People Like Us (PLU), a gay and lesbian group focussed on advocacy and public education, has launched a biennial award worth S$2,000 (US$1,500) for the best research work related to the subject of LGBT and Singapore. The initiative was launched at the opening of Indignation, Singapore's LGBT pride season on Friday night (photo above).
On the night of May 30, 1993, all the patrons were made to line up and those without identification were hauled off to the police station for the night. The event spurred a group of 22 people led by lawyer Wilfred Ong to petition against the "high-handed police behaviour," according to the PLU web site. The group received an apologetic official reply and the incident is said to have marked the last documented incidence of police harassment of gays.
"The indignation over the raid on Rascals galvanised them into action and thus People Like Us was born," PLU said in a statement sent to Fridae.
Aside from the reference to the incident, Dr Heng told the audience that the name serves to remind that society benefits from having some "rascals" who shake things up from time to time.
"As a society often incapacitated by a need to observe rules, the rascals who dare to ignore, bend or break rules get things done. Activists pushing maverick causes; bloggers who go where media dare not; street protesters who remind us of the right of free association; it's time we learn to celebrate these rascals more," he said.
Explaining the aim of the prize, PLU said, "We believe that the more knowledge a society possesses about sexual orientation, and the social responses to this aspect of our humanity, the faster we will rid ourselves of misunderstanding, stereotype and ignorant prejudice."
The prize is funded by the monies raised at the Wilde movie fundraiser organised by Fridae on May 13, 2008. A cheque for S$10,000 was presented by Fridae to PLU on Friday night.
Citing the group's difficulties in roping in academics or other external help in its early years, Dr Heng told the audience that the four academics he approached agreed without hesitation and sees their response as an indication that society in general has become more understanding of the LGBT cause today.
The jury tasked to select a winner based purely on research and academic merit - whether the work helps or hinders gay activism shall not be a consideration - comprises Professor Michael Hor Yew Meng, (National University of Singapore) NUS Law Faculty, also Chief Editor of the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies; Associate Professor Quah Sy Ren, Acting Head of the Chinese Division, School of Humanities and Social Science, Nanyang Technological University (NTU); Dr Sharon Siddiqui is a partner in a regional research consulting company based in Singapore and former Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies where her research interest covers issues of culture, race and religion; and Dr Kenneth Paul Tan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS.
The first prize will be awarded in the middle of 2009. Submissions (recent independent research work; or research work submitted to a university, polytechnic college or academic journal) are invited for the first award, with closing date 31 January 2009. For details, visit http://www.plu.sg/society/?p=121. To contact PLU, click here.