A staff member of Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) was reprimanded and suspended from delivering sexuality education lessons in the future after he made derogatory and unfounded claims about the LGBTQ+ community during a school presentation.
The staff had given a presentation to a cohort of Secondary 4 students last Wednesday, 13 July, which contained prejudicial and baseless claims such as “78 per cent of homosexuals have STDs (sexually transmitted disease)” and “1 in 15 homosexuals is a pedophile” in one of the slides which has the sub-heading, “What are LBGT so proud of?”.
The material used surfaced online through a reddit thread by user “u/DAvengingAngels” on Sunday,17 July morning, causing social media to blow up, with some netizens asking for the counsellor to be fired.
Alternative media site Wake Up Singapore and Instagram user heckin.unicorn, posted the presentation slides on their respective social media shortly after and their posts received about 13 thousand likes and 400 comments at the time of writing this article.
In a Facebook post, Hwa Chong alumnus Otto Fong pointed out the falsehoods of the presentation saying “there is no evidence that gay people are more or less likely to be pedophiles”.
He cited researcher Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health in America, who said, “It is disturbing to me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observations to make a point against homosexuality”, and added that “the information (HCI) present is misleading and incorrect”.
Mr Fong, who is based in Bangkok and used to work as a teacher in Raffles Institution, wrote, “If I was a straight student, I would easily conclude that all gay people are disgusting and to be hated. If I was a gay student, I would be frightened further to hide my identity, to join the bullying of other gay people or even become suicidal.”
Fellow alumnus Gary Lim encouraged LGBTQ+ students in his post to “find their own truths” and “not let misinformation stop them from being who they are”.
Pink Dot SG requested a response from the school on how it will prevent the recurrence of such an incident and accused the school system of “repeatedly evading accountability on matters of sexuality”.
“MOE’s lack of standards and guidelines means implementation of life-saving intervention is not only sorely lacking, but it means that teachers and school administration who are themselves inclined to discriminate have free reign to do so, becoming part of the problem. It is important to ask what safeguards are in place to prevent similar incidents from recurring and to ensure that counsellors and teachers do not perpetuate misinformation and fear-mongering against the LGBTQ community,” writes Pink Dot SG.
Oogachaga, a community-based, non-profit, professional organisation working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals, couples and families in Singapore since 1999, said it has been contacted by an informal group of gay alumni of the Chinese High School, Hwa Chong Junior College and HCI with an open letter addressed to the current HCI students and their parents in response to the news of the presentation.
The presentation content not approved by Hwa Chong Institution
Responding to the mainstream media on Monday, July 18, an HCI spokesperson said, “We are aware of the incident which took place during a presentation on sexuality where a staff member incorporated content outside the scope of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Sexuality Education curriculum into his slides.”
She added, “The views presented were the individual staff’s personal perspectives and not representative of the position of the school or MOE.”
The presentation was said to have also associated homosexuality with problems such as alcoholism and sexual assault.
“We take a serious view of this incident and have met up with our students to address their concerns. To ensure that such incidents are not repeated, we will also review our processes,” the spokesperson said.
Yet, many questions from the public are left unanswered. These questions include the vetting process of the slides, why allow the staff member to finish the presentation, why action against the staff was only taken on Monday after the slides went viral online, and whether the staff should have been given a harsher punishment.
This was not the first time such a presentation made waves in HCI. A 2014 a workshop by Focus on the Family Singapore, drew ire from the public and students for its “bigoted” content after it was publicised in an open letter by student Agatha Tan. The workshop was criticised for being sexist and perpetuating gender stereotypes. Parents later created an online petition to review such content.
Speaking to TheHomeGround Asia, Kiss 92’s radio presenter Joshua Simon says that he responded to the news with ambivalence.
“A part of me was surprised, but a part of me also wasn’t. This, unfortunately, has been a recurring response for me when incidents like these happen. Looking back at the TEDx opportunity three years ago, I was prepared to share a real, honest, positive account as a queer person – one which included my coming out story, how my family was learning to embrace me, my journey of unlearning my shame to unlock my pride. Unfortunately such themes were deemed ‘too sensitive’ for the audience.”
In 2019, Mr Simon was invited to give a talk at a TEDxYouth event but was asked to edit LGBTQ+ portions of his speech. He later withdrew and went on to start The SG Boys, a podcast focusing on LGBTQ+ issues.
“The SG Boys is designed to be a safe space for people like us to serve our community through important conversations. To see such an insensitive and more importantly, inaccurate, presentation as the one given this week at a school assembly years later, is disheartening and very disappointing,” he says.
Veteran LGBTQ+ activist Roy Tan says that he does not think the staff member’s attitude is representative of Singaporeans’ view of the LGBT community.
“The recent Ipsos survey showed that a majority are supportive of decriminalisation of gay sex, especially with the younger generation. Moreover, most people are more concerned with bread and butter issues like runaway inflation and job security than what two people of the same gender do in the privacy of their bedrooms,” he says.
Dr Tan was part of an court challenge in 2019 to repeal section 377A of the penal code which criminalise gay acts between men. The statute was upheld but the courts declared it as “unenforceable” in 2022.
“It, therefore, must be officially reiterated time and again that Singapore is a secular society and that religious precepts must not influence public policy since our nation is a multicultural and multireligious one,” he adds, referring to a video that was allegedly screened at the end of the HCI presentation last Wednesday.
HCI, formed after a merger of Hwa Chong Junior College and The Chinese High School (TCHS) in 2005, is held in high esteem because of its history. TCHS was founded in 1919 by Chinese business magnate Tan Kah Kee and boasts of notable alumni such as the fifth president of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong, and Minister for Sustainability and Environment, Grace Fu.
Whether the school will be taking any further action against the staff to address the growing concerns of the public or if it will keep to its vision of empowering our students to live with passion and lead with compassion, remains to be seen.