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13 Jan 2004

a family outing

As Christian conservatives continue to protest against the gay 'lifestyle' and tear families apart, one Singapore-based gay Christian fellowship group held it's first gathering for its members and their families to aid in deepening their relationships. Co-organiser Alphonsus Lee shares his story.

Last Saturday marked an important milestone for 26-year-old Alphonsus Lee and his father as the two, who are both Roman Catholics, attended their first ever gathering which has been organised solely to allow openly gay members and their family members to meet each other.

Organised by Safehaven, a non-denominational Christian group for gay men and women, the Family Reunion Dinner was hosted by Rev. and Mrs Yap Kim Hao who has also delivered several sermons to the group in recent months.

Rev Yap, who is the first Asian Bishop of The Methodist Church from 1968-73, is also noted to have had his letter, which expressed his support of the Government "taking a forward step in recognising the rights of homosexuals" and highlighting the ineffectiveness of reparative therapy, published in Singapore's main newspaper.

Clarence Singham, the co-ordinator of Safehaven, thought that such a dinner was fitting as families traditionally have reunion dinner on the eve of the Chinese New Year.

Singham hopes that the gathering gives the family of gay people "an opportunity to see us as gay Christian people in a fellowship setting and may also assist them not to feel that they are the only ones with gay children/ siblings/ grandchildren." He also believes the experience would be symbolic for each gay member and his/her family and help them to grow in understanding and acceptance.

While Lee Sr didn't express any change of mindset about gays after dinner, Lee Jr was however heartened by his father's presence at the dinner and hopes that he will one day "come to understand and be proud of his gay son."

In Alphonsus Lee's own words:

The first thought that went through my mind as I saw my father cross both his arms and his legs while he sat at the table was that it was going to be a long night. His discomfort at being in the company of gay men and women was clearly evident. While I know him to be a rather chatty individual, he hardly spoke at all, which served to heighten my own discomfort and anxiety. Compounded with the responsibility of having to play host to a group of about thirty individuals, I could only down more wine in the hopes that it
would calm my frayed nerves.
It was one week before Chinese New year, and this brave soul had put together a dinner for Safehaven members and their family members, with the help of SPACES, a community service agency. Safehaven is gay Christian support group which holds regular bible study sessions, and one of its resolutions this year was to encourage its members to come out to their family members so as to deepen these relationships.

Reverend Yap Kim Hao, the first Asian Bishop of the Methodist Church, kindly consented to attending with his wife and daughter and saying a few words. And while it was relatively easy to book a room at the Teahouse restaurant at China Square, it was much harder to convince members who were out to their families to bring them to dinner. You would think that a free a la carte buffet would entice quite a number of people, but the fear of what their family members might say is even harder to overcome. In the end, we managed to round up seven brave Safehaveners and their non-gay family members.

My dad's first comments to me were "everyone is so badly dressed." For someone semi-formally attired in a long-sleeved shirt and pleated dress pants, I did not think that his fashion sense was particularly fantastic either. However, as I looked around, I saw a couple of guys decked out in gay men fashion of tight fitting t-shirts that looked two sizes too small which draw attention to the big pecs and bulging biceps. Perhaps my father simply cannot get used to why people must wear clothing that they might out-grow in a few months but the more likely answer is that gay men are always badly dressed - no matter what they wore.

Throughout dinner, I kept a close eye on my dad but I could not help but notice the other people around. There were two Safehaveners who brought their mothers and another three who had brought their siblings. But I have to take my hat off to one Safehavener who had brought his ex-wife and daughter, who were seated at the same table with him and his significant other. If there were a role model for gay men around the world, it would be him. He had the courage to come out to his wife, and was able to gain acceptance for his homosexuality and his significant other. He was also wearing a tight fitting t-shirt.

If you think coming out to your parents is difficult, imagine what how many times more difficult it is to explain to your wife of several years that you are actually gay and that you're in love with another man.

We stuck to safe topics at the dinner table, such as how a Safehavener's mother was recovering from a fractured foot. The only time my father spoke at some length was to describe his work, another safe topic. Subjects like how he felt about his gay son and his feelings about coming to dinner were strictly taboo, and fortunately were not broached at the table.
Rev Yap's message was short yet poignant. He described his life and the hardships that he had to go through, such as surviving the Japanese occupation and taking care of his two sons and two daughters. Given that life is already so difficult as a heterosexual, he could only imagine how the difficulty is magnified for a parent of a gay individual.

At one point he said that whilst we are struggling to come out of the closet, our parents took over the places that we had vacated. I shared a laugh with the other parent at the table, and later the Safehavener explained: "When I first came out to my mother, she was very supportive of it. But she told me not to tell my cousins and relatives."

It was not until we were on our way home in the car that I managed to get some real feedback from my father. He had pretty strong views of us. He called us "lost," because in his mind, we did not know what we were doing. He described my role model's wife as "sad," perhaps because he did not see her smile that night. More likely, he believed that she was "sad" in his mind's eye, because he would feel that way himself if he were in her situation.

I told him that his views are judgmental because of his prejudices as a homophobe. He seems to think that, as gays and lesbians, we do not have a direction in life, that we are guided only by lust. How could he call someone "sad" if he did not know their situation, did not know them personally?

While I am saddened by his views, I am heartened by his quiet presence at the dinner. He had made an effort to show that he cares by attending the dinner and it is this show of love that continues to fuel my belief that one-day he will come to understand and be proud of his gay son. I told my dad that I wished he would make some effort to find out more about his son's life - about who his friends are, what makes him happy or sad, and who his significant other was; and that I would continue to love him as a father and friend no matter what his own views are.

The truth is that coming out to parents and family members is a difficult thing to do. Nobody ever said that is was going to be a walk in the park. Even more so in getting them to understand and appreciate a gay individual's life.

But in our lifetime, we will only have one father and one mother, and that term of endearment "kor" (elder brother in Chinese) or "zheh" (elder sister) will only sound genuine for our blood brothers and sisters. If we do not make an effort to reach out to them and help them to overcome whatever prejudices they have, then we have only ourselves to blame.


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