Monday, December 11, 2006
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