The Singapore government has accepted gender transitioning since the 1970s, says writer, poet and playwright Ng Yi-Sheng.
Mr Ng, who was one of the five people who took part in the assembly on Tuesday (26 January) in front of the Ministry of Education (MOE) building against anti-LGBT discrimination, said today that the first gender-affirming surgery in Singapore was carried out in 1971 by a renowned obstetrics and gynaecology specialist, Shan S. Ratnam.
Dr Ratnam, born Shanmugaratnam s/o Sittampalam, spent thirty years researching “sex reassignment surgery”, and was an expert in the matter, according to the National Library Board’s Infopedia.
“In other words, we’ve had official gov acceptance of transitioning for ALMOST HALF A CENTURY. There is no excuse for any gov body to still be ignorant or discriminatory towards trans people today,” said Mr Ng.
Mr Ng also stressed that the protest yesterday was not only about and for transgender youth, but for students of all genders and sexual orientations, including cisgender students who are non-conforming in their gender expression.
Even some straight cisgender friends, he said, have “suffered bullying & shaming in school” due to rigid ideas of “masculinity” & “femininity”.
“Better acceptance of transgender folks *also* helps cisgender folks,” said Mr Ng.
In his critique of MOE’s slogan “Moulding the Future of Our Nation”, Mr Ng said that the Ministry has been failing transgender Singaporeans for generations.
“Friends tell me it’s routine for trans girls to drop out early because of bullying & become sex workers cos they have few other options,” he said, adding that while sex work is “valid work”, it should not be done as a result of having few to no other means to earn a living as a result of systemic discrimination.
The placards held by the individuals, some of which read “#FIX SCHOOLS NOT STUDENTS” and “trans students will not be erased”, are made in connection to the recent saga involving the MOE, in which a transgender student named Ashlee alleged that the Ministry had interfered with her hormone replacement therapy.
The #fixschoolsnotstudents movement, said Mr Ng, is not just about Ashlee — rather, he believes that “we need to do better by *all* trans youth in the system”.
Recognising his gender and socioeconomic privilege, Mr Ng said that notwithstanding such privilege in society, he “felt the same kind of fears as anyone would, & only agreed when I realised I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I refused”.
“If trans youth want me to stand up as an ally—if they’re willing to accommodate my fears enough to let me leave as soon as trouble arrives—then how can I say no?” He said.
Mr Ng also said that police have summoned him to have his statement taken at the Clementi Police Division Headquarters at 3pm today, adding that he will disclose more updates on the matter at a later time.
Mr Ng was one of two individuals who left the assembly early yesterday.
Three other individuals were arrested outside of the MOE building at Buona Vista at about 5.30 pm yesterday for holding and participating in a public assembly without a permit.
They were led away by female police officers and placed in a police van before being ferried away from the location. The individuals were not handcuffed by police at the time of their arrest.
Hong Lim Park or Speakers’ Corner — the only venue in Singapore where citizens are allowed to hold public assemblies often of a political nature without applying for a police permit beforehand — is currently closed due to safety measures taken as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Journalist Kirsten Han noted yesterday that according to sources close to the individuals, the three arrested individuals — two of whom are students while one is not — were held in “lock-up” at the police headquarters at Cantonment Complex.
The three arrested protesters have been bailed out, Ms Han said in a subsequent update.
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.
The 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 students and supporters who assembled outside MOE said in a statement yesterday 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.