Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Happy New Year!
Hello, and a Happy New Year to all our visitors, readers, and supporters. We hope that the days ahead be good ones, filled with peace and health for you and your family.

Our first article for the new year comes from Father Albert Renckens, who alerted us to a piece he wrote for the Catholic News. Entitled 'Are homosexuals welcome in the Catholic Church?', it is the first of a two-part reflection which addresses the nature of gays and lesbians, and some of the issues they face.

While SAFE is a non-religious effort that welcomes and supports members of all faiths, we feel we can provide an opportunity for dialogue between gays and their straight families and friends, by highlighting such an article, and bringing these issues to a wider audience. The article is also a significant reminder to our LGBTQ friends and families that amidst a world filled with homophobia, they do have people who seek to understand them. We thank Father Renckens for his permission to reproduce the article on our website.

We are currently planning our activities for the year. In the meantime, do keep your emails and comments coming. We would especially like to hear from volunteers who can accurately translate our website into Malay, Tamil, or Chinese, and supporters who can contribute original articles. Contact us at safesingapore[at]gmail.com.


Interview with SAFE founder Khoo Hoon Eng, by Plume
The following interview was first published on Plume on 11 Dec, 2006. Plume stands for People Like You and Me, and is a platform that highlights the thoughts and reflections of LGBT youth. It hopes to foster the growth of an LGBT youth community in Singapore, and in doing so, provide support and resources for queer youth.

We thank Zee, the author, for helping spread the word about SAFE, and his permission to reprint the interview here.

SAFE Singapore is a support network born at a Mother’s Day Forum on the 7th of May by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). Plume speaks to Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, the founder, who was also featured in SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century as the mother of two gay sons on her motivation, reaching out to other parents and a word or two for young people like you and me on coming out on the family front.

What motivated you to start SAFE?

I wanted to share information and resources that I would have liked to have had when my sons came out to me. I was so ignorant back then. Later, after I had become comfortable with being a parent of two gay sons, I was horrified to learn that some parents throw their children out of their homes when they come out to them. I want to show parents and friends that we can learn about our gay children's lives and continue to love and support them.

A majority of parents are not Internet savvy. How does SAFE intend to reach this audience, and how do I, as a gay person bridge this disconnect?

Eventually, we would like to have face-to-face discussions. We will have to depend on Internet savvy LGBT and other supporters to bridge this divide. Many of our resources can be printed out and shared with those who do not have Internet access.

Will there be physical meetings for you to speak to these parents?

Yes, we can currently do it on a small scale but in future, hope to have bigger discussions.

Have you met or gotten in touch with any parents and/or family members in these few months? If so, how much impact have you made on their lives?

I have corresponded by email with a few parents. They have thanked us for the information we shared. I met one and she felt comforted and has accepted that her gay son is not going to "change" his sexual orientation. So she is focusing on how to support and look after him. We sent out information in Chinese to a sibling who wanted to get their mother to accept his lesbian sister.

How do you intend to reach out to everyone regardless of language, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic class?

The website is open to everyone. We are trying to get other parents and supporters who are fluent in other languages so that we can reach out to non-English speaking parents.

Listening to the talk at the launch of SAFE's website, you do have a representative from a Christian standpoint which is good because the loudest homophobic voices come from religious conservatives. However, while standing around, I heard a person from a non-Christian background murmur to her friend that she suddenly felt excluded. How does SAFE aim to navigate such murky waters in letting people of other faiths (or people who reject faith) feel included?

I am a freethinker myself and perhaps I should have emphasised that. Thanks for informing me about this. Perhaps I will try to make this clear on the website. SAFE is a completely non-religious group. Susan is fully accepting of non-religious people. I think she emphasised her Christian faith because she felt compelled to apologise for the strong homophobia exhibited by the conservative Christian community. SAFE has also had expressions of support from a Buddhist group.

Being a founder of a youth initiative myself, you tend to meet raving supporters, die hard cynics and homophobes alike. What difficulties have you faced?

I have had a couple of people writing in telling me I am a sinner in accepting my sons' gay identity and that my sons “became” gay because of my marital problems with their father!! I just let that slide off my back. Rabid homophobes will always be around. They do not understand anything about love. As for die hard cynics who think we can never change the world, I want to quote Margaret Mead who wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Where do you see SAFE heading towards? Do you intend to have more affirming parents on your team to manage better should the demand increase?

Yes, we will try to get more supportive parents, siblings and friends on board to help us manage our activities and website. So I hope you will help publicize our existence so that more people will step forward.

How do you and your sons feel now that you've done so much for the gay community here in Singapore?

We have not really done that much. We have only decided that we did not want to live in the closet any more and if we can help others not feel so isolated and alone by coming out, then we will have done a little bit toward dispelling myths and homophobia. Every time some gay person and his/her family decide to live life openly, this will help some closeted gay person and his/her family realise that they need not continue to be ashamed.

As a mother, do you have anything to say to our young readers in their journey to growing up and ultimately finding peace in their surroundings and with themselves?

My advice to young people is to accept yourself, get involved in healthy activities, make the world a better place and be patient with your parents and family if they do not accept your sexual orientation straight away. You have had time to accept yourself. They need time to accept their position as family to a gay person too. They will also need all the help and information you can share with them about how to support you and how they can be supported. Always be cognisant of the fact that you don't want to come out to your family and then drive your family into the closet.

Source: Interview with Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, by Plume

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Sunday, January 07, 2007
Are homosexuals welcome in the Catholic Church?
The following article was first published in the Catholic News on 7 Jan, 2007. We have reprinted it here with permission from Father Albert Renckens, the author. Please let us know what you think of this article at safesingapore[at]gmail.com

Some Catholic homosexuals in Singapore have the impression that they are not welcome in our church and, consequently, they have left us for some other church, Father Albert Renckens writes. Is their impression wrong, or are homosexuals not welcome indeed? Here is part one of a two-part deeply felt personal reflection by Father Renckens on the treatment of homosexuals in the church.

This questions looks to me a bit strange. What would you think of the question "Are people taller than six feet welcome in the Catholic Church?" Does the question not suggest that there may be something wrong with people taller than six feet, so that we are questioning whether or not they belong to us? So does the question about homosexuals not imply the same presumption?

Unfortunately some Catholic homosexuals in Singapore do have the impression that they are not welcome in our church and consequently they have left us for some other church. Is their impression wrong, or are homosexuals not welcome indeed? Are we right in rejecting them or are we guilty of pushing these people out of the church due to our ignorance? This is the reason for this article.

To answer the question "Is there something wrong with homosexual people?" we should ask first: "What are actually homosexual people?"

Homosexuals are human beings with a different sexual orientation from the majority. Most people (about 90-95 percent) are heterosexuals; that means they are sexually interested in and attracted to humans of the opposite (hetero) gender (sex). Homosexuals (5-10 percent of the people) are humans who are sexually inclined towards people of the same (homo) gender (sex). Women of this kind are sometimes called lesbians.

What is the sexual nature of heterosexuals (or straight people) - to be attracted to, to admire, to fall in love with, to hold hands, to hold each other, to dance with, to be in each other's company, to kiss each other, to have the desire to be one body; all these with someone of the opposite sex - is also in the nature of homosexuals (or gays, as they are sometimes called), but with people of their own sex.

Heterosexuals find this natural inclination of homosexuals hard to understand and may even see it as repugnant. But is it wrong for Christians to have a homosexual orientation?

In this first part we do not question the behaviour of homosexuals which, as with behaviour of people taller than six feet, can be good or bad; that will be the content of the second article.

Now we talk about these people as they are, as a group. Is it wrong to have this orientation?

Let me first clarify some aspects of being homosexual:

1. Belonging to any minority group is never easy in society, as you are easily avoided or misunderstood and will anyhow not be that popular.

2. Where homosexuals are concerned, they are easily misunderstood because people do not expect and cannot imagine them to be homosexual. Due to a taboo in the past, most parents have never been prepared to expect that one of their children might be homosexual. On the contrary they expect their children to get married and they hope to be grandparents. As a result when they are told by their child that she or he is homosexual, they feel disappointed and have difficulty accepting it. They advise such a child to get over it, to try to change.

3. As a result many homosexuals wait a long time before "coming out". This means that they have to hide their true identity from their loved ones, which psychologically can be damaging and make them feel lonely during their younger years.

4. Homosexuals have not made themselves what they are. It is also not their choice to be different. They find themselves to be homosexual in the same way people find themselves female, or Chinese, or short, or shortsighted. So, to ask them to change is a sign of ignorance. it is like asking somebody who is Chinese to be Indian instead.

5. It is true that some heterosexuals do get involved in homosexual activities (living conditions, sleeping accomodations, peer pressure, fear, loneliness), and can even get used and attached to it. This way they may get confused about themselves and certainly need help to rediscover their true identity, which was not changed but only obscured by their homosexual experiences. The same can happen to homosexuals.

6. One of the consequences of being homosexual is that you are unable to enter into a valid marriage, as you cannot promise to be a loving sexual partner to somebody of the opposite sex. As a matter of fact, quite a few homosexuals do get married, but that happens out of ignorance about themselves, the desire to change, parental and social pressure, business or job interest, social status, etc.

7. Homosexuals, however, are able to enter into a permanent relationship of love and care with a partner of their own sex. In such a homosexual relationship there is a kind of similarity with marriage, as one partner is more male type and the other the female type. As such they can divide responsibilities: Both can be working outside, or one works outside while the other is the part-time or full-time homemaker.

8. This kind of stable homosexual relationship is, of course, much better than loose contacts. It is in now way an alternative to or undermining of the marriage relationship (as it is often stated) because it is only open to homosexuals who are anyhow unable to enter into marriage. In many countries this relationship can be legally regulated.

9. However good this homosexual relationship may be, the "couple" will suffer for not having children of their own (though in some countries they are allowed to adopt them). This loss is sometimes partly compensated by their job or involvement in social or church work. Homosexuals, being different sometimes have special gifts that heterosexuals don't have: Because of the special mixture of male-female elements in them, they are often very dedicated and good at specific jobs (as teachers, nurses, artists, fashion designers, hairdressers, etc) and they are also iften very religious (and keen to serve the church).

After all this do we still have to ask the question, "What is wrong with being a homosexual?" Is the orientation itself wrong? I refer now to the present official teaching of the Catholic Church. Among other things it says:

1. All people are asked to get beyond the superficial identities of being "heterosexual" or "homosexual" and contemplate one's fundamental identity as a creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.

2. "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." (Refer "The Homosexual Person" by J.F Harvey, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1987, p. 16-23)

The first point stresses rightly that all discrimination is wrong: All people, without distinction or condition, are loved by God as they are.

The first line of point 2 is very important: It is not a sin and you are not less loved by God when you are homosexual.

The rest of point 2, however, I fail to understand. The term "objective disorder" is clearly based on Thomistic philosophy of human nature from the 13th century. I hope that in future documents the homosexual orientation will be understood as a "variant" or "diversity" of our human condition.

For now there is enough to chew on. In our next article we will write about what the church expects from homosexual Christians. In the meantime it is already clear that we and they should learn to thank God for all that they are and for the variety that they bring to our human family and to the church.

Article copyright Catholic News.