Pink Dot 15 to 'celebrate all families', launches new initiative to support parents of LGBTQ+ people

At a media launch of its 15th edition, the organisation stressed that the LGBTQ+ community is not a threat to family values.

Matthias Ang | May 18, 2023, 06:15 PM

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The 15th Pink Dot rally, and the first to be held since the repeal of Section 377A in 2022, will focus on showcasing and celebrating the families of LGBTQ+ people in Singapore, Pink Dot stated in a press release.

Speaking at the media launch of the 15th edition of Pink Dot on May 17, the local organisation's spokesperson, Clement Tan, described the repeal of Section 377A as a "bittersweet milestone" noting that the lead up to the moment also saw an amendment to the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage from legal challenges, on the grounds of "traditional family values."

Previously in Parliament in November 2022, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli shared that there is currently strong consensus in society that marriage is between a man and woman and that children should be born and raised within such families.

"This is the view taken by many Singaporeans, whether religious or not. It is also the view the government believes in," he added.

Masagos also noted that some people had also expressed the wish for the government to do more to protect the definition of marriage, such as by enshrining it in the Constitution.

He added that elevating marriage to the same level as fundamental rights in the Constitution "would not be appropriate" as the Constitution deals with sovereignty and the system of governance.

He also noted that the Constitutional amendment should not prevent future governments from amending the legal definition of marriage by simple majority in Parliament, should they choose to do so.

Whether the definition of marriage in Singapore will be that of between a man and woman, will ultimately depend on the consensus made by society, which could be subject to change in the future, Masagos added back then.

Masagos also pointed out that in light of Singapore's diverse society, the government will also "protect all from scorn or harm", including homosexuals.

Homosexuals have a place in Singapore society, Masagos reiterated, as well as access to education, employment, and healthcare services, among others.

Pink Dot: LGBTQ+ people are not a threat to family values

Tan further highlighted that the LGBTQ+ community has repeatedly heard that they are a threat to family values, in their fight for equality.

He elaborated:

"Family should be a source of love, safety and comfort. However, LGBTQ+ people experience so much rejection and hurt, not only from family members who may struggle to accept us, but from segments of society who espouse harmful messages that pit us against ‘family values'."

He added:

"The idea that LGBTQ+ people are a threat to families is preposterous. We have families too, and we love them and stand by them every day. These messages not only drive a wedge within Singapore society, they also divide households by turning family members against each other."

Tan also responded to Mothership's queries about whether the decision to focus on the family is in response to parliamentary discussions.

Here, he clarified that while the decision by Pink Dot is in response to rhetoric in general about the issue, the takeaway from Parliament is less about specific statements and more about how "parliamentarians" have promised that the definition of marriage is subject to societal changes.

Pink Dot is therefore of the view that its job is to start the conversation in society on broadening the institutions of family and marriage to include the LGBTQ+ community, Tan said.

Teo You Yenn: Structural definition of family in many societies is often narrower than the actual reality

The media launch also saw a panel discussion titled, "What makes a family?", which included Teo You Yenn, Associate Professor and Head of Sociology at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Photo by Mothership

Teo pointed out during the discussion that in many societies, the structural definition of family is often more rigid and narrow than the realities of actual families and lives.

In addition, the way the family is defined in policies, regulations and laws is important because it affects the broader public discourse, popular narratives and imagination of who society thinks can themselves a family, along with the rights they are entitled to.

Teo further elaborated that within Singapore:

"A relatively narrow definition of family has been idealised through housing policies, (and) pronatalist policies over several decades. And this ideal places a heterosexual couple at the center...a couple that is compelled to orient their economic participation in a particular way, their childbearing in a certain way, their obligations to their parents in another way."

She added that increasingly, the public can see and feel that these "narrow prescriptions" of family are starting to not fit with the actual needs and aspirations of a diverse population.

"So when you ask why people have a hard time reconciling family and family values with LGBT rights, we should first note that policies and regulations have a very strong effect in shaping collective imaginations," Teo pointed out.

She also noted that there are now more people than before who can see and accept that LGBTQ+ people also need and do have family lives.

Photo by Pink Dot SG

Important to extend support to family members of LGBTQ+ people

Another panellist, Tan Joo Hymn, one of the founding members of Supporting and Affirming our LGBT Friends and Family (SAFE Singapore), talked about the importance of providing support for family members of LGBTQ+ people, especially parents.

According to her, many parents of LGBTQ+ people are concerned for their children's livelihood and future.

Such concerns include the lack of a home if their children do not get into a heterosexual marriage, or the absence of someone to help take care of them when they grow old, because of the absence of a wife or children.

There is also the fear of ostracisation by other family members, who might not understand or accept the child as part of their family.

Such parents might also feel that they are alone, as they do not know how to reach out about such issues, she noted.

Hence, when SAFE Singapore was started, the first thing the organisation did was to put up a website with resources to help reassure family members, she said, and that their "worst imaginings" are not true, she explained.

Photo by Pink Dot SG

New community initiative launched to help family members of LGBTQ+ people

The media launch subsequently concluded with Leow Yangfa, the executive director of Oogachaga, announcing the launch of a new community initiative, called "My Family Matters", to help family members of LGBTQ+ people.

Photo by Mothership

Organised by Oogachaga, and co-hosted with SAFE Singapore, Inter-University LGBT Network, and Free Community Church, the initiative is a gathering that will be held on Jul. 2, with the location disclosed only to confirmed participants, and is primarily aimed at the family members of LGBTQ+ people.

Leow added:

"Many have told Oogachaga about relationship difficulties with their family of origin: parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles. Many feel unsure about what to do when they discover a family member is LGBTQ+, especially the parents.

Some feel alone and unable to talk about it with others; others are worried, afraid, or ashamed. In recent years, Oogachaga has observed more parents coming forward to seek information and support."

"My Family Matters" is therefore an opportunity for such family members to come forward and learn about the support services that are available for them, as well as to help them learn that they are not alone, Leow said.

It is also a chance for family members to ask questions that they may not have the opportunity to ask anywhere else, he added.

The spokesperson for Pink Dot further elaborated:

"Through this programme, parents will have access to reliable and trustworthy information about the LGBTQ+ community, and meet other parents who are in similar situations. Pink Dot looks forward to seeing the positive impact this will have on families within our community."

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Top photo by Pink Dot SG