Now, who’re the ones hiding in the closet?

The recent saga of Otto Fong is a rather curious one for me. Curious – and disappointing – for several reasons.

Amidst the apparent flurry of actions by both the Ministry of Education and Raffles Institution to quickly “fix” the “problem” of one of its teachers, who happens to be gay, coming out publicly about his sexual orientation, something is lost.

This something is an opportunity.

An opportunity to really get involved in a dialogue – between Fong, MOE, RI and the students, and perhaps even the general public.

What we saw was a desperate scurry to quickly bury the whole saga under the carpet – get Fong into the school’s office, get him to take down his blog post, do not issue any statements, and (tell?) the press and media to ignore the whole incident. (The only press report I have come across is the one by the Electric New Paper.)

The question I have is this: Is this how an education institution and ministry should behave? Have both the MOE and RI failed to recognize the opportunity for dialogue, an opportunity where our young students (from one of the top schools, no less) could have gained a better and deeper understanding of not only what took place but also on the issue of homosexuality – and its pertaining concerns, such as civil rights, discrimination, societal bias, religious precepts, etc?

We all know that there are prejudices, misconceptions and homophobia among our citizens. We should also know that most of these are borne out of misinformation, disinformation, limited discourse, and cultural and religious biases.

To miss this opportunity to address some of these issues is to allow these same biases and prejudices to continue. Indeed, the behaviour of the authorities makes it look as though homosexuality is something to be shunned, covered up, buried. Speak no evil, hear no evil. We are a “conservative society”. Homosexuality and homosexuals are shameful and should be hidden away immediately the moment they raise their ugly heads.

This is what is being taught to the students, our young, our future leaders, through the actions of the education authorities. Such actions will only reinforce the same prejudices and misconceptions.

Now, imagine this alternative scenario:

Mr Fong is called into the school’s general office. The principal speaks with him. Principal says, “Ok, Otto. I think we have an opportunity here to have a dialogue, a dialogue to understand this issue of homosexuality.”

Fong replies, “Yes, I’d be glad to – not as an opportunity to promote homosexuality but an opportunity for discourse and dialogue on the issue and its accompanying concerns as well.”

Principal informs MOE. MOE gives the go ahead.

A forum is organized. Students and teachers and even parents are invited to attend. A panel of varied personalities, both for and against homosexuality, gives their views. Students ask questions, parents express their concerns. The gay members of the panel give their explanations.

Everyone has a better understanding – and everyone makes their own decision about the issue.

Nothing is kept under the carpet or buried. No one needs to be ashamed. The issue becomes a talking point, not only in the school but also in the public sphere.

Sure, this may ruffle some feathers and the dialogue may even become heated and some may feel uncomfortable but society progresses not by holding back and hiding behind some excuse of “conservatism” but by opening up and addressing the issues facing society.

This has especially been so in Singapore’s case – or at least that’s what the government boasts about. Why then, do we shy away from meeting this issue of homosexuality head on?

I find it rather ironic that it is the education ministry and a school which are missing the opportunity to educate its students about the issue.

Here we have a real-life gay person, who is also a teacher. Apparently, from his own blog post, this teacher feels he has to “come out” and be honest with his colleagues, friends and students. I don’t know, but doesn’t anyone see this as a golden opportunity for a real-life, truly meaningful discourse, dialogue and exchange?

How many gay people – or heterosexual people, for that matter – would be as honest and forthcoming as Fong?

Such dialogues may (or may not) change mindsets or advance the cause of gay people. But to see these as the desired results would be missing the woods for the trees.

The point is to enable and encourage openness, so that when another issue comes up, we know that we can handle it in a mature and civilized manner, that we are able to put aside our biases, prejudices and fears and have a deeper understanding of what concern our fellow Singaporeans – especially when they are from the minority segment of society.

Unfortunately, the moment someone tries to be honest, he is pressured to go back into the closet, as it were.

So, the question to reflect on is:

Who are the ones hiding in the closet?

I mean, really.

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3 Responses

  1. refreshing thoughts. What teachers call ‘teachable moments’. But it will take a really confident and strong person to be able to chair it. And that is why our Straights Times is 149 or something in ranking? They can only rake up gossips, pro govt mouthpieces etc etc

  2. First of all, there isn’t surprise why gov do this. In fact, they have been doing this all this while. Name one incident which the gov openly acknowledge the problem and rectify it and give a answer. In fact, in all cases that call into question of gov’s standing on sensitive matter, the answer is always no reply.
    No Reply = ‘Let’s move on and forget about this matter, and please don’t make my millions dollar rice bowl !’

    As long as this gov stay in power, the answer is always the same. Has been so for decades, and the leopard never change its spot or panda never change their black eyes.

  3. You are a tad too optimistic here. There is no way a forum that cast homosexuality in any light other than negative will be allowed in schools.

    But don’t blame the schools or even MOE. They are merely a mirror reflection of Singapore society. Look at the argument Ho Peng Kee gave in denying the gay forum the permit.

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