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

Education Minister Lawrence Wong in parliament on Feb. 1, 2020. Photo: MCI/YouTube
Education Minister Lawrence Wong in parliament on Feb. 1, 2020. Photo: MCI/YouTube

Education Minister Lawrence Wong finally broke his silence over the treatment of trans students today, saying schools should be more flexible and cautioning critics not to import gender identity issues from the West. 

Speaking in parliament a week after a protest outside his ministry, Wong urged schools to do more to accommodate students with gender dysphoria, who face difficulties dealing with certain school rules. Still, he also told those who have been vocal about how his ministry has handled the matter to avoid bringing Western “culture wars” into the country. 

“[School rules] are in place to help students cultivate self-discipline and a sense of responsibility. But we recognize that students diagnosed with gender dysphoria and undergoing hormone therapy, they face difficulties with certain school rules,” Wong said in reference to codes about how boys and girls wear their hair and uniforms.

He added: “Where there are valid medical grounds, schools can exercise flexibility and work out practical arrangements for these students.”

Wong’s statement came in response to questions posed by MP He Ting Ru about the Education’s Ministry’s policies dealing with students diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The lawmaker’s inquiry was linked to a trans student’s complaints that the ministry blocked her hormone replacement therapy while her school threatened her with expulsion over it.

It was last week, after the ministry denied the accusations and said such matters were best left to doctors and parents, five people gathered outside the Ministry’s Buona Vista headquarters in a show of solidarity with trans students. 

Wong said today he was aware of “how strong some people view about this issue” and welcomed feedback from the public but warned against it becoming a wedge issue, as he believes it has in Western societies. 

“Issues of gender identity have become bitterly contested sources of division in the culture wars of some Western countries and societies,” he said. “We should not import these culture wars into Singapore or allow issues of gender identity to divide our society.”

Three people at last week’s protest were arrested and another two brought in for questioning.

MP He, who represents Sengkang, also asked that the ministry update parliament on more cases involving trans students, but Wong claimed it would be against the wishes of the students’ families. 

“Our experience dealing with such cases is that the family members themselves especially the parents are very uncomfortable with the public airing of their situation,” he said. “We ought to respect their request for privacy and avoid putting out information that will compromise any student or family confidentiality.”

Trans students under 21 are required to have parental consent to begin hormone replacement therapy. 

Correction: A quote in this story was corrected to refer to “practical” not “ethical” arrangements by schools. 

Other stories:

‘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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