Monday, December 11, 2006
Launch of SAFE at Pelangi Pride Centre's Community Fair
SAFE launched its website on 9 Dec, at Pelangi Pride Centre's Community Fair. The invitation-only event at Mox Bar was attended by some 250 guests, comprised of parents, relatives, friends, well-wishers, volunteers and members of the various LGBTQ community groups.

We are grateful to Pelangi Pride Centre for organizing the fair and inviting SAFE to be a part of it, especially to Eileena Lee and Charmaine Tan who helped oversee the smooth running of the launch. Also, Mox Bar for generously hosting the event; Grace and Steffie, the jazz duo who provided the evening's entertainment; and Daniel Tung, who translated our speeches into sign language for our hearing-impaired guests.

We especially thank everyone who took time out of their weekend to attend the launch, as well as those of you who wrote in with words of encouragement and support.

For those of you who could not attend the launch, we have published here the various speeches made by the founding members of SAFE and their supporters.

From left to right, Susan Tang, Tan Joo Hymn, Dr Khoo Hoon Eng,
Suchen Christine Lim, and Lim Chi-Sharn.

Click to read the address made by:

Khoo Hoon Eng
Tan Joo Hymn
Susan Tang
Suchen Christine Lim
Lim Chi-Sharn

Now up: Photos of the launch


SAFE launch: Photos
Here are some of the photos taken at the launch of the SAFE website on 9 Dec 2006, at Pelangi Pride Centre. Watch this space for more photo updates, coming soon.

We thank Pelangi Pride Centre for their permission to publish the above photographs.

Copyright of the above photographs belong to Pelangi Pride Centre. Please do not copy or reproduce these photos in any form, or for personal use, without the permission of Pelangi Pride Centre.

SAFE makes no claims or assumptions about the views, support, affiliations, or sexual orientation, of any persons attending our events, or appearing in these photographs. We advise and encourage our readers to do the same.

SAFE can not assume liability for any photographs published here or on any external websites.


SAFE launch: Address by Lim Chi-Sharn
[Photo courtesy of Pelangi Pride Centre]

"Thank you for inviting me, as well as my mother (Christine Suchen Lim), to the launch of SAFE – Supporting, Affirming & Empowering our LGBTQ friends and family.

My mother, Suchen, is definitely, definitely, more religious than I am...

For, I am a criminal.

For those of you who are aware, Penal Code Section 377A, which criminalizes gross indecency between men, has been excluded from the current round of proposed Penal Code amendments.

Why is this so?

Sayoni’s blog reported that at the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Women’s Focus Group Discussion on Penal Code Amendments, Woman MP Ms. Indranee said that the Government has to look at parents. They might be afraid that their children will turn gay, because if they see other people being gay, they would think it is okay to be gay.

With the full force of the law on the left, and the pressure of familial expectations on the right, it is no wonder that many studies have shown that LGBTQ teenagers are over-represented in suicide rates.

Parents, Sons and Daughters, we are gathered here and have the precious opportunity to move hearts and minds to see a different world. I challenge you to reach across religious, class, ethnic and HIV borders, and include every letter in LGBTQ.

The minefields are numerous, and I stand together with you, right at the frontline.

Thank you."

- Lim Chi-Sharn, supporter of SAFE


SAFE launch: Address by Suchen Christine Lim
[Photo courtesy of Pelangi Pride Centre]

"Congratulations and a BIG Thank You to the founders of SAFE. You asked me for support of your work. I in turn thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this.

At this juncture in our social history, when many major religions dare not and will not be inclusive, then it is time for lay people to show the so-called religious leaders what it means to love another human being; the love that the Catholic and Christian Churches label as ‘agape’ and ‘caritas’, which I understand is an inclusive and embracing love that does not judge and does not condemn, and which is similar to what the Buddhists called ‘loving kindness’.

On behalf of the mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, sisters and brothers and friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and queer, I thank you for providing a place where people will not be excluded because of their sexual orientation. "

- Suchen Christine Lim, supporter of SAFE


SAFE launch: Address by Tan Joo Hymn
[Photo courtesy of Alex Au]

"Before I became President of AWARE, Hoon Eng had suggested that AWARE host a gay-affirmative forum. It was supposed to be on Valentine’s Day, to explore the different kinds of love, or rather, the different expressions of love.

Lack of time and clashing schedules meant that I “inherited” the project, which was eventually called the Mothers’ Day Forum. It was even more poignant that the forum took place, well, the Sunday before Mothers’ Day, because of a mix-up in dates, because it was due to a mother’s great love for both her gay sons and her determination to accept them unconditionally whatever the odds, that prompted the event.

The message that I wanted to convey through the forum was that it is rejection and stigmatization that tears families apart, not the fact, nor even the revelation, that certain family members are gay. At the forum, I was genuinely moved to tears at the honest and authentic sharing, and the courage of each and every person who spoke up. No matter how old and mature we think we are, there is still a little bit in all of us that still remains the little child, wanting and needing our parents’ love and acceptance. And I think it is this need that causes the most pain and longing.

And on the part of parents, we all want the best for our children. Through the lens with which we view the world, coupled with our own fears and insecurities, we make judgments for and about our children that we think will serve them best. Ironically, often by causing them pain, to dissuade them from their chosen cause of action. After the forum, I kept thinking about my own daughter… If she chose to be a cut-throat Wall Street stock broker or a politician – will I still be able to love and accept her unconditionally? Or would I resort to threats and rejection to try to make her see the “error” of her ways?

Both parents and children need and deserve support and understanding, and not labels and judgment. Actually, that is my firm belief about just almost anything – if we truly want to find a solution, we have to drop the labels and stigma before we can see a clear way through to a workable, lasting solution – be it HIV/AIDS, single mothers, homosexuality, family violence etc.

It was in this spirit that we got together to start SAFE – supporting, affirming and empowering our LGBTQ friends. A big thank you to Regina De Rozario for helping us set up the website.

We hope that we can reach out to families who are worried about the lives their gay children will have, who are concerned about what the neighbours might say, who are scared silly that the police will come knocking one day brandishing Section 377A. Through providing information and resources and just good ol’ emotional support, we hope that these families will be able understand and affirm their gay children/siblings or even parents. Support from friends and activists is good, but support from family is great!

I read a passage that said: There is no lack of love in this world, just a lack of awareness that the love exists.

If SAFE manages to increase that awareness by just a bit, we would have succeeded."

- Tan Joo Hymn, founding member of SAFE


SAFE launch: Address by Dr Khoo Hoon Eng
[Photo: Pelangi Pride Centre]

"This is such an exciting day for me. I want to thank Mox Bar and Café for allowing us to be here, to Eileena (Lee) for arranging this event and all of you for coming to share it with us.

10 years ago, I would not have been able to imagine the day would come when I could stand here and talk about the launch of a website for the support group for parents, family and friends of LGBTQ people.

The evening a decade ago that my older son, aged 15 then, came into my bedroom and said, “Mama I’m gay” remains etched in my memory. My heart stopped beating for a while. My brain thought, “Oh no, he is going to have such a tough life.” I looked at him and then I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes”. I was so stunned that I just lay there for a while without speaking. Then he went back to his room. I went to his room and gave him a hug. I said, “You know you are still young, you don’t have to make up your mind about anything. Continue to be friends with people of both sexes and wait and see.”

I really did not know what to do. I kept hoping it was a “passing phase”. How I wished I had some people I could go and talk to. Of course, the thought of rejecting my son or blaming anyone did not cross my mind and so, in that sense, I am luckier than most parents. I had known a lesbian couple –my honours thesis supervisor who was a lovely, lovely person. She had been in a relationship with her partner for many, many years.

But I still did not know the first thing about homosexuality – did people grow out of it?? I vaguely knew that it could not be a “choice”. Why would anyone “choose” to be discriminated against? What should I do? My gut feeling was to continue to love him.

I tried to see if I could borrow some books to read up about homosexuality. There were some in the NUS library but I was too closeted then to even go and check any out in case someone saw my name as the borrower – those days, they would still write your name on the little card in the back of the book! I was so afraid that someone might find out that my son was gay!!

I only wish I knew back then, what to do to help my son and show him my full support. I finally found it in a book called Always My Child. I have donated a copy of this book and another one called Beyond Acceptance to the Pelangi Pride Library. So do borrow the books if you think your parents and other family members might find them useful. In the books, the authors talk about the different stages that parents and their children go through.

It was only 3 years ago, I think I finally got to the more active supportive stage when I learnt from Alex Au that some parents literally throw their son out of their home when he comes out to them. I was horrified! I decided then, that I should try to start a parents support group to dispel the myths about homosexuality and help them accept their gay children.

So in May this year, with the assistance of several friends, we ran a Mother’s Day discussion forum called Unconditional Love at AWARE’s office. We talked about mothers’ love for their gay and lesbian children. Eileena’s mum and I were there. We also heard from sisters of gay people and a lesbian mother and Susan (Tang) who is with Safehaven and the Free Community Church. After that forum, Susan, Joo Hymn, Su-Chzeng and I agreed to set up a support group and threw a few names around. SAFE sounded good. It stands for Supporting, Affirming and Empowering our LGBTQ family and friends.

Our mission: to form a network of support, affirmation and empowerment for families and friends of LGBTQ persons by providing information and resources and encouraging dialogue that promotes respect for human diversity and the well-being of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning persons.

We are extremely grateful to Regina De Rozario who helped us with the design of the website. It contains information and resources that are of interest to parents and friends. It also has links to other support groups in Singapore and overseas. If you do not find your group in our list of resources, please write in to us and give us your contact. If we need to update the resources, do let us know too. We have some resources in Chinese but would welcome some in other languages such as Malay and Tamil. If you have any to share, do send them to us.

We also want to share Singaporean stories about how our families support our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning family members. We want to welcome supporters to sign up. So do read it and let us know how to improve the website. Share your stories and thoughts with us to make it an interactive site.

I want to say to all Singaporeans, all of us, whether we know it or not, has a friend or relative who is queer. As my son said, "We're here, we're queer, and apparently people need some help getting used to it."

So, in future, we hope to be able to hold face-to-face meetings and discussions, share the different ways that families can support their queer members. We want to tell all 4.48 million people in Singapore and the rest of the world how much we love and are proud of our LGBTQ daughters, sons, grand-daughters, grandsons, nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers, friends, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles. I think that covers everyone, right?

Once again, thank you so much for coming to share this happy event with us."

- Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, founder of SAFE


SAFE launch: Address by Susan Tang
[Photo courtesy of Pelangi Pride Centre]

"I hope to bring to SAFE a religious perspective, not because I’m super-religious, but because sad to say, my Christian faith contributes one of the loudest and strongest voice of condemnation of LGBTQ people. To me, to accuse gay people of sin just because they love someone of the same sex, violates the very message of the Gospel, that of equality, justice and compassion, as well as God’s extravagant love for ALL people.

You do not need to be a Christian to understand what I am saying. All of us know that people are meant to live whole, honest and healthy lives out in the open, not in dark, musty closets.

So I am part of SAFE because I believe we owe it to our gay children, our gay brothers and sisters, our gay nieces and nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts even … to repent of OUR sins of homophobia and condemnation, which have driven them into closets of despair. We owe them a place of safety, acceptance and healing.

But these safe places can only come about if the larger family, the larger community, provides support and encouragement, and stays close and connected to their gay children, siblings or friends.

This is where SAFE comes in to help – to provide you resources and information, to give you the opportunity to hear stories of how others have dealt with issues similar to your own, and to help you strengthen your relationship with the gay loved ones in your life.

Back to the issue of faith, I want you to know that there ARE alternative Christian voices of support, empathy and acceptance. I am glad to acknowledge the presence of at least three “men of cloth” here today to show their support. And there are others. Many religious people have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality and have decided to change their attitudes. That it is not the gay person who must change, but that it is us, straight people, who need to change.

Finally, I want to say to all our SAFE supporters, thank you for your support today, go out and tell others about SAFE and help us focus on the REAL family – one that accepts and loves unconditionally and against all odds. "

- Susan Tang, founding member of SAFE


Friday, December 08, 2006
Have a Happy Holiday Season - Tips for Family and Friends
Spending the holiday season with family and friends can sometimes be a stressful time. Here are some tips we found and adapted from the PFLAG website that may help you get through it.

If you are a friend or family member of someone gay...

- Set up support for yourself. It is important to realize you are not alone. If you need assistance or information, get in touch with someone at SAFE.

- Take your time. Acceptance may not come instantly, but be honest about your feelings.

- Don't be nervous about using the "correct" language. Honesty and openness creates warmth, sincerity and a deeper bond in a relationship. If you are not sure what is appropriate, ask for help.

- Realize that the situation may be as difficult and awkward for your LGBTQ loved one as it is for you.

Before the visit...

- Practice in advance if you are going to be discussing your family member's sexual orientation or gender identity with family and friends. If you are comfortable talking about it, your family and friends will probably be more comfortable too.

- Anticipate potential problems, but do not assume the reactions will always be what you expected.

- Consult with your LGBTQ loved one when coordinating sleeping arrangements if he or she is bringing home a partner.

- If your family member is transgender, practice using the correct pronouns.

During the visit...

- Treat a LGBTQ person like you would treat anyone else in your family.

- Take interest in your family member's life. He or she is still the same person.

- Don't ask your LGBTQ family member to act a certain way. Let them be their natural selves.

- If your LGBTQ family member is bringing a partner, acknowledge them as you would any other family member's partner.

- If your LGBTQ family member is bringing a partner, include them in your family traditions.

- Ask your LGBTQ family member about his or her partner if you know they have one.

See also: Tips for LGBTQ persons

Source: Tips for a Happy Holiday (PDF File), by PFLAG, with extracts from the book When Holidays are Hell...! A Guide to Surviving Family Gatherings, by Mariana Caplan
Thursday, December 07, 2006
SAFE in the news: Safe Singapore
Look out for SAFE Singapore, a new support group for straight family and friends of GLBT people with an upcoming website launch on Saturday, Dec 9 at Mox Bar. Fridae talks to Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, a co-founder of the group and a supportive mother of two gay sons.

Article by Ng Yi-Sheng,, Dec 7, 2006

It's never easy for a parent to hear a child say the words, "I'm gay." Even liberal parents have been known to panic at the news, and in religiously conservative families, the backlash is often worse.

But with the launch of SAFE Singapore (Supporting, AFfirming and Empowering our LGBTQ [Questioning] friends and family) coming out to your parents should be that much easier.

Founded by a team of four straight women, the group operates a web site to provide information and resources for straight people struggling to accept their queer friends and relatives.

One of the founders of SAFE, Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, is already a minor celebrity in the Singapore queer community. A lecturer and biochemistry researcher by profession, she was featured earlier this year in the book SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century, describing how both her sons came out to her as gay.

"My first thought was, he's going to have a really tough life," she says, describing her reaction to her first son, Shin Ming, coming out. Rather than rejecting this news, however, Dr Khoo made further efforts to understand the situation of her sons, talking to them and consulting books to understand how to be supportive of GLBT children.

"Why be afraid of them?" she tells other parents. "They really are the same children that you loved the day before they outed themselves."

Dr Khoo realised the need for a group like SAFE in 2003, when well-known gay activist Alex Au mentioned to her how some young gay people he knew were thrown out of their homes by their parents. "That just horrified me," she says. "I decided we really should start up a parents' support group of some sort." Sadly, the stress of negotiating her divorce at the time made it difficult to start such an initiative at the time, but she continued to source for allies to help her in her project.

As a committed member of the Singapore feminist group AWARE (Association of Women for Action and REsearch), Dr Khoo was able to find willing collaborators in the Association President Tan Joo Hymn and Ex-Co member Ong Su-Chzeng. She also met Susan Yap Siu Sen, an active member of Free Community Church, a non-denominational, gay-inclusive Christian group and daughter of retired Methodist Bishop and pastoral advisor to FCC Reverend Yap Kim Hao. All four women are mothers and are relatives or close friends with GLBT people in Singapore.

The team consolidated this May, at a special AWARE Mothers' Day Forum to share the experiences of mothers of gay children. Leading the discussion was a panel of six women, including Dr Khoo, Susan Yap, lesbian activist Eileena Lee and her mother, Mdm Yiap Geok Khuan. All shared heart-warming stories of being mothers and friends of gays and lesbian.

Immediately after the forum came the planning. "The four of us sat down and decided how we're going to do this," Dr Khoo recalls. "We threw a few names around and decided that SAFE was the best. Then we were introduced to lesbian visual artist Regina De Rozario, and she agreed to help us pro bono with the design of the website."

A panel which comprised Dr Khoo, Mdm Yiap and her daughter Eileena, and two other speakers shared heart-warming stories of being the mother and friends of gays and lesbians.

The launch of ''SQ21'' created some welcome publicity for SAFE, which formed the subject of a story in the Sunday Times on Sep 3, 2006. Several readers, including parents and siblings of gay Singaporeans, were able to later contact Dr Khoo through an e-mail address printed in the papers. Her appearance at bookstore promotions stimulated further gestures of support for SAFE from the public. Naturally, a handful of homophobic readers also wrote in to attack her, but she took this in her stride.

The website of SAFE Singapore includes basic information on GLBTQ identities, references for counselling centres, essays against homophobia, separate FAQs for friends, parents, co-workers and teachers, and an as yet unpublished press statement stating the team's opposition to Section 377A, the portion of the Penal Code which criminalises gay male sex. The final sentence spells out the group's mission: "Our agenda is to strive for a society based on justice and equality, respect for individual dignity and opposed to bigotry, homophobia or any other form of hatred and discrimination."

Dr Khoo notes that similar resources already exist online, but mostly speaking from an American perspective. "Parents here are different," she explains. "I wanted to get our own local information and stories to share." Once established, the group may hold meetings and other activities, forming a support network for queer Singaporeans and their loved ones. In the meantime, the team invites visitors to the site to offer their names in support of their efforts by writing in.

The SAFE website will launch on Saturday afternoon, 9 December 2006 at the Pelangi Pride Centre, housed at Mox Bar and Café. This event will be accompanied by a fair featuring various groups from Singapore's gay community. Most of the SAFE team will be present to meet supporters, but Dr Khoo's children will unfortunately be unable to attend, since both are studying in America. Nonetheless, both sons are extremely proud of their mother.

"I just spoke to Ming yesterday, and I was telling him about all my activities, and he said I'm doing more gay activist work than he's done in the last few months!" Dr Khoo laughs.

Shin Ming himself, writing in support of his mother, thinks SAFE Singapore will have tremendous potential, since nearly everyone, whether they know it or not, has a friend or relative who is queer. In a sentence, he neatly sums up the motivation behind the group: "We're here, we're queer, and apparently people need some help getting used to it."

SAFE Admin note: The article also reprints SAFE's statement to the press on The Penal Code.