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Anthony Koh gives his take on DBS's support for anti-gay group and Straits Times report on HIV cases.

Different broth but the same old medicine

Anthony Koh

My recent return to Singapore after a year away in Sydney was greeted by a disheartening headline Surge in HIV cases among gay men highlighted on the front page of The Sunday Times (7 Dec). The prominence was deliberate. The report was coincidental, if not timely, following the uproar from the gay community against DBS’s Christmas charity tie-up with Focus on the Family (ST, 5 Dec). Based in the United States, the organization is alleged to be anti-gay. Its mission statement is:

To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide (Source: www.focusonthefamily.com)

With all due respect, Focus on the Family is entitled to uphold their pro-family values. However, it should not single out gay in order to advance its own propaganda. Bringing God into the picture complicates an earthly matter. If we are prohibited from speaking against other races and religions, isn’t it speaking against homosexuals an act of sedition under the veneer of Christianity?

I’d read stories of gay men who are ‘straightened’, married and have children. Such stories are truthful at that point but whether their success still prevails years after is unknown. I am speaking from experience: when I was a teenager, I read the book The Broken Image: Restoring sexual wholeness through healing prayer by Leanne Payne with the hope to reorientate my sexual orientation. I was temporarily straight for about two years before reclaiming my gay identity. I remain as a gay man at age 35 today. If sexual orientation can be counseled and changed, straight men can also be converted into gay men by the same principle. My friends – straight and gay, men and women – all doubt the possibility. I have gay friends who are married and have children but continue to live a double life; some divorced years later when consumed by guilt. Indoctrinations from any source prey on guilt and create a destructive self-image. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray:

…It is society and religion which have conspired to suppress by fear men’s true sexual nature.

According to the multi-faith organization, Religious Tolerance (www.religioustolerance.org), suicides among homosexual youths have elevated and 40% of the homophobia in the United States is caused by Christian churches. Quoting from Straight Talk, a booklet on homosexuality published by Focus on the Family Singapore under it sex education programme, ‘God created the unique relationship between a man and a woman’. Religiously speaking, there is no room for Christianity and homosexuality to co-exist.

DBS’s decision to withdraw the holiday promotion with Focus on the Family from its website is not at all succumbing to intimidation from gay activists as claimed by its Singapore’s counterpart president, Joanna Koh-Hoe. As a national bank, it has a social responsibility to ensure that it does not discriminate against their customers. It also has a reputation to uphold in the mind of all Singaporeans. In the same regards, The Straits Times being the nation’s newspaper has a bigger social responsibility to fulfill. As far as I can recall, gay are always associated with sex, drugs and HIV in our local papers.

It is not surprising that when I told a friend in Singapore that my Australian partner passed away recently, he asked me if he’d died of AIDS. I said no he died of melanoma cancer. He is not the only ignorant one. When my aunties knew that their favourite nephew is gay, their first concern was if I’d get AIDS. How dangerously they were misled! I explained to them that AIDS is not exclusively a gay disease and it affects both homosexuals and heterosexuals; it is a result of promiscuous lifestyle and not sexual preference. The association of promiscuity with gay men is naturalized as gay relationship is perceived as abnormal. Both religion and society reinforce such a perception. My best friend of 28 years (he is straight) called me an outcast because I do not fit into his impression of a promiscuous gay man. I have my values but I do not go round imposing them on my gay friends who are promiscuous. As a friend, I’d remind them about safe sex but ultimately, it is their consequences to bear. I spent an afternoon enlightening my aunties of the other side of gay lifestyle unknown to them. I encouraged them to ask questions but I did not answer on behalf of other gay men whose lifestyles are different from mine. My positive lifestyle is the most persuasive and convincing example and the best. They’d known me as an adult for more than a decade; gay or not, I remain their same, old nephew. They are conservative Christians but they accepted me.

If HIV cases are rising among gay men in Singapore, the effectiveness of our safe sex campaigns has to be reassessed. In Sydney, the gay capital of Australia, educational materials for gay men covers a spectrum of issues like coming out (disclosure of gay identity), living with HIV, serodiscordant relationship (HIV negative men in a relationship with HIV positive men) and cruising tips and safe sex at sex venues. The contents are relevant to gay men and the communication is cohesive visually and textually. Some of the images are visually challenging to drive the message home. In Singapore, our approach is akin to a traditional Chinese saying: different broth but the same old medicine. Safe sex education targeted at gay men has been talked to death except that they are presented in different ways. Ridiculously, the images used are heterosexual couples. It is like trying to sell Penthouse magazines to gay men.

Although gays are portrayed negatively in our mass media, the works by gay artists and writers are studied in schools. Among the many great masters in the arts and cultural history, I wonder how many educated Singaporeans know that Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde are gay. If gay men are bad in the eye of our society, what worth is there to study the works of Shakespeare for example? If by allowing positive gay news in our mainstream media is seen as encouraging and promoting gay lifestyle, then sadly gay men in Singapore can only count on themselves to construct a positive image.

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Read also: Educating DBS by Alex Au.

DBS charity tie-up draws flak by the Straits Times.

LGBTs protest Singapore bank's charity drive for anti-gay Focus on the Family by Fridae.

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