New Chapter for Singapore Companies: Embracing LGBTQ Diversity

Google had earlier this month launched the Legalise Love campaign “to ensure that all of our employees have the same inclusive experience outside of the office as they do at work.” It was reported that the campaign was launched with campaign partners, Citibank and Ernst & Young. The Campaign was also reported as being initially launched in Singapore and Poland.

However, on Citibank and Ernst & Young’s websites in Singapore, I wasn’t able to find any information about their viewpoints towards LGBTQ issues.

Ernst & Young, however, does discuss the issue of diversity on their website.

In describing the People and Culture on their About page, Ernst & Young had stated:

As our clients become more global and expand into new markets, they expect us to be equally diverse.

Diverse teams are also proven to stimulate innovation and new ways of problem solving. But they need an inclusive culture to help them function at their best.

Inclusiveness is all about making the diverse mix work. It’s about equity and opportunity – making sure that differences are celebrated so that talented people from any background can rise to the top, and ensuring that opportunities to develop and advance are available for all from day one.

In an article, ‘Strengthen your management talent‘, Ernst & Young had also explained:

Diversity and inclusiveness initiatives become sources of real advantage when perceived and managed as such, rather than merely as good intentions.

As quoted in our recent study The phoenix effect, academic research, led by Professor Scott Page at the University of Michigan, has established that diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups, even if the members of the latter group are more capable.

“Innovation provides the seeds for economic growth, and for that innovation to happen depends as much on collective difference as on aggregate ability,” says Page. “If people think alike, then no matter how smart they are, they will most likely get stuck at the same locally optimal solutions. Finding new and better solutions — innovating — requires thinking differently. That’s why diversity powers innovation.”

In international news, Citibank Chief Diversity Officer Collin Burton had started a petition, together with Barclays to “condem Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ bill.

Coincidentally, Barclays had, with Google, also recently supported Singapore’s PinkDot campaign to celebrate the freedom to love, and on LGBTQ rights.

It was stated that the petition was started because:

Ugandan legislators have re-introduced the dangerous Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a proposed law that would criminalize homosexuality in the country with extreme penalties. Under this proposed law, LGBT people could be killed or sentenced to life in prison, solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As the bill’s author, David Bahati, has said, he believes the government of Uganda should “kill every last gay person.”

Citibank and Barclays had also described their global efforts in supporting LGBTQ rights:

Citibank and Barclays are also well known for supporting their LGBT employees and protecting their employees and customers from anti-gay discrimination. Citibank is a huge supporter of LGBT groups in the United States, and has received a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. And just last week, Barclays was named the most LGBT-friendly company in all of Scotland, and regularly is ranked as one of the best companies for LGBT people to work for in the world.

Indeed, in Stonewall Top 100 Employers 2012 Index, Barclays was ranked the 3rd most gay-friendly workplace. And in fact, Ernst & Young was ranked the top employer.

Liz Bingham, Managing Partner for People UK & Ireland, of Ernst & Young, had said:

To say we are thrilled and proud to be named Stonewall’s Employer of the Year 2012 is truly an understatement. We believe that a strong commitment to diversity and inclusiveness is not only important for our people, but is also a business imperative in what is an increasingly competitive and interconnected world.’

Ernst & Young’s progress towards an equal workplace environment was through an implementation of several “progressive initiatives“:

(One of) which include the firm’s leading role in the development of the concept of inclusive leadership, sponsorship of National Student Pride, engagement with clients about sexual orientation as a workplace issue, and strong leadership driven from the top.

In addition to being recognised as a leading employer, Ernst & Young’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender network, EYGLES, was again named as one of Stonewall’s ‘Star Performer Network Groups’.

Stonewall had said that, “a gay-friendly approach will help them get and keep the best staff, avoid costly recruitment costs, improve their reputation, enhance business performance and slash the risk of being sued by disgruntled ex-employees.” It’s director of workplace, Colleen Humphrey, had also said:

Years of hard lobbying by Stonewall has secured vital legal protections for gay staff in Britain. But in over 80 countries it’s still illegal to be gay, and other countries don’t legally recognize civil partners or same-sex parents.

Thus if we were to also achieve the same level of equality in Singapore, it would be necessary to take a leaf out of Stonewall’s book and start advocating for a LGBTQ-friendly or, at least, a diversified workplace environment among Singapore companies.

Some of the other commendable actions by Ernst & Young include “reimburs(ing) LGBTQ employees for the additional federal and state taxes they pay on same-sex domestic partners’ medical benefits in the US, making it the first Big Four accounting firm to offer this perk.”

James Turley, the Global Chairman & CEO of Ernst & Young, who is also a Board member of the Boy Scouts of America, had spoken up against a ban against gay scouts and leaders:

Ernst & Young is proud to have such a strong record in LGBT inclusiveness. As CEO, I know that having an inclusive culture produces the best results, is the right thing for our people and makes us a better organization. My experience has led me to believe that an inclusive environment is important throughout our society and I am proud to be a leader on this issue. I support the meaningful work of the Boy Scouts in preparing young people for adventure, leadership, learning and service, however the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse. As I have done in leading Ernst & Young to being a most inclusive organization, I intend to continue to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress.

It is indeed an exciting time around the world for LGBTQ rights as America and some countries in Europe look into legalising same sex marriages to join the 10 countries which already legalise same sex marriages and to more than 22 which have legal same sex unions or some rights of marriage.

Singapore is, however, still one of the 78 countries in the world which continue to criminalise gay sex. Most of the other countries are in Africa or the Middle East. It is legal in at least 113 countries for 2 consenting males to have sex.

It is heartening to know that there are at least 2 companies which are supportive of legal recognition of LGBTQ rights in Singapore – Google and Barclays.

Hopefully, that since Citibank and Ernst & Young are also partners to Google’s Legalise Love campaign, that they would start taking a more proactive role in Singapore to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people in Singapore. Companies in Singapore can take on a more active role in supporting the welfare of their employees who are LGBTQ and the environment in Singapore is conducive for this to happen, precisely the reason why Google had wanted to launch the campaign in Singapore – as one of the two countries it would have acknowledged that legal LGBTQ rights can be achieved.

I hope that more companies will step forward to provide equal treatment and to take care of the welfare, safety and needs of their LGBTQ employees so that all their staff will be able to operate in an environment that they can be themselves in, and contribute to the diversity, innovation, and eventually, for the companies, higher profits, as research has shown in companies who embrace diversity.

I look forward to the day when my right to love someone I want to love, and marry him, becomes a reality in Singapore.

Standard

Respecting Our Gay Youths in the Revised Sexuality Education Programme

In an episode of Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point which aired on 11 July 2012, titled, “Should we promote safe sex along with abstinence?”, Madeline, a mother of two children who is also an educator, phoned in to ask about the revised sexuality education curriculum. She asked, “Homosexuality was not mentioned, so I was wondering will it be included in the new curriculum?”

Liew Wei Li, Director of Student Development Curriculum, had responded that, “We actually teach what homosexuality is as well as the provisions in the law about homosexuality. But more important(ly) than that, we actually get the teachers to teach about gender roles and identity, which I think is very important because students, when they go through puberty, they go through this identity crisis, and they need to find themselves, so it’s a bigger topic rather than just homosexuality itself, and that is relevant to everyone. So, it’s not just sexual orientation. And, in fact, we do teach that they should respect everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, because we want relationships, then, to form, good sound relationships, based on friendships, based on love, based on respect.

She had also further questioned that, “What if my teenagers were to go to school and ask the teacher, “Is it ok if, you know, if I (am) going into these homosexual activities?”

Mohana Eswaran, Head of Department of Pupil Development of RegentSecondary School, responded by saying that, “This is a kind of question that the students will not present in the classroom, so it’s a one-on-one. So, in such a situation, we have to understand where the student’s coming from. Is it seeking knowledge, or is it that the child is already into such… a relationship? And if it is the case, I will probably escalate it up to the counsellor, who is more proficient and professional in dealing with such situations. (These are trained qualified counsellors) that every school has.”

Significant Milestone in Sexuality (and Homosexuality) Education in Singapore Schools

It is a significant milestone for the history of gay people in Singapore that the MOE had taken a more balanced and informed stance towards the education of homosexuality in Singapore.

It is important to look at the development of sexuality education over the years to appreciate the progression in thinking, from one that had prevented our gay youths from being able to access accurate information from a trusted authority to the evolution to today’s stance, where the MOE has recognised a need to provide an informed perspective to our gay youths, so as to educate them on how they can protect themselves and ensure that their health is well-protected.

In 2002, when the MOE released The Growing Years Series for Upper Secondary pupils, to enhance the teaching of sexuality education for “middle adolescents” at the Upper Secondary level, it said that “the Upper Secondary Series promotes sexual abstinence as the best decision young adolescents can make for themselves. It focuses on the importance of and strategies for building healthy relationships with the opposite sex without engaging in pre-marital sexual activity.

In 2009, MOE had said in a media release that it “has examined AWARE’s “Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Basic Instructor Guide”… (and assessed that) in some other aspects, the Guide does not conform to MOE’s guidelines. In particular, some suggested responses in the instructor guide are explicit and inappropriate, and convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of pre-marital sex.

MOE had also said in another media release that, “In MOE’s sexuality education programme, homosexuality is covered in one lesson in the lower secondary package. The lesson seeks to inform students of the definition of “homosexual”, and that homosexual acts are illegal under Singapore law. It does not promote homosexuality, but follows social norms of mainstream society.

Thus the MOE had, in the past, framed sexuality education from a solely abstinence approach, and one directed towards “building healthy relationships with the opposite sex without engaging in pre-marital sexual activity,” whilst refraining from providing adequate information for our gay youths.

This is in contrast to the decidedly different stance in the current approach that the MOE has taken.

On the MOE’s website currently, it states that, “Children need to acquire the knowledge, values and habits which will allow them to develop healthy and responsible relationships as they grow up. While parents play the primary role in their children’s sexuality education, schools have a complementary role to play in providing students with objective and reliable information on sexuality as part of a holistic education.

It also further adds that, “Teenage pregnancies and the rates of STIs/HIV indicate that some youths are sexually active and are having unprotected sex.” Thus the MOE recognises the need for more effective preventive educational tools.

In a letter to a query by AWARE, Singapore’s leading gender equality advocacy group, the MOE had stated that, “While abstinence is promoted as the best option for teens, MOE recognises that, beyond knowing how to say no, students need to be taught about the consequences of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs/HIV) and teenage pregnancies, and how to prevent them.”

The MOE also wants to emphasise that on the importance of a, “holistic approach… which includes the emotional, social, intellectual and ethical aspects, in addition to the physical aspect of sexuality. The child is always the focus of Sexuality Education, which is anchored on the values of love, respect and responsibility. This approach and emphasis of Sexuality Education has remained unchanged.”

In addition, in the revised sexuality education that will be introduced in schools from 2013, the programme will “now be introduced at Primary 5, or age 11, (instead of the current 13)”. It will also increase the student’s awareness and knowledge of the “modes of protection against infection, specifically abstinence and the correct use of condoms.

Indeed, the MOE has taken a more convincing stance towards developing a more well-rounded and holistic sexuality education for our youths. This new evolved stance is definitely one that is welcomed by gay individuals who would have hoped that the education system would have prepared them, when they were younger, for what they would later on encounter in life, as well as by informed educators who understand the importance of holistic sexuality education, as evidenced by research.

Indeed, the American Psychological Association (APA) had also stated that for young people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, “The opportunity for students to learn is diminished when they do not feel safe or supported at school. In addition to assault and harassment, gay, lesbian and bisexual students experience high rates of emotional distress, suicide attempts and substance abuse. These factors hinder their emotional and social development, as well as their ability to succeed in school. It is our responsibility to provide accurate and factual information. We believe this publication will be a valuable tool to help educators, administrators and others concerned with caring for America’s students.”

It had also stated that, “Support in the family, at school, and in the broader society helps to reduce risk and encourage healthy development. Youth need caring and support, appropriately high expectations, and the encouragement to participate actively with peers. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth who do well despite stress—like all adolescents who do well despite stress—tend to be those who are socially competent, who have good problem-solving skills, who have a sense of autonomy and purpose, and who look forward to the future.”

Growing Wealth of Data that Highlight Urgency of Holistic Sexuality Education to Our Youths and Gay Youths

A look at the STI statistics will show a steady climb in the number of new STI infections among our youths. “For those below 20, the rate (of increases in STI notification rates) is especially alarming, having more than doubled from 61 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 133 in 2008.

In a study conducted by the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health of the National University of Singapore (NUS), it was found that most teenagers in Singapore, “did not know how to use a condom properly.” Also, “Of those who said they used a condom, 42 per cent did not apply it correctly and experienced it slipping out during sex. Another 32 per cent said they experienced condoms breaking during sex. In the report, associate professor Wong Mee Lian, who was in charge of the study, said this is the reason why a sizable number of teenagers who use condoms are nevertheless infected with STDs. She added that 24 per cent of teenagers who used condoms contacted STDs, and the figure for those who do not use condoms is 57 per cent.

In a survey conducted by Fridae.com, a LGBTQ social networking site, it was also found that among men who have sex with men (in Singapore), between 40% to 65% of gay men do not use condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse. The same presentation also shows an increase in the number of STI infections among men who have sex with men over the years.

On top of that, in a survey by Oogachaga, a a counselling and personal development organisation for LGBTQ, with LGBTQ individuals in Singapore, it was found that, “60.2% of the respondents indicated they have had experiences with sexual orientation and/or gender identity-based abuse and discrimination.Individuals who have encountered these forms of abuse and discrimination are also more likely to present with behavioural issues and suicidal ideation.

These statistics clearly show that it is thus of utmost importance for the education of homosexuality to be incorporated within sexuality education in the school curriculum, to protect the overall physical, emotional and psychological health and well-being of our gay youths. 

Acknowledgement of the Protecting of Basic Human Rights of Gay Individuals by Top Government Leaders in Singapore

It is also important to also look at sexuality education, and the progression towards a more balanced approach, as part of a larger societal perspective of the development of equal rights in Singapore.

In 2003, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had said, in an interview with Times Magazine, that for the issue of homosexuality, “So let it evolve, and in time the population will understand that some people are born that way. We are born this way and they are born that way, but they are like you and me,” he said. He was also quoted as saying that gays will now be allowed to serve in “sensitive positions” in the civil service.”

In 2007, the government had debated on repealing 377A, the archaic law against gay sex. The Ministry of Affairs had then issued an explanatory note which said that, “When it comes to homosexual acts, the issue is whether Singaporeans are ready to change laws to bring them in line with heterosexual acts. Singapore remains, by and large, a conservative society. Many do not tolerate homosexuality, and consider such acts abhorrent and deviant. Many religious groups also do not condone homosexual acts. This is why the Government is neither encouraging nor endorsing a homosexual lifestyle and presenting it as part of the mainstream way of life.”

Prime Minister Lee had also added in his parliamentary speech that, “There are gay bars and clubs. They exist. We know where they are. Everybody knows where they are. They do not have to go underground. We do not harass gays. The Government does not act as moral policemen. And we do not proactively enforce section 377A on them.

Law Minister K Shanmugam had also said in 2009 that, “We have the law. We say it won’t be enforced. Is it totally clear? We, sometimes in these things, have to accept a bit of messiness. And the way the society is going, we don’t think it’s fair for us to prosecute people who say that they are homosexual.

A video was also made by local celebrities in 2007 to support the repeal of 377A:

In his book, “Hard Truths“, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had explained that 377A wasn’t repealed because, “during the debate on whether the ban against homosexuality should remain in the law books, Christian groups made their disapproval of any lifting of the ban clear.

Mr Lee had also expressed that, “Homosexuality will eventually be accepted. It’s already accepted in China. It’s a matter of time before it’s accepted here.” Mr Lee had then gone on further to share how he thinks that homosexuality is, “not a lifestyle. You can read the books you want, all the articles. There’s a genetic difference, so it’s not a matter of choice. They are born that way and that’s that. So if two men or two women are that way, just leave them alone… Vivian Balakrishnan says it’s not decisively proven. Well, I believe it is. There’s enough evidence that some people are that way and just leave them be.”

Indeed, the APA had stated that even though, “Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

It should also be noted that there are clear health risks associated with the retention of the archaic law. In an article by Action for AIDS, it was found that “The ability of the AIDS Control Program to reduce HIV transmission in MSM is significantly weakened by anti-homosexual laws (and that) former British colonies that have repealed anti-homosexual laws are more successful than Singapore in reducing HIV transmission in MSM and general population.”

The APA had also stated that, “The prejudice and discrimination that people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual regularly experience have been shown to have negative psychological effects… On an individual level, such prejudice and discrimination may also have negative consequences, especially if lesbian, gay, and bisexual people attempt to conceal or deny their sexual orientation. Although many lesbians and gay men learn to cope with the social stigma against homosexuality, this pattern of prejudice can have serious negative effects on health and well-being. Individuals and groups may have the impact of stigma reduced or worsened by other characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. Some lesbian, gay, and bisexual people may face less of a stigma. For others, race, sex, religion, disability, or other characteristics may exacerbate the negative impact of prejudice and discrimination.”

It has also clearly stated that, “Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology.”

Providing Holistic Sexuality Education – The Right Way to Go for Our Youths

The MOE needs to be applauded for its move towards providing our youths accurate information and facts to help them be able to make an informed and balanced decision. Our youths, and gay youths in this particular case, do need to be able to grow healthily in an environment that is supportive towards helping them to understand their sexuality, so that they are able to understand how they can make decisions that they can comfortably acknowledge and live with – be it whether they realise that they could be gay, or if it was a period of questioning.

It is, of course important, that the MOE follows through on their current progressive stance, and that they are able to identify a pool of teachers who are able to educate our youths from an impersonal but approachable point of view. It is also important that, in the actual teaching that is conducted to our youths, that our gay or questioning youths do feel that the MOE has indeed developed a curriculum that is able to meet their needs and which can support them in their understanding of themselves. I would be very interested to hear from our gay youths what their experiences were like, after attending this revised curriculum.

It would also be important to ensure that teachers and counsellors are provided adequate training to provide the youth the right support that he would need. As Melissa Tsang, a student, had questioned on Talking Point, “What kind of counselling are you going to give this child? Are you going (give this child) support or are you going to portray homosexuality or transgenderism in the light of deviancy?’ Tsang also pointed out that as homosexual acts are criminalized in Singapore, so teachers cannot inform students of the legal situation without making the student think that homosexuality is criminal.

Liew Wei Li from the Ministry of Education (had) responded: ‘We understand this is quite sensitive, so we actually give you full information about the legal provisions about the homosexual acts. So we don’t criminalize homosexuality at all. (We have to address things like this for their mental and social well-being.) No counsellor will want to make a child feel bad. You want them to have the full information, (and also to have the ability to have that social and mental well-being, so that they are helped through the various decisions that they make. It is not from a point of view that it’s one-sided .”

Indeed, the APA had also stated that, “To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings. Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his same-sex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life.

In sum, the revisions in approach and programme can only bode well for our educational system, as well as for the overall psychosocial welfare and development of our youths and Singaporeans, when the strongest authority – MOE – in our youth’s lives decide to take a more responsible stance towards their education, based on an evidence-informed perspective that respects our youths’ rights as individuals. This revision can also be seen as part of the overhaul of our educational system towards observing a values-based approach. Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, had said at the MOE ExCEL Fest 2012 Awards Ceremony, that, “Nurturing the whole child’ reflects our focus on holistic education, to enable our children to be ready for the future. At the heart of it, education is about developing the whole person. Beyond academic development, we want to help our children acquire sound values and develop character.”

I would like to congratulate the Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor, Chair of the National HIV/AIDS Policy Committee. The ministries that they head have understood the importance of respecting the rights of our youths towards ensuring that their educational meets are met – not only in the academic fields, but also in the area of psychosocial development. Perhaps their roles as parents have also shown them the importance of providing our children a holistic education, as most parents would want and understand.

I hope to continue to see more good work being done from our ministers and the ministries.

Standard

PinkDot 2012: A Celebration of Our Love

(Photo credit: Singaypore.sg’s Facebook page)

I attended PinkDot for the fourth time this year. I was so proud. So beaming proud. We have done it again. We, the people of Singapore, the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, queers, questioning (LGBTQ), curious, undecided, and our straight friends, families, colleagues and loved ones, have done it again.

I was so proud.

I was so proud that we could stand here together, once again, in a sea of pink, believing and knowing that we have the freedom to love, knowing that if we have the commitment and dignity to love whom we love genuinely and sincerely, and to be loved in return, that we can continue to live our lives with pride, with honesty and with our strength in belief, that we are leading fulfilling, proud and inspirational lives, as our own.

As the helicopters flew past with the Singapore flag and we started serenading to the national anthem, my heart beamed with so much pride. I am a Singaporean. I am a proud Singaporean, living in a place, where even if there was 377A, or even if our society is perceived as being conservative, I can be here, I can be who I am, I can be proud that I am someone whom I can respect, and whom can live a life like all of us here, proud, and affirmed. I sang the national anthem with pride. Never have I felt so much pride for Singapore and my fellow Singaporeans before.

As the jet planes flew past next, it felt almost like a sign that our government was blessing us with their congrats – our pride, our reason to be. It was almost as if we are together as one, regardless of race, language or religion, and sexual orientation, as host Lim Yu Beng, had said. Indeed, we were – families with strollers. A single father with his adopted child; gay friends dressed in dynamic costumes. Everyone, in every creed, dancing alive to the music and even if they were standing awkwardly on the grass patch; today, once again, we have been affirmed for who we are, and we know today, we can walk on, head held high, knowing that we are proud individuals who can show others that love is who we all are, and love is who we will take pride in, and have the freedom to be, because we know what being committed to love, being genuine in love and being sincere in love is.

Even if tomorrow, we go back to work or school, or back to our homes, and things may look the same, but we know, inside, we have grown. We are able to hold our esteem high within ourselves and continue to believe in who we are, what we can do, and really, be ourselves – happy and free.

I am very grateful to the organisers for PinkDot for dreaming up this amazing ideal – the freedom to love – and to continue to reinvent themselves. Indeed, today, it did felt like the National Day Parade (NDP), but one that we truly feel for, are grateful and proud of, and are truly happy to be part of. As a friend had remarked, PinkDot is better than NDP.

I cannot put in words the immense pride, dignity and fulfillment I have, as I stood today, shining my pink light up into the sky, as all us of came together to form the PinkDot, as we sang our hearts out, under the stars, knowing that things can be better, will be better, and that we are part of what will make things better. I was beaming so proudly, as I looked to the faces of those around me, the hope in their eyes, the belief, the happiness and the knowing – that yes, things are better, and we have come this far, and can only go further.

(Photo credit: PinkDot’s Facebook page)

As PinkDot illuminated itself in the night, it felt as if all our lives have been illuminated, that our hopes are renewed and our faiths inspired.

I believe, and I know, together, we can, and we will – we will lead fulfilling, happy lives that we are proud of, with dignity and strength, and that we can have the freedom to love, be committed in loving relationships, and be blessed by the people around us, because simply, love is who we are. And today, we have come together, to show love, love, and be loved in return. And to let our love expand and be lit, like a beacon of hope to all LGBTQs, our straight friends and all alike.

Thank you PinkDot for an amazing fourth year running, and more to come. Thank you for making me feel alive and proud. I am grateful, from the bottom of my heart.

(Photo credit: PinkDot’s Facebook page)

(This post was written on 1 July 2012.)

Standard

Launch of Google’s Legalise Love Campaign in Singapore – A Powerful Opportunity and Hope for Change

(Photo credit: Google)

Google launched the ‘Legalise Love‘ campaign on Sunday (7 July 2012) to encourage countries which continue to criminalize homosexuality to decriminalize homosexuality and to encourage the acceptance of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) individuals.

In their statement, Google shared that, “Though our business and employees are located in offices around the world, our policies on non-discrimination are universal throughout Google. We are proud to be recognised as a leader in LGBT inclusion efforts, but there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality. Legalise Love is our call to decriminalise homosexuality and eliminate homophobia around the world.

At Google, we encourage people to bring their whole selves to work. In all of our 60 offices around the world, we are committed to cultivating a work environment where Googlers can be themselves and thrive. We also want our employees to have the same inclusive experience outside of the office, as they do at work, and for LGBT communities to be safe and to be accepted wherever they are.”

Google’s Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe had shared that Google has decided to launch the campaign in Singapore because, “Singapore wants to be a global financial center and world leader and we can push them on the fact that being a global center and a world leader means you have to treat all people the same, irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

The campaign website can be found at: http://www.google.com/diversity/legalise-love.html

*****

I’m very excited that Google has decided to launch the campaign in Singapore. Firstly, I’m excited because this will provide a platform for LGBTQ individuals in Singapore to advocate for their rights. It also means that there can now be a renewed vigour within our community for the advocacy of our rights.

This is thanks, in part to PinkDot and their successful campaign and partnership with Google, as well as Google’s commitment and their sense of social responsibility to equal rights, and their extensive capacity to be able to advocate effectively in their realm.

Singapore is actually very well-placed, among the current crop of countries which continue to retain the archaic law which criminalizes gay sex, to be able to move beyond towards decriminalization.

If we look at other countries where gay rights have been achieved at various levels, Singapore actually compares favourably, as ironic as it may seem. For example, if you look at Brazil, it may be a country where gay sex is legal but around 200 LGBTQ people are killed every year for hate crimes targeted at LGBTQ people. In South Africa, same sex marriage is legal but there is still corrective rape targeted at lesbian women – to “turn them straight”. There are civil unions in the UK but there is also violence enacted against LGBTQ people. In America, gay youths would commit suicide because of the bullying they face in school.

In Singapore, it might still be illegal for gays to have sex. But the government has said that they would not proactively enforce the law. Of course, if they decide to change their minds – they can do so, and that’s why Google’s campaign is so important.

(Photo credit: suite101.com)

I do think Singapore provides a safe and, ironic as it is, a supportive environment for LGBTQ individuals to grow in. The government might keep up with the propaganda speech that Singapore is conservative – they need to so, so that conservative Singaporeans will vote for them. Our government functions a bit like the Republicans in the States in that sense. But if we look beyond their rhetoric, we know Singapore isn’t all that conservative. It’s propaganda. We also know the government isn’t policing gay issues as much because they know they shouldn’t. There are obvious economic reasons, and gradually, also the recognition of basic right issues which affects their thinking.

Our government, I think, isn’t against gays having our rights, but they have to keep up with the anti-gay rhetoric, or rather, pro-family front. They need to appease the conservative factions and they need to keep up with the conservative votes. So we should, as much as possible, understand that stance. Of course whether this stance is truly theirs, or one that is imagined is open for debate.

But what this means is this – if we know that underlying it all, the government isn’t unsupportive, we know that we can continue learn to live our lives as LGBTQ people and learn to function as well as we can. And this is also one reason why Google has picked Singapore to launch the campaign. They know our government is not unsupportive. No corporate company would pitch themselves against a government if it’s not in their interest. Of course, Google has generally tried to push against boundaries as well. But I think Google is betting on our government looking at repealing the law (against gay sex) in the near future and have placed their eggs in our basket – it would be in their favor when the government does repeal 377A. It’s a win-win situation.

Of course, even though we are in a safe environment to grow in, LGBTQ people don’t sometimes realise it, because the government’s public discourse seems to be against the practice of our rights. We need to perhaps learn to read between the lines.

What I do think is that, this means that given a safe environment, we can decide to learn to accept ourselves better, learn to have better self esteem, so that we can learn to be stronger gay individuals and be able to develop our overall well-being favourably. I think for now, this would be of utmost importance for gay people in Singapore – to recognise ourselves and our strengths, believe in ourselves and stand up for ourselves.

Singapore offers a safe and favorable environment for LGBTQ individuals to learn more about themselves and there’s the availability of structural features which facilitate the development of our well-being, if we learn to take advantage of it, for ourselves, to grow and support one another in this growth. The ball, it can be said, is in our court now.

Google cannot run this campaign on its own. It needs the support, strength and courage of LGBTQ individuals in Singapore to rally behind it, to believe in ourselves and our dignity, to come together and realise our potential as one, and to believe that we have a right to be recognised because it is our given right. We are born this way.

So, what say you, my fellow LGBTQ friends and family members of these friends in Singapore, will we take pride in ourselves, and take up the mantle to live our lives with dignity, acceptance, respect and self-belief?

I know I have.

Standard