If there’s any ‘culture war,’ system is to blame, trans student refutes minister

Education Minister Lawrence Wong in parliament yesterday and Ashlee’s latest thread on Reddit. Original photos: AcanthisittaParty986/Reddit, MCI/YouTube
Education Minister Lawrence Wong in parliament yesterday and Ashlee’s latest thread on Reddit. Original photos: AcanthisittaParty986/Reddit, MCI/YouTube

A school student who sparked soul searching nationwide over the treatment of queer students this morning rejected comments made by the education minister and revealed more details about her school experience since she went public. 

Identified only as Ashlee, the transgender student returned to Reddit, where her original post drew wide attention, to refute Minister Lawrence Wong, saying that her desire to obtain hormone treatment would not have blown up or sparked “culture wars” in Singapore if her wish had simply been respected in the first place. Her new post came one day after Wong told parliament that while schools should show more flexibility, critics should not “import” what he described as Western LGBT issues. 

“I note that Mr Wong wishes to ‘not import these culture wars into Singapore, or allow issues of gender identity to divide our society’. My personal dressing, which would even conform to the female dress code, does not affect others in the classroom,” Ashlee wrote. “Had the MOE and the school respected proper medical advice and scientific research, this would not have happened to me.” 

She went on to disclose more details about what happened at her school, including her principal taking objection to “cross-dressing” as a result of her doctor-advised hormone treatment.

In his first public comments since the controversy erupted last month, Wong told parliament yesterday that schools can be more flexible with trans students’ needs “where there are valid medical grounds.” But he also called on the public to avoid igniting “culture wars” and allowing gender identity issues to divide the nation with what he dismissed as Western concerns. 

Ashlee’s original complaint was focused on the intervention of her school and the ministry in thwarting her plans to undergo hormonal replacement therapy despite the advice of her doctor and consent of her parents, which is required since she is under 21. The ministry has denied it blocked her from receiving treatment. 

A coalition of Singaporean LGBT groups identified the school as Millennia Institute on Bukit Batok West Avenue. Millennia has made no public statement on the issue and has not responded to messages seeking comment.  

Ashlee’s case led to a protest outside the ministry that resulted in three being arrested. An online petition calling for clearer policies to support trans students has gotten over 500 signatories, including some teachers. 

Reacting to Wong’s statement on medical advice, Ashlee said he was being inconsistent.

“You do not allow anti-maskers to go about without masking up due to the scientifically-accepted risks and dangers of Covid … Why is the MOE contradicting and denying proper medical advice, treatment and quality education?” she wrote.

The student also pointed out that the school was not flexible despite Wong’s appeal. The ministry stirred the pot further last month by suggesting Ashlee no longer attend classes and study from home. 

“If Mr Wong thinks that home-based learning is as good as physical classroom lessons, why have physical classes in the first place? I come to this school to study in the classroom environment; if I wanted to do [home-based learning] I’d sign up for online courses and do private A-levels instead,” she said. 

Since going public about her story, Ashlee said that the principal has denied any form of discrimination and continues to insist that Ashlee wanted to “crossdress in school,” which is not allowed.

“The doctor’s letter already stated that I have a diagnosis and that I identify as female; cross-dressing would in this sense not only be an ignorant, but outright discriminatory way to put it, unless I was wearing the male uniform (i.e. dressing in boys’ uniform as I identify as female),” she wrote.

[Rant] An update to Transgender Discrimination in Singapore Schools from r/SGExams

Other stories you should check out:

Singapore’s schools should show ‘flexibility’ for trans students: minister

‘We are all well,’ say LGBT rights defenders nabbed for MOE protest

Writer, ‘ally’ to Singapore’s trans youth, on why he protested the MOE

LGBT rights defenders arrested protesting Education Ministry’s treatment of trans student

Singapore’s ed ministry suggests trans student learn at home, not school

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