June 2021 Credo
“Soundings” is a series of essays that, like the waves of a sonogram, explore issues in society, culture and the church in light of the Gospel and Christian understanding.
Last year, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) published the findings of its survey on perceptions of and attitudes towards social and moral issues among Singaporeans. According to the report, there is greater acceptance of gay sex and gay marriage now than five years ago, especially among those between the ages of 18 and 25. If this trend continues, there could be greater push for gay rights in the future, and this would in turn possibly result in the revision of certain social policies and legislations in Singapore.
Young people here are possibly becoming more accepting of the LGBT lifestyle due to their exposure to trends in western societies through social media and the internet. Also, there have been concerted efforts of gay advocacy groups in reaching out to young people, especially students at our local universities, such as Yale–NUS, through events such as:
• An orientation programme “for incoming and current NUS and Yale-NUS students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and on the queer spectrum”, organised by queernus
• “Drag King Workshop” for students, organised by The G Spot
• “Queer Together” which, according to the publicity poster, is an “open call for Queer/LGBTQIA+ artists to be part of a Queer-friendly incubation space and art exhibition”, organised by Yale-NUS Storytellers
• A group discussion on the topic, “To be Gay in Singapore: Negotiating Liminal Spaces”, organised by students from Tembusu College
These developments mirror, to some extent, what has long become quite common in the West, where university curriculums are inundated with queer studies and where LGBT activists are shaping the culture on campuses.
Commenting on the trends of gay activism in tertiary institutions in the United States, Robert Reilly writes: “Education is an essential part of the drive to universalise the rationalisation of homosexual behaviour[…]. What began as a plea for diversity ends with a demand for conformity.”
In Mobilizing Gay Singapore, Lynette Chua, assistant professor of law at the National University of Singapore, discerns three patterns of change that characterise the evolution of the gay advocacy in Singapore from the early 1990s to 2013, which she describes as “the movement’s coming out, tactical escalation and movement expansion and diversification, and opening up of political and media spaces.”
“They [the gay activists] have taken the issue of homosexuality from the dimly lit spaces of nightlife and cruising to Singapore’s highest law-making body and courtrooms, state-control media, and public spaces,” she writes.
Their relative success, despite having to content with an “authoritarian state”, is due to a strategy which Chua dubs as “pragmatic resistance”—they develop movement tactics based on a reading of the political and cultural environments, while ensuring enough flexibility to accommodate changes in society. Pragmatic resistance also requires that the activists should be careful to avoid direct conflict with the state and to ensure that their public actions are in keeping with the laws of the land. They seek to push the envelope ever so cautiously through the rhetoric of inclusion, while at the same time appearing to value social stability.
In 2016, the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity conducted a survey that reported that 87 percent of Church leaders and 63 percent of young adults are aware of the LGBT movement in Singapore. However, 57 percent of Church leaders and 51 percent of young adults are of the view that the Church’s efforts in addressing LGBT issues are currently inadequate.
While the Church should not be fixated on this issue, more can and should be done to help its members appreciate the profound influence that LGBT activism and the media have on the young, including Christians. The Church must stand firm on the clear teachings of Scripture and tradition on human sexuality, marriage and the family, and do much more to establish its members (especially the young) in them.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor at Trinity Theological College (Singapore) and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.