The recent announcement by Dr VincentWijeysingha of his sexual orientation has raised questions aboutwhether theSDP is reneging on our promise of notpursuing a “gay agenda”.$CUT$
I had stated in 2011 during the general elections that the SDP would not pursue a gay agenda. I say again: Neither the Party nor any of our members, including Vincent, will embark on a gay agenda.
The need for patience
Homosexuality is a complex issue that modern society must deal with. No one is going to be able to wish awaythe LGBT community or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Like it or not,we must face this reality. We must also acknowledge that it isbecause of society’s rejection that many in the gay and lesbiancommunity go through tormented lives, ending up with brokenminds and even taking their own lives. Compassion is what is needed in dealing with this matter.
At the same time, however, the gaycommunity must understand the sensitivities of those – includingthose who belong to religious faiths – who cannot yetaccept an alternative to traditional sexual orientation.
Not everyone who cannot acceptthe homosexual lifestyle is homophobic. These are matters of the heart and of faith especially for our Christian and Muslimfriends – matters which run deep into one’s being and cannot be argued away. The emergence of the LGBT issue in the public arena is arelatively new occurrence and like all things novel, there will beconflict in views which will require prayer and spiritual study. To simply label views steeped in religious teachings as misinformed is to widen the chasm of misunderstanding.
The gay community must also realisethat the law is only one aspect of the controversy. Even if Section377a of the Penal Code is repealed, there is still the outstanding –and I suspect the predominant – issue of acceptance ofhomosexuality by society at large. Parents are often afraidto accept their children’s homosexuality not simply because of theirfear of the law. No, the problem is more complex and will requiremore than the political solution of abolishing Section 377a.
Compassion, not discrimination
Unfortunately, in the course of thedebate some comments have been directed at Vincent, in particular,and the homosexual community, in general, that were personal andhurtful. As society evolves and new issues emerge such as the rolethat Singapore’s gay community plays in our nation’s life, we havean obligation to keep the debate respectful and civil even if we havedeep disagreements with each other. To cast slurs is unhelpful andserves only to deepen misunderstanding and hate.
I, like many of you, have come to knowand like Vincent for the person that he is – a good Singaporean with adeep commitment to serving his country and fellow citizens. That he isgay changes nothing.
In 2010, Vincent expressed his desireto join the SDP. When the elections neared, I invited him to stand asa candidate. Party leaders had come to know Vincent and felt that hewould make an intelligent and caring representative for the people.We supported his candidacy. His sexual orientation would not distracthim from being the dedicated servant that he would be. To depriveSingaporeans of that choice would be remiss of the SDP. Our decision proved justified by his conduct during the 2011 GE.
Like Vincent, there are many gay peoplein our community who want to dedicate their lives to serving ournation in various capacities. There is much that they have contributed to society. They only ask that their fellow citizensaccept them for who they are.
A couple of years ago, I brought mychildren to watch Aladdin, a hilarious musical staged by localproduction company Wild Rice.Watching my children squeal in delight and their eyes light up asthey watched the kaleidoscope of light and sound on stage wassomething quite unlike anything else I have ever experienced and, asany parent will testify, an experience to treasure. The play was put togetherby many who are in the LGBT community and I thank them for bringingso much beauty and laughter into this world.
The SDP’s position
The SDP stands on the bedrock of the principle of non-discrimination. Discrimination – whether it bereligious, social or racial – has caused much conflict and miseryin the human race, including bringing about slavery, genocide and even world wars. The SDP wants to worktowards a society where compassionatetolerance, instead of discrimination, abounds.
From a political standpoint, it may beexpedient for a political party to ignore the issue and keep silentabout it. It is excruciatingly tempting to adopt such a tactic. Thereis, however, one important consideration: Nations fail and societiesbecome dysfunctional when political leaders yield to thetemptation of avoiding hard questions and, worse, pretending that theydon’t exist.
We may not always know the answers tothe problems that confront our society and we may not always make theright decisions – no one can. But we must never be afraid to address the concerns for all our fellow Singaporeansand make the best choices with what we believe in and the limitedknowledge that we possess.
At the minimum, our conscience aspolitical leaders must always be pricked. It is only when we grapplewith the difficult issues of our time in an open and honest mannercan we become better leaders.
In the end, we cannot offerSingaporeans anything else other than honesty in our thoughts anddedication in our hearts.
As I mentioned, homosexuality is a complex issue that the process of voting alone cannot resolve – I’m sure ourfriends and opponents in the PAP, too, will admit this. It will takepatient dialogue from both sides of the divide. But until we do, let us not be mired inconfrontation and impatience. Instead, let us find a way to resolve ourdifferences in love and understanding.
Perhaps, the conservative and LGBTsegments of our community could sit and have an open dialogue. The less thesecommunities talk, the more misunderstand there will be. We may nevercome to a complete agreement about what is and is not acceptable, butat least we can be honest with each other. And that, ultimately,must be our collective goal.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party