In the countdown to our next Coconuts Colloquium — the “Anti-Manel” — happening at The Projector’s Intermission Bar this Thursday evening, we’d like to give a closer look into the experience and expertise of each of our featured panelists. It’s part origin story, part elucidation on why this person rocks (and can be counted on to serve some realness in our roundtable discussion).
June Chua is a proud transgender Singaporean woman who is one of the Lion City’s most prominent voices in LGBTQ activism — particularly for one of the most misunderstood and marginalized individuals within this community: transgender people.
She is the founder of The T Project, the first and only social service for the transgender community in Singapore, which June and her late sister Alicia founded in 2014 in a shop house attic. The organization provides shelter and food, as well as peer counseling and referral support programs that assist residents with employment and healthcare issues, as well as mental and emotional wellbeing (through connecting them with registered social workers and specialists).
Additionally, the T Project staff facilitate workshops that educate and inform the greater public about the trans community. Last autumn, June also opened the Alicia Community Centre, a drop-in shelter for transgender youth, located in Kovan. The center is primarily aimed at providing a safe space for young people who feel displaced due to the social backlash that they may have faced because of their non-cisgendered identities, offering them peer counseling and a wider social support system.
June named the center in memory of her sister Alicia, a transgender woman, after her passing. It is primarily aimed at providing a safe space for young people who feel displaced due to the social backlash that they may have faced because of their non-cisgendered identities, offering them peer counseling and a wider social support system. The venue also contains a library, small museum, and hosts sensitivity workshops.
According to June, she feels lucky to have been accepted by her family for who she truly is, and that growing up, she didn’t experience dark, distressing moments because she felt able to openly express who she is. June says that having been able to experience unconditional love from her family, she knew just how much people in the trans community — particularly those who had been turned away from their homes — need to feel that same love.
She explains that it was during her time at an all-boys school that made her realize she was different. The other boys referred to her as a “bapok” — “transvestite” in Malay — and the Discipline Master at her school even asked her if she felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body.
Yes. Yes, that’s it. Apparently, it was the revelation she had been yearning for, and from that day on, June prided herself on being the “only girl” in an all-boys school. She says she definitely had her share of getting bullied, but she knew how to handle her wannabe tormentors and went on with her life. She began hormone replacement therapy at the age of fifteen, and two years later, underwent sex affirmative surgery (SAS).
June has gone on to receive many recognitions, such as being named the AWARE Champion for Gender Equality and Justice in 2016 (the first ever transgender individual to receive this title). June continues to advocate for the transgender community, including internationally. In 2018, she participated in the United States Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, as well as the 7th International Lesbian Gay Association (ILGA) Asia Conference. That same year, she also joined the Peace Boat’s 97th voyage in Asia as a guest speaker, becoming the first transwoman in the event’s 35-year history to do so.