Protest outside Ministry of Education reflect “frustrations of youths who are continually silenced”: S’pore LGBT organisations

The assembly that took place outside the Ministry of Education (MOE) building on Tuesday (26 January) signalled “the frustrations of youths who are continually silenced and rendered invisible by the system”, said several Singapore-based LGBT organisations.

Pink Dot SG, Prout, Ready4Repeal, Sayoni, TransBeFrienders and TransgenderSG in a joint statement yesterday said that the individuals involved “are youths who believe they have exhausted formal communication channels, and will not be heard unless they take drastic action that puts themselves at risk”.

Citing a Universal Periodic Review report — to be submitted to the United Nations — prepared by TransgenderSG, Sayoni, and Asia Pacific Transgender Network, the organisations noted that 77.6 per cent of openly transgender students had negative experiences in school ranging from bullying to sexual abuse.

Less than a third agreed or strongly agreed that they felt safe at school, and only 24 per cent said there was a staff member they could go to for support.

“The report also found that school administrators sought to prevent transgender students from transitioning, or implemented unreasonable demands, thereby placing pressure on even high-performing transgender students to drop out of school,” the organisations added.

MOE, they said, has not done enough to assure transgender students that they will be adequately supported by their schools.

The organisations also referenced the case of Ashlee, a transgender student who alleged that the Ministry had interfered with her hormone replacement therapy.

MOE subsequently denied the allegations made by the student and issued a follow-up statement on the matter, saying that it is “not in a position to interfere with any medical treatment, which is a matter for the family to decide on”.

Clinicians at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), said MOE in a joint statement with IMH last week, will often consult “a wide range of stakeholders” in the process of treating individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Final decisions on the use of HRT “rest with clinicians and their patients”, said MOE and IMH, adding that in cases where patients are minors, such treatments will require their parents’ written consent.

The LGBT organisations pointed out that MOE’s statement on the matter “still fails to clarify if students are free to choose between campus-based learning and home-based learning”.

“The statement also failed to address the central issue: if MOE had in fact interfered with Ashlee’s hormone therapy,” they said.

The LGBT organisations urged the government to “examine why these youths felt compelled to hold a peaceful demonstration” and to revise “their sexuality education programme to address the needs of gender-diverse students”.

“Many more LGBTQ+ students will continue to suffer until the Ministry works with LGBTQ+ affirming experts and the students themselves to implement policies and processes that safeguard their well-being.

“The way forward is meaningful engagement and concrete steps towards a truly conducive learning environment for all,” they said.

The students and supporters who assembled outside MOE on Tuesday said in a statement that discrimination and harassment against LGBT students “is a long-standing issue in our schools which damages their wellbeing and denies access to safe and supportive education”.

“Students themselves, human rights and civil society groups, as well as educators, counsellors and other professionals working with young people, have raised concerns about discriminatory and intrusive practices by schools, which hurt both LGBTQ+ students, as well as heterosexual and cisgender students, by undermining privacy, bodily autonomy and well-being,” they said.

The students and supporters also urged MOE to acknowledge and apologise for the harm done by schools to LGBT students through their schools’ discriminatory practices, and to clearly and explicitly commit to end such discrimination in the education environment.

“This must include working closely with students themselves and LGBTQ+ groups to understand their concerns, and to draw on and implement their existing concrete ideas and expertise,” they said.

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