Reading the online debates that have ensued as a result of the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) FAQs on sexuality has given me great grief. Before the so called “traditional values” bandwagon round on me, let me categorically state that despite strongly disagreeing with their opinions, I respect their right to hold their views in its entirety. What I find objectionable is the line of logic in which their arguments are based.
Using Lawrence Khong’s article as an example, let me attempt a point-by-point rebuttal.
Propaganda, or not?
“The FAQs draw a false equation between heterosexual and homosexual relationships in a manner that smacks of liberationist propaganda intended to mainstream homosexuality.”
To assert that something is propaganda, would be to suggest that the underlying information was calculated, through the use of mass manipulation, to convince the public that, in this case, one form of lifestyle was better than the other. However, the HPB FAQ does not state which way the tide should swing. What it has done was to set out information in an objective manner – in a nutshell:
1. explain what homosexuality is;
2. accept that homosexuality exists; and
3. point out that it is not a mental illness to be homosexual.
Logically, these are not arguments made to try and convince otherwise heterosexual people to become homosexuals. If the HPB were espousing the pros of a gay lifestyle whilst declaring the cons of a heterosexual life, then Mr Khong’s line of reasoning would have merit. In this instance, it would seem more fear-mongering than an objective reading of the HPB FAQs.
Is procreation the only norm?
“A heterosexual relationship is natural and normal, with the capacity to procreate. This is based on the fact that male and female bodies are sexually complementary. In contrast, such sexual complementarity does not exist between two people of the same sex. A homosexual relationship is, therefore, unnatural, abnormal, and procreation is impossible.”
Mr Khong’s seems to be suggesting that a normal relationship is based upon the ability to procreate. What of infertile couples then? Is Mr Khong implying then that these childless relationships are therefore abnormal? What about heterosexual couples who may choose not to have children? Are they also deemed unnatural? I should hope not.
There are many environmental studies which in fact state that our world is overpopulated and that if we continue multiplying at this rate, the world in which we inhabit will no longer be able to sustain us. If we really came to that point, is Mr Khong then advocating that unions not be formed?
A relationship is one that is built on love, trust, friendship and mutual respect between two human beings. It should not be hinged just on procreation.
While this article is not about the boon or banes of having offspring, I would like to point out that Mr Khong’s blanket assertions about what is natural may not be altogether objective. Humanity and its intertwining relationships are complex. To reduce something as “unnatural” just because it is unable to reproduce is surely a gross simplification.
A debatable law
“It blatantly promotes and encourages an alternative lifestyle that violates the moral standard set out by the law of the land, which regards heterosexual relationships as the norm. This is reflected in the distinction between heterosexual and homosexual relationships under laws such as Section 377A of the Penal Code. It desensitises Singapore’s young on issues of decency and morality. It goes against the majority view that the homosexual lifestyle is wrong and undesirable for our nation.”
Again, I fail to understand how acknowledging the existence of homosexuality “promotes” it. There are homosexuals in the world. They share their lives amongst us and live in our community. They are human beings like the rest of us. They eat, sleep, love their families, have hopes, aspirations etc. just like us. Recognising that they exist and live amidst us is not a promotion of a particular lifestyle. Acknowledgement is not the same as promotion.
Section 377A is inherited from archaic Colonial laws. England, where these laws originate has moved away from this stance decades ago. It is not Singapore’s values, so to speak, to criminalise gay behaviour. It was our colonial masters who imposed that law on us. Just because it is now the law of the land, is not justification that it should remain so.
Laws do not remain static and should evolve with the times. For the ample avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting for the purposes of this article, which way the law should swing. Until this issue is properly debated in Parliament and put to a vote in Singapore, I will not purport to second guess where the line between the silent majority or vocal minority lie. Mr Khong should likewise not assume.
Singapore’s young are increasingly savvy and globalised. They watch international news channels and have access to global norms through the Internet. Much of the developed world accepts the existence of homosexuality and this would be reflected in their television and news coverage. Is Mr Khong suggesting that channels such as CNN and the BBC be clamped down upon too? If the existence of an FAQ is so objectionable to him, why stop there – why not request for any news or television coverage of any network that accepts the existence of homosexuality to be removed too?
Gays don’t cause declining birth rates
“It contradicts declared government policy. It undermines our pro-family Government’s efforts to encourage heterosexual marriage to boost our national birth rate, perpetuate the family unit (the basic building block of society), bring up the next generation and ensure the continuity of this nation.”
Last I checked, PM Lee did not declare what the government policy was. All he said re Section 377A in 2013 was:, “Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it.” While hardly defending gay rights, it is certainly not a ringing endorsement for the anti-gay rights camp either. It is the classic sit on the fence approach which means that the government is employing a “wait and see” tactic.
To link the existence of homosexuals to our birth rate issue is surely below the belt. The two are not even related. Denying the existence of homosexuals is not going to suddenly make them marry the opposite sex and have children. Besides, the underlying issues causing the low birth rates amongst heterosexual couples will not have been resolved which means that this group will not procreate just because we ignore the giant elephant in the room.
Facing up to the existence of homosexuality does not negate family values nor does it discourage heterosexual marriages. Just because I acknowledge that Person A is gay will not make me gay. It will not make me divorce my wife and jump into bed with a man. It is not contagious like the common flu. The two are separate and distinct issues.
The role of counsellors
“HPB adopted a biased and selective approach by naming only a pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group to help those who are looking for support. We are disappointed that HPB’s original article referenced only one option for help, namely Oogachaga. It’s hotline is run by specially trained LGBTs or LGBT-affirming counsellors. To exclude other available avenues of care, such as Liberty League and Focus on the Family, is to discriminate in favour of LGBT-affirming organisations. This is both unjust and harmful.”
Liberty League and Focus on the Family, the two groups suggested by Mr Khong are both pro Christian groups. Lest we forget, Singapore is not a religious state. It is a secular state and one that is multi faith and multi-racial. With that in mind, why is it unjust or harmful to list secular groups only? I would add that to list religious groups would be harmful to our secular state status.
If there are religion neutral groups who are non LGBT affirming, perhaps then HPB can list these side by side with the alleged LGBT affirming groups? I would submit humbly that perhaps none of these groups exist.
I should also submit that professional counsellors are deemed professional when they are unbiased and objective. They would not force an individual one way or other. They are trained to look at each individual on his or her own merits and work with whatever direction that individual chooses to pursue. Is Mr Khong now also undermining professional counsellors who are not of his faith?
The role of the counsellor is to support and above all, listen to his client. It is not to tell him which way is right but to guide him to make up his own mind. To force a particular ideology on a client is therefore not the purpose of counselling.
Love them? Then why deny them?
“We disagree with the claim that moral objection to homosexual behaviour is based on “irrational fear, disgust, or hatred” of homosexuals or bisexuals because they “do not conform to traditional sexual roles and stereotypes”. Far from it. Moral objection is based on the intrinsic physiological nature of the male and female bodies. We do not despise homosexuals or hold them in contempt. We esteem them as fellow human beings of intrinsic worth. Each one is precious, deserving respect and love, just like anyone else.”
If you love them, why deny their existence? If you respect them, why raise arms against a website that simply provides information on what it means to be homosexual? At the risk of flogging a dead horse, it is illogical to base morality on the basis of procreation for reasons already set out above.
Safe sex for heterosexuals only?
“The FAQs fail to give an accurate picture and clear warnings of the health risks posed by alternative sex. According to medical research and mental-health studies, the threat is real and severe. Homosexuals have a shorter lifespan, more sexually transmitted infections and more health problems than the general population.”
This blanket assertion is highly problematic, because it suggests a direct and causal link between homosexual sex and higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. It alludes us into believing that if we are not homosexuals, we are safer from STDs. That is not only incorrect, but also irresponsible for Mr Khong to even allow such a view to manifest.
Indeed, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers that the best ways to prevent STDs are abstinence, long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, and adequate protection during intecourse – might I add, in that order of effectiveness. Interestingly, these steps of prevention are no different for either heterosexual or homosexual couples. Why then would Mr Khong only make the distinction about the health risk posed by homosexual sexual activity?
If Mr Khong does indeed believe that each homosexual person “is precious, deserving respect and love, just like anyone else”, then he must surely realise that the continued marginalisation of homosexuals in public discourse would only exacerbate discrimination and give the LGBT community less information and less confidence to take open and active steps to secure their own health, such as through the use of contraceptives and seeking timely medical help.
The HPB FAQs should be seen as an attempt to open up these doors of information. Indeed, HPB already deals with the dangers of STDs in other parts of its website. Mr Khong’s attempt to discredit this section of the FAQs, unfortunately, distracts public discourse from such needed information that can be beneficial to both heterosexual or homosexual couples.
All in it for the long term
“The FAQs make an unproven assertion that homosexuals can have long-lasting relationships and, in this way, the FAQs clearly promote a “mainstreaming homosexuality as normal” bias. We disagree because this claim is only theoretical. Some research findings show a different trend. Homosexuals register a higher incidence of short-lived relationships and sexual violence.”
Far from being unproven, there are many homosexuals that have long lasting and meaningful relationships. Has Mr Khong not read about the many gay unions that have been celebrated worldwide? Many of these partnerships have lasted for decades.
Studies made by the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest scientific and professional organisation representing psychology in the United States with the world’s largest association of psychologists (more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members), have shown that “like heterosexuals, many lesbian, gay and bisexual people want to form stable, long-lasting relationships and many of them do. In fact, researchers have found that the majority of lesbian, and gay, adults are in committed relationships and many couples have been together 10 or more years.”
For the findings that he has on gays having short lived relationships and sexual violence, there must be an equal number (if not more) of findings that show exactly the opposite.
Above all, an open society
“In closing, this is a national concern. It is about the kind of Singapore we want in 20, 30, 50 years from now. Our actions today will affect the future for generations to come. The right actions will help the family unit to thrive and the nation to flourish. Misguided actions will yield bad outcomes and destructive repercussions. As the family unit goes, so goes society, so goes the nation.”
I couldn’t agree with this more but I want to live in a society that always strives to be informative and educated. I want to live in a country that respects differences. Most of all, I want to be part of a nation that can agree to disagree without the need to impose the will of one over the other.
Mr Khong, I do not challenge your faith or moral convictions, but please do not try to second guess mine. Why would our country go to the dogs just because we acknowledge that people may choose to live life differently? They are not asking you to be gay. Why are you effectively asking for the denial of their right to be recognised as existing?