoned, but rewarded in the form of voting him into parliament?
  • Do you think the 377A issue is really more important that the issues of the growing income gap between rich and poor or the generous monetary rewards given to ministers despite their glaring inadequacies? Are you willing to let Vivian’s strategy of misdirection and pandering to homophobia work in making you forget about these issues?

I trust and believe that most of the people in Holland-Bukit Timah have maturity and intellect to see what is really going on here. This is their chance to step up and show the rest of us what they will and will not tolerate in politics. I am nervous but eager to see who the Holland-Bukit Timah residents will choose, for it will be telling of just how much (or how little) religious persuasion influences politics and its resulting strain on the secular public sphere.


Love and support in the face of homophobia April 16, 2011

Posted by laïcité in International, Society.
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This is how we stand up to homophobia. With love and support. Because ultimately, beneath the veil of hate and prejudice, homophobes have no moral high ground to stand on.

Long story short: Last week during the Superliga semifinal volleyball match between Sada Cruzeiro & Volei Futuro, fans erupted in chants of “faggot”, aimed at Vôlei Futuro’s Michael, eventually forcing him to come out to the media.

For the next semifinal match, in a show of solidarity, the whole Vôlei Futuro team wore pink warmup shirts, while the team libero donned a rainbow jersey.

Pink warmup shirts

Source: voleifuturo.com.br

Rainbow jersey

Source: globoesporte.com

In a tremendous outpour of support, fans displayed a huge banner proclaiming “Volei Futuro against prejudice” and struck bright pink thundersticks emblazoned with Michael’s name, drowning out whatever remaining hatred that any homophobe dared spew out.

Volei Futuro against prejudice

Source: globoesporte.com

The Crowd

Source: voleifuturo.com.br

Just looking at those pictures make me all warm and fuzzy.  As boys and men all over the world are indoctrinated by society to harbor negativity towards homosexuals and enforce strict notions of “manliness”, it is heartening to know that friendship and empathy sometimes triumph over socially-endorsed homophobia. In a world where we are trained to swallow homophobic slurs as acceptable insults, it’s stories like these that help me regain my faith in humanity again.

The freedom to hate March 3, 2011

Posted by laïcité in International, Religion.
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As someone who firmly believes in the freedom of speech, I am sometimes forced to take sides with very unpleasant views. Take for example, Pastor Rony Tan’s insensitive comments about Buddhists and Taoists last year. As much as I disagreed with his views, I could never condone censorship of such opinions. Whatever “peace” or “harmony” that is achieved from the censorship of hate speech or insensitivity is not worth the violation of an individual’s rights to express his opinions in a peaceful manner, nor does it do anything to prevent the undercurrents of unexpressed intolerance.

Likewise, today I find myself grudgingly agreeing with the Supreme Court’s ruling to protect the rights of protesters from Westboro Baptist church to assemble at military funerals and hold up hateful picket signs.

In case you are not familiar with the antics of Westboro Baptist church, its followers are (in)famous for picketing at the funerals of soldiers who died in combat, holding up signs saying that those solders deserved their death as god’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.  Any decent human being, regardless of his views towards homosexuality, would agree that such actions are appalling. The utter lack of sensitivity and hatefulness behind those actions simply cannot be condoned.

And yet, despite the awfulness of such behaviour, assholes still have every right to be assholes, as long as they remain peaceful. If we try to curb their protests in an attempt to stop “hate speech”, then are we not as bad as religious theocracies that implement anti-blasphemy laws? After all, in essence what they are simply doing is censoring views that they don’t agree with. Whether or not we agree with the opinions of others is not what matters. What matters is what comes out of it: condemnation, dialogue, understanding, maturity.

And perhaps what is more powerful than the law is the support (or lack of support) by the community. When a group expresses an extreme, hateful, morally reprehensible view such as anti-Semitism, or homophobia, or sexism, or racism, censorship or punishment is not going to change their minds; they may even see themselves as martyrs for their hateful cause. This is where public condemnation comes in. If we trust ourselves to react with maturity and reason, we will ultimately have the upper hand.

When neo-nazis attempted to stage a far-right march in Dresden only a couple of weeks ago, they weren’t stopped by guns or the police or by the law. They were stopped by a chain of 10,000 peaceful anti-neo-nazi protesters.

When anti-gay stickers started appearing in east London (together with a quote from the Koran), it was the condemnation by the angry residents, the Muslim Council of Britain and the East London Mosque that would bear more weight than any action by the police.

Call me a hopeless optimist, but I still believe that when it comes to dealing with hate speech, the power of peaceful, rational, mature human beings is more potent than any attempts to censor it.

Gay marriage – the mythical threat to traditional marriage August 3, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Liberalism v Conservativism, Society.
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Conservatives and religious fundamentalists have long argued that gay marriage would threaten traditional marriage. Now any reasonable person would find that claim to be ridiculous and baseless. It is simply not rational to suggest that gay marriage is in any way linked to divorce or the decline of marriage rates. All it takes is to ask a married person: if gay marriage had been legalized before you got your traditional marriage, would you have gotten a gay marriage instead? It seems that the only way gay marriage would threaten heterosexual marriage is if we assume that all men were really gay in secret.


But conservatives have also been known to make a slight variation of the above argument: gay marriage threatens traditional marriage because it deprives the term “marriage” of its fundamental meaning. But what really is the fundamental definition of marriage, and who are these conservatives to imply that there can only be one correct meaning for “marriage”, which conveniently happens to be theirs?


Legally speaking, a marriage is a partnership. It gives spouses certain rights and responsibilities, such as responsibilities for child care, tax deduction benefits, the power to make decisions about a partner’s medical care and legal rights to a partner’s estate and property upon his or her death. But above and beyond the legal aspect of this partnership, individuals and couples also attach their own meanings and symbolism to marriage. Depending on the people involved, marriage may mean anything from a sacred union, to a public proclamation of love and commitment, to a ritualized rite of passage, to an act of resigned compliance with social norms and expectations. Personal meanings and symbolisms are just that: personal. There is no reason why a same-sex marriage would have any effect on one’s own heterosexual marriage, or change one’s own definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.


The problem arises when people seek to impose their own definition of what a marriage is onto others. It takes a judgmental, self righteous person to suggest that other people’s definition of marriage has any bearing on his or her owns’. Take for example the all too common “functionalist” argument that gays shouldn’t get married because a marriage has the practical function of providing a stable and convenient environment for child rearing, and therefore gay marriage would be pointless. But by doing so, are they not implying that married couples who are childless (by choice or otherwise) do not meet their functional definition of a marriage, and therefore have a less meaningful relationship than couples who are married with children?


It is not reasonable to dismiss the emotional significance of a marriage simply because the couple is unable or unwilling to fulfill the practical functions of a marriage as prescribed by someone else. In fact, as a straight unmarried woman, I would be incredibly put off the notion of marriage if self righteous conservatives tried to impose their own definitions of marriage as an institution for procreation onto me.


Another (more troubling) example would be the argument that marriage is a religious institution and that gay marriage would be contrary to their religious values. Aside from the obviously false premise that marriage is a historically religious institution (It isn’t; marriage predates religion. It is a human institution adopted by religions), such an argument is also religion centric, unsuitable for a secular state and a secular contract. If one were to argue that gays shouldn’t take part in the holy, religious institution that is marriage, then shouldn’t one also argue against atheists, agnostics and freethinkers getting married? How about banning pagans, fornicators or divorcees from getting married too?


One crucial fact that proponents of such arguments ignore is that there are in effect two types of marriage: civil marriage and religious marriage. It is possible to have both; the civil marriage which is validated by signing a certificate of marriage, and a religious marriage conducted by a pastor in a religious ceremony. Religious marriages may make a couple married “in the eyes of god”, but only a civil marriage is recognized in the eyes of the state. A religious marriage is something people get on top of what is effectively a secular, legal contract, which is necessary if they wish to enjoy the rights and benefits of a legally married couple.


Religions have every right not to recognize gay marriages, but they have absolutely no right to dictate whether or not a secular, civil marriage between gays should be recognized by the state. As long as we live in a secular state, religious explanations have no place in arguments regarding legal contracts such as marriage. A secular government should not be involved in discussions about the sanctity or holiness of marriage, simply because it is only concerned with marriage as a legal contract.


If we unravel the nonsensical claims made by the defenders of traditional marriage, what we will find is a group of people too afraid to admit their true motives, that is, because of their own moral misgivings about gay marriage, they seek nothing more than to control other people’s lives. In other words, they are essentially arguing that “gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed because it goes against my values and is contrary to my definition of marriage.” Until conservatives can prove that allowing same-sex marriages actually causes harm to those outside the marriage, their protests remain as poorly disguised attempts to support discrimination based on sexual orientation, and as merely another means to control the minority by denying them something which is available to everyone else.

Homophobia is not just another point of view July 22, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Singapore, Society.

It has been a couple of weeks since the Thio-NYU incident and I think I’ve finally figured out why it has been bothering me so much. It’s not as if homophobia and other forms of intolerance don’t already irk me enough, but for some reason, just something about Dr Thio Li-ann’s cool response to the reactions of the law school’s LBGT organization to her anti gay stance, including an open letter from NYU student Jim McCurley (reproduced here), gave me a fortnight-long sense of unease.


 It wasn’t the fact that Dr Thio’s response seemed so calm and almost reasonable, so unlike her crass and tactless description of anal sex as “shoving a straw up your nose to drink” while arguing against the decriminalization of gay sex in Singapore. I did not assume for one second that she would present herself as anything less than professional in her capacity as a Professor, and especially to a more liberal audience such as NYU. It wasn’t even the irony that her course is about “Human Rights in Asia”, a topic that many have questioned about whether she is qualified to teach, given her failure to recognize the rights of homosexuals.


 No, what I find most disturbing about this whole incident was Dr Thio’s polite and articulate defense of her homophobia, so cleverly disguising homophobia as an almost legitimate view. In an e-mail interview, Dr Thio wrote:

 Everyone is entitled to their opinion, free conscience, free thought — that is a cardinal principle for every academic community. I hold to it, in my own law school, and I would expect the NYU law community to do so as well.


 I am disappointed at the intolerant animosity directed at me by strangers who do not know me and have decided to act on their own prejudices,


 Do some Americans by appropriating the rhetoric of human rights assume they can impose their views on another sovereign state? Is there a human right to sodomy? Is this a core right or a contested one? There are countervailing views that this is the wrong way to characterize the issue — so do students who dislike this view refuse to engage with dissenting views?

 Skillfully and shrewdly directing the blame to the “intolerant” proponents of gay rights, Dr Thio’s articulate argument managed to fool me into questioning my own position regarding pluralism and freedom of speech, and even got me wondering why I was so uncomfortable with such a seemingly coherent and “rational” argument in defense of homophobia.


 And then it hit me. Almost two distressing weeks later, I finally realized how faulty her sleek, astute argument was.


 First of all, Dr Thio made the flawed assumption that “free thought” and “freedom of opinion” entitles one’s opinion to be free from criticism. Not all opinions are created equal; some are simply better than others, and consequently deserve more respect than others. Just because Dr Thio, or anyone for that matter, has every right to believe anything she wants about homosexuality, it does not make us obligated to accept her beliefs as valid. I have just as every right to treat her views as a load of rubbish.


 Secondly, and perhaps most commonly ignored by many people, is the fact that homophobia is not merely another opinion. “Vanilla is the best ice cream flavor” is an opinion. But some things are not so simple. Let me illustrate. Consider the following “opinions”:


 “I don’t want those Indians near my daughter. Who knows what they’ll do to her.”

 “Blacks and whites should never get married to each other, let alone have mixed race kids. It’s just disgusting and wrong.”

 “Women don’t have the ability to take part in politics. They should just know their place and stay home to take care of the kids.”

 “I send my kids to elite schools so that they won’t have to mingle with those Chinese speaking neighborhood school kids – they’re all poor and uneducated anyway.”


 Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we. Those aren’t mere opinions. Those are examples of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. The difference is that bigotry and intolerance against races, sexes or classes are acknowledged as such, and not regarded as valid in a pluralistic society, whereas bigotry and intolerance against homosexuals are still treated as simply “differing opinions”, or mere disagreements.


 Would we allow a distinguished professor to get away with racist or sexist comments by explaining them away as his or her opinions? Would we let someone with sexist or racist views protest with self righteous indignation towards those darn “intolerant” feminists and civil rights activists who dare suggest that he or she was being bigoted or prejudiced? Would we still give Dr Thio the same respect and welcome her into an open, liberal university if she had argued against women’s right to social and political equality with men – which is after all still a contested right, with differing opinions on it,  in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran?  (Which are interestingly two of the few countries left which continue to criminalize homosexual sex.) Would we allow a racist or a sexist with a similar rhetoric as Dr Thio’s get away so easily?


 What bothers me most is the (correct or wrong) assumption that homophobia is still widely accepted by society as a valid opinion. Just like a racist, a homophobe has every right to his or her opinions, but should not feel anything less than ashamed to voice such intolerant views in public. A racist, a sexist, or a homophobe should have every reason to fear public backlash for proudly advocating intolerance and discrimination. To even suggest that such opinions should be respected is absurd.


 I guess to me this was the crux of the matter. It wasn’t the “surprising” news that Dr Thio is still against homosexual rights. It was the fact that yet again, we let her get away with it, when she and other proud homophobes should be publicly chastised the same way we do with proponents of other forms of bigotry and intolerance. It disturbs and depresses me that as a society, we are still unwilling to see homophobia as what it really is: prejudiced, self righteous narrow mindedness, and not just “another point of view”.

Homophobes can’t handle being “the woman” July 16, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Feminism v Patriarchy, Rants, Society.
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After a few exchanges I’ve had with homophobes, I’ve found that they share one thing in common: they have an immense fear of being approached by an interested gay man, and believe that this fear is enough to justify discrimination against gays and the criminalization of homosexuality.


What I find so perplexing is how traumatized these men are by the mere thought of receiving unwanted male attention. You see, as a woman, receiving unwanted male attention is an annoyance so mundane that I wouldn’t even waste my breath complaining about it. Being approached by a man that you’re not interested in is a banal experience shared by almost every woman, and I have yet to meet any one who felt so offended by it to even suggest that legislation or violence against these men should be necessary. Regardless of how we feel about it – insulted, annoyed, flattered or even disgusted, we embrace the fact that these men have every right to approach us with interest, just as we have every right to politely decline.


Unfortunately, homophobic men do not seem to share this view. It is all too common for them to justify violence and discrimination against gays based on the fear of receiving unwanted male attention. From a feminist perspective, the reactions of these homophobes are quite troubling. Their reactions are not just reflections of homophobia, it also says a lot about how uncomfortable they are about straying from strictly enforced traditional gender roles. In it is the inherent implication that there is something undesirable about being pursued “like a woman”.


Traditional gender roles usually prescribe the active role of the pursuer to the man, and the passive, receiver role to the woman. In this way, being the recipient of male attention implies femininity. In the mind of a misogynistic male (and probably in a misogynistic patriarchal society), femininity is equated with weakness, and is thus undesirable. In other words, the fear that homophobes have against unwanted male attention is a socially conditioned fear that they have of being associated with submissiveness, vulnerability, weakness and other undesirable feminine traits.


By introducing a gay man into the equation, the misogynistic male is suddenly stripped of his sexually dominant role; that is, he is now the object of pursuit, just like a woman. It is this perceived threat to masculinity that causes the homophobe to be so offended by unwanted male attention, and fuels his attempt to reinstate his “manliness” through homophobic insults or physical attacks. Add to that the fact that men are much more socially stigmatized for gender role reversals than women are, and we can (sort of) understand why some men are so violently opposed to appearing feminine.


It is because of this that I am particularly wary of homophobic men. How a man views homosexuals reveals exactly what he feels about women and gender roles in sexual interactions. At the very least, a homophobe who is “traumatized” by unwanted male attention simply lacks the empathy and understanding that it is precisely the same unwanted sexual attention that we women receive and accept as an everyday occurrence. But perhaps most worrying is the intrinsic allusion that connotations of femininity are undesirable becaue they suggest inferiority. As such, homophobes and homophobia speak volumes about the individual’s (and society’s) acceptance of patriarchy and the perpetuated recognition of women being lower on the totem pole of social hierarchy.

Atlanta: Court throws out ban on exposing children to gays June 18, 2009

Posted by laïcité in International, Liberalism v Conservativism.
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From the article (emphasis mine):

 The state high court’s decision overturned Fayette County Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards’ blanket prohibition against exposing the children to their father’s gay partners and friends.

 “Such an arbitrary classification based on sexual orientation flies in the face of our public policy that encourages divorced parents to participate in the raising of their children,” Justice Robert Benham wrote.

 The Fayette County judge’s prohibition “assumes, without evidentiary support, that the children will suffer harm from any such contact,” Benham wrote. But there is no evidence that any member of the gay and lesbian community has engaged in inappropriate conduct in the presence of the children or that the children would be adversely affected by being exposed to members of that community, he said.


“Placing a blanket ban on children’s association with gay people not only hurts this father’s relationship with his children, it is blatant discrimination,” Littrell said. “The court has done the right thing today by focusing on the needs of the children instead of perpetuating stigma on the basis of sexual orientation.”

 I wonder what a pro- “family values” conservative would think about this issue, and if they truly have the interests of the children at heart. Would they support the maintaining of the children’s relationship with their father, regardless of gay friends and all, or would they plead “traditional family values” again and argue that the potential and unproven harm from associating with gay people is so severe that it is not worth preserving the parent-child relationship? Perhaps we should pose this questions to the anti-gay people that we know in order to differentiate between a well-meaning person who misguidedly thinks homosexuals are harmful to children, and a true bigot who hides his homophobia behind a mask of “family values”.


On homosexuality – Why we’re asking the wrong questions June 15, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Liberalism v Conservativism, Science.
Tags: , , ,

Debates about the acceptance and neutrality of homosexuality often revolve around the issue of whether homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or whether it is a natural occurrence. Those who justify the discrimination against homosexuals often argue that homosexuals choose to partake in such “immorality”, and that they can even be “turned straight”. On the other hand, liberals and gay activists would argue that homosexuality is not a choice, and that it is unfair to punish someone for something that he or she had no control about.

Obviously I am not one to be swayed by faith-based arguments. To me it is obvious that homosexuality is not a choice; gays do not consciously choose to be gay, just like how I did not consciously choose to be straight, and neither can we consciously choose who we are sexually attracted to. It is also pretty clear that homosexuality is not unique to humans; homosexual behaviour has also been observed in no fewer than 1,500 species of animals, including swans, sheep and apes. Numerous studies by reputable medical and psychological journals have evidence to back up this position, and the facts of this issue have already been thoroughly discussed in many blogs and articles. In fact, there is even much discussion about whether there is in fact a strict binary straight/gay dichotomy, or if human sexuality falls along a continuous spectrum.

But I digress. In my opinion, the question of whether or not homosexuality is a choice is not even an issue. So what if it were a choice? Why would that do anything to justify discrimination against people who make a certain choice about something as private as their sex lives and sexuality? What has someone’s sexuality got to do with society’s approval? As long as it’s between consenting adults and done in private, I fail to see why the law, or conservatives, or the moral police (also known as right wing religious fundamentalists) should have any say in the matter. In this way, it’s not an issue of whether homosexuals are born that way. It is an issue of how much we allow society and the law to dictate what we can and cannot do in our private spheres, when those choices and actions cause no direct harm to others, and are basically none of anyone else’s business.

Of course there are also those who argue that the question matters, because those who “choose” to be homosexuals are choosing to sin. Even if we ignore the fallacious and cherry picking nature of those who believe homosexuality to be a sin, we are left with a religious based argument – homosexuality may be a sin to Christians or Muslims, but not to Buddhists or secular humanists or atheists/agnostics. There is no reason why a secular’s country’s position should be based on the teachings of one or a few religions, or even the beliefs of conservatives. It is simply not justifiable for a law to discriminate against a group of people, regardless of whether or not they chose to be in that group, for no reason other than to reflect and reinforce religious or conservative opinions. The question we must ask is this: Is the purpose of the law to perpetuate social norms, regardless of the harm that such a position may cause to the minority being persecuted, or is the purpose of the law to protect the freedoms of its people, so as to allow the maximum amount of individual freedom as long as it does not encroach onto the freedoms of others?

Conservatives may argue that society and the law should have a say in sexuality and sexual practices, because the “immoral” nature of such practices would have a negative effect on society. But such arguments are not backed by evidence. Instead, they are usually backed by powerful emotions such as disgust for homosexual acts, and fear of committing a sin. But when we take away such biased conservative emotions, we will see that there is no reason to assume that tolerating, or even accepting homosexuals has a negative impact on society. Plenty of civilized, liveable, family friendly countries do not have laws against homosexuality or homosexual sex, and studies have even found that homosexual parents are no better or worse than heterosexual ones. In fact, the demonizing of homosexuality and discrimination of homosexuals increase the occurence of suicides and have negative effects on health issues. In any case, the burden of proof lies with the conservatives to provide us with evidence to justify the discrimination against homosexuals by showing that  the social “benefits” of such discrimination outweigh the invasion of privacy and intrusion of individual freedoms that such a position entails. Until then, the practice of judging, labelling and criminalizing the private actions of a group of individuals, regardless of whether they can help being the way they are, remains unethical and unjustifiable.

What it all boils down to is how much of our private lives do we want to be controlled by the government or by the self-righteous conservatives. If groups of people continue to be discriminated against because of who they are or the choices they make, Singapore will never become the open and inclusive society that it aspires to be.

Britain: Children as young as four are given ‘gay’ assembly June 7, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Education, International.
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This morning in my hotel room in London I happened to chance upon a very interesting headline in today’s copy of The Daily Telegraph. Children as young as four were given an assembly about homosexuality as part of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. From the article (emphasis mine):

In a statement sent out to schools by the council education officer Lynne Miller said: “Young children are exposed at a very early age to homophobic language. Pupils may call each other ‘gay’ without really understanding what it means, but learn that it means something negative, useless, and not positive.

If such usage is not challenged it makes it much more difficult to address homophobic bullying in secondary schools.

“Schools are well placed to explore different lifestyles as they are able to reach all children and young people and do this in a professional and evidence-based way and within a safe learning environment.”

Other than the fact that this issue mirrors the fiasco over Aware’s sexuality education program in schools in Singapore, I found a couple of things about it particularly refreshing.

Firstly, although there were indeed parents who complained about this assembly session about homosexuality, it was not because they were concerned about their kids “turning gay” or because of homosexuality being “immoral” or “sinful”. Instead, they were concerned that their children may have been too young and too easily confused by issues such as homosexuality. In fact, a parent even commented “I think for the older children they could understand as they tend to know about things already. But for my younger daughter Keira I think it was quite confusing.” So their concern was with the age at which the children are given the ‘gay” assembly, not the message itself.

Secondly, the authorities, the supportive parents, and the school involved have their priorities right: putting the interests of the children first, even if it means undertaking potentially controversial and unpopular actions. In this case, serving the interests of the children means preventing the occurrence of homophobic bullying, thus not only protecting the students who may eventually identify as homosexuals, but also protecting those who do not conform to traditionally accepted gender roles and behaviors from homosexual slurs. Moreover, what is even more commendable is the recognition that schools have a duty to give its students unbiased and factual information in a safe and non-judgmental environment.

After reading this article, I could only look back with dismay at how the Aware sexuality education program controversy turned out. The sad fact remains that when it comes to educating our children, Singapore’s conservative parents and education ministry have little respect for the principles of openness, inclusiveness, honesty or non discrimination. Maintaining the conservative status quo still remains their top priority, regardless of the welfare of the children, the existence of factual and scientific evidence which contradict their position, or the fact that prejudice and bigotry and intolerance are simply unethical.

The incoherence of religiously fueled homophobia May 26, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Religion.
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We’ve all heard it a million times before: the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is an abomination, so a good Christian should automatically regard homosexuality as immoral. A common argument used by fundamentalist and moderate Christians alike to defend discriminatory policies and attitudes against homosexuals. It doesn’t take too much to expose the incoherence of this position.

 Religiously fueled homophobes usually quote Leviticus to “prove” the immorality of homosexuality:

 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination

 20:13If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

 Fair enough, you may say. Maybe the immorality of homosexuality can be justified by religious texts, even if only in the eyes of the believers. But let’s take a closer look at Leviticus. Is it really a source of Christian morality?

 11:7And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you

 According to Leviticus, it seems that pork is a forbidden meat.

 11:10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:

11:11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.

11:12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

 It also seems that the consumption of oysters, clams, lobster, crab, squid and shrimp is an abomination as well.

 19:19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

 No mixed fabrics…

 19:28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

 No autopsies or tattoos either.

 I will avoid making a rigorous critique of a religious text or its believers. Instead, I will simply make a broad statement. The bible and other holy text were clearly written at a time with wholly different social norms, morals and practices. Certain views and moral judgments are simply invalid in modern times. What they would consider socially acceptable in their day (slavery, sexism, the execution of nonbeilevers), we consider morally repugnant today.

 Those who choose to refer to such text to defend intolerance and discrimination are ignoring the fact that they are picking and choosing which biblical morals to implement and which to ignore. Instead of simply self righteously declaring that the bible states homosexuality is immoral, I believe that it is imperative for these people to concurrently explain why they feel that Leviticus 18:22 should hold more weight than the other less popular abominations mentioned in the same book.

If homophobes cannot logically explain why homosexuality should still be considered an abomination, but not the mixing of cotton and polyester, then using Leviticus to justify such discrimination remains an incoherent, unreasonable position. One would simply be interpreting the text in his own way so as to defend his own intolerance and bigotry.

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