Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBTQ) rights group Sayoni has published a ground breaking research study highlighting violence and discrimination against LBTQ persons in Singapore, to be launched on 25 May.
The publication is the result of a qualitative study conducted by Sayoni, a volunteer-run 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.
The qualitative study from in-depth interviews with 40 participants presents evidence of physical and emotional violence committed against LBTQ persons in both public and private spheres in Singapore. Sayoni notes that most participants did not report these incidents to the authorities due to fear of further stigma.
This is the first systematic study on LBTQ persons in Singapore and it will be presented in the form of a book entitled “Violence and Discrimination against LBTQ Women in Singapore”. It sheds light on the lived realities of these individuals as well as the invisibility of the problems they face while also including recommendations of sensitive and responsive policy changes to improve lives of those in this community.
The study revealed that LBTQ persons who had come out to had their sexuality revealed experienced physical, psychological and sexual violence from those closes to them, including family members and intimate partners.
The violence doesn’t discriminate, as the study notes that both younger and older persons remain vulnerable. Adults fear the loss of their jobs and homes while younger people were at risk of losing financial support from their families. Those in school also experience bullying if their gender presentation was not normative, says Sayoni.
The situation is particularly dire for those who were financially unable to move out of the homes they share with their abusive family, exposing them to further risk.
Sayoni also highlights the difficulty LBTQ individuals face in securing stable employment, particularly those who do not confirm to gender stereotypes or ‘did not pass as heterosexual’. Employees in both private and public sector faced discrimination for their sexuality and identity.
Sayoni noted that trangender individuals in particular were more likely to engage in sex work as it is difficult for them to secure other work. Consequently, sex work leaves them more vulnerable to harassment and violence. In fact, Sayoni notes that this extends beyond just sex workers as transgender persons who are not in sex work are also sexually harassed. Unfortunately, the respondents said these discriminatory practices go undocumented in company records.
Finally, Sayoni notes that the societal stigma associated with sexuality further isolated LBTQ persons, impacting their mental health.
Sadly, despite the findings in this study, incidents of violence and discrimination are rarely reported to the police, employers, or other authorities due to the strong stigma that is still pervasive in Singapore society. Many respondents even said they blamed themselves for getting into these tragic situations and believed that reporting would not help or change the situation.
“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,” said Sayoni’s co-founder Jean Chong.
Additionally, the study looked at the methods in which LBTQ persons cope with their struggles. Mostly it comprised of them seeking help and support from friends and others in the LBTQ social networks. Sayoni noted however that help of informal networks and friends could fail if those offering support were also dependants without resources. Unfortunately, employers were rarely supportive. But when those that were ended up being important sources of assistance.
Sayoni proposes a series of measures to combat prevailing prejudices, assist victim-survivors and improve the social climate for LBTQ persons in Singapore. These include providing sensitivity training for for healthcare professionals and social workers, change policies (housing, healthcare, and education) to recognise that LBTQ persons are part of society, expanding school syllabuses to include sexual diversity and sexuality education, launch awareness campaigns, and equalise censorship guidelines for heterosexual and homosexual content.
The book will be launched on 25 May at the Blue Room @ The Projector. At the launch event, members of the research team and expert panelist Jolene Tan will discuss key findings and themes from the study, while guest of honour Constance Singam, a veteran civil society activist, will speak on how more needs to be done for LBTQ women. Sayoni will also share 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.”
Saturday 25 May 2019, 2–5pm
Blue Room @ The Projector, 6001 Beach Road, Golden Mile Tower, #05-00, Singapore 199589