Tolerance Vs Acceptance

13 July 2003

“It’s not about gay rights – it’s survival” screams the July 9 2003 Straits Times commentary by resident writer, Chua Mui Hoong.

It is a baffling, if not deliberate sensational and misleading headline as it provokes the question, “Does the straight really need gays to survive?”

Typical of the National Paper’s style, this statement is not what it seems. Rather, the article stirs the pot, and acts as a propaganda support to our Prime Minister’s statement in a TIME article/ interview entitled, “Lion in Winter”. Like Mr Goh’s comment in the article, Chua’s commentary is a no-brainer meaning “might has well not have said it”.

In her “well-researched” (depends on how you define research) article, Chua simplifies the equation for her readers and whittles everything down to bread and butter issues. She dumbs on us buzz words such as
“creative”, “fusionpolis” (Is that a Straits Times creation? creative for creative sake?) to confuse and quote from books and examples to support her claims that


While some gay quarters will be delighted and heartened by her vocal support for the sexually minority, her piece is in fact a stab and a regression for the progress and welfare for the Singapore gay community.

Let’s go back to the strikingly obvious headline. She is telling Singaporeans (the conservative ones especially) that they don’t have to worry about gays trying to fight for their rights to things such as marriage because it was never an issue of rights for them. Stated in black and white, it means Singapore gays DO NOT NEED any rights at all.

It is well-acknowledged that Singapore, under the rule of the PAP, has never been concerned with “rights”. Gay rights which is a form of rights born out of the umbrella of human rights is hence, never a consideration. It is generally accepted that Singapore should worry about the economy first and foremost.

Seen in this perspective, Chua’s statement is not that alarmingly shocking. Chua is merely reiterating the stance of our cabinet. If we cannot resolve the question of “human rights”, I don’t think we can even talk about gay rights in the first place. Her deceptive title hence hints at a country that is still years away from forming a liberal democracy.

What is wrong with not having gay rights? Some might argue. After all, we have survived and remained economically competitive without “rights”. Singapore is already opening up and it takes time before people will “tolerate” gays.

This is the crux of my argument and sorest point with Chua’s definition of how gay people should be treated. It is objectionable that she chooses to use the word “tolerate”. By that, she implies that the best gays can do is to be “tolerated” in Singapore society. She deems them a separate entity, who because of their difference in sexual preference, has to be “tolerated” for economic advancement. Like Mr Goh, she means that if it were not for economics, we can continue to ignore gay people, their needs and welfare.

As a PR guardian of PAP, she has successfully magnified their opinions. If PAP treats Singaporeans as digits to contribute to growth, then there should be no difference to gays as well.

Because she thinks they have to be “tolerated”, it inherently implies that they are not to be viewed kindly, not to be treated as moral upright citizens, regardless of their contribution to society; and always considered inferior to the straight population. If ever there was a cure for gayness converting them to becoming straight, she would be the first to say, “hey lets convert all of them back to being straight because we have been tolerating them all along.”

If certain segments of Singapore are to be “tolerated”, I wonder what should be the level of commitment for this group towards contributing and making a home in Singapore. What is the purpose of “Remaking Singapore” which aims to treat every citizen as equal when it sees “tolerance” for some quarters as the answer to social integration?

Chua conveniently forgets to mention that there is a huge difference between gays in Singapore and San Francisco which she mentioned in her article.

In San Francisco, the gay community is part of the city population. Gay Pride Parades are participated not by only the gay enclave but the straight population as well to celebrate diversity. Though there still exist San Franciscans who might disagree with the visibility of gays in San Francisco, the government and majority of the population has not chosen to impede the growth of a community. Gays are allowed to show their unity as a group, voice their concerns and make a difference to their city. Because they know that they can make a difference, they choose to make this their home.

This is a huge difference compared to Singapore. Our saunas and gay bars are mere economic contributors. Allowing gay people to serve in civil positions serve the same narrow interest towards economic betterment.They serve as a superficial or material need without being sincerely interested in contributing to the betterment of the welfare and needs of gay people in Singapore. If hence, this is the position that society and the government takes, then gays in Singapore will never feel at home.

The key word should be “acceptance” which has not been mentioned in any published articles by the government or journalists. Acceptance means integration into mainstream society. It means being part of the big national family. It is a positive term and not a negative inflection which “tolerance” implies.

The graciousness of a society is more than just courtesy or arts appreciation. It is about the majority respecting the existence of the minority, their views, and their involvement in the country.

A better society should not be solely concerned about achieving material prosperity; or to be comfortable with superficial peace and harmony within its citizens. It is one that accepts diversity; it is about giving people despite their differences, the ability, opportunity and channels to lead happy meaningful lives.


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