9 Issues Youths Held A Protest Against Outside MOE On 26 Jan

On Tuesday (26 Jan), 5 LGBTQ+ supporters and students stood outside the Ministry of Education (MOE) building at Buona Vista with placards as a protest.

Police told them to leave, but they refused. 3 of them were then arrested for holding a public assembly without a permit.

Multiple news headlines highlighted that the youths were there to protest against transphobia. Today (27 Jan), one of them openly shared the motivations behind orchestrating the event.

We give a detailed breakdown of the issues they wished to raise awareness about, and look at how Singaporeans have reacted to their actions.

Youths protest against 9 LGBTQ+ issues outside MOE

Prior to the event, protesters sent out a media statement, calling the protest a ‘peaceful demonstration’.

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Within the media statement, the supporters listed several issues that they allegedly faced while at school:

  • Checking and controlling whether students’ clothes, hair and bodies match gender norms imposed by schools
  • Prohibiting and policing students’ dating and intimate relationships, including punishing or shaming students for relationships
  • School counselling that reportedly treats LGBTQ+ identities as problems to be done away with — e.g. conversion therapy
  • Revealing students as LGBTQ+ to family members or other persons without their consent
  • Physically excluding students from school based on whether they look like a gender the school imposes upon them
  • Declining to use gender pronouns requested by students
  • Censoring mention and open discussion of LGBTQ+ experiences and identities, including by disciplining or policing educators
  • Discussing LGBTQ+ identities mainly in the context of informing students during sex-ed that Section 377A deems homosexual conduct illegal and opposed to societal norms
  • No provision of LGBTQ-inclusive information on sexual and reproductive health and well-being.

1 of the 5 divulge reasons behind supporting protest

Writer Ng Yi-Sheng, who joined the protest and left before police arrived, also gave his reasons for his support in a Facebook post on Wednesday (27 Jan).

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He said that gender affirmation surgeries have taken place in Singapore since 1971 by Dr SS Ratnam, and sex changes were allowed on official documents a few years later.

If the government accepts transitioning, then he said there should be “no excuse for government bodies to be ignorant or discriminatory to trans people today”.

He went on to state that students – not just trans people but also of all genders and sexual orientations – have suffered bullying and shaming because of rigid gender norms.

Mr Ng said he joined the protest despite being a cisgender man – a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex at birth – because he “realised (he) wouldn’t be able to live with (himself) if (he) refused”.

It started with one viral Reddit post

Transgender students have allegedly faced discrimination in schools, not only by other students but also even teachers and principals.

The youths claimed that MOE’s statements about Ashlee – a transgender student who made complaints about her school’s treatment – have not acknowledged the treatment of schools towards trans students, nor committed to concrete actions to alleviate the situation.

MOE Denies Interfering With Transgender Student’s Treatment, Says They Respect Medical Advice

Ashlee’s account had gone viral on Reddit on 14 Jan, accusing MOE of interfering with her hormonal treatment.

MOE, however, swiftly responded on Facebook and denied these accusations.

They also urged students who face “unkind behaviour” from peers to reach out to teachers or school leaders as “they are committed to keep students safe.”

Protesting & getting arrested — did they achieve what they wanted?

Activism is fundamentally the process of raising awareness of an issue, and fighting against the norm to bring social change.

But for activism to be effective, they may risk disrupting order. This is a huge challenge, particularly in Singapore, which values obeying the law and upholding peace.

To the surprise of no one, the act of protest outside MOE building yesterday (26 Jan), was seen as one that disrupted public order despite the supporters calling the move a “peaceful demonstration”.

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They merely held up placards, yet were arrested because technically, nobody is allowed to hold a gathering without police permission.

But paradoxically, police have never given any permits out except for at Hong Lim Park — a sparsely populated & quiet corner in Chinatown.

So obeying all the laws, which are arguably designed to curb such protests, was always unlikely to raise enough awareness.

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This was likely the thought process of the youths who refused to leave when ordered to by police — and once they were arrested, they gained media coverage.

Nobody could simply ignore them like they might have if they demonstrated at Hong Lim Park. In that way, we believe they may have succeeded in their goal of awareness.

Netizens argue that law & order must be followed

But whether the youths really transmitted the issues they want to raise is a debatable point.

Many Singaporeans merely saw the arrests as a formality — and with that, their message appeared to be lost.

Netizen comments on the arrest tended to focus on how they should have obeyed the law or that they should not attempt to ‘imitate’ how protests are done in other countries.

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Why we don’t have demonstrations on the scale of Black Lives Matter or the Yellow Jacket protests is simple — Singaporeans value order.

Disruption is simply considered too costly to have, and this security and stability is something that many genuinely value.

To see something like the Hong Kong protests of 2019 taking place here would in some senses be our worst nightmare.

Will youths see change through their protest outside MOE?

In a way, to call what the 5 protesters did “copying” other countries isn’t exactly correct.

After all, demonstrations aren’t banned there, but they are here. The mere act of holding up a placard is an illegal offence without a permit that’s notoriously never given out for political purposes.

Might the youths see change through their actions, even if they will be charged for breaking the law? This remains to be seen.

However, they had decided that this was a cause that they could not go through the usual channels to air. And now, more may become aware of the situation that transgender people face in school, which might then bring the change that they seek.

At least, that is the hope.

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Featured image adapted from Twitter and Twitter.