Sunday 16 February 2014

Raise level of debate on sexuality issues: MP Nair

Don't turn controversy over HPB's FAQs into 'us' versus 'them', he says
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

THE controversy over the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) FAQs on sexuality should not be reduced to an "us" versus "them" issue.

Instead, Singapore should raise the level of debate, and "have a frank conversation about our approach towards homosexuality", wrote MP Hri Kumar Nair in a Facebook note last night.

Still, it is important to realise that information on sexuality should be readily available for people who need it, he said.

"While many have framed the HPB issue as a pro-gay or anti-gay one, let us not forget the reason for the HPB FAQs in the first place: there are people in our society who have questions concerning their sexuality and who are deeply affected by it. Their needs should not be ignored," he explained.

He added that HPB should not retreat from its educational role and should continue providing a channel for those seeking advice.

In November, HPB had put up a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on its website as part of its programme to educate youth on sexual issues. The FAQs feature issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation.

One of them states that same-sex relationships are "not too different" from heterosexual relationships as they both take the commitment of two people.

Since then, a debate has erupted on whether some of the information on homosexuality was appropriate.

An online petition accusing the FAQs of being "pro-homosexuality" and asking for them to be reviewed has since gathered about 21,500 signatures. A counter petition applauding the FAQs has collected about 4,600 signatures.

Religious leaders and institutions have also joined the debate.

Pastor Lawrence Khong, chairman of LoveSingapore, a network of churches, said the tone of FAQs gives an impression that HPB "condones same-sex relationships".

Yesterday, Mr Nair suggested "the battle will not be resolved by the attacks that are usually associated with this issue - one side calling the other 'evil, paedophiles and deviants', and the other responding with 'ignorant, religious bigots'.

"It may be how other societies deal with such issues, but we can and should strive to be different."

He referred to his own experiences in speaking out for the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual sex.

His stand was based on how the law did not have "the characteristics good laws should have" and not on any "gay agenda".

Yet that did not stop him from being criticised by one side of the debate and hailed by the other.

Both camps, he said, want the Government to give legitimacy to their causes, in a "battle that is not unique to Singapore", citing the example of Canada, which has recognised gay marriage, while others such as Russia have enacted anti-gay laws.

But the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP said this is not an issue the Government can lead in, and it is up to society to figure out its own direction.

"And as time passes, as attitudes change and our knowledge of such matters grows, that direction will invariably change as well."


As time passes, as attitudes change and our knowledge of such matters grows, that direction will invariably change as well.

- MP Hri Kumar Nair, on the controversy over the Health Promotion Board's Frequently Asked Questions dealing with homosexuality. He said that it was up to society to figure out its own direction

Focus should be on importance of traditional family unit: PERGAS
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

THE Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS) has expressed its disappointment with the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) online FAQs on homosexuality.

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) could "be construed by some as tacit support in normalising same-sex relations", PERGAS' statement on Tuesday said.

It added that the FAQs are "insensitive towards the prevailing view of the Singaporean society".

PERGAS cited a recent Institute of Policy Studies survey, which found that 78.2 per cent of Singaporeans have conservative views of same-sex relationships.

The association also said HPB's message should instead be "directed at the importance of the traditional family unit".

"We hope that HPB will be more sensitive when it comes to this issue in the future and take into account views from Muslim scholars and religious bodies such as PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis)," said executive director Ustaz Mohammad Yusri Yubhi Md Yusoff.

PERGAS noted that, in line with Islam's teachings on love and mercy, it was not ostracising lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders.

During yesterday's sermon at mosques here, Muis emphasised the sacredness of the family unit, as part of the focus this year on building resilient families in the Singapore Muslim community.

Asked about PERGAS' comments, an HPB spokesman reiterated that the family remains the basic building block of society, and that the board "appreciates and notes" feedback from parties who have shared their views.

She said the views will be useful in the board's "continual review" of its public education resources, especially for programmes that touch on sexuality.

Objectors can post own FAQs on sexuality

PASTOR Lawrence Khong and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) are certainly welcome to their points of view ("Raise level of debate on sexuality issues: MP Nair"; last Saturday).

However, it is inappropriate for a government agency such as the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to use religious doctrine as a basis for giving information on matters relating to health and wellness, since Singapore is a secular state.

The HPB has done a good job in seeking out the latest and best informed professional opinions on issues of sexuality, and reflecting that information in its Frequently Asked Questions.

Its FAQs are not that different from similar information provided by such professional organisations as the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I suggest that Mr Khong, Pergas and others who disagree with the HPB's information develop their own FAQs or other positional statements on sexuality, and post these on their websites. This will allow them to express their beliefs and provide alternative views.

The HPB's FAQs, however, should remain available to the public as they represent the best informed opinion from a secular, professional point of view.

George D. Bishop (Dr)
ST Forum, 18 Feb 2014

Catholic Church urges dialogue on sexuality FAQs
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2014

THE Catholic Church - the latest to weigh in on a controversy over an advisory on sexuality by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) - is urging constructive dialogue as "the best way forward".

In a statement, the Church said it is for "love and compassion for all regardless of one's sexual orientation", but maintained that "sexual acts outside of a heterosexual nature is not in accordance with the laws of creation".

A gay rights group has welcomed the call for dialogue. "It is in this spirit that we urge all Singaporeans to be open to get to know the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their lives better and understand the challenges that they may be going through," said gay rights and social change movement Pink Dot SG spokesman Paerin Choa.

The comments on Thursday from the Archbishop's Office, which is in charge of 31 Catholic churches here, come a day after the National Council of Churches of Singapore criticised HPB's list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on sexuality, for coming across as "normalising" same-sex relationships.

Uploaded on the board's website last November, the list of 28 questions, which address issues like sexually transmitted infections, besides homosexuality, first created buzz online early this month.

Thousands have since signed online petitions for and against the FAQs. Christian and Muslim religious leadershave also voiced criticism.

One FAQ says same-sex relationships are "not too different" from heterosexual relationships as both need the commitment of two people.

In Parliament on Monday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the advisory does not encourage same-sex relationships and that the Government has not shifted from its stance that the family is the basic building block of Singapore society. A spokesman for HPB said it notes the Catholic Church's feedback and will take into consideration "relevant inputs" to improve its health promotion materials.

Archbishop reaffirms stance on family
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2014

Catholic Archbishop William Goh has reassured believers on the Church's position that the family - comprising heterosexual couples with children - remains the "indispensable, basic building block of society".

But he is also exploring the setting up of support groups for those "struggling with same-sex attraction" and for their loved ones who have difficulty accepting them.

His comments, posted on the archdiocese's website yesterday, come after some Catholics had voiced doubts about where the Church stood on the controversy over a sexuality advisory from the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

Since the debate over whether the advisory normalises same-sex relationships erupted earlier this month, the Catholic community "might have been wondering where the Church's voice was in the discussion", said parishioner Suzanne Rajendra, 50.

The Church has been slower to comment publicly on the issue than other religious groups such as the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS) and the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS).

Commenting last Thursday on the issue, a day after the NCCS, the Catholic Church, in a statement, struck a measured tone and called for "constructive dialogue".

Yesterday, Archbishop Goh said the Church's "non-public engagement" of the groups divided over the HPB advisory was by no means a sign of its "flight" from its "Christian calling to speak the truth and defend the cause of the family".

He said the Church has chosen constructive dialogue with the authorities instead.

This was done so as not to risk polarising society and inflaming the situation further, the archbishop said.

He added that he is aware some Catholics are struggling to come to terms with their own sexuality or that of their loved ones.

"I wish to take this opportunity to assure you that the Church feels with you and views every individual as unique and precious in the eyes of God, regardless of his or her sexual inclination or state of life," he said.

Uploaded on the HPB's website last November, the list of 28 frequently asked questions (FAQs), which address issues such as gender identity, homosexuality and sexually transmitted infections, has drawn support from gay rights groups but opposition from some religious groups.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair welcomed Archbishop Goh's comments on the need for constructive dialogue and the intention to set up support groups.

"Like I said, it's not enough to criticise the HPB and its FAQs... If the Church wants to offer help, that's a good thing. At least there are avenues for people to turn to," he said.

Ms Rajendra appreciated Archbishop Goh's measured message. "I believe the archbishop's statement comes after careful consideration and prayer. It reflects love and neither ostracises nor condemns," she said.

Keep religion and politics apart

FOLLOWING the controversy over an attempt by a religiously motivated group to take over a women's rights group in 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned in his National Day Rally speech that year of the need for separating religion from politics ("PM warns of religious fault lines"; Aug 17, 2009).

While he emphasised the positive role of religion in providing spiritual support, he also expressed concern over religious groups imposing their views on others.

From casinos to abortion to organ donation, some policies do appear to go against religious doctrines. It is inevitable that moral dilemmas will surface occasionally.

However, instead of taking on emotively moralistic tones and drawing battle lines between believers and non-believers, such issues should be discussed in a more pragmatic and scientific manner on strictly secular platforms.

In the case of the recent controversy over the Health Promotion Board's Frequently Asked Questions on sexuality, it is disconcerting that some religious groups and religious leaders have publicly and personally weighed in to oppose the wording of the information, which they claimed endorses homosexual lifestyles.

I am also disturbed that a church is trying to mobilise the larger Christian community against the FAQs in a "pro-377A guide", which echoes the events in 2009.

Whatever one's position, politics in Singapore should be kept secular, and religious leaders should be constantly and clearly reminded of the dire consequences to religious harmony should they start pushing their moral agendas aggressively on a public platform in Singapore's multi-religious society.

Liew Kai Khiun
ST Forum, 25 Feb 2014

Pastor hits out at Health Minister's reply on sexuality FAQ
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2014

FAITH Community Baptist Church senior pastor Lawrence Khong has criticised Health Minister Gan Kim Yong for his parliamentary reply about questions and answers on sexuality that have become a subject of controversy.

In a strongly worded open letter, Mr Khong charged that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has "in effect condoned homosexuality" through sanctioning the FAQ put up on the website of the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

Earlier this month, Mr Gan said that the FAQ did not encourage same-sex relationships. He did so in a written reply to MP Lim Biow Chuan's parliamentary question on the matter.

On a statement in the FAQ that said "a same-sex relationship is not too different from a heterosexual relationship", Mr Gan said in his reply that it should be read together with the next sentence: "Both require the commitment of two people."

Mr Gan also reiterated that the Government had not shifted its stance on the family as the basic building block of Singapore society.

In his letter, Mr Khong said that Mr Gan's statement "amounts to empty rhetoric". He took issue with what the HPB said in the FAQ after the two sentences Mr Gan quoted, and charged that Mr Gan's claim that the first two sentences taken together contain a health message was "made in hindsight to justify the pro-homosexual slant of the answer".

Mr Khong also argued that being pro-family and pro-LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) were irreconcilable. "These are two opposing sets of values and behaviour. One undergirds the institution of the Family. The other undermines the institution of the Family - as so clearly seen in the West," he said.

He also noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made this point during a 2007 parliamentary debate on Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Mr Khong said Mr Gan's reply, and the MOH's view, was at odds with the Government's position on 377A, and also society's views on homosexuality, as reflected in the Our Singapore Conversation surveys and a recent one by the Institute of Policy Studies.

"By the argument in your written reply, MOH has in effect condoned homosexuality. In the name of public health, MOH is indirectly telling our young that it is perfectly okay to pursue same-sex relationships as long as all persons involved play it safe by sticking to one sex partner.

"That is like telling our young they can pump themselves up with illegal and harmful drugs as long as they self protect by not sharing needles," he said.

Mr Khong also asked that the FAQ be taken down until a full review is done. He said the call for such a review comes from a sizeable community that includes the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) and the National Council of Churches in Singapore.

No comments:

Post a Comment