Let's talk openly for society's sake

During a recent house-hunting trip, I got to know a property agent. From her name, I could not tell if she was a local.

She said she was of mixed parentage. She looks Chinese and has a European-sounding surname. She was bullied growing up because she looked Chinese but could not speak Mandarin.

This invisible diversity is hard to explain to those who see only a fixed form of racial categorisation.

Getting them to understand that some people have different sexual orientation or gender identity is equally challenging.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) people do not always display different mannerisms.

Such invisible diversity is often not discussed, or is sometimes misconstrued and frowned upon when discovered.

Young LGBTQ persons often find it hard to explain their sexual orientation or gender identity to others, for fear of being ostracised. They may choose to "act straight" in order to "blend in".

Denying or hiding their sexuality, especially in the growing years when one's sense of self, identity and confidence are being developed, can be detrimental to a young LGBTQ person.

AFFECT SELF-ESTEEM

It can affect their self-esteem and impact their interpersonal relationships in later years, and may even have life-long consequences.

When Oogachaga started its counselling and support group services 15 years ago, we wanted to offer support to those LGBTQ individuals struggling with social stigma and discrimination arising from their sexual orientation and gender identity.

We hoped to help them regain their self-confidence and build better relationships with themselves, their families, friends, communities and the wider society.

Thankfully, since then, we have witnessed some positive developments, with a slow but gradually increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Singapore.

That said, much of this is still in the infancy stage and the current developments may sometimes create a false sense of full acceptance for some.

At a recent panel discussion, a young woman asked me why the LGBTQ community in Singapore is pushing for more acceptance since we already have the well-attended Pink Dot in Hong Lim Park every year, and high visibility on the Internet and social media.

I explained that while there are some improvements, we must also recognise that LGBTQ persons do not just live with their sexuality once a year in a park or exist solely in the virtual world.

The existence of Oogachaga, Pink Dot, and other LGBTQ organisations has given many people hope that Singapore will be more progressive in terms of recognising differences and embracing diversity.

However, better understanding of LGBTQ issues need to go beyond these spaces into an environment where we can have honest, factual and respectful discussions about sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Equipping ourselves with accurate information about differences in people's sexual and gender identities can only strengthen the social fabric of this country. This knowledge helps us embrace cultural diversity, teach Asian values of tolerance, acceptance and inclusivity, and promote greater understanding all round.

Bryan Choong is a trained counsellor and executive director of Oogachaga, a non-profit counselling and support agency for LGBTQ in Singapore.


This article was first published on June 28, 2014.
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