Bristol a parallel universe away

The story reads like one from a parallel universe. Over there, things happen in ways opposite to how they would happen here in Singapore.

Acclaimed actor Ian McKellen (right) does a round of speaking engagements in schools, telling kids what it is like to be gay. It’s a national tour for Stonewall, the UK’s gay advocacy group. In Singapore, schools are very unlikely to risk the government’s ire by doing likewise, though, I am glad to report, there are exceptions. (I don’t want to get the schools into trouble by naming them.)

Then when a Conservative Party council member in Bristol, Chris Windows, expressed objection to McKellen’s tour, the councillor was promptly suspended. The Conservative Party is currently the ruling party in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Do you think our People’s Action Party will slap down one of its office-holders for anti-gay remarks? Or will such remarks only propel our Education Ministry into conducting a witch hunt among schools for “backsliding” into non-discrimination?

Announcing the suspension, Conservative  group leader and councillor Geoff Gollop said in a statement that Windows now realised his remarks were unacceptable and inappropriate. “Chris will use this time to better acquaint himself with the aims of Stonewall and the important work they are undertaking in tackling homophobic bullying in our schools.” (Source: BBC).

Can anyone imagine the People’s Action Party requiring its anti-gay members to spend time with People Like Us learning about homophobia?

* * * * *

Then there’s this anecdote in Leona Lo’s blogpost: Stop using God to punish me! MOE’s moral dilemma. I quote from there:

An anecdote from an acquaintance who’s a teacher at a top Singapore Junior College sparked this post.  She related an incident in class.  As a GP (General Paper) tutor, her role is to challenge young minds with lively classroom presentations and discussions.  She decided to introduce a “pink” video in class one day to open up the discussion about sexual orientation and sexual identity.  Everything went well and various opinions were offered by a largely enthusiastic audience.  However, she was hauled to the principal’s office the next day because a parent complained that the video promoted the homosexual “lifestyle”.  The principal censured her but yet was unable to give her a clear response regarding the Ministry of Education’s stance on classroom discussion about sexual orientation issues.  Typically, the principal responded that the Ministry’s position is that homosexual practices should not be encouraged.  However, this did not address the teacher’s pointed question – how does encouraging open debate about sexual orientation issues constitute promoting a homosexual “lifestyle” (in the first place, homosexuality is not a lifestyle practice!)?  It’s the same as saying that debating about terrorism in the classroom promotes terrorist acts.

* * * * *

What happened in Bristol was this: At a City Council meeting, Chris Windows (left) said: “I am unhappy and a little disturbed at the involvement of Stonewall in our local schools and particularly the use of a certain leading actor as a potential role model for our impressionable young people,”  referring quite obviously to McKellen.

McKellen’s/Stonewall’s tour springs from the same concern behind the It Gets Better campaign started in the United States a few months ago after eight  teenage suicides were traced to homophobic bullying suffered by the victims. There was some urgency to intervene before more gay kids contemplate taking their own lives, by providing them with role models in order to give them hope, and to educate the heterosexual kids that sexuality differences are no grounds for discrimination, let alone bullying.

At the council meeting, Windows’ remarks were met with cries of “shame” and “disgraceful” by Labour and Lib Dem councillors. One Lib Dem councillor, Simon Rayner  said: “Can I translate what he just said? He doesn’t think gay people should be allowed near children in schools.”

Added Alex Woodman (Lib Dem): “I wholeheartedly, unequivocally condemn the outrageous homophobic remarks by Chris Windows. He should be ashamed.”

Windows later tried to clarify his remarks by saying he was merely concerned that having a gay man speak to school kids would only make some “confused” kids think they are gay, thus exposing them to bullying. By saying that, he was twisting the sword that he had just plunged into his own guts. How so? Analyse that sentence. He effectively suggested that kids can be influenced to become gay, a falsehood that many studies have shown up. He also justified the bullying!

Yet, many members of parliament in Singapore have said even worse things and been applauded in the House.

* * * * *

Homophobes continue to fan fears of kids turning gay. A Christian website then accused Stonewall of mounting a “homosexual campaign”, alluding exactly to this.

In  its article, Christian Concern also blasted the Conservative Party for putting “the homosexual agenda at the forefront of its priorities” and supporting the “introduction of new policies advocating the normalisation of the homosexual lifestyle in Britain.” Anything that promotes non-discrimination is called the “homosexual agenda”.

It noted that party leader David Cameron (now Prime Minister) dropped a potential election candidate earlier this year for making offensive remarks about gay people. Christian Concern approvingly cited an Andrea Williams saying that Britain was “becoming an increasingly intolerant society” — by that she meant that Britain was becoming a place where hate speech and discrimination against gay people would not be tolerated anymore.

In this parallel universe, David Cameron does not squirm in his prime ministerial seat. Instead he does a video for Stonewall giving encouragement to gay kids and assuring them that the government will not stand for discrimination. It too is part of the It Gets Better campaign:

* * * * *

I don’t want to end the essay here, leaving readers with the impression that the issue is always one of Gay vs Christian. It is not. There are homophobes who use the Christian religion as cover for their intolerance. But there are millions more Christians who understand the true meaning of Christian love, and the message that Jesus brought about standing up for the downtrodden.

Here are two more videos with the same It Gets Better theme. The first is from the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus, but look at the closing frames and the credit for the venue.

Yes, the Immanuel Presbyterian Church sponsored the space.

The second video features members of Dallas’ Turtle Creek Chorale (an all-male choir) joining singers from over 30 religious institutions in the area and students from Southern Methodist University in a short excerpt of their  performance titled, A Night For Peace. This event is part of the Partners In Harmony program, which affirms, as its own blurb says, “the religious organisations’ belief that every human being is created equal.”

25 Responses to “Bristol a parallel universe away”

  1. 1 Desmond 1 December 2010 at 21:45

    I think the media is partly to blame for the “gays vs. Christians” stance. I imagine that there are a lot of good Christian churches out there that really preach anti-discrimination and Christ love for all but all we hear is the anti-gay parts of the Christian church, from the Pope to the Anglican bishops and the mad ministers of some of US churches. It can’t help but make people think there is a “gays vs. Christians”.

    I also think that a lot of good Christians (themselves or their churches) are partly to blame for not speaking out. When people started condemning Islam, the world and even the Muslim community themselves made it a point to call all Muslims to speak out against terrorism, thus showing the world that Islam is NOT equal to terrorist. But we never hear anything like that in the Christian church. If they did, then we didn’t hear it.

    I have nothing to say about the Christian churches in Singapore (Free Community Church excluded) for they are either anti-gay or just “not my problem”.

  2. 2 yuen 1 December 2010 at 23:21

    >Chris Windows, expressed objection to McKellen’s tour, the councillor was promptly suspended.

    very high handed; sounds like PAP to me

    • 3 yawningbread 2 December 2010 at 00:26

      Perhaps it sounds high-handed because to you the offence sounds minor. In Western Europe, any form of anti-gay speech from a mainstream party politician is considered a serious mistake, just like in Singapore any form of racist speech will be unacceptable to any serious political party. Where Singapore is undeveloped is in the way we see the value of non-discrimination and tolerance as strictly limited to race and sometimes religion; this only reflects how blinkered and un-self-reflexive our political thinking is.

      This kind of prompt response to discriminatory speech, far from something we think should be confined to “high-handed” PAP, is something I would want demonstrated in every political party here. If any opposition politician makes racist, sexist ageist or anti-gay remarks, I expect prompt action by party leaders or I will lose respect for the party.

      • 4 yuen 2 December 2010 at 05:34

        “If any opposition politician makes racist, sexist ageist or anti-gay remarks,” I am sure PAP and Straits Times will quickly make use of such an event. Similarly, when an opposition leader acts in an undemocratic manner and upsets his followers/allies, they will make use of this.

        I assume you are assured to have this kind of strict disciplinarians taking care of things here.

      • 5 KiWeTO 3 December 2010 at 10:32

        Seems to me he is just pointing out the absurdity of just policing racist speech and not hate speech in totality.

        Then again, we read what we think we read.


  3. 6 wikigam 2 December 2010 at 01:38

    1)I do not call Christianity is the only religion which discrimination homosexual but root cause discrimination homosexual is from Abrahamic religions.

    2)Abrahamic religions are the monotheistic faiths emphasizing and tracing their common origin to Abraham or recognizing a spiritual tradition identified with Abraham. They are one of the three major divisions in comparative religion, along with Indian religions (Dharmic) and East Asian religions (Taoic).

    The three major Abrahamic religions are, in order of appearance, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism regards itself as the religion of the descendants of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. Christianity began as a sect of Judaism in the 1st century CE (known as Jewish Christianity) and evolved into a separate religion with distinctive beliefs and practices, notably its replacement of the Jewish idea of an exclusive ethnic religious community (a common notion which is not entirely correct, see Bnei Noah and Conversion to Judaism) with an inclusive, universal community, the Christian Church. It replaced the idea of simple monotheism with a Triune God who is simultaneously one and three (different branches of Christianity have different interpretations). Islam was founded by Muhammad in the 7th century CE upon the teachings in the Qur’an. It retained the inclusiveness of Christianity, but reverted to simple monotheism with a central, but not divine, prophet.

    3)Do facing the fact , Singapore had onboard the “Train”, “legalize of homosexual” is one of the destination station.It is no way to U-Turn.

  4. 7 kumar 2 December 2010 at 10:37

    I feel sad whenever Alex writes about the whole world being against homosexuals. I feel that heterosexuals are wrongly being accused of being homophobic. I’ve written to Alex before in a private e-mail about my views on discrimination. I strongly feel a majority of heterosexuals don’t really care if homosexuals outwardly show their sexuality. It is the in the face attitude that riles them. I mean if the same article stated that there was a tour by a famous heterosexual who was also lecturing on what it is like being a heterosexual then I know Alex is clearly above board. But the article is slanted to one angle and that is what irks me. I have said this before and I’m saying it now if in the future my sons did turn gay, I would still maintain my humanity to them as my equal but unfortunately at that tender age if you want expose them to the homosexual way of life which is completely natural, then it should be balanced with the heterosexual attitude as well. This is sorely missing in Alex’s attitude. It is this in our face attitude of homosexuals that make us heterosexuals very uncomfortable. I mean do you see any heterosexual movement promoted in such a big way as the gay rights movement. Why can’t gays just live and let live. Alex is absolutely right about removing certain laws that are discriminating regardless of who you are. But this perception that the majority of heterosexuals are against gays is rather unfair. Working together with understanding and acceptance is the key to change the so called perceived discrimination that homosexuals feel.

    • 8 Robox 2 December 2010 at 11:01

      “…do you see any heterosexual movement promoted in such a big way as the gay rights movement. Why can’t gays just live and let live.”

      Erm, Kumar. Have you been going round with your eyes wide shut?

      I see the heterosexual movement ALL AROUND me: they are flaunting their sexuality shamelessly in public.

      They are in the homes that we grow up in, the schools that we attend, the workplaces that we work in, the books, newspapers and magazines that we read, the films and TV programs that we watch, the places of worship that we attend, the shopping centres that we shop at, the innumerable places of recreation that we patronize etc etc.

      Heck, they even pick each other up at the lift landing!

      That’s why I REFUSE to live and let live: because the hetero movement doesn’t.

    • 9 yuen 2 December 2010 at 11:05

      here again the behaviour is similar to that of PAP: if you are not toeing their line, then you are probably hostile, or at least potentially hostile

      in my personal experience, most people dont know and think about issues that dont directly concern them; they are not hostile, merely indifferent, but if you force them to take a stand, they would of course go with the prevailing orthodoxy

      • 10 Robox 2 December 2010 at 11:43

        If the above comment is supposed to be directed at me – too high class like the PAP to address its critics by name or by some other direct means – I NEVER get sidetrackked by accusations of being PAP-like; I KNOW only too well how oppositely motivated I am from fascists.

      • 11 yuen 2 December 2010 at 12:05

        glad to know you see yourself as different from fascists; however, equating PAP with fascists is itself a bit similar to the behaviour I was criticizing: exaggerate the shortcomings of opponents to gain a adversarial advantage; I guess I dont have to remind you who like to practise that

    • 12 Gimmeabreak 2 December 2010 at 16:07

      ”I mean if the same article stated that there was a tour by a famous heterosexual who was also lecturing on what it is like being a heterosexual then I know Alex is clearly above board. But the article is slanted to one angle and that is what irks me.”

      When I was a student, I knew of many heterosexual teachers and even visited their homes where I met their opposite sex spouses and children. Also heterosexual canteen operators, school bus drivers who sometimes worked eith their opposite sex spouses; neighbors, relatives, provision shop keepers, etc. But never a gay person ever. Until I got a part time job when I was 20.

      So I don’t really need to see another heterosexual on tour thanks 🙂

    • 13 Understanding 3 December 2010 at 01:15

      I think we got to sympathize with the fact that homosexuals are considered deviant and a minority (in terms of being targeted) in our society. How would heterosexuals feel if deep down, they can never fully express their sexualities and not be embraced by their country?

      Yes, things are not in black and white to an extent that homosexuals are totally justified in their responses. But can one really blame some homosexuals for having a siege mentality?

      Instead, a more holistic and fair approach would be towards understanding the reasons behind such vehement opinions and exchanges.

      • 14 yuen 3 December 2010 at 03:02

        I am sure bigamists also feel persecuted; many men want multiple partners, and many women are willing to share if given the right inducement (e.g., in one China TV dating programme a pretty female participant said out loud “I would rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle). However, bigamy is illegal and second/third/higher wives can only be acquired unofficially. Fortunately, bigamists are not usually considered deviant, merely greedy. As far as I recall, church leaders have not read sermons condemning bigamists. This might be why they have not gone into the streets to protest nor formed organizations to demand bigamy rights, and are willing to remain in their multiple heterosexual bedrooms with their consenting partners.

    • 15 KiWeTO 3 December 2010 at 10:46

      Kumar said – “Why can’t gays just live and let live. ”

      Hmmm. Why can’t straights just live and let live?

      Put it this way, if in a parallel universe, the laws today (S377A etc) were reversed, and heterosexual was the word replacing homosexual, would the gays be equally impassive and go with the general orthodoxy too? [perhaps that might just be society’s default mode – do nothing.]

      If society was completely conservative or only went with the orthodoxy, we would still be rubbing sticks together to make fire and wondering when the wheel would come about. Or not entertaining the idea of one man one vote, and nothing be said about the absurdity of women voting.
      (a la 377A – women don’t exist in 377A!)

      As for heterosexual movements – they are there just in front of your eyes

      – every movie where the hero rides off into the sunset with the heroine swooning in his arms,
      – every marriage certificate signed between man and woman.
      – every family court case heard here using the Women’s Charter.
      – Every kiss between boy and girl in the street.
      – Every pair of hands held by a boy and a girl.
      – Every ad that tells males says “diamonds are a girl’s best friend”
      – Every tax break enjoyed by a man and wife due to having a baby (vs a gay couple adopting a baby)

      [need the examples continue of THE heterosexual movement’s efforts to reinforce heterosexuality?]

      To Kumar: See things from other pairs of shoes. If heterosexuals be never “conditioned” (shocked?) into seeing homosexual expressions of affection as normal, then how will they ever come to accept them as normal?

      “against promoting homosexuality” – what a laugh.
      [perhaps religions against homosexuality are just afraid of the loss of potential future congregation members from the fruits of the wombs of current congregation members.]


      • 16 ~autolycus 4 December 2010 at 12:08

        There’s a simple reason the thought experiment doesn’t work. If heterosexual behaviour was eradicated, there’d be very little left of any sexually-reproducing species in which this happened. Same-sex relations are present in many species, but it almost never becomes dominant across the species.

      • 17 KiWeTO 5 December 2010 at 14:14

        The thought experiment was just to show the flip side of our societal coin. But if you wish to extend it into pedantic discussions of the necessity for continued species survival…
        that be your right.


    • 18 thornofplenty 4 December 2010 at 19:37

      Hi Kumar!
      Respectfully, I have to suggest that the equivalence you state between homosexual activism (the in your face attitude) and an imagined heterosexual equivalent just doesn’t hold any water.

      A number of commenters have already pointed out how we’re already constantly exposed to blatant expressions of heterosexuality.

      But your comment suggests something deeper. Let’s assume for a moment that in fact, we don’t experience heterosexuality daily, that in fact it is only queers who want to do this. Reversing it and asking why we can’t have straight people doing outreach in schools is still not equivalent.

      Ever heard or read the stories about straight pride parades? Or the white american beauty pageants, held in response to Black beauty pageants. Or the White students union that various students in various american universities have tried to organize. In each of these cases,the action has been called homophobic, or racist. The reason for it is this, it has to do with institutional power. Heterosexuals have institutional power, and as such, their exertion and expression “otherness” is going to be oppressive in a way that a group without institutional power is not.

      Further, I would suggest that when heterosexuals feel uncomfortable around queer or gay activism, because it’s “in your face” I would strongly suggest that you check yourself and how you are feeling. What is the gay person doing? Why do you feel that what they are doing is somehow more brazen? Can you find an example of a similar behavior from straight people that already exists (not a hypothetical heterosexual education speaking tour)? How are the two different? You might find some interesting answers within yourself and perhaps come to a different understanding of what queers are doing and why they do it.

      • 19 yuen 4 December 2010 at 19:56

        I dont think public displays of homosexual love are being singled out; old husbands with young wives (e.g. vietnamese “agency brides”) are usually looked at askance; also, since I raised the issue of bigamists, if a guy hugs/kisses two girls on MRT, or a girl does this with two guys, I would expect other passengers would feel uncomfortable too, though this has been so rare that I do not recall reading complaints about such in ST Forum.

        People are simply caught by surprise and unsure how to react. This even applies to “heavy” expressions of heterosexual love.

  5. 20 Arif 2 December 2010 at 12:02

    If you like it better in the parallel universe, go ahead and emigrate there. I choose to come here from that parallel universe because I prefer the norms and values in Singapore.

  6. 24 Chris 2 December 2010 at 12:49

    Yes Arif. The value of inequality, discrimination and un-constitutional laws.

  7. 25 Sloo 2 December 2010 at 13:34

    Well arif unfortunately not everyone has the means or luxury like u have to leave for a place that conforms to their values and norms. And for those who have no choice to stay are u suggesting that we have no choice but to accept the hostility and discrimination that is inflicted upon us for our differences? A society is never completely homegenous (maybe North Korea!) and it seems what you are proposing is a nation without diversity or differences. A dangerous path to embark upon; one only has to turn the clock beck a few decades to realize how Singapore experienced discrimination on many many different levels before.

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