10 Jun 2011

If only gay people could stop feeling guilty for being different

Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, a former Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia who appears as himself in the recent Pink Dot promotional video, underscores the importance of self-acceptance among LGBT people, and accepting others in the community by embracing difference and celebrating diversity.

"If only gay people could stop feeling guilty for being different" is my tag line in the recent Pink Dot video. Credit must go to Singapore filmmaker Boo Junfeng who directed the 2011 promotional video that has since attracted over 190,000 views since it was launched on YouTube almost a month ago. As I repeated the line a number of times in its filming and further reflected upon it, I was made more aware of its meaning and significance. 

The situation on homosexuality will most certainly be more favourable if more from the LGBTQ (lesbian,gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer) community could with courage come out of their closets and take pride and carry no guilt about their sexual orientation. If only more straight people could comprehend the wide spectrum of human sexuality and regard homosexuality as normal and natural, and step forward to lend their support.

Pink Dot in its brief history has obtained credibility and gained favour. We are on the way to reach the tipping point just as the political rallies held by opposition parties have demonstrated in the massive crowds that participated in the recent elections in Singapore. I recall how in their earlier political campaigns, I went sheepishly to join the small crowds who were fearful of standing in solidarity with the opposition. Changes have occurred dramatically and people proudly gave their votes to the opposition candidates. The same is going to happen on the issue of homosexuality. It is really getting better and it is merely a matter of time. 

Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao

In voluntary service to the LGBTQ community through Free Community Church since its inception over seven years ago, I have observed the people who were assisted in eradicating guilt and achieving self-acceptance. With fear and trepidation they appeared and discovered courage and liberation. I remember a lesbian teacher who pulled her baseball cap down to try to hide her face and now able to stand before the congregation to witness to Christian truth. Likewise, the gay university student who came by himself and sat quietly afraid to engage with others now sings in the musical team to encourage other worshipers. 

It is striking that FCC singularly “affirms that same-sex and transgendered relationships, when lived out in accord with the love commandments of Jesus, are consistent with Christian faith and teachings. Indeed, we find discrimination based on negative judgment of others, fear of difference, and homophobia inconsistent with Christian teachings.” It is a strong statement on freedom to love. 

LGBTQ need a secure place to help them to stop feeling guilty and build self-acceptance. Many others in society need a safe place where they no longer need to face discrimination and condemnation. The celebration of Pink Dot is a stage towards a society which is on the road to gay-affirming.

Self-acceptance is essentially what is needed for LGBTQ people. Why do we have to succumb to the dictates of cultural conditioning enforced by anachronistic religious teaching. Much has been attributed to what is taught about same-sex relations particularly in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Historical-critical studies of these religions and their sacred writings have shown how they themselves are culturally bound and historically related and each claim universal and timeless relevancy. History records that contrary to sacred texts, religions have rejected patriarchy, racism, slavery, and violence. Prejudice based on sex, race, sexual orientation and economic status are no longer just and valid. This came about through the fresh interpretation of the sacred texts from the perspectives of the feminists, racial minorities, poor, and queer people.

We do not have to bear the heavy burden of guilt that the conservative community has placed upon the shoulders of LGBTQ because of its minority and marginalised position. We all must accept ourselves by embracing difference and celebrating diversity.

Due to the inter-connected and globalised community we know now how a growing majority of people are gay-affirming even though LGBTQ remain always a significant minority of the population. That the numbers of LGBTQ people are not increasing proportionately is in itself is a mystery. We see an increasing number of those who understand sexual orientation and acknowledge same-sex relationships as natural and normal.

We are making progress in embracing differences. Each one of us is unique and different. A gay professor gave me a gift of a tee-shirt with the line: "Gay? Fine by me." I took a picture and published it in my memoir to declare my positive view on gays. Just last month I attended a retreat of Methodist pastors from Malaysia and Singapore. I took along a tee-shirt with the words "Same-same" in front and "but different" at the back. A number of the pastors recognised the statement that I was making and quietly agreed with it.

I did not realise that over forty years ago when I was the Bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysian and Singapore, I was appointing gay and lesbian Methodist pastors and missionaries to serve faithfully in the churches and schools throughout Malaysia and Singapore. It was then an unwritten policy of "Don't ask, don’t tell." But it was known then and even now that they were violating the teaching of the Church which still regards homosexuality as a sin. That too is in the process of changing and rather rapidly. I am certain that there are a number of gay and lesbian clergy and laypersons who are serving in different religious institutions today.

This is an exciting time and we are being caught in the tide of diversity in the affairs of men and women, straight or gay. Each one of us is differently gifted and has a contribution to make in the human community both local and global. The appeal is to get rid of guilt. The call is for self-acceptance about who we are and what we can become. It is to maximise our potential and become that kind person who live and work in community which is mutually accepting, caring and supporting one another in the creating of a better future for all.

Those of you in the LGBTQ community who love and accept yourself and relish the freedom that it brings have a special responsibility to help others who are still struggling to resolve their gay identity. You are able to save them from their loneliness, suffering and misery.

Those of us who are straight should regard all people are of sacred worth who deserve respect and ought to have freedom to love and to become who they have been created to be – unique, different and distinctive.

Together we share the awesome task to shape a community which is more caring and compassionate, more free and just that strives for the well-being of all.

Participate in Pink Dot 2011: Support the Freedom to Love on June 18 and make Singapore more open-minded and inclusive Pink Dot.

Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao serves as Pastoral Advisor to the Free Community Church upon retirement from full-time Christian ministry. He was the first Asian Bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysian and Singapore. Subsequently he served as General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, an ecumenical organisation of over a hundred churches and national council of churches in Asia. He holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees from Boston University and was honoured by them with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988. He published his memoir A Bishop Remembers in 2006.