Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mr. Otto Fong Comes Out in an Open Letter

Mr. Otto Fong, a Science Teacher from Raffles Institution, my alma mater, came out as gay in his blog. The school has since gotten him to delete that blog-post, an action supported by Singapore's Ministry of Education. In a statement released on September 10, the Ministry said that it “does not condone any open espousal of homosexual values by teachers in any form, in or out of the classroom” as "teachers are in a unique position of authority and are often seen as role models by their students."

You can read Mr. Fong's letter on Fridae as well as Online Citizen. The letter strikes me as courageous and thoughtful, and its posting on the blog a well-considered decision. It comes hot on the heels of Lee Kuan Yew's recent comment (International Herald Tribune, August 24, 2007) that striking down anti-gay laws is "a matter of time."

I wrote an email to Bob Koh, the Headmaster of the school, in order to support Mr. Fong, and to ask that the school allow the reposting of the open letter on his blog. Here's the text:

Dear Sir,

I am an old boy of the school. I read on Fridae and Online Citizen about the coming out as gay of your teacher, Mr. Otto Fong.

I applaud Mr. Fong's courage and honesty in declaring his sexual orientation. I wish I had a teacher like him when I was struggling with my own sexual identity during my years in Raffles Institution. Mr. Fong could not have made me gay; no one could. I was aware of my own attraction to men before joining RI. But, perhaps, through his example and his concern for students, so evident in his open letter, I could have been spared the conflicted isolation of a gay teen growing up in a homophobic church and society, and the wasted years as a young adult.

Some parents may point to this as precisely what they do not want teachers to do to their children. These parents are misguided. If they desire their children to lead happy and fulfilled lives, the worst thing they can do is to force their children to hide in the closet. As Mr. Fong puts it so eloquently in his letter, "Being in the closet, pretending to be straight, trimming our true selves, to suit the whims and expectations of others, is just like being a human bonsai tree." No educator who tries to live up to his calling would deliberately cramp his charges' growth, so why would truly loving parents who try to understand?

From the many glowing testimonies of Mr. Fong's ex-students, it is clear that Mr. Fong is a dedicated and skilful teacher. His open letter says more: he has immense personal integrity. I read, with great disappointment, that the school asked him to delete the blog-post of his letter. What will Rafflesians learn from this? Some, I fear, will go away thinking that it does not pay to speak one's mind, to stand up for one's belief, especially if Mr. Fong should suffer any ill consequences from this act. More Rafflesians, I hope, will learn to value freedom of speech, and to fight for it. For censorship is the closet of intellectual and moral development. I ask that the school allow Mr. Fong to reinstate the blog-post of his letter. That may go some way in repairing the school's reputation for providing world-class education.

Yours sincerely,

Koh Jee Leong
RI, Class of 1986; RJC, Class of 1988


greg said...

Jee Leong,

I appreciate your sending that letter and posting it. I hope it will help bring about fairness and support for all the students in your old school, regardless of sexual orientation.

Jee Leong Koh said...

"fairness and support" are worthwhile goals for a school community.

Greg said...

Yes, and so is hope.

The Singapore Daily said...

Hi Reformed Headhunter,

Your entry has been featured in The Singapore Daily. Thank you for your support!

The Singapore Daily

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks for telling me.