On Friday I got this in a longtime valued commenter on this blog, a gay citizen of Singapore who online goes by the name Anakin:
Not sure if you’ve heard about this, but it’s been raging all over my country for the past few weeks. Basically a group of concerned Christian parents wrote to the National Library Board to get three children’s books banned (including And Tango Makes Three, based on the true story of gay penguins at the New York Zoo that raised a young penguin together), saying that they were not “pro-family” (which of course is code for anti-gay).
The library responded promptly, thanked them for bringing the matter to their attention, took the books out, and later proudly announced at a press conference that the books would be destroyed for not being in line with the library’s pro-family values. Lots of people cheered them on, with scary comments in social media suggesting things like how we should burn the gays along with the books, people applauding the library for protecting our (presumably-straight) children from the perverted gay agenda, and more of the usual homophobia. Plus all the fear-mongering about how reading books with gay people will apparently turn kids gay (when the opposite has never turned gay kids straight), presumably because heterosexuality is that fragile.
Background coverage: Singapore Provokes Outrage by Pulping Kids’ Books About Gay Families.
It’s come to light that a few other books have previously been banned or are in the process of review for potential banning because they portray LGBT people/relationships in a positive light (those that do so in a negative light are generally allowed, but restricted to the adult lending section). The latest is a volume of Archie comics that features a gay marriage and has been banned by a large bookstore chain here for contravening media content guidelines on sexuality.
The government has been censoring LGBT material from TV and films for ages (kids here can be surprised to learn that Glee featured any gay characters, which shows just how far they go with the censorship). But somehow the actual destruction of children’s books feels worse, particularly with the implication, often explicitly stated, that LGBT people should be kept away from children because we have no business being around anything that innocent, lest we taint that innocence.
So everything is heating up like never before. Newspaper forum pages are filled with letters about this every day, at least one library has newly created a bin for people to put books with ‘unsuitable content’ for review, social media is filled with graphically violent hate speech against LGBT people, and Christian churches are picking up the anti-gay frenzy—a lot of which is imported wholesale from the American Christian Right—in a way that’s getting disturbing. The ex-gay movement is growing in fervor. A lot of LGBT kids, closeted or otherwise, are getting hurt by the stuff their parents are saying. For a movement that claims to be pro-family, it’s sad and ironic how many families the Christian right is pulling apart.
But on the bright side, all this has gotten a lot of publicity for the books in question. It also led a group of 77 Christian parents who were part of the large anti-LGBT group headed by prominent and vehemently anti-gay Christian pastor Lawrence Khong (who has been enthusiastically spearheading all of this) to leave Khong’s group, saying that they were still against the ‘gay lifestyle,’ but even more against the destruction of books, and were deeply disturbed by the way things were going overall.
Others have expressed similar views, which gives me hope that this might be what finally changes things. A few local writers–some LGBT–have pulled out of writing events hosted by the library, or resigned from library-related positions in protest. And given the literary nature of all this, there’s been such an amazingly beautiful outpouring of creativity in response–poetry, comics, passionate pleas for the freedom of knowledge and imagination and reading, and one local gay writer penning haikus in response to individual homophobic comments.
So yeah… there’s always light in the darkness. And the hope that God will take all this pain and malice and turn it around into something good. But right now it kind of sucks.
Thanks, again, for the work that you do, with NALT and your other reminders that people can still come around. Because if that change can happen in the US, it can happen here too.
In the latest update from today, the library announced that they’ll be reinstating two of the books (the third has been destroyed)–but, as a compromise, will be putting them in the adult section. So the protests did have some effect!
I have mixed feelings about whether my letter to you should be posted, especially on a site as popular as yours. Earlier I would have agreed to do it, but with the latest development I’m now afraid that it might upset the uneasy truce that’s emerged from the compromise. :/
In particular, one of the rallying calls of the anti-LGBT groups is the idea that “foreign values”–especially those of the US, and its LGBT activism–have been seeping into and corrupting our traditional Asian culture, and the international coverage/condemnation of this has only further convinced them this is true. This has added a degree of patriotism to their cause.
Race also gets involved, with people here (including LGBT ones) being (rightfully?) offended at the idea of white people trying to tell us what to do. And it gets further complicated by the fact there are so many intersecting factors involved in the homophobia here, unlike in the U.S., where the opposition to LGBT equality is mostly religion-driven.
And, heck, I still love my country, even though things like this make it hard sometimes, and I’ve also been unhappy with reading comments from foreigners insulting my country and its people as a whole because of this issue. Because there are good people here too, and so much of the homophobia is driven by fear and ignorance rather than malice or explicit bigotry; when the censorship does such a great job of preventing people from knowing what homosexuality is, it’s easy to convince people that, say, gay people are all pedophiles out to abuse their children. And it’s only reasonable that they then want to do all they can to protect their children. It’s what makes this sadder–a lot of them are good people honestly trying to do the right thing. I know some of those people.
So I’m not sure if I’d be comfortable with reposting most of my report wholesale, because it could potentially cause more harm than good. It might just further deepen an us-vs-them divide that shouldn’t even exist.
When I wrote the previous email I was tired and upset and angry with all the stuff going on, and I might have been harsher than I meant. But right now with things more settled down, I’m just sad, and I can’t be angry at those people, no matter what they’ve said. And I don’t want to make them out to be the enemy. At the end of the day everyone’s just scared, and trying their best to do what they think is right. And sometimes that fear makes us hurt other people.
I responded to Anakin that I thought his two letters together captured … so much of what’s vital to say on this issue right now relative to Singapore. He agreed, and happily gave me permission to publish what he so thoughtfully took to time to write me.
Here’s to the gay people of Singapore–and to gay people the world over, who daily yearn for the time when no one takes seriously the sadly ignorant and deeply destructive idea that God in any way naturally favors straight people over them.
As far as I know the image above is available as a T-shirt here.
I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question: