The HPB saga – homophobia in Singapore

So last week, I decided to informally survey my GP classes on THAT controversial issue that placed our Health Promotion Board (HPB) undere the spotlight recently. Question: “How many of you think that same-sex marriage should be legalized in Singapore?” And I was rather astounded by the number of hands raised! And so rapidly. Now, I am not supposed to promote homosexuality since it flies in the face of our shared National Values, and I will not promote it. But neither do I condemn it.

Disclaimer: Students, even if you do feel very strongly about a certain issue (yes, even if you are an activist for this legalization of same-sax marriage), you cannot ignore the fact that pragmatically speaking, any political party in Singapore that advocates and promotes this legalization will very likely be disadvantaged, vote-wise. Acknowledge the repercussions, especially in the light of this recent HPB FAQ saga!

As promised, here’s the link to the (now-revised) HPB site: http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB056342

And besides the first petition (http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/review-hpbs-faq-on-sexuality.html) and the subsequent counter-petition (http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/restore-the-hpbs-original-faq-on-sexuality.html), there have been several open letters written by individuals in response to this issue. One of the more notable open letters is penned by former NUS law dean Thio Su Mien, who strongly opposes homosexuality.

Thio’s open letter can be found here. Summarily, her points are:

1. “The entire FAQ and Answers are at odds with the Shared Values of our nation.”

2. “HPB is effectively  promoting hatred against Singaporeans who subscribe to the Shared Values of our nation; that the family unit comprises   “one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within the  framework of a stable family unit”.   This contradicts the requirements  of civility and tolerance in the  Public Square.  It  encourages  name-calling in the Public Square so as to eliminate rational discussion.  It is also in conflict with the Religious Harmony Act.”

3. Thio asserts that the FAQs were essentially the “normalizing of homosexuality and the demonization of Singaporeans who do not endorse the homosexual lifestyle”. Strong words!

4. Thio asks that (a) “the FAQ on Sexuality in the website of HPB to be taken down” and (b) “a Public Enquiry to be convened immediately to determine who in HPB is responsible for this”.

And by the way, this was written in the context of the recent spotlight on the Pioneer Generation. I admit: I failed to see the link between “homosexuality” and “Singapore’s pioneer generation” at first. Thio enlightens me thus:

For those of us, pioneers in the legal sector, we had sought to inculcate truth, righteousness, honor, honesty and incorruptibility to those who underwent legal education in Singapore.  These are values espoused by and so successfully  implemented  by our founding fathers who have laid such good foundations in our nation… It would be sheer ingratitude to remain silent and watch attempts by those who have no love for our country nor the fundamental values we espouse to steal our Jubilee.

I thought the debates would blow over, but no, not even after Health Minister Gan Kim Yong clarified that the Government had not shifted its stance on the family as the basic building block of Singapore society, and that the HPB FAQ’s did not encourage same-sex relationships. Rather, the HPB’s FAQs should be viewed as a one-stop resource of factual information from a public health perspective on sexuality, says Mr Gan.

Yesterday,  Straits Times decides to publish Pastor Lawrence Khong’s strongly-worded open letter to Health Minister’s response. You can roughly guess the contents of the letter: Mr Khong alleges that Mr Gan’s reply, and the MOH’s view, was at odds with the Government’s position on 377A, and also society’s views on homosexuality, as reflected in the Our Singapore Conversation surveys and a recent one by the Institute of Policy Studies.

By the argument in your written reply, MOH has in effect condoned homosexuality. In the name of public health, MOH is indirectly telling our young that it is perfectly okay to pursue same-sex relationships as long as all persons involved play it safe by sticking to one sex partner.

That is like telling our young they can pump themselves up with illegal and harmful drugs as long as they self protect by not sharing needles.

Normalizing same-sex relationships = Telling people to take “illegal and harmful drugs”? Really? (to be continued…)

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