Etonhouse heir Ng Yi Sheng on why he protested for LGBT-rights at MOE

Feb 27, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

Adapted from Coconuts

While one group of Singaporeans went to court to fight for a gay sex law to be removed, another went to the Education Ministry to protest discrimination against transgender students.

Writer Ng Yi-Sheng, 40, was the oldest of five people there yesterday holding signs with messages supporting trans students. He and another attendee left as soon as passers-by gathered, including some he thought might be plainclothes police officers. The three who remained, aged 19 to 32, were taken into custody and later released on bail.

“As soon as [ministry] Security came (which was maybe 2 minutes after we began standing at 5pm), I decided to leave. I had previously stated that I was willing to be part of the protest but would avoid engagement with the police,” the writer told Coconuts via message, hours after the incident.

Ng was photographed holding a sign that read: “Trans students deserve access to healthcare and support.” He, like the others, was motivated to attend by one student’s account of disregard by ministry officials.

He was invited to the protest by other participants and said he wanted to show his support “mostly as an ally” and so young trans people “know that cisgender people also care about them.”

“This protest is focused on the treatment of young transgender students in the school system and it’s something I care deeply about. I – and many other friends, of all genders and orientations – were also bullied in school because we did not conform to standards of ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity,’” he said.

The protest took place on the back of accusations early this year in response to the Education Ministry allegedly blocking the doctor-recommended hormone treatment of a trans student, who also alleged she had been threatened with expulsion for not conforming to a male identity.

After the student, identified only as Ashlee, rebuked the ministry in an online rant, officials issued denials in patronizing statements in which they suggested she might be better off learning at home. Facing a groundswell of criticism, it hasn’t addressed the issue since last week.

Protestors shared a statement calling for Education Minister Lawrence Wong to “end discrimination against LGBTQ+ students by MOE schools” and highlighted some examples of the mistreatment of queer students by schools, such as controlling how they dress and wear their hair.

Regarding Ashlee, the student at the center of the recent controversy, Ng said her experience shows there is still work to be done on how schools treat students.

“Ashlee’s case was infuriating. When a student with the support of doctors and her parents for her transition can’t get [Ministry of Education] and school support… that clearly shows there is STILL something wrong with the way students are being treated based on their trans identity or gender expression,” he wrote.

About Ng Yi Sheng

Ng Yi Sheng is a Singaporean gay writer and the middle child of three siblings. His mother is the founder of global education group EtonHouse that teaches over 12,000 children around the world.

You can read his full Facebook post here.

Top photo by John Gresham

Malay PAP and WP MPs silent on PA saga with some refusing to comment

Jun 16, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

Political leaders in positions of power have the privilege and the platform to chime in on matters concerning the community with the hope of reining in the outrage before it escalates into something worse.

Unfortunately, all the current Malay MPs from both the People’s Action Party and Workers’ Party either did not wish to comment on the PA saga or did not respond, according to TODAY.

Various Malay community leaders and former MPs gave their views on the matter when approached

Mr Zainal Sapari, former MP for Pasir Ris–Punggol Group Representation Constituency (GRC), said that he would not frame the recent incident as a case of racism.

“I believe PA is true in its cause of promoting racial harmony and social cohesion,” the former PA grassroots adviser said.

“Despite their best efforts, such incidents do happen and will happen again in future, but I would not frame it as racism.”

He also hopes that this incident “does not dampen the spirit of many volunteers who want to serve the community, but may make some bad judgement calls unintentionally”.

“We should just apologise, learn from it and move on,” he added.

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, former Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said that the reactions to the incident should be one of understanding rather than taking on an accusatory tone.

“We need to continue to learn from each other — how do we appreciate each other’s cultures and differences and bring about better understanding and harmony — rather than to start pointing fingers,” the former Aljunied GRC MP said.

Mr Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, an interfaith activist and founding board member of the Centre for Interfaith Understanding, said that racism cannot just be confined to an act of an individual or a particular incident.

He said in a Facebook post on Tuesday — which he confirmed with TODAY was a response to the PA incident — that racism is a “structure, and a system of thinking and doing, that can manifest in an individual, group or social organisation through a style of thinking, speech and communication, law and policy, and physical action”.

“One has to go to the root source and identify what makes the individual think, say and act in a particular way,” he said in the post.

“Doing so would bring us to a point where we say it is not his, her, their or my problem, but it is our problem; that there is something wrong in the way we organise society.”

When asked to elaborate on his post, Mr Imran told TODAY that given the sensitivity of the issues concerning racism, we “must learn not to rush into saying that something is racist or not”.

He said that racism is experienced at the “everyday level” and one should be careful not to dismiss and invalidate the experiences of racism, especially among minorities.

“Instead, we must learn to ask ourselves what racism looks like, especially to those who are at the receiving end... Racism feels real, even if we don’t believe so.”

Mr Hazni Aris Hazam Aris, vice-chairman of AMP Singapore, a non-profit group serving the Muslim community, said that there needs to be a “paradigm shift” in how inter-racial relations are approached and understood.

“The types of conversations on race must progress beyond festivals and clothes, and move into understanding values and worldviews that shape how members of a race thinks or behaves.”