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17 Jan 2006

singapore government awards S$100,000 grant to group with ex-gay affiliation

A group which claims to help gays and lesbians "understand" their sexual identity has received a S$100,000 (US$61,500) grant from the Singapore government. Fridae has however uncovered that the group, an advocate of reparative therapy, is linked to an international Christian group which dedicates itself to "correcting" homosexuality.

Twenty-five-year-old John Yeo was happy and felt a sense of comfort when he heard on the news that the government is funding a non-profit group to "help gays and lesbians understand their sexual identity."

Leslie Lung, the founder and executive director of the group, has been featured several times in various newspapers as an ex-transsexual who changed his mind three days before his sex-change operation in 1984 after having a spiritual encounter. He is also the author of Freedom of Choice (above), a collection of 20 essays about how people ''overcame'' their struggles including homosexuality.

According to a Channel News Asia (CNA) report last Friday, Liberty League (LL), has received a S$100,000 (US$61,500) grant from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre which is funded by the Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports.

The group, which claims to "promote gender and sexual health for the individual, family and society" as stated on its web site, says it hopes to conduct sexuality talks in schools, organise support groups for parents of homosexuals and to work with organisations such as the Girls' Brigade to educate teenagers on sexuality and biology.

It also reported that 70 per cent of LL's "clients" are gays, lesbians and transsexuals who are "grappling with their gender identities."

It is the first time a grant and public "recognition" has been given to a non-profit group for its work in this area.

Yeo's initial thoughts that gays and lesbians might have finally been accepted came to an end after he learnt from an Internet discussion group that the founder and executive director of the group, Leslie Lung, is an advocate of reparative therapy.

Observers were quick to point out that Lung, 41, has been featured several times in various newspapers as an ex-transsexual who changed his mind three days before his sex-change operation in 1984. He claimed that he had a spiritual encounter despite being professionally diagnosed as being a transsexual and having lived as a woman for four years prior to his scheduled surgery.

He said in a 2003 interview in the Straits Times about the turning point: "One of the key thoughts of the Bible is that a man shouldn't put on woman's clothes. I've always thought that ridiculous but suddenly I saw the principle behind the commandment. God is telling us not to do the opposite. Suddenly I knew that the operation would not be right."

He also cited attending a self-help group after meeting Sinclair Rogers, a Singapore-based American pastor who himself "came out of transsexualism" and later founded Choices, an ex-gay ministry directly affiliated to Exodus International, the largest ex-gay organisation in the world.

Lung is also the author of Freedom of Choice, a collection of 20 essays about how people "overcame" their struggles including homosexuality, transsexuality and masturbation.

When asked if the group "champions gay and lesbian rights," Lung told CNA that they "champion human rights really."

"It's about people being able to say, I'm human and sexual orientation is so wide. Being gay and lesbian is part of it; coming out of it is part of it as well."

Some in the gay community have however highlighted that being a former transsexual does not qualify one to counsel others about their homosexuality.

He is a "former transgender person, who now claims to be ex-gay; transgender doesn't equal homosexual. I can buy that he used to live as a woman, and now lives as an effeminate man, gender can be fluid like that, but that has nothing to do with homosexuality." One wrote in an Internet discussion group.

Lung said in the interview, "This is very much based on the Alcoholic Anonymous self-help principles. So people come; it's an environment that is friendly, warm, based on friendship, encouraging people to take small steps to talk about the issues, recognise why they are doing certain things, find resolutions."

Eileena Lee, the founder of RedQueen!, a list for queer women in Singapore, however disagrees with the premise of the principles his proposed "gender health" programme is based on. She points out homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism – not unlike heterosexuality –  is not an addiction and thus using similar principles to treat alcoholics is not a viable "solution" if one is needed at all.

While it is not clear from Liberty League's web site whether they are running Christian based programmes, the Exodus Asia Pacific web site (www.exodusasiapacific.org) which lists Liberty League as an "outreach ministry of Exodus Asia Pacific into Asia Pacific region" states that it views ''homosexual tendencies as one of many disorders that beset fallen humanity'' and that ''Christ offers a healing alternative to those with sexual and relational problems.''

She also told Fridae in an interview that it is of great concern when a group which professes to want to help LGBT equates sexual minorities with alcoholics.

Lee advises those who intend to attend LL's programmes to ask questions about whether the group is "truly about human rights" and if they would "support each individual's decision to be who he/she wants to be –  even if it means embracing a gay identity."

On its web site, the American Psychological Association (APA) along with American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, stated that "together representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals in the United States have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus there is no need for a cure."

In response to an "ex-gay" advertising campaign, the APA also released a statement in December 1998 saying: "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

While it is not clear from LL's web site whether they are running Christian-based programmes, the Exodus Asia Pacific web site which lists LL as an "outreach ministry of Exodus Asia Pacific into Asia Pacific region" states that it views "homosexual tendencies as one of many disorders that beset fallen humanity" and that "Christ offers a healing alternative to those with sexual and relational problems."

It goes on to state that it believes that the "sexually broken person" is "freed to know and experience true identity as discovered in Christ and His Church" and the process "entails the freedom to grow into heterosexuality."

When asked if he would recommend reparative therapy to anyone who is gay or lesbian, Rev Yap Kim Hao, a retired Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore, told Fridae: "Definitely not. I feel sorry that they are struggling and even Leslie admits that he has attractions towards the same sex although he is really transsexual."

Explaining reparative therapy from a Christian perspective, Rev Yap said that their approach "to either suppress their natural inclinations or to change (their) sexual orientation to heterosexuality" is based on their perspective that sex, especially homosexual sex, is sinful and that they believe that they should be celibate in order to "find favour with God." He warned that while some might be able to abstain for a while, "sooner or later they will be caught in the homosexual act."

He is referring to the embarrassing episodes of scandal and failure leaders of the "ex-gay" ministries have long been embroiled in. In addition to scandals where high profile leaders such as John Paulk have been caught with their "pants down," the "ex-gay" ministries have been setback by the new formation of groups of former "ex-gays" who say the ministries do not work.

Meanwhile, others have questioned the suitability of the group to receive funding from a governmental agency as many feel the group has not been sufficiently forthright about its potentially religiously motivated agenda and advocacy of a programme that experts say is harmful.

Alex Au, regarded as Singapore's pioneer gay activist, told Fridae: "It is difficult to understand why the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Council would give S$100,000 to a group that clearly is out to promote a certain religious point of view. If the NVPC had done their homework, they should know that this is the discredited ex-gay movement in another guise.

"This ex-gay campaign is one of the hate crimes committed by some extremist churches. Professional psychologists around the world consider any attempt to remake sexual orientation to be very deleterious to a person's psychological well being. Such programs have no scientific basis at all and are motivated entirely by religion."

According to the NVPC web site, it is stated that groups applying for the New Initiative Grant (formerly known as the Volunteer Initiative Grant) are required to be secular among other conditions. In a press release dated Jan 6, 2006, LL revealed that it is a recipient of such a grant.

When contacted yesterday, an officer replied that the Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports, and National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre will look into the enquiry but did not respond to Fridae by press time.

Gay group, People Like Us, plans to issue a statement and action alert later this week.

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