Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SU Fellowship Award Event Tonight

I'd gone back and forth about whether I should wear my gay tank top at tonight's Singapore Unbound Fellowship Award Event. Singapore Unbound is the NY-based literary non-profit I founded to build cultural exchange between Singapore and the USA. It is not solely about gay rights. Would I be misrepresenting the organization by wearing something with so personal a statement, and so informal as a tank top? Would I be identifying the organization too closely with me?

But the tagline that summarizes the values of Singapore Unbound is, after all, "Freedom of Expression. Equal Rights for All." It is echoed in the back of my shirt: "Equality for All" and in the act of wearing the shirt freely in public. Although Singapore Unbound is not solely about gay rights, it is about human rights. And the discrimination, including torture and murder, against LGBT people around the world is a very pressing global issue now, and must be fought with every weapon we have. Singapore Unbound is not just about freeing Singapore from oppression and inequities, but also releasing Singapore to be a champion of freedom and equality around the world. We can do so much more.

As writers and artists, we have a part to play in the fight. Tonight, when we come together to celebrate the award of the very first SU Fellowship to Nur Sabrina Binte Dzulkifli, I'm doing my small part by wearing my gay tank top. I'm additionally encouraged to do so in honor of Sabrina, who will be presenting an excerpt of a play that casts a light on lesbianism in the Malay Muslim community in Singapore, a topic seldom discussed in local theater and literature. Her fearless courage in dealing with hot-button issues, including race, religion, and post-natal depression, is one huge reason why she has been selected for the fellowship, to come to NYC for two weeks.

I very much doubt that any of tonight's guests, most of whom are artists and writers, will be put off by my tank top. The arts must stand for something beyond itself. The arts have the capacity to change society. I don't mean to try to change anyone's religious convictions or social values, but if we can all agree to develop the public realm as a pluralistic, welcoming, and respectful space, we would all have taken a big step forward.

And part of that step, I think, involves an agreement that 377A, the anti-sodomy law, discriminates unjustly against the LGBT community, and that it must be struck down in the interest of fairness. The state has no business interfering with the sexual relationship of two consenting adults. And society has no business to get the state to do so, to impose its own set of values on everyone. We can believe in what we believe in--freedom of conscience and worship is also a human right--but we cannot deprive others of their freedoms and rights when those freedoms and rights do not impinge on the freedoms and rights of others. To strike down the anti-sodomy law does not compel anyone to practice sodomy. To each their own.

Singapore Unbound wants to expand the space for everyone to be free and equal. Join us if you want the same. As for the tank top being too informal for an award event, why the need for formality? It's stuffy.

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