Tuesday, January 09, 2007
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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