Raise level of debate on sexuality issues: MP Nair

SINGAPORE - The controversy over the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) FAQs on sexuality should not be reduced to an "us" versus "them" issue.

Instead, Singapore should raise the level of debate, and "have a frank conversation about our approach towards homosexuality", wrote MP Hri Kumar Nair in a Facebook note.

Still, it is important to realise that information on sexuality should be readily available for people who need it, he said.

"While many have framed the HPB issue as a pro-gay or anti-gay one, let us not forget the reason for the HPB FAQs in the first place: there are people in our society who have questions concerning their sexuality and who are deeply affected by it. Their needs should not be ignored," he explained.

He added that HPB should not retreat from its educational role and should continue providing a channel for those seeking advice.

In November, HPB had put up a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on its website as part of its programme to educate youth on sexual issues.

The FAQs feature issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation. One of them states that same-sex relationships are "not too different" from heterosexual relationships as they both take the commitment of two people.

Since then, a debate has erupted on whether some of the information on homosexuality was appropriate.

An online petition accusing the FAQs of being "pro-homosexuality" and asking for them to be reviewed has since gathered about 21,500 signatures. A counter petition applauding the FAQs has collected about 4,600 signatures.

Religious leaders and institutions have also joined the debate. Pastor Lawrence Khong, chairman of LoveSingapore, a network of churches, said the tone of FAQs gives an impression that HPB "condones same-sex relationships".

On Tuesday, the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) voiced similar concerns.

Mr Nair suggested "the battle will not be resolved by the attacks that are usually associated with this issue - one side calling the other 'evil, paedophiles and deviants', and the other responding with 'ignorant, religious bigots'.

"It may be how other societies deal with such issues, but we can and should strive to be different." He referred to his own experiences in speaking out for the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual sex.

His stand was based on how the law did not have "the characteristics good laws should have" and not on any "gay agenda".

Yet that did not stop him from being criticised by one side of the debate and hailed by the other.

Both camps, he said, want the Government to give legitimacy to their causes, in a "battle that is not unique to Singapore", citing the example of Canada, which has recognised gay marriage, while others such as Russia have enacted anti-gay laws.

But the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP said this is not an issue the Government can lead in, and it is up to society to figure out its own direction. "And as time passes, as attitudes change and our knowledge of such matters grows, that direction will invariably change as well."

melodyz@sph.com.sg


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