Friday, 22 September 2023

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In barring speaker, SJI has destroyed a chance of fostering a better understanding of the world around us

According to reports, St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) has barred a representative from a varsity LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group to speak at a TED Talks event it has organised. The eleventh hour barring is disturbing because it seems to run contrary to the wishes of the students. The speaker in question was one who the students have chosen. Given that TED Talks are meant to inspire, it seems arbitrary for the school to cancel a speaker that the students want to hear from at the last minute.

I can understand the school’s last minute veto if the speaker in question was a criminal or a terrorist. In this case however, the reason as to why this speaker was barred was down to the fact that she was a research and advocacy director at the Inter-University LGBT network. Why shouldn’t the students hear from her? The school has cited Ministry of Education (MOE) guidelines for the barring while the MOE has said that the Ministry had no input whatsoever in this matter. Given that the two statements directly contradict each other, something does not quite add up.

I can only assume that SJI canceled Ms Rachel Yeo because they were concerned that she might speak about LGBT issues which they have wrongfully equated to the encouragement of an alternative lifestyle. The MOE probably has some guidelines in relation to being pro marriage and supporting traditional family units. Had SJI continued with the event as planned, would the MOE have intervened? Judging from the MOE’s statement, perhaps not although I suppose, we will never know now.

Why did SJI assume that Yeo would speak about LGBT issues just because she was an LGBT advocate? Clearly, based on the answers she gave when interviewed about the cancellation, she was not intending to focus her talk on the LGBT lifestyle. SJI’s assumption was therefore not only inaccurate but highly ignorant. Secondly, even if Yeo did touch on LGBT issues – so what? It is important that students understand that there are lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people around us and they are simply people like the rest of us. There should be no taboo and students have to be aware that they exist. Acknowledging someone’s existence is not tantamount to “encouragement”. Besides, being gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual is not contagious. You are born that way.

In barring Yeo, SJI has essentially prevented its students from hearing from someone that they are inspired by. It has also destroyed a chance of fostering a better understanding of the world around us. Coming from a school that is supposed to develop analytical and critical minds, this is highly disturbing!

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