Friends gather to pay tribute to social worker at memorial. Jonathan Koh.

Anthony Yeo – bashed for speaking up

Jonathan Koh

Over 50 people attended Anthony Yeo’s memorial service held at the Free Community Church (FCC) last Friday. It was a simple and heartwarming tribute to this late veteran counselor in Singapore, who, for the past 3 years, regularly preached at FCC’s Sunday services.

On 20 June 2009, Anthony Yeo passed away due to complications from Leukaemia, leaving behind his brother, wife and children. He was 60 years old.

Friday’s eulogy was delivered by Susan Tang – Anthony’s personal friend and a service pastor at FCC. “What we appreciate and love about Anthony is the fact that he understood and empathised with us on a very deep and real level – he got down and into the messiness and chaos of our lives,” she says.

Fighting the good fight

While Anthony was quick to steer people away from fights and confrontations, Susan added that he did believe in fighting – but only for the right causes.

“Anthony fought for all sorts of marginalized people by opposing the discrimination and bigotry he saw in his time,” Susan eulogizes, alluding to the heated controversy that Anthony generated as a liberal Christian who advocated openly for non-discrimination towards the gay community.

“He was seen to be encouraging the gay lifestyle because he spoke up for them,” says Reverend Yap Kim Hao, Pastoral Advisor at the FCC. Anthony Yeo’s nonjudgmental attitude towards gay people agitated the conservatives.

Rev Yap adds: “The conservatives think that (the gay lifestyle) is a choice. But one cannot make a straight person a homosexual, one can only try to understand – that no one in his or her right mind would want to be gay.”

Bashed for speaking up

Anthony’s speaking up for the gay community did not come without personal costs. CS Zhou wrote in an article on Fridae.com, a gay portal: “It was in the Singapore General Hospital when I went to visit Anthony on the day he passed on that the personal cost he experienced entered into my world. His wife Soo Lan, whom I had not met before, came up to me, held my hands and broke down. Through her heart rending weeping she said she wanted my friends and I to know how much Anthony loved gay people and how he often spoke about his work with the gay community fondly to her.

“Throughout that eternity of a moment as she held on to my hands, I kept hearing two words again and again – “love” and “bashed.” Yes, “bashed” – as Anthony loved again and again, he was bashed again and again and tragically often by the very people he had considered friends. And yet Anthony never stopped loving and he just kept on speaking forth.”

At the memorial service, Zhou says, “Anthony was actually a very sought after Christian preacher. When he openly spoke up for the gay community, he stopped getting invited to speak. Some of this rejection came from friends, which was quite sad.”

Honoring Anthony Yeo

Anthony “did a lot for straight people too, with his counselling and in his quiet way”, though these contributions have largely been “unrecognized”, says Rev Yap. For instance, Anthony helped salvage many marriages from breaking up – and there were many married couples who came seeking marital counseling advice only from him. He also assisted in FCC’s outreach ministries to HIV-positive persons and their caregivers.

The Singapore Democratic Party wrote on its website that Anthony “is also a regular contributor to the Straits times’ Forum, often speaking up for the underdog”, speaking up “in defence of M Ravi who was the lawyer for the late Shanmugam Murugesu, who was hanged in 2007. He also spoke up for the SDP secretary-general when Mr Lee Kuan Yew called him a ‘near- psychopath’”.

Those who wish to send their condolences can do so at http://www.counsel.org.sg/.