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5 May 2010

Transgender women in Singapore launch campaign to end discrimination

After being verbally abused and asked to leave a club for a second time in months, a transgender performance artist and two other transgender women have taken a stand and launched a campaign to end discrimination against their community.

Marla Bendini Junior Ong, a 24-year-old first-year Art, Design & Media student was thrown out of a popular nightspot on Clarke Quay last Wednesday. And for what reason? She’s a transgender woman, and there appears to be a “no transgenders” policy at the club called China One and at several other clubs in the Clarke Quay area, a popular entertainment district along Singapore River.

Prominent transgender activist Leona Lo was similarly asked to leave The Pump Room, a club located in the same area one night in November 2007. She told Fridae at the time that she was called a 'lady boy' by a bouncer and had refused to show him her ID although it states her gender as female. Not one to back down easily, Lo who runs her own public relations consultancy and author of From Leonard to Leona – the first transsexual autobiography to be published in Singapore, went to the press with her offer to conduct a workshop on gender diversity for the bouncers and managers of the establishment. Unsurprisingly, the club did not take her up on her offer. Ever since the incident which was reported by Fridae and local mainstream media outlets, Lo said she has received numerous emails from transgender women in Singapore about their experiences from being thrown out of clubs to discrimination in the workplace and other areas of life.

Marla Bendini relates the incident at Clarke Quay club
 to Leona Lo (right) at the press conference

Tricia Leong, a transgender woman in her fifties, was fired from her a graphic designer job in an advertising firm 12 years ago when she began transitioning (presenting herself as female). She hasn’t been able to find permanent employment since then and has to support herself with her savings.

The three women on Wednesday launched Sisters in Solidarity, the first-ever campaign in Singapore to end discrimination against transgender women, at a media event held at Food #03.

Last Wednesday, Marla who was with her pole dancing group – some of whom were hired to perform at ChinaOne but was herself not scheduled to perform that night – was escorted out of the club by a bouncer who told her that the club’s manager wanted to speak to her outside. As the manager did not show up, she reentered the club although she was stopped by the bouncer. Despite her studio director’s intervention and explanation that she’s part of the group, the bouncers were adamant that she left the club. That was the second occasion she was asked to leave; a similar incident involving the same club occurred in September last year.

Upon her exit, she found the club managers in a heated argument. The club’s senior manager who was identified by Marla as Lawrence started to yell at her and said that she should not step into ChinaOne again. (Read Marla’s account here.) 

Left to right: Ming, studio director of Arco Polates with
Tricia Leong, Marla Bendini and Leona Lo at the launch
of the Sisters in Solidarity campaign

Although Lawrence of ChinaOne did not respond to Lo’s invitation to share his side of the story at the press conference, he responded to her email yesterday saying that it is one of his club’s policies that it does not allow “transgenders especially on our ladies night, provided that their change is reflected in their photo ID card" which means to say that pre-operative transgender women are barred from his club. In Singapore, only post-operative transgenders can have their ‘new’ gender reflected in their identity cards (but not their birth certificates) and passports.

“What is alarming is the club operators are targeting transgender women at random and verbally abusing, publicly humiliating and throwing out those they perceive as transgender, based on physical attributes such as large hands, angular jaw lines, low voices and other such stereotypical assumptions. When in doubt, they then use the gender status on the identity card as a crude measure of ‘acceptability’ and as a passport to entry.” Lo, a Founding Working Group member of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network, said in a statement.

Should the clubs decide to continue to bar pre-operative transgender women and require transgender women to show their IDs to prove their 'status', Lo demands that they publicise their door policy so that patrons (both transgender and non) can make informed decisions about the establishments they patronise.

"If you choose to discriminate against transgender women, be brave enough to post a sign, publish it prominently on your door, so people can choose whether they want to support your club," she told the roomful of reporters.

Lo has since also written to the CapitaLand, which owns and manages Clarke Quay, to ask that they investigate the incidents and to end the discriminatory practices.

ChinaOne and CapitaLand did not respond to emails from Fridae by the time of publication.

Social enterprise initiative

Organisers also announced the launch of a social enterprise project where companies can log on to endtransgenderdiscrimination.wordpress.com to view a listing of professional services by transgender women. Lo says she hopes for the project serves as a "platform for supportive employers to engage the services of and even recruit transgender women who may otherwise find it difficult to find employment by virtue of their gender identity."

Sisters in Solidarity activities 2010

SIS petition

Organisers aim to collect 1,000 signatures for their petition that calls for an end to all forms of discrimination against transgender women in Singapore. The petition and a cover letter will be sent to any organisation/institution reported to have discriminated against transgender women here.

Date: Sat, May 8, 2010
Time: 2 to 6pm
Venue: Food #03, 107+109 Rowell Road


As the campaign is currently funded by the organisers, 1,000 Sisters in Solidarity badges designed by Marla will be available for sale at Food #03, Rowell Road at $2 each. All proceeds after production costs will fund future SIS activities. Part of the proceeds will be donated to Post-Museum (which operates Food #03).

Exhibition: Conversations between father and son by Marla Bendini

Conversations is a multimedia installation performance with paintings, paying tribute to the artist’s late father. 
At the opening on May 13, the host will deliver the address followed by a performance by Marla Bendini after the reception. There will be a sale of SIS collaterals. Action for AIDS will also support with collaterals for HIV and AIDS awareness.

Opening Reception
Date: May 13, 2010
Time: 6.30pm til late, performance by Marla Bendini 7.30pm
Venue: The Substation Gallery

Exhibition runs from 13-22 May 12pm-9pm daily

SISter Carnival/Flea-market

Details to be confirmed/announced soon.

Razor TV Sisters in Solidarity Campaign Launch Part 3 
Click to watch Part 1 and Part 2


1. 2010-05-06 05:52  
Good for them. No-one should face discrimination just because of their sexuality or sexual identity.

This is kind of irrelevant but, by the way, one of the most popular and well-liked television characters on British/Irish television is a transgendered middle-aged woman in Coronation Street, the world's longest-running soap opera. (Google/YouTube search: 'Hayley Cropper', formerly/once known as Harold.)

Even my dad (not the most tolerant of men, shall we say) likes Hayley, recognising that one's good character and an honest personality is more important than being transgendered.

So, hope that a similarly more tolerant and open attitude can become more widespread in Singapore - but I won't hold my breath, eh...
回應#2於於2010-05-06 06:50被作者刪除。
3. 2010-05-06 06:50  
really good on them! it's great too see them take proactive action on something that they're not happy about. Too often people never take any effective action on discrimination..

really hope they get lots of support - and boo on the club manager, what an asshole! needs to get fired and learn some tact/public relations - maybe from Lo? lol.
4. 2010-05-06 06:59  
Many of them are still not being accepted in real life. Imagine if you are employing them, what should you fill in the gender column? Male/Female/Both/Unknown?
回應#5於於2010-05-07 08:13被作者刪除。
6. 2010-05-06 09:13  
Congratulations to Tricia, Marla and Leona for launching the Sisters In Solidarity campaign successfully.
One thing I just don't understand, if we are allowed for sex change officially, why can't we be accepted by the public officially? I think we should bring this more often to public awareness.
7. 2010-05-06 13:00  
these girls are charming and fabulous, lov them, go for it, where to send a check to help them?
8. 2010-05-06 19:26  
Go Girls. It's time to teach those idiots some lessons.
9. 2010-05-06 22:31  
You Go Girls!!!
10. 2010-05-06 22:32  
It's the club's loss. TS girls are so much fun to be with and can really bring excellent crowd!!
11. 2010-05-06 23:28  
此处不留人,自有留人处。Good luck and best wishes.
12. 2010-05-06 23:34  
ctjerome: I would probably put 'female', as they're legally recognized (if that's the case in the country), or because that's the gender they'd want to be referred to. Or if there's an option for transsexual, then that.

the thinking doesn't just stop at "oh no this seems a little awkward I guess there's nothing we can do about it".
13. 2010-05-07 00:15  
re : one of the above

Its good to take the first step on transexuality issue when everyone else dont dare to...

Acceptance is just a matter of time and the effort provided... Thinking back that homosexuality was not welcomed by the society either and was categorized as "monsters" (just like this case)... But it is these kind of motivated people that willingly putting down their self-pride and take a firm stand infront to speak it out loud, resulting as what we see today - almost half of the world has legalized homosexuals...

If we can break the tradisional marriage of male and female to gay marriage... Filling up the gender column of a transexual will be a dust-like matter...

Without them, we would still be hiding our identity even until now... And you too will not dare to find real action here and there, probably still hiding in your mama's shoulder... To the honour of these people, we can be who we are...

It is these kind of esteemed people help to build a better future for gays, lesbians, and transgenders... We should give support physically and mentally, and thank them for their effort... Im sure these girls will succeed one day, and can be who they really are... Good Luck...
修改於2010-05-07 00:51:28
14. 2010-05-07 01:11  
I'll boycott China Jump and other clubs that discriminate trans gender women.
15. 2010-05-07 05:39  
Thank you boys :)
I really appreciate the kind comments and I will relay them to my sisters.

Lagunabro, please visit our website http://endtransgenderdiscrimination.wordpress.com to support our educational campaign :)
回應#16於於2010-05-07 05:42被作者刪除。
17. 2010-05-07 05:50  
GOOD ON YA GIRLS !! I am proud of you. Dont let anyone put you down !
18. 2010-05-07 08:17  
Seamas39: You asked, “if we are allowed for sex change officially, why can't we be accepted by the public officially?”

Free will. Each side has exercised it. It’s a stand-off.
19. 2010-05-07 08:23  
Even if they ban transgenders,they shouldnt be so crude & rude towards them.Its alright the club have certain rules & regulation but get the managers & bouncers to go thru customer service courses and teach them what is customer service if they do not know how to handle 'transgender' situation.

Imagine if a pub doesnt permit 'FAT' & 'ULGY' people into their clubs and happen that these managers & bouncers are the FAT & UGLY people who wanted to patronise this club?Got humiliate & insult they are FAT & UGLY?Wont they feel discriminated?Won't they feel humiliated?Same goes for Transgender,they are human too,if they did not create trouble in your club,why there is a need to hull them out from your club?And Singapore government has been promoting and cultivating wat is customer service,so i think the government should intervene & tell all these clubs that hold all these RUDE & UNCIVILISED CLUB MANAGERS & BOUNCERS to go back to 'SCHOOL' and teach them what is customer service.

So overall,if these clubs insist that GAYS,TRANSGENDERS,LESBIANS are not welcome in their 'HIGH CLASS' clubs,its ok we got better place to spend our money.Its THEIR LOST! :)
20. 2010-05-07 10:33  
All these so clubs policy rules are Crap! Basically it's just discrimination. Yes do something and get rid of those rules. Can we actually sued someone to court for verbal abuse? We should do that!
21. 2010-05-07 14:32  
Please support our petition this Saturday 2-6pm at FOOD#03 Rowell Road.

Sisters in Solidarity badges will be sold at $2 each- wear it, support our cause and display your involvement and stand.

For those who would prefer to sign online,

thank you :)

marla bendini
22. 2010-05-07 14:48  
Just signed your online petition since I can't physically be there to support you!

I employed a cross-dresser in my office several years back and he turned out to be one of the best staffs I have!!
23. 2010-05-07 15:28  
Couldnt even tell that these gals are transgenders. Good work gals!!!
回應#24於於2010-05-07 15:29被作者刪除。
25. 2010-05-07 16:20  
I don't know what I can do but I'll surely will support :)
26. 2010-05-07 18:38  
Just like homosexuals banging forlornly on the doors of homophobic churches for acceptance so also for tansgenders it will be a long time coming in some quarters, I wouldn't hold my breath in anticipation or waste my time personally, why not start up a new club some body? simple really, create an alternative one that will be inclusive and innovative, shoot the others out of the water by being really successful and every one will want to go there & the crappy competition will fall flat, there must be some one cashed up enough other wise look at building a collective
27. 2010-05-07 18:43  
you gals should open a transgender bar.... tat will solve the unemployment issue as well...
28. 2010-05-07 20:10  
@aztlan_oz and birdy23

right. and if homos are barred from restaurants, hotels, bars or whatever, they shouldn't complain, just set up their own and go no where else
29. 2010-05-08 17:20  
U're missing our point... See? We don't have that same issue and I personally can't be ass to go anywhere that doesn't welcome me anyways... Discrimination is a bitch but I truely think we all do I one way or another.... And for the record I love and respect the transGender counterparts but Clarke quay is sooo cheesy anyways....
30. 2010-06-13 08:47  




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