TEDx talk at St Joseph’s Institution by LGBT activist allegedly shut down by MOE

Photo: TEDxYouth SJI / Facebook
Photo: TEDxYouth SJI / Facebook

As much as we were heartened by the efforts of long-established homegrown brands such as Old Chang Kee (kinda) and Poh Heng Jewellery to recognize the local LGBTQ community, Singapore still has a long way to go.

In a half-expected move by the Ministry of Education (MOE), a TEDTalk session by an LGBT activist at St Joseph’s Institution was abruptly shut down just a day prior to the event itself. Rachel Yeo — the Research & Advocacy Director of the Inter-University LGBT Network — was abruptly informed yesterday by TedxYouth@SJI organizers that she was not permitted to speak at their event due to MOE regulations, the specifics of which remain unclear.

Ironically, Yeo had planned to speak about the importance of avoiding being too quick to silence opposing opinions. The organizers had been sent a gist of her speech, where she already made clear that her message would apply to all causes, even though she would be drawing from her experience in LGBTQ advocacy.

As a seasoned speaker at workplace diversity and inclusion events, Yeo had been invited to share her experiences at the event this afternoon, in line with its theme of growth, change, and transition.

“I thought the message would be a good one for youths who are at a stage in their lives where they are becoming more politically aware, who want to champion certain causes but may risk coming off overzealous which is often counterproductive,” Yeo shared with Coconuts Singapore.

“I wanted to share that everyone has the desire to be heard and understood, and for that to be possible, it has to begin with oneself”.

Alas, it was not meant to be. She received the news of the cancellation through an apologetic email sent by one of the event’s student organizers, stating that the overall decision was beyond their control.

“I understand, but could you just point me to what this ‘MOE regulation’ is so I can better understand the situation?” Yeo responded, which remains to be elaborated by the organizers.

We’ve reached out to representatives from TEDxYouth@SJI and MOE for clarification on their decision.


‘Much work to be done’

Pink Dot Singapore 2015

Presumably, the event will carry on as scheduled this afternoon with other speakers such as veteran Singaporean musician and author Joseph C. Pereira, prominent engineering professor Dr. Joachim Loo and comedian Sharul Channa.

As for St Joseph’s Institution itself, it’s the oldest Catholic school in the country, on top of being one of the oldest educational institutions here. Being an independent school, the MOE largely leaves SJI alone to handle its own affairs — except when it’s about LGBT issues it seems.

“…while we applaud and thank the student organisers at SJI for their efforts in negotiating with their school administration on this matter, it is regrettable however that our institutions continue to adopt obsolete policies that fail Singapore’s young people out of fear and ignorance of the LGBTQ+ community,” the Inter-University LGBT Network noted in a statement.

“Ultimately, this incident reminds us that there remains much work to be done to foster a truly inclusive society for all Singaporeans, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” the advocacy group added, calling on MOE to review its policies regarding the LGBTQ community.

It’s a particular downer for the state of things here, especially a day before annual gay pride rally Pink Dot tomorrow. Nonetheless, the group will still carry on in their efforts to “make life a little less daunting for queer folk in universities”, stated Yeo. Tomorrow, the Inter-University LGBT Network launching a college handbook that is the first ever resource specific to transgender students in Singapore’s universities.

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