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10 Sep 2007

singapore teacher removes coming out blog under ministry pressure

A Singapore teacher who posted a blog entry about his being gay on Saturday evening found himself having to remove it on Monday due to intense scrutiny and pressure from the Ministry of Education (MOE).

In a 2000-word open letter, Otto Fong, a well-known comic artist, playwright and science teacher at Raffles Institution (RI) - one of Singapore's top high schools for boys - made a plea for greater acceptance of gay people by society.

Otto Fong, a Beijing Film Institute graduate who had published three comic books, is also an playwright who published his 1993 play Cetecea in an award winning anthology published by TheatreWorks Writers' Lab. In 1992, his full-length play Another Tribe became the first Mandarin play performed in Singapore which had a R21 rating as it contained stories of gay youths and their love stories. He also wrote Happy Family in 1994 and Mr Beng, a musical commissioned and performed at the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1999.
He cited Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's - himself a RI alumni - remarks questioning Singapore's gay sex laws and MP Baey Yam Keng's public statement supporting the repeal of said laws as his reasons for coming out in his blog meant to be read by his colleagues.

The 38-year-old, who has been teaching at the school for eight years, was inspired to reassess his responsibility beyond academia to his students after attending a forum in August where several young adults questioned the little guidance available to them as gay teenagers.

"It was a question that I had asked myself often, growing up," Fong wrote in his blog.

"In the eight years I have taught, I have done little for that small group of students who are gay. When the religious group Focus on the Family masqueraded as sex guidance counselors and gave a talk full of misinformation about homosexuality to our students, I was furious but kept my mouth shut."

The Oklahoma University Electronic Engineering graduate wrote of his first being aware of his attraction towards classmates of the same sex in primary six and the denial of his attraction until his university years when he sought counseling to accept himself for who he is.

Highlighting his personal reasons to go public, he wrote: "Being in the closet, pretending to be straight, trimming our true selves to suit the whims and expectations of others, is just like being a human bonsai tree. By staying in the closet, we cannot even hope to be average, much less above and beyond average.

"I felt that in order to reach my fullest potential as a useful human being, I must first fully accept myself, and face the world honestly. I have lived long enough to know that what I am is not a disease, an aberration or a mental illness."

According to the over 120 messages posted on his blog until Monday afternoon, readers - including present and former students - praised him for his courage in taking a stand and being a inspiring teacher.

"Dear Mr Fong, your actions and thinking (are) the best testimonial that gays can be perfectly normal like everyone else. What you are shall never deny you the right to claim that you are a great teacher." Another student wrote: "hey there sir! i realli admire your courage and its not sth that everyone has the guts to do. but, you did it and i just want you to know that many of us are behind you!"

The entire post including comments were deleted around 2.30pm and replaced with: "I wrote this blog for my colleagues and some friends, so that is done. While I am grateful for your generosity, I must remain true to my original intent."

In a statement, the ministry said it "does not condone any open espousal of homosexual values by teachers in any form" as "teachers are in a unique position of authority" and "are often seen as role models by their students."

"The school has spoken to the teacher concerned and the teacher has agreed to take down his blog in the best interest of the students. The Ministry supports the action taken by the school on this matter."

When asked about MOE's remarks, a spokesperson from Plu.edu.sg - a group of gay, lesbian and bisexual educators and supportive colleagues in Singapore - said, "MOE's position does a great disservice to the many gay teachers who have dedicated their lives to nurturing their students, and ignores the contributions that these teachers have made to the education service.

"Faced with such a homophobic environment, most gay teachers resort to compartmentalising their personal and professional identities. Haunted by the stigma of being gay, they feel unable to freely share their personal lives with their colleagues and students, compared to their heterosexual counterparts."

While some parents will write to the school and press to protest having gay teachers in schools, one parent told Fridae that she wished her sons had a teacher like Fong.

"All I can say is that I wish my sons had had teachers like him. Now I hope he will ask his parents and siblings to join our efforts in SAFE too. The more straight people stand up in support of our GLBT sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, etc. and friends, the better we can show the 'establishment' that s377A is ridiculous, against human rights and completely outdated," said Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, co-founder of SAFE (Supporting, AFfirming and Empowering our LGBTQ friends and family) Singapore and mother of two gay sons.

Letters of support should go to Bob Koh (headmaster@ri.sch.edu.sg), headmaster of Raffles Institution.

Plu.edu.sg is a group of gay, lesbian and bisexual educators and supportive colleagues, comprising Singaporean or Singapore-based teachers and educators from a whole range of institutions and backgrounds. We offer support to our members through regular meetings and social events. Our long-term mission is to achieve a situation in Singapore schools in which each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Gay teachers who are interested in joining this group should contact us at plu.edu.sg@gmail.com.


Reader's Comments

1. 2008-08-03 13:18  
What the MOE did to Otto Fong is a bloody disgrace! What are we teaching our students? The pledge they take every morning has no meaning or significance if the MOE itself discriminates against its own teachers because of sexual orientation. Yes, teachers are supposed to be role models - to be of service to his fellowmen and be honest to himself and his dealings with others - but that doesn't mean he has to be straight! Wake up MOE - you're a disgrace to all who falls under your influence, including the stgudents.

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