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Title:TODAY webinar: Should we agree to disagree on LGBTQ issues?

On Monday, 14 November 2022, TODAY newspaper held the second instalment of its four-session live webinar series which discussed how Singaporeans could find common ground despite holding differing views on LGBTQ issues. The webinar series, which was in its third year, tackled issues that emerged from the TODAY Youth Survey 2022. This particular episode was entitled, "Should we agree to disagree on LGBTQ issues?" Panellists agreed that while changes had been made at the policy level, more should be done to address discrimination that existed at the individual, social and cultural level. The impending repeal of Section 377A would pave the way to a more inclusive society but more should be done to adopt healthy dialogue practices and attitudes to create safe spaces for conversations. There was a need to be more mindful when engaging in dialogue, particularly on contentious issues such as those affecting the LGBTQ community, and to be brave in confronting one’s own assumptions about others. The year's webinar series was conducted for the first time in a hybrid format with a live audience comprising about 50 youths from tertiary institutions and secondary schools, while being streamed live on TikTok and Instagram. The TODAY Youth Survey 2022 found that while 68% of youth respondents agreed that the repeal of Section 377A was a step towards a more inclusive society, the majority still wanted to protect the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. The panellists, which included a Pink Dot SG spokesman and an assistant pastor, spoke about their personal experiences and shared strategies to find common ground between people who might hold different opinions. In discussing an inclusive society that was safe for all, the definition of safety should be expanded beyond just physical safety, said Pink Dot SG spokesman Clement Tan. While he acknowledged that Singapore was safer for LGBTQ people than countries where they might experience physical violence, these individuals may still face discrimination and prejudice in social and cultural spaces such as homes, schools and workplaces, which could affect their mental well-being. The other three panellists generally agreed that the LGBTQ community had suffered harm in the past, and might still be experiencing discrimination in their personal environments. Recalling his personal experiences as someone who had been experiencing same-sex attraction since he was aged seven, panellist Chang Tou Chen, an assistant pastor at the 3:16 Church, said that in the past, there was a real risk and fear of being caught in police raids at gay bars. In creating a safe space for everyone to engage in dialogue, another panellist, Imran Mohamed Taib, an interfaith advocate who was also director of the Dialogue Centre, also said that it was also important to check on one's own privilege. This could make one unaware of the consequences of one's words on others, and lead to an unsafe environment for constructive dialogue. One type of behaviour that was unhelpful in engaging in constructive dialogue was labelling, said Chang, who shared his encounters with people who were left as outcasts and labelled “homophobic” for holding different views about LGBTQ people. While Imran agreed that there were instances when people had been labelled as “homophobes” easily, he said that there was also a need to reflect on what could have caused the labelling, as it could come from a “standpoint of injury”. Sharing a personal anecdote, he said: “If you have lived your whole life being told of your unworthiness, or being labelled with stereotypes that can be dehumanising, and if I were to say something that I was not mindful of, that might provoke a reaction. "I have been called a ‘homophobe’ simply for using certain terms that ought not to be used, and I wasn't aware of how painful those terms are. But I learn through that process,” he added. Being mindful of others in a dialogue also meant acknowledging the diverse experiences of people, even within the LGBTQ community, said another panellist, TODAY Senior Journalist Nabilah Awang. She had met LGBTQ individuals who were also religious and actively sought religion. This may cause them to struggle with their identities and create internal conflict, especially in dealing with people within their community. In response to a question from the online audience on the strategies that had worked to bring people of different views to discuss contentious topics as LGBTQ rights in Singapore, Imran said that he brought in participants’ lived experiences instead of discussing issues in abstract terms. Participants were also given the space to engage in deep reflections of their own processing experiences. This required courage to see how much other people’s stories could transform their own opinions... Links:


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