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.