The Ministry of Education's statement concerning Section 377A is anti-education.

By Koh Jee Leong

19 years living in NYC as an openly gay man has not erased my memory of the shame and fear of hiding my true self in Singapore. I can still remember visiting a gay bar in Chinatown, not at night when it was open, but in the day when I could check it out without being seen. I was hiding in broad daylight. What was I afraid of? I was a teacher, then a vice-principal of a secondary school. What if a student or, worse, a parent had spotted me entering the bar? The scandal would have been humiliating, and there was the possibility of losing my job. It was not just a matter of being caught, however; it was about living an inauthentic life, day in, day out. There I was, teaching students to speak and write, telling parents how to help their children flourish, and I was evasive and stunted.

This and other memories came back when I read that the Singapore government intends to abolish 377A, the law that criminalizes sex between men, but also to amend the constitution to ensure that the legal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman cannot be challenged in the courts. The intention is problematic on many different levels, as Singaporean journalist and social activist Kirsten Han clearly lays them out.

Statements from various ministries reinforced the homophobic status quo. The Ministry of Education, my former boss, explained that “Our education policies and curriculum will remain anchored on Singapore’s prevailing family values and social norms, which the majority of Singaporeans want to uphold. These include the family as the cornerstone of our social fabric, and marriage between a man and a woman.” The statement completely dismisses LGBTQ families as families. Furthermore, although sexuality education in schools “will remain secular” (no mention of being scientific), it will also be “sensitive to the multiracial and multireligious make-up of our society,” which of course allows religious prejudices to prevail over what is supposedly secular.

The statement makes no mention of the status of LGBTQ teachers, whether they will be honored and supported in their work, or even assured of job and fair treatment. Instead, the Ministry warns against “advocacy and contestation on socially divisive issues,” even though “Singapore’s family and social norms must continue to be determined by Singaporeans.” If there is no peaceful advocacy and contestation in schools, how can Singaporeans determine for themselves what is right or wrong, instead of following authority blindly? What students, and adults, need to learn is to develop evidence-based arguments logically, surface hidden assumptions, and be open to changing one’s mind when given good reasons for doing so. The MOE statement is, in fact, anti-education. It maintains the silence and the shame around being different.


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