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Sayoni releases first, groundbreaking report into violence and discrimination facing lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer (LBTQ) persons in Singapore

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Advocacy

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SINGAPORE, 24 May 2019 - Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBTQ) rights group Sayoni has published a groundbreaking research study highlighting violence and discrimination against LBTQ women in Singapore, to be launched on 25 May.

Through a series of in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 40 participants, the qualitative study presents evidence of physical and emotional violence committed against LBTQ women in private and public spheres. Most participants did not report these incidents to the relevant authorities due to the fear of further stigma.

The first such systematic study on LBTQ women in Singapore, the book (entitled "Violence and Discrimination Against LBTQ Women in Singapore") sheds light on their lived realities as well as the invisibility of the problems faced, and recommends sensitive and responsive policy changes.

Some key findings from the book:

1. LBTQ women who came out or had their sexuality revealed experienced physical, psychological and sexual violence from the people closest to them - family members and intimate partners.

2. Both younger and older persons were vulnerable: Adults lived in fear of losing their jobs or homes if found out by homophobic employers or landlords, while younger people were in danger of losing financial support from their families. Younger people also experienced bullying in school if their gender presentation was not normative.

3. As purchasing and renting housing was challenging, some participants could not move out of their homes and were forced to live with abusive or risky family situations. Housing challenges for transgender individuals were pronounced.

4. LBTQ women had difficulty securing stable employment, particularly those who did not conform to gender stereotypes or did not pass as heterosexual. Transgender individuals were thus particularly vulnerable. Incidents of harassment and discrimination experienced by transgender individuals were not documented in company records. LBTQ employees in both the private and public sectors faced discrimination.

5. The societal stigma associated with sexuality further isolated LBTQ persons, impacting their mental health.

Despite these findings, incidents of violence and discrimination were not reported to the police, employers or other authorities for fear of further stigma. Individuals said that they blamed themselves and believed that reporting would not help them or change the situation.

Sayoni's co-founder Jean Chong said: "LBTQ persons' experiences of violence extend beyond the private sphere to the public domain in our streets and schools. Violence happens, whether exceptional or commonplace, and its effects on LBTQ adults and young people are devastating."

The study also observed ways in which LBTQ persons cope with their struggles, which largely comprised seeking help and support from friends and LBTQ social networks. Help from informal networks and friends could fail if those offering support were also dependants without resources. Employers were rarely supportive but were important sources of assistance when they were.

The research team proposes a series of measures to combat prevailing prejudices, assist victim-survivors and improve the social climate for LBTQ persons:

· Provide LBTQ-affirming sensitivity training for healthcare professionals and social workers

· Change housing, healthcare and education policies to recognise that LBTQ individuals are part of society

· Include information on sexual diversity and gender in school syllabuses and sexuality education

· Launch awareness-raising campaigns to educate the general population on LBTQ issues and sexual diversity

· Equalise censorship guidelines for heterosexual and homosexual content

The publication is the result of a qualitative study conducted by Sayoni, a feminist group that works to uphold equality and human rights protections for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women as well as transgender men. The group initiated this research as part of its advocacy for the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the Singapore government in 1995.

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At the launch event, members of the research team and expert panelist Jolene Tan discussed key findings and themes from the study, with an opening address from our keynote speaker Constance Singam, a veteran civil society activist. Sayoni also shared its policy recommendations and plans for advocacy based on the findings of this study.

As Ms Singam wrote in the book: "This is a call to action, one which I hope the authorities in particular will heed. Individually, we all have a role to play in bringing forward the day when LGBTQ persons, everywhere, are accepted and treated as equals. The time really has come."

 

Advocacy for UN Child Rights Convention: Reflections Part 2

Written by Tiffany on . Posted in Announcements

If you haven't already read my reflections from the 15th and 16th and would love to, please feel free to read it here first. This is going to be a LONGGGGG read, so get some snacks, sit down and play some nice music while you read haha...

(Some people have asked me to explain more about what exactly I am doing here in Geneva. I'm happy to explain!!!)
 
Okay, so, what exactly am I doing here in Geneva? Why did I have to come all the way here?

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) is the body set up by the United Nations (UN) to monitor the progress that States make in fulfilling their obligations with regards to children’s human rights. The Committee is composed of eighteen independent experts who are elected by States parties to the CRC. Countries get reviewed by the UN CRC once every few years, and Singapore's turn is this year!
 

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It goes a little something like this:
 
The Committee studies the State's report from the previous year + reports that NGOs have submitted to the UN CRC --> they think about questions they want to bring up in line with their interests and specific themes they are in charge of (they call it "clusters" here) --> They bring up these questions during the session --> the delegation attempts to answer these questions (the last two points repeat itself throughout the session)
 
The review took place over the course of two days (on the 16th and 17th) and all of us met for 3 hours each day (so 6 hours in total!).
 
After the sessions are over the Committee writes up a concluding report that they submit to the State, in which they will draft out some outstanding questions they'd want the State to address, and also put in apt recommendations to urge the government to follow.
So my job over at Geneva is really trying to lobby the Committee members to get them to represent at least some of the important points brought up in the report that we had submitted to the UN CRC and try my very best to urge get them to mention LGBTQ+ children and related issues in the concluding report. In essence, we are trying to (and hope to) get the government to better answer these questions about LGBTQ children in Singapore, or follow certain recommendations put out by the UN CRC (which, to be fair, is very difficult for Singapore). Lobbying would mean meeting with allies that can help introduce us to Committee members who are likely to be LGBTQ-friendly or those who are more open to helping us raise LGBTQ related questions (as with real life not all Committee members are, unfortunately!).
 
Okay so now that you are (hopefully!!) more clear about what the UN CRC review process entails and what I was doing all the way in Geneva, let me just tell you more about what had happened these two days...

16th May/ Thursday/ Childs Rights Connect + Review session 1

It was difficult to sleep last night because my heart just could not feel at ease, but not in a bad way. I sometimes think these moments of unease make me feel even more clarity and certainty about many things, ironically.
 
I woke up early to head to Palais Wilson (the place where the conference is held!) to have some lunch before a meeting with some folks from Child Rights Connect at 2. Before meeting I had looked through the previous review's State report and State reply (which are both available here!) again just to familiarise myself with the State's position on child's rights in Singapore. There were many things inside the report that made me feel very distant from Singapore, and despite having read it before, and having lived in Singapore all my life, there was something very deeply alienating about reading this report while inside the headquarters of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Palais Wilson!), while big standing posters on human rights quietly stand right outside where I was:

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My heart hurt reading about how certain the State sounded in their report about every child being as precious as the next and all children being valued equally. It hurt just a little bit more when I read about their staunch stance on defending the use of corporal punishment (aka physical punishment, such as caning), including in schools. My siblings and I (my sister more than me) were caned and punished physically growing up all the way to upper primary, and I remember my kindergarten teacher hitting me because I didn't finish my water in time. I remember a friend I had in primary school who had dark bruises, cuts and blood trickling down her calves, while she laughed to tell me it was "nothing much, just caning". Many of these memories send shivers down my spine. I looked over at the Sayoni report on discrimination and violence against LGBTQ children in Singapore, looked back at the State report at where they said they value all children equally and I chuckled under my breath thinking about how ironic and vacuous their assertion seemed to be in the face of our report.
 
2pm came along and I met up with Emma, Natalie and Ilaria from Child Rights Connect. Child Rights Connect is an independent, non-profit network made up of more than 80 national, regional, and international organisations. They work with these organisations to make sure that children can fully enjoy their rights, as defined by the UN CRC. They also work with UN CRC to organise and facilitate certain child rights events and discussions. They really were the sweetest people ever and I am eternally grateful I had met them during the stressful day. They gave me the best tips on how I could catch Committee members during the breaks (which is apparently, the best time because they might have meetings before and after, and they were right!) and how I could most effectively lobby during the short sessions. They comforted me when I told them about my concerns that LGBTQ issues would not be brought up during the session, and they told me they would support and help me in any way they could. They also told me about two Committee members I should get to know and speak to personally (José and Otani), and that proved to be of utmost importance during the sessions. Ilaria told me that in the six years she had been working at Child Rights Connect she had only seen two other reports on LGBT children, and she told me about how important our report is in encouraging other countries to do the same. I smiled a lot thinking about that (Mandy, if you are reading this, isn't that kinda incredible that the third report she has ever seen is from Singapore?) I think something Emma said that made me feel very, very empowered was that me physically being there really does show dedication to the report, and that she was sure the Committee members would be able to see that and realise that what we are writing about is extremely important and worth mentioning in the concluding reports. Their presence during the sessions were precious to me, because of just how alone I had been feeling (of course, theoretically I really wasn't because I had the support of so many people along the way but all of them were back home in Singapore but being physically there in the sessions alone is a whole other story to tell haha).
 
The moment I stepped into the conference room it immediately felt different from the Malta's review session I had sat in the day before. For a change, people sitting in the NGO section of the room (nearer to the back) spoke in the Singaporean accent but I felt like it made it feel even less like home. The energy was immediately tense because almost all of the folks sent by these (governmental *cough*) NGOs all knew one another, and were all dressed similarly - black blazers, black shoes, black hair... I stuck out like a beautiful thumb (not sore!!) because I was wearing my rainbow lanyard, large Sayoni badge and a flowery dress. I felt less at home, but not in a negative way at all! Instead, I felt very empowered because I felt very visible and very queer, and that feeling was most endearing and close to me. I felt comfortable and a little defensive when I saw that I was being constantly stared at by the rest of the black blazer-ed people.
 
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Before the review started, I had already spoken to both Otani and José, and both of them were so friendly and warm, and that put my heart at ease (or more like, I had turned my uneasiness into excitement). I told them about our concerns and that we hope they would ask the Committee some LGBTQ children related questions, and they told me that they would try their best. José was shocked to know that in Singapore's constitution ensuring equal rights for all, Article 12 recognises discrimination only in terms of race, religion, or place of birth, but excludes gender, sex, and sexual orientation.
 
The review started and the Singapore delegation spoke about 15 minutes about the things they were doing to ensure children's rights in Singapore. Once again the whole "every child to us is precious" rhetoric came up again (and again) and I sighed a little each time this was brought up. This time a very particular incident came to mind - about the first time as a child where my mother had told me that if she found out I was lesbian she would drag me to a psychiatrist to take medication to "become straight again". That incident had stayed very frightfully close to me growing up, because it had struck so much fear and hatred, not so much toward my mum, but within myself and the feeling had followed and tortured me for years as a child (and all the way to adulthood, too). I guess this incident came to mind because my mum had told me the same thing many times- that every child is precious... except for when they are LGBTQ+, I guess... I was slightly lost in my thoughts, experiences and memories at times during the review, which proved to be a recurring theme the rest of it, but for obvious reasons because of how this topic is so close to my heart.
 
Still, all I could do was to wait patiently and with eagerness for the questions and we had our fingers crossed, hoping for a mention on LGBTQ children.
 
The question came at around the 40 minute mark. Otani had asked two questions related to non-discrimination of vulnerable groups of children:

1. (On children of LGBT parents) In light of criminalization of same sex sexual acts in Singapore, I’m concerned with these children may suffer from discrimination and stigmatisation in society.

2. Related to this is the situation of children who are themselves are LGBT. Do you have any information that LGBT children are experiencing discrimination, bullying, intimidation or violence? Are they feeling safe in schools and community? What are the attitudes of parents, schoolteachers and public general toward those children?


The moment the word LGBT was being projected out into the universe that day my heart screamed in joy... I looked around and saw that of course, I was the only one jumping in my seat, and the man next to me (of course he was in a black blazer) stared at me because I was shaking in excitement and joy but that did not bother me one little bit. I thought, A-hah!! Now the Singapore delegation is being forced to account for LGBTQ children...

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Jean was right, it really was very special and that moment I shall keep with me for a long, long time. During the break I had ran up to thank Otani who was very, very kind and humble about everything. We spoke a bit about LGBTQ rights in Japan and Singapore, and she told me more about her experiences in working on some similar reports (but on rights in Japan instead) and it was really really nice getting to talk to someone about LGBTQ issues. She told me I was doing good work and my heart... I was getting emotional just being able to share about the state of LGBTQ rights in Singapore and hearing her speak about queer stuff... the feeling is very powerful and incomparable.

After the break, the Singapore delegation replied to Otani's question:

(On 1. and 2.) The Committee asked about whether LGBT children suffer from discrimination, bullying or violence, and whether they feel safe in our schools. Our concern is for all children regardless of whether they are LGBT or not. And we take a very serious stance against bullying and violence.

Upon hearing this I rolled my eyes so far back I almost lost my pupils (hah), not because I did not already expect this response, but it becomes so grossly artificial and empty when uttered by someone who is not LGBTQ, a ministry that had done no research on LGBTQ children, and in front of a room that wished very much to hold countries accountable to human rights ideals. The response made me sick to my stomach thinking about how performative everything was. This time another incident came to my mind, and this time it was regarding a very precious LGBTQ youth I know from the TBCSG youth group. One day at work he had urgently called me to tell me about how he was forced to hide in the school toilet, after one of the boys in his class laughed while he made a comment about how the Bruneian decision to stone people to death for being queer is too lenient and not enough of a punishment. Thinking about that incident and the fear and sadness in his voice, I became increasingly angrier with the responses to these questions given by the State, and tears had started welling in my eyes without me even realising...

The last round of questions for the day made me feel hopeful again because José had brought up a question on sexuality education, which was one of our primary concerns in our report:

3. I’d also like to know the approach adopted (referring to the abstinence-based approach for sexuality education), and I’m referring to sex education, when it comes to treatment of LGBTI persons.

After the session, someone from MSF approached me to say hi and asked me some questions about where I'm from, and when I had reached Geneva and whether it was my first time at the review etc. I quickly said hi back and left. I felt immediately threatened but at the same time I felt very emotionally and mentally drained thus I did not want to engage with them much... I was so drained I fell asleep while standing up for a few minutes on the bus home. I immediately went to a grocery shop to get dinner and headed right back to the hotel.
 
I am very very drained in so many ways, but also I felt very fulfilled that three questions related to LGBTQ children were brought up, and I really could not have asked for any more (I really could I guess, but I really went with not too much expectations because as a queer person you just prep yourself for disappointment anyway).

17th May/ Friday/ Taiwan + IDAHOT + Review session 2 + lots of emotionS!!!

I woke up to news of Taiwan legalising same-sex marriage. I was full of anxiety the night before not only because of the review but because of this Taiwan situation as well... I spent thirty minutes sobbing in bed from pure joy, happiness and hope (I literally am tearing up now thinking about this haha). For all who don't know me personally/ do not know of my thesis, my Masters' thesis is actually studying the social movement strategies employed by the LGBTQ+ movement in Taiwan, and I had spent a month in Taiwan speaking to activists from various queer organisations and groups in June, and it was honestly the most eye opening experience I had last year. Mostly I wanted to look at Taiwan because I felt like there were really many things queer organisations in Singapore could learn from them, and I also had, during my time there, shared with them about things we do here in the community as well (but more about that another time, maybe!!).
 
I think it was especially symbolic since today is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) as well, so I was already FULL of emotions (mostly happy ones) in the morning! The session today was at 10am, so I had to wake up early anyway, might as well wake up to the best emotions! Taiwan's news really rejuvenated me, and I felt very ready to give it my all during the last session (not that I did not before today, of course, but this time it was really a different kind of invigorating energy with Taiwan + IDAHOT).

Once again I stepped into the room of black blazer-ed people...
 

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Today I had my pink blazer on (hah, not-very-subtle) and I felt INVINCIBLE!!!

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Once again, I walked in to a lot of staring... and somehow it became increasingly more annoying. Literally every time I moved to take something from my bag, the man beside me stared. One time I was taking my sweet from my bag and he also felt the need to stare... truly... the gaze was very frustrating, disgusting and empowering all at once. The more they stared at me the more powerful I felt? Yet at the same time, it was almost like I wished they did not stare THAT much... Emma later told me that she had noticed the staring as well during the two days, and that she knew how uncomfortable I must have felt because it was really that obvious...
 
Either way I tried very hard to ignore the staring and was full of anticipation before the start of the session. When Otani and José had walked into the room in the morning I smiled very brightly at them and they smiled back!!! There was a lot of good energy in the room that morning (minus all the staring!!!) and I was already feeling very encouraged.
 
After patiently waiting for the Singapore delegation to respond to the sexuality education question posed by José yesterday, it happened:

(On 3.) The committee asked about the approach adopted for LGBT issues in sex education. Our overarching objective to empower students to be safe, confident and well-informed. We prepare them with social, emotional competencies for positive self development and self identity, so they learn to make wise and considered decisions. Students are also taught to not stereotype and appreciate one’s unique strengths and talents and the importance of respect and empathy for others who might be different, including those of LGBT background. Additionally teachers are trained to handle these issues sensitively.

Respect? Empathy? Trained? Sensitively? Sensitively??? I almost could not believe my ears hearing that, it was everything (EVERYTHING!!!) the report had fought against and this was completely contrary to everything in the report. I think I felt mostly upset not only because this is a cookie cutter textbook answer that they spent little thought on, but also because they brought this up without any concrete examples thinking they could slide past the José's question. I was frustrated with their just assertion without concrete proof and research, especially since they had not done research on LGBTQ children. I thought of not only my own experiences with sexuality education (I did not even know what LGBTQ really meant until I found out on my own through the internet), but many others' experiences as well (whether straight or LGBTQ). I thought of students who were/are taught that being queer is wrong and immoral, students who were/are taught that they needed to "change" their sexuality, students who were/are taught they have to look a certain way to fit their "gender", students who were/are taught their desires are nothing but a phase... I had to hold back my tears hearing these words being thrown around so very carelessly and thoughtlessly...
 
During the break while the black blazer-ed people were talking about their holiday plans and hotel stays, once again I had approached Otani and José to thank them for their help. I did this many times during these two days because I knew how damn important it is to be a visible reminder for the two, and this really proved to be super effective!!! José had brought up yet another question relating to sexuality education and LGBTQ folks:

4. Turning now to sex education… if a teenager decides to engage in sexual relations at the age of consent with another teenager, I’d like to know if they receive neutral counselling as to how to be protected and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and what would happen if that teenager comes from the LGBTI community?

I almost burst into tears when I heard this 4th question being uttered... not one... not two... but four questions!!! Previous UN CRC reviews nothing even remotely close to LGBTQ issues had been brought up, but 4 were brought up these two days alone... I had many, many emotions thinking about how amazing it was that I could be there and then listening to these questions being uttered. Later on after the review session was over, I approached José to shake his hand (I wanted to give him a big hug but was too scared to ask hehe) and he told me that he brought up the last question because he had seen me from the corner of his eye looking all loud, queer and emotional and he told me he remembered our concerns about sexuality education. Even just thinking of that moment now my heart swells with a lot of joy and happiness just thinking of how important these visual reminders are (thank goodness for the rainbow reminders, but also it really helps that the rest of the folks sitting on the tables were all dressed so boring it hurt)...

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Photo caption: me being v happy about José

Going back to talking about the session, the Singapore delegation's answer to José's question was what really broke me this last session, I guess...

(On 4.) Maybe I’ll reiterate our purpose for sexuality education which really is to empower our children to be well informed in how they make their decisions and to be confident and safe as they explore the sexuality journey themselves because they are going through adolescence for many of them, and they are going through a lot of change. So we want to keep our sexuality education very professional, the intent is not to impose personal values. Nonetheless we need to recognize that we operate in a society that has its societal norms and a certain mainstream attitude towards sexuality and relations and so and so forth… so what we do is that we do try to create a safe space in school psychologically and physically for children to express themselves, clarify doubts, seek help, seek support… so we do have specially trained teachers in sexuality education who would conduct this kind of counselling and support, specifically… because I think there was a special question on children from LGBT community… all school counsellors are trained and reminded that they would need to provide assistance to such children because they face more issues to deal with their psychological and emotional needs… so we would provide neutral counselling as far as possible in terms of answering the questions they may have but really the goal of allowing them to make well informed decisions.

At this point I think my heart, mind and soul was just so exhausted I felt like I wanted to pack my bags and go see my duck friends and cry a lot by Lake Geneva... I was especially triggered by this last response because well, I especially hated that they used the idea of "safe spaces" when this is so blatantly untrue for so many LGBTQ children in schools and in a wider context, just society in general. This made me so upset because many in marginalised communities use the phrase "safe space" to connote the idea that one can feel comfortable and feel like they can be truly themselves in that space, and schools are definitely not it for so many LGBTQ children. It was very alienating for me to hear this being spoken at an international level, if that makes sense? I felt like I was hearing the voice of someone who obviously had never been through what a LGBTQ child had been through growing up, and the fact that she got the opportunity to speak on behalf of LGBTQ children made me feel very, very sick. Who gave her the right? Who gave her the space to speak? Why is it she gets the chance to represent LGBTQ children when she herself is cis and straight? At that point in time tears were already starting to roll down my cheeks and I could feel myself wanting to throw up from the response given to the Committee. These are just some messages I had sent to someone during the time this happened, and though these are merely messages, I hope it can show y'all a glimpse of the rawest form of how I felt during that short but very painful period of time.

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The review ended shortly after that response. At that time I wanted to run out of the room to cry by the lake because I did not wish for anyone to see me cry and be very emotional of course. After the review was over I wiped my tears away from my eyes and approached José and Otani to thank them for all they had done. (This was when José told me about the whole noticing me from the corner of his eye thing... hehe a precious man...) Something that made me feel a ton better was that José, noticing that I was very shaken by the response, asked me if I was agreed with the Singapore delegation’s response to the sex education question and was satisfied with it… I of course said no vehemently and he said “Really?” and I said yes, and that we had spoken about how terrible Singapore's sexuality education is in our report. He told me he actually had thought that the government’s response was very good and complete and it sounded very great theoretically but he said he was happy I came up to him to talk because he wanted to ask me about it. I told him there were many flaws in the response they had for LGBTQ questions, and he told me we could send him our responses to their answers and he gave me his email. I was overjoyed thinking of how we were given that opportunity to clarify anything we wanted to, and of course we had used that chance to really challenge the State's responses to the questions.
 
I guess was still shaken when I went back to my table to pack my things because when I saw Emma I immediately started to tear up again... Emma was very kind and she empathised with my emotions and she gave me a lot of comfort... it was during this time people from MSF (including the Minister Faishal) approached me again to ask me to join them for food, I politely declined and left the room with Emma. She gave me a big hug outside and I was (and will always be!) very thankful for her support and encouragement during these two very intense and difficult days. We took a selfie after, hehe:

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We said our goodbyes and I immediately walked to Lake Geneva and started to cry... I walked along the lake and saw my duck friends and felt a lot better. I had many thoughts running through my head and it was drizzling, so that made it conducive for a lot of deep thoughts under a tiny umbrella. I had been very affected by the sessions, and it was very emotionally soothing to breathe fresh air and be able to see ducks (of course!!)

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I also managed to catch the Geneva water fountain from a distance... and tried to take a selfie with it of course!! My friend told me it looks like a huge bidet and i was like you are very right lol


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I also chanced upon this family of swans and this pigeon who tried to pretend to be one!!! And for some reason the moment I saw that I felt like I wanted to tear up again because I think a lot of us queer people can relate to being the only pigeon in the sea of swans... i don't know... i related to this pigeon... don't mind me...
 
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Other than that I stress-ate ice cream (which turned out to be a terrible decision because... sugar headaches are not fun + I'm lactose intolerant) but either way I felt like I needed it... and I did.

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I walked towards the Old Town area and guess what I chanced upon... okay this time I legitimately sobbed when I saw this but for the best reason...

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GENEVA SCREAMED GAY RIGHTS ON IDAHOT!!!!!! My heart........... truly.... this made me cry a little (or a lot!) in the best way... I felt like I could finally release some tension I had in my heart looking at the Pride flag flying very proudly in the wind. There was a wonderful complexity in not being able to differentiate the sound of the little waves hitting the sides of the bank and the sound of the flag folding in on itself.
 
I walked back to a bus station and took the bus back to the hotel. Dinner was the best I've ever had in four days... curry that didn't taste like melted fox candies and gyoza sauce that was actually savoury + vinegary??? I'm satisfied.

18th May: Some closing thoughts while waiting for a nine-hour transit at London Heathrow

These four days were some of the most anxiety-inducing, intense yet fulfilling and eye-opening four days of my life. (And trust me, I've had a lot of dramatic things happen in my life...) Less than two weeks ago Jean and Mandy had encouraged me to go on this trip and it was so utterly nerve-wrecking because I felt like I was completely unprepared, and did not know what I was meant to do, who I was meant to meet, how I was meant to act etc. I was not sure whether or not I could best represent Sayoni given it was such a last minute decision. I had a lot, a lot, of immense fear and uncertainty about this whole trip.
 
During the trip the fear and uncertainty stayed, mostly, but I think the turning point was really attending Malta's UN CRC session (if you haven't read about it, it's in my previous post! Link is above!). Hearing them debate issues regarding the welfare and wellbeing of trans and intersex children, as well as mentioning LGBTQ children and children of same-sex parents, really made me feel like this is the kind of conversation I wanted to bring (even just 5% of it) to the Singapore review sessions. A lot of my courage came from the support of everyone, but also just being constantly reminded about my own experiences of growing up queer, together with the experiences of other LGBTQ+ people around me, and the experiences of the LGBTQ+ children I know and are in contact with. A lot of courage also stemmed from the pain and hurt I had kept to myself for most of my life being a closeted queer kid. This whole experience (from the focus groups to the report writing to the going-to-Geneva-thing) was all part of the healing for me; It felt like I had took a walk back to my 10 year old self to give myself from the past the biggest hug I can ever give... many days I wake up in the morning and I cannot believe I am who I am today. I wanted to use this chance to extend that hug to all who grew up queer, especially all in Singapore. I have a lot of love and empathy for all of you.

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As Ryan had said here, this is a very big and important step for us, and I just have a feeling that, you know, this is all going to be a positive big and important step, too. It really is very significant in that queer kids' issues are (hopefully) going to be more spoken about in future UN CRC sessions, and that governments can be held increasingly accountable for the lives, survival and protection of these precious, precious children.
 
Jean was right when she told me that I'll never feel like I'm prepared enough to go for something as major as this. I am very, very, very grateful I got the opportunity to represent Sayoni and LGBTQ+ children/youths in Singapore. These four days I had the chance to see first-hand how something so seemingly "small" like a personal experience or struggle or narrative can translate into something so big on an international level. While I leave Geneva with hurt, pain and disappointment because of the responses from the Singapore delegation, I also leave Geneva with a lot of hope, motivation and good (!!!) energy. The only thing I wouldn't miss from these four days is really the food haha.
 
It has shown me what NGOs can try to achieve, even if they aren't sure if the outcome would be what they desire, but every small tiny step is still a step in the right (I hope!) direction. This whole experience also helped me feel more confident in running the collective, and that no matter how small I think something I am doing is, that it really has its impact somewhere, some place, some time, even if it's not visible now, or ever.
 
For now we are patiently waiting for the concluding statements and report to be out... fingers crossed!
 
I hope reading this has inspired you to think differently about being vocal about your own experiences, and the power of research, activism and advocacy. I also hope that we get to see more queer representation in UN CRC in the future, and that more NGOs across the world (especially Asia) would be motivated to send in their own reports on the situation of LGBTQ children in their own countries as well. All children are precious, including those who are LGBTQ+.
 
Look, ma, I made it to the a United Nations review session as a proud queer person!!! Maybe this time you can finally be proud of me for me (nah, my mum shall never read this and probably never would... I still want to stay in my house for a while more I guess...)

So thank you, thank you to all who have supported and encouraged me in so many ways, and even those who are just observing from the side but supporting me silently!! Even if we have never met, we are very grateful for your love and support, really!!! I have a lot I want to say about LGBTQ advocacy and activism, but I will write about that in a separate blog post! Lots of other things I plan to write too... so there's those to look forward to!

---------------------------------------------------------

- Sappy thank you notes -

There are people I wish to thank specifically, and these are people who play a v v v big part of this journey all the way from the start:

To Jean, thank you for having trust in Mandy and I to work on the report. Thank you for having faith in me, and for your constant support and encouragement before, during and after the trip. Thank you for being sort of a mother figure (hah!! you are the real aunty, not me!!! joking haha) to me and for believing in me always, even when I didn't believe in myself! Hope I have made you feel proud in some way or another :')
 
To Mandy, AHhhHHHhhHHHHh you are brilliant, wonderful and all things amazing!!! You had worked so much and so hard on the report and I wish you could have been there with me in Geneva T.T It is because of the report that this could even happen, so thank you for putting in so much hard work. I know how stressful and difficult it was for you, and I am so glad we worked on it together. When I was struggling during the period of time during the under-18s focus group you were there throughout, thank you.
 
To Claire + Cari + everyone else who helped with transcription, thank you so much for your help!! Transcribing is really not easy (I KNOW AND EMPATHISE!!!) and your transcriptions were so good + well-organised, thank you so much.
 
To Yen and Ryan, you both were so inspiring during the workshop that I just felt very compelled to work on the report. Thank you for providing me with so much support before, during and after the trip. Thank you for always reminding me to care for myself, and thank you for connecting me to these important organisations.
 
To ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, thank you for helping make this trip happen, I am very honoured to have had this opportunity to go on this trip to represent Singapore's LGBTQ children at the UN.
 
To Kseniya and Zhan (from ILGA), thank you both for being so sweet and friendly. I felt very welcomed and warmed by you both, and thank you for giving me so many useful tips regarding the sessions, I really really appreciate them all!!
 
To Emma, Natalie and Ilaria (from Child Rights Connect), all of you really were so important to me during the sessions. I felt very supported and cared for throughout because of your presence and smiles and words of support and comfort. I cannot thank all of you enough for being there for me, and for giving me so many brilliant and important tips. Thank you for also believing in our cause, and believing in me. I cannot thank all of you enough for your kindness. I told all of you I felt like y'all were my only friends in the sessions and it really felt very much like that :')
 
To all who participated in our focus groups + Sayoni's report, without all of your experiences and narratives this report wouldn't have been a reality at all. Thank you for being brave and for being willing to share so much and so intimately. Your bravery had touched and inspired me in many, many ways. I have a lot of love for all of you.
 
And finally, of course, to Alicia, I really could not have done any of this without you. Thank you for all the emergency phone calls (and non-emergency ones!!!), listening to all of my recordings (yes, even my silly food reviews and the unintentional 40 minute one lol), helping me out a lot with essentially all of the trip details (thank you to your mum too!) + research stuff without any complaints. Thank you for caring for me, for believing in me, for making me laugh, for being proud of me, for keeping me grounded and sane always. Though you weren't physically there with me this trip, it felt like you were always close to me, and never far at all. Thank you. An infinite times (and beyond heh), thank you.


Links to Organisations Mentioned
ASEAN SOGIE Caucus
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/aseansogie/
Website: https://aseansogiecaucus.org/

Child Rights Connect
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/childrightsconnect/
Website: https://www.childrightsconnect.org/

ILGA World
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/ILGAworld/
Website: https://ilga.org/

Sayoni
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/fbSAYONI/
Website: https://www.sayoni.com/

Advocacy for UN Child Rights Convention: Reflections Part 1

Written by Tiffany on . Posted in Advocacy

Hello from Geneva! Some background and context as to why I am in Geneva right now: I recently worked on a report on pressing issues surrounding LGBTQ+ children and youths in Singapore with Sayoni as part of an additional submission to the United Nations Child Rights Committee (UNCRC) prior to their review of the Singapore state (which is happening 16th/17th May). I am currently representing both Sayoni and The Bi+ Collective SG, and will be attending the reviews on both days in Geneva. These are just some reflections from my experiences of the first two days in Geneva...


14th May, Tuesday / ILGA and Old Town

I got lost the moment I stepped out of the Geneva airport (I was careless and took the wrong bus because I was unsure as to which direction I was taking towards). While stranded in the middle of an empty one-way street with no Internet for a minute or two, in many ways I saw that as symbolic of how I felt - uncertain, anxious, filled with the not-knowing. At the same time, I knew that underlying layers of fear was a lot of excitement and zealousness as well.

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The first day in Geneva, I got the opportunity to visit the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) office and had the chance to have a short chat with Kseniya and Zhan. Kseniya is a senior officer in Women and UN Advocacy, while Zhan is a Gender Identity and Gender Expression Senior Programme Officer. Kseniya and Zhan were wonderful (and so friendly)! They offered me useful tips on how I could best approach the review session and discussed some strategies to help with the lobbying. For instance, cutting down on our prepared questions to pick only a few to pinpoint what the most important questions are, as well as who I could potentially approach amongst the committee members. They also spoke about how it'd be beneficial to think of something more "positive" the government had done for the LGBTQ+ community (like allowing some LGBTQ+ organisations to be registered officially) and use those examples to show how the State can and should do more and that all they need is a push from the UN. When they first asked me about what "positive" things the government had done for the LGBTQ+ community, my mind was almost empty, except for (unfortunately) Ong Ye Kung's voice saying that there's "no discimination" of LGBTQ+ folks in Singapore. Other than speaking about the review, we both mutually shared more about the LGBTQ+ culture in our various communities. Both Kseniya and Zhan were mortified when I mentioned a little about some LGBTQ+ youth experiences we had uncovered from our focus group discussions and my own experiences of working with queer youths (like teachers/schools checking for binders, or not allowing students to hug one another for fear of the "spread of lesbianism"). I left Zhan and Kseniya and took with me lots of helpful information, motivation and gratitude, but I also left behind some packets of chicken rice paste and peanut candy.

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I walked along Lake Geneva after, made friends with some ducks and swans, and tried my hardest to not be blown away by the strong winds. Before I knew it, I had made my way to the Old Town, and Geneva honestly has some of the most beautiful buildings ever! I spent most of my evening that day letting myself get lost in between alleyways, chancing upon cathedral after cathedral (each of them more stunning than the last) and feeling the endearingly uneven roads beneath the soles of my shoes.

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15th May, Wednesday / Broken chair, UN tour and Malta CRC Review

I woke up this morning with more uncertainty, anxiety and tired feet. I think a lot of my stress from this morning was mostly because I just didn't know how the review was structured and unsure how it was supposed to play out, so with encouragement from Ryan (who is the Regional Coordinator of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and also someone who is helping me a lot this trip - thanks Ryan!!) I decided I wanted to attend the Malta UN Child Rights Committee (CRC) Review session which took place at 3pm. I knew it would be somewhat a magical day, because the moment I stepped into the sun, there was a rainbow on the floor at the bus stop!


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Before that I went to the Palais Wilson (the place where the UN CRC reviews are held) to collect my pass for the review sessions, and I immediately felt more thrilled about the review on Thursday. It really must be the rainbow lanyard and big Sayoni badge I had close to my heart (literally), and maybe the fact that things just somehow feel more real when you have your face printed on a plastic card with a QR code on it (haha). I also decided to pay the Broken Chair a visit (Jean told me it's a must!) and went for a guided tour in the Palais des Nations (the UN office in Geneva).

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If you don't already know about the symbolism and history of the Broken Chair, here's a good place to start reading (https://www.hi-us.org/so_what_is_the_broken_chair). Notwithstanding the large crowds and countless people struggling to take selfies and photos without wanting stranger/s to unintentionally be part of the photo with them (an actual skill but also an impossibility), I stood there for a good five minutes (while trying not to be in anyone's photo, of course!) thinking about why and what I work so hard almost every day, and how very important this trip to Geneva is for not me, but all LGBTQ+ children and youths in Singapore. As someone who works with and tends to the concerns of some of the queer youths in Singapore (we have a group for those under-18s in The Bi+ Collective!), my heart breaks (and had broken) many times whenever these young kids come to me with narratives of discrimination, bullying, abuse, harassment and family violence. Many resonate with my own experiences growing up queer, and I often struggle with these narratives because there really is only that much I can do (most of it I can't do). This report that Sayoni (especially Mandy!) had led and I had helped work on really means a lot to some of these LGBTQ+ youths and children, it gave them a voice (which of course, we all know is non-existent in many spheres and spaces) and being able to try my best to help bring those voices to the UN CRC is almost surreal, yet at the same time, the most real? Whether or not the State is willing to address the extremely neglected and overlooked (but immensely serious) issues of LGBTQ+ children, the fact that this report exists and we were able to submit it to the UN CRC and how I am here in Geneva right now is a step forward in the discussion (even if it's just a tiny one!), and I see a little light at the end of a very very long and dark tunnel.

After doing a lot of intense thinking (as you can probably tell), I took the chance to tour the UN office in Geneva, and it was a pretty great experience! Here are some photos (and I do highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Geneva).

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The Malta CRC review was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the trip so far! I never knew much about Malta, but not even 10 minutes into giving a general overview of child's rights in Malta, the Maltese State representative already spoke about trans, intersex children as well as non-discrimination of diverse gender identity expressions of children. She also mentioned progressive family structures and gave a mention to increasing numbers of families with same-sex parents! I was very pleasantly surprised, as you would imagine, because I never could envision the same words coming out from the mouth of a State representative from Singapore. I decided to do a little more research on Malta and found out that they are actually rather progressive in terms of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe (read more here) and I could not have been more inspired by their conversations and topics of discussion. I will attempt to do a comparison between some central themes that come up in the reviews between Malta and Singapore once the review for Singapore is over because I think that might be interesting to look at! Of course, I know that these words might not match reality (which is unfortunately the case most times), but the very fact that the Maltese government even recognises LGBTQ+ and intersex children and puts in effort in trying to engage with queer groups and organisations to come up with policies specifically targeted at helping the community really touched my heart in many, many ways!

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I was also thrilled and happy to hear one member of the committee (her name is Velina Todorova) who brought up questions about anti-discrimination and intersex children’s rights. I managed to speak to Velina during the break and she said she will try her best to bring up some of our concerns in the report. We can only cross our fingers and hope that she will! There is much anxiety in my restless self today (and every day to be honest), but also full of hope and joy learning more about Malta and hearing from Velina.

Read Part 2 of Tiffany's journey.

An Afternoon of Self-Care

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Events

self care afternoon1


On 3rd March 2019, Sayoni held a one-day symposium, or “feel tank”, on emotional well-being and self-care for LBTQ persons at The Moon, in collaboration with ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Brave Spaces, Inter-Uni LGBT Network and Queer Zinefest SG. The symposium comprised a panel discussion and two workshops.

The panel discussion, titled “Why Self-care isn’t Selfish - A Dialogue Session", aimed to uncover how our emotional well-being might be affected by the current social climate, as well as how LBTQ persons can support themselves and each other in periods of stress or vulnerability. The panelists involved were Rosie, a counsellor, Shan, a social worker, Rachel, Executive Director of Inter-Uni LGBT Network, and Alina, a volunteer from Sayoni.

1.    The Importance of Self-Care

All of the panelists agreed that self-care is crucial to our survival. Alina explained that due to the societal pressures faced by LBTQ persons, self-care is imperative and rooted in who we are, as we have to learn to cope and take care of ourselves.

Notably, panelists shared that we have to be aware that self-care is something that constantly evolves - while doing something on a particular day can make you feel better, it may be possible that doing the same thing may not have the same positive effects on you on another day. As Rosie said, “Self-care is a journey and process that continuously changes.”

Statement of the Asian LBTQ Caucus – 8 December 2017 – Phnom Penh

Written by jean on . Posted in Advocacy

asian lbtq caucus statement

Sayoni was pleased to announce the successful Asian LBTQ Caucus consultation on 8 December 2017 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Along with ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Justice for Sisters, UN Women Asia Pacific, we facilitated a 2 day session on lesbian, bisexual and queer women’s issues from 4-5 December 2017, ahead of the ILGA Asia 2017 conference.

 

An estimated 60 participants joined in the discussions, personal story sharing, queer movement history mappings, and the distillation of key issues and concerns for lesbian, bisexual, trans women, trans men and queer (LBTQ) persons. Activists came from across Asia, including from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Nepal, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The LBTQ Caucus was a first of its kind in Asia and took place due to the demands of LBTQ activists to address the consistent marginalization of LBQ women’s visibility and leadership within the wider movements for LGBTIQ+ human rights.

 

A collaborative statement was written to highlight core concerns and eleven recommendations on how to move forward towards strengthening movements for LBTQ rights across the region.

 

Statement of the Asian LBTQ CAUCUS*

 

8 December 2017 | Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

Lesbian, bisexual, trans women, trans men, and queer persons (LBTQ) exist in all of human diversity. Our issues and concerns cut across diverse groups and communities, including other marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, refugees, migrant workers, and indigenous peoples.

 

LBTQ persons experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in multiple spaces based on our assigned, actual, or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). We face arbitrary persecution, socio-economic marginalization, and violation of our self-determination, sexual autonomy, and bodily integrity because of our SOGIESC. Our experiences are often invisible, silenced, and unaddressed.

 

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