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Ng Chee Meng is a member of the People's Action Party (PAP) and a former air force general. He served as the 8th Chief of Defence Force, holding the rank of Lieutenant-General. He was also the Chief of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) from 2009 to 2013. He is currently a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency following the Singapore general elections, 2015. Ng is also the Acting Minister for Education and the Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Transport, having been appointed to these offices by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with effect from 1 October 2015.

Ng has publicly expressed his views regarding LGBT issues on several occasions - once during a conference in January 2016 and another during a dialogue on sexuality education in schools in September 2016.

Comments during Singapore Perspectives 2016Edit

The "Singapore Perspectives 2016" conference was organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Monday, 18 January 2016 and held at the Fairmont Ballroom, Raffles City Convention Centre. The theme of the annual event that year was “We” – the first word in the National Pledge summoning into existence that collective noun, "Singaporean". The conference was attended by almost 1,500 people.

During the Q&A session, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng answered a question from Pink Dot representative Paerin Choa on LGBT rights in Singapore.

Ng Chee Meng answers questions on LGBT rights03:42

Ng Chee Meng answers questions on LGBT rights


Transcript:

Choa: "I have questions regarding rights of minorities groups like the LGBT community and single mothers. Now, we are often told when we are talking about issues that deal with these communities that such issues are polarising, and it is most practical and beneficial to wait for society to evolve before we can see any change implemented in our policies. I have got two observations - the first one is that protections of such minority interests would only be granted when the majority approves, which kind of defeats the purpose of protecting the minorities. And sometimes, the time and pace of waiting for these changes to happen might not keep up to the needs that we need to deal with – bullying of LGBT students in schools, housing needs and healthcare needs. My question is, while we are waiting for society to evolve, should the Government, or is there a role for the Government to intervene to take steps to protect minority interests in the meanwhile, and to help change misconceptions of such minority communities? Thank you."

Ng: "Now, there are policies already that are answering to some of these needs, whether single mothers, through MSF policies, through HDB policies, that are answering to these needs. But for the other part of the question you asked about LGBT issues, whether we can come together as a society? Well, my basic answer to you again is the space for consensus building within this is small because the viewpoints are quite opposed. Very much like maybe in the long past where in the midst of racial riots, those viewpoints are far part as well. So that, can we have the patience to educate, to allow the processes of discussion, of forging common bonds to move these relationships forward? So there are some things we can draw from history, slightly different context, but nevertheless with the same texture. So in some things really, the best way forward is to allow it to evolve. Society changes, each generation in our own outlook of life and ideals and whether over time, we’ll find new equilibriums that society at large accepts. So on those two parts, I wouldn't quite put them into the same category. Single mothers' need for housing with maybe other needs for us to help with the children. All those I think are spaces that we have more convergence, we can really design policies. In other areas, we will let the evolution of time find, allow the evolution of time so that society can find the way forward."

Another question on LGBT rights was also asked:

Foo Ai Long (a National Junior College student): "How are we to achieve cohesive identity when groups like single mothers and LGBT are marginalised, marginalised at the edges of society in the sense that they don’t achieve the same rights and benefits, like childcare benefits or rights to reserve BTO flats. For example, the petition to remove Adam Lambert from the New Year countdown attracted 20,000 signatures. And the next day, there was a counter-petition, attracting a similar number of signatures. Here we have two very different groups, with very different world views. On one hand, a group with pro-family values, who believe in the nuclear family unity, and the other with a more liberal view towards LGBT rights. My question is – does the Government have a definitive stance on LGBT rights, and how it going to handle this delicate clash of values?"

Ng: "I have no new answer for you, because I have answered the previous gentleman. When you talk about two different views, do we come into the conversation to force our viewpoint, or do we come in with the humility and respect to consider other viewpoints? At the end of it, how do we look at the solution as the best way forward? It’s not just a simple debate. Maybe the solution is to allow for the luxury of time for evolution. It won’t be satisfactory for a young girl like you, but in the human dynamics of society and governance, sometimes time is a great resource. There will definitely be issues we won’t have consensus over. We will just have to find a way forward under this umbrella that is Singapore."

Comments during dialogue on sexuality education in schools, September 2016Edit

During a moderated dialogue with Yale-NUS College students on 6 September 2016, Ng, then Acting Minister of Education, was asked by an LGBTI student leader, who wrote this account, about comprehensive sexuality education in Ministry of Education (MOE) schools in the light of the recent NUS orientation saga[1].

The undergraduate felt that Ng gave a very measured response, highlighting that sexuality education had "evolved" over the years from Ng's time when he did not even know what menstruation was, to what it had progress to contemporarily. Ng suggested that while there definitely had been change, the rate of change was debatable depending on one's opinion of whether it was fast enough or not. Ng rehashed the government's position that it would let society evolve and that society would definitely change, whether more liberally or conservatively.

The undergraduate then followed up with a more personal question of whether there was any non-discrimination policy for teachers who identified as gay, bringing up the case of someone who was told by the powers that be that he might be removed from his teaching position in a school should parents complain about his relationship or sexuality. Ng responded, saying that as far as he knew, there was no human resource (HR) policy that discriminated against LGBT teachers and that as long as the teacher did not 'exploit' his position as a teacher, no action would be taken. In Ng's own words, it was alright as long as the teacher did not "impose his own values in a negative sense".

The undergraduate then followed up with whether this meant that things had changed since 2007 when his own teacher in Raffles Institution, Otto Fong, came out and was forced by the Ministry of Education to take down his blog because it "did not permit teachers to endorse homosexuality openly, because teachers had special authority - they had influence over students, and were often regarded as role models." Ng replied that he did not know of that incident in 2007, and that he hoped things had improved since then. He asked if the student thought it had and the undergraduate responded that he hoped it had.

The student meant to leave the conversation there, but another student in the audience questioned why her friend who was in a lesbian relationship back in secondary school was forced to undergo counselling, despite her parents' support of the relationship. The Minister responded saying that speaking as a parent of his age, he would want to guide his child in the right direction, with the right values. He then asked if the students in the audience would. The same student said that she would not because young people should be allowed to explore their identity to understand who they are.

Ng then said he wanted to hear from others in the audience, and this was what most surprised the undergraduate. Several other students shared about their own friends who were also gay or lesbian and had faced tremendous challenges coming to terms with their own identity in the face of disapproval and rejection from their teachers and families.

Ultimately, the conversation progressed into a back-and-forth between the Minister and some of the other students over whether students should be counselled by their teachers or school counsellors for being gay or lesbian. Ng tried to defend the intervention, noting that schools only intervened when the gay student was sexually active because he was underaged. This was refuted both by the student who penned this account and several others who shared about their friends who were involved in purely romantic relationships and similarly were disciplined or reproached.

Finally, the Minister said something along the lines of how the policy had to cater to the majority and space made for exceptions with the minority. Because the student left earlier, he was told that Ng later contradicted this principle when discussing the elected presidency issue with regard to minority representation, stating that policies should protect both majority and minority.

This was particularly troubling to the LGBTI student leader because he was essentially saying that young LGBTI people, many of whom had experienced self-harm and depression, should suffer in silence because they were the minority. He raised his hand and wanted to bring this up, but as he was about to speak, Ng shut him up and said that he did not want to listen to him anymore and wanted to hear from others instead.

Ng ended with saying that he had gay friends and that while he did not agree with some of their views or choices because he was "more on the conservative side of things", he still respected them as his friends.

Ng then briefly returned to the topic after taking a few other questions, saying that he acknowledged the idealism of young people to achieve a certain ideal they had, and encouraged them to pursue that ideal by bringing it closer to reality. He then looked at the student leader and said that they should strive to realise their ideals by working respectfully and constructively. Ng repeated what he said, saying specifically that he hoped that the student had heard him. The student responded and said that I did and that I was taking down what he said.

While the student was disappointed and frustrated (but definitely not surprised) by Ng's final responses regarding policies being tailored to the majority (especially because Singapore's queer community was still such a small and insignificant part of the electorate) and his own personal attitude towards the issue, he was very encouraged by the fact that his was not the only voice in the room bringing these issues up. He had intended only to put these issues out there and did not expect others to also engage so actively with them.

Ng talked about how things were evolving, and the student thought he definitely saw it. Maybe it was because the event was held at Yale-NUS and the audience was made of a self-selecting group of students, but it was still progress nonetheless. More importantly, the student hoped that Ng heard their young voices and would go back to his office at Buona Vista to hopefully implement policies that could do other young queer people right in future.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Gillian Lim, "Singapore Perspectives 2016 in depth: Who are “we”?", The Middle Ground, [2].
  • Singapore Perspectives 2016 "We", Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy[3].
  • Singapore Perspectives, Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy[4].
  • Daryl Yang, Dialogue with Acting Minister of Education, Ng Chee Meng, on sexuality education in schools, 6 September 2016:[5].

AcknowledgementsEdit

This article was written by Roy Tan.

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