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story | Pertina Seah, Contributing Reporter
image | G Spot and the Gender Collective
“A friend of mine was once asked whether he was gay. He exploded into rage for being associated with being gay, before expressing his disgust. I have never felt more unsafe in my life.” So said a third-year National University of Singapore (NUS) student, who identifies as queer, from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). While university students have become more aware and accepting of the existence of gender and sexual diversities, many LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) individuals are still affected by the internalized heterosexism and cis-normativitiy of others. Even as the world progresses to be more accepting of homosexuality, the lack of LGBTQ discourse within universities limits the extent of this acceptance.
Education lies at the heart of LGBTQ discourse. Apathetic—and sometimes ignorant—students who are unaware that sexuality is a spectrum will be able to gain a better understanding of these concerns, and will hopefully come to support the cause. Discourse will also provide a platform to weed out homophobia and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, helping to create a safe space in the process. Most importantly, discourse in universities will ensure that these issues are brought to the bigger community of Singapore, when students graduate and take up positions in both the public and private sectors.
Yet universities do not recognise the importance of LGBTQ discourse, apparent from their lack of recognition of LGBTQ interest groups. Within NUS, there are three LGBTQ interest groups: Yale-NUS College’s G Spot, Tembusu College’s tFreedom, and Cinnamon College’s Gender Collective. These groups are only recognized within their own colleges, and lack official recognition from NUS. Similarly, Kaleidoscope @ NTU, the LGBTQ interest group of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), operates independently and is completely unrecognized by the university’s student affairs office. They receive no support from administration, and only receive limited help from the English division faculty members who approve bookings and provide small amounts of funding. Besides word of mouth, they have no method to reach out to students. Other universities like the Singapore University of Technology and Design do not have LGBTQ interest groups at all.
Unwilling to engage with these issues, universities have adopted the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. The unwillingness to recognize such groups constitutes a tacit form of censorship and discrimination, giving the impression that such discourse is unimportant. Such an attitude promotes a culture of apathy where students are generally unconcerned about LGBTQ issues, resulting in limited discourse. Apart from the three LGBTQ interest groups, there is generally little to no LGBTQ discourse within NUS. Leonard Yap, a second-year student in NUS Business, said: “I don’t think LGBT issues are sufficiently addressed or discussed outside the three main LGBT groups. In my faculty, it is still a very sensitive issue to discuss. There is an unspoken fear that anyone found discussing LGBT issues would be immediately associated as being part of the LGBT community.”
The lack of LGBTQ discourse is detrimental to individuals who identify as such, especially freshmen who are still trying to navigate a new environment. Limited information regarding LGBTQ interest groups is available to freshmen not from Yale-NUS, Cinnamon or Tembusu College. As a result, they may have trouble trying to find or join these groups. An NUS student who identifies as gay spoke about his experience: “Before finding [G Spot, tFreedom, and Gender Collective], I wasn’t able to find an avenue to share the troubles [I faced] as a gay man. Moreover, it was also difficult for me to find like-minded people to discuss LGBTQ issues.”
However, there are some who are more optimistic about the outlook of LGBTQ discourse. Daryl Yang ’18, coordinator of The G Spot, said: “Discourse about LGBTQ issues has definitely increased over the past few years. Young people today are generally more accepting than older generations, and the experiences of those my age are so different even from those just a few years younger. LGBTQ student groups have come a long way, with the establishment of the Inter-University LGBT Network, and new groups springing up across different campuses, and more mature groups having grown in membership significantly as well.”
It seems like LGBTQ discourse has been increasing over the past few years. However, LGBTQ interest groups should not focus on how much they have progressed, but continue assessing how much more they can do to help improve discourse within universities. While some may have the benefit of witnessing firsthand how much LGBTQ discourse has increased over the past few years, freshmen are still forced to accept this limited discourse as a reality. There is always room to improve discourse, to accept, and to spur real change in Singapore.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org