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How the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore is staying connected

We chat with the LGBTQ+ organisations and individuals who have been uplifting the community during these times

Cam Khalid
Written by
Cam Khalid
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The lack of socialisation due to strict rules has affected all of us in some way. Being sequestered at home is a privilege for some, but for others, it can feel like being locked in a dark and suffocating closet. Some even face domestic violence and homophopic or transphobic abuse from family members, as revealed by LGBTQ+ organisation Sayoni. So if you're feeling more alone than ever, know that there are brilliant LGBTQ+ charities, organisations and individuals who have your back.

Organisations such as Sayoni, Pink Dot and Prout bring the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore together through uplifting webinars, trivia nights and an upsized livestream programme that embraces the freedom to love. Individuals like trans model and activist Andrea Razali and drag queen Vanda Miss Joaquim also spread positivity via their social media platforms. But when things get extra hard, organisations like Oogachanga are ready to swoop in and give you both a listening ear and a helping hand – even if face-to-face counselling sessions are on hold for now.

Together, they continue to call for change and secure human rights for the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore. This includes the appeal to revoke Section 377A of Singapore's Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual acts in public or private between men, and can result in up to two years of jail time. They are here to remind you that you are always loved, even if the state and society don't see it the same way. After all, love is a human right.

There’s no denying that this year’s Pride Month takes a different turn from previous years as we celebrate in whatever way we can from home. We chat with the organisations and individuals that have been connecting the LGBTQ+ community in various ways online about their causes, the virtual events they hold, and how they have been lifting the spirits of the LGBTQ+ community during these challenging times.

RECOMMENDED: Pride Worldwide 2020 and The best online LGBTQ+ events to celebrate pride in Singapore

Pink Dot
Photograph: Pink Dot

Pink Dot

No stranger to the LGBTQ+ community, this pretty-in-pink non-profit movement rallies everyone – gay or straight – to support the freedom to love. “With openness and acceptance, we hope to bring LGBTQ+ Singaporeans closer to their family and friends,” the organisers of Pink Dot tell us.

Make an impact
Groups like Pink Dot are raising awareness on issues of inequality and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community by amplifying their voices, all to push for real change to take place. Sometimes it takes a bold move to get the message across.

“The very first ‘night dot’ (and the many that followed after it) – when Hong Lim Park was lit up in a sea of pink lights – remains an impactful image that is a testament of support from Singaporeans and Permanent Residents who care about the LGBTQ+ community and its issues," the organisers share. "As we grow through the years, we are constantly learning and evolving to try and represent the myriad of voices that form the fabric of Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community, connecting organisations who want to get involved with supporting LGBTQ+ causes with the relevant parties, and helping individuals to get in touch with the various LGBTQ+ community groups in Singapore that can offer support.”

Let that pink in
This Pride Month, Pink Dot goes digital on June 27. “We hope everyone will light up their homes in pink, tune in to our livestream, and celebrate the amazing individuals that we are. Know that you are valid. Know that you are loved. In these trying times, hope and help are never far away and all you need to do is to reach out.”

For more information on Pink Dot, visit pinkdot.sg.

Andrea Razali
Photograph: Nick Brock

Andrea Razali

Calling Andrea Razali a pretty face is a mighty understatement. She's a proud trans woman on a mission. Beyond being a model and beauty queen, she is also a businesswoman and an LGBTQ+ rights activist. “I also do advocacy work, such as giving talks, interviews, and being part of focus groups. I have also donated clothes for a transgender shelter in Singapore. I got to know more about the less fortunate transgendered locals through that,” she tells us.

Every cloud has a silver lining
“From personal experience, transphobia shows up in passive-aggressive ways in this city such as sheer objectification, blatant ignorance, and tactlessness when approaching the subject," explains Andrea. "Equality is a far cry for now, but every cloud has its silver lining.”

However, there’s no denying that Singapore has come a long way. “Transwomen like me are portrayed in the media now, and LGBTQ+-focused content reaches the masses. Community Centres aimed at helping struggling members of the community are now available, and organisations have become more open to hiring people from the LGBTQ+ community,” she continues. “This progress is monumental because such integration and awareness aids in putting light on the issues that the community faces, which can be improved to ensure a better quality of life for the future generations of LGBTQ+ people in Singapore.”

Stay true to who you are
There is a myriad of ways to mix, mingle, and revel with the LGBTQ+ community online. “[There are] celebratory events [including those hosted by ManAboutTown] where members of the community converge to have a good time, let their hair down and socialise over some good music via conference portals such Zoom. Dare to be different, and always stay true to who you are.”

Follow Andrea Razali on Instagram @andrearazali.

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Vanda Miss Joaquim
Photograph: William Bibet

Vanda Miss Joaquim

Known for serving looks at every turn is none other than Singapore’s drag royalty Vanda Miss Joaquim. Besides being the Mother of House of Joaquim and repping the Lion City on Drag Race Thailand, the enigmatic queen pushes the boundaries when it comes to representing her roots and delivering her personal stories through performance. 

There will be better days
We're seeing progress in Singapore as more people are coming out and being their true selves. But not everyone is accepting of it. For many, tolerance is all they can give due to religious or even personal reasons. Living in a tolerant but not accepting place means walking on eggshells where they can't be themselves, and this is a tiresome process. For most, tolerance without acceptance denies them the respect they deserve. After all, they're human too.

“People are more aware of the existence of LGBTQ+ in Singapore but there's always that 'I am okay with gay people but I won't fully accept them' mentality. Acceptance over tolerance – I still have hope for this as I trust there will be better days,” Vanda points out. “Being on Drag Race Thailand has given me the opportunity to get to know young adults who are still finding themselves. I wish for more representation of LGBTQ+ people in Singapore for them to look up to. I still don't understand this censorship on our own local TV channels and stations. It's 2020!”

Staying connected
As the clubs and bars remain closed, the community can stay connected through social media. “[I’m] working closely with organisers and my community by performing and creating content for Zoom parties. We need good entertainment to keep us going and to distract ourselves at the moment. Recently, I gathered queens in Singapore for an upcoming project so look out for that,” she continues. “I am also taking the time to [engage with] my audience and community in case they need words of encouragement. Can I also add that I am making use of this time to feed the stray cats?” 

Be a listening ear
One way to be an ally is to listen. “You will never expect a family member or a friend that's the closest to you is actually living in fear or struggling to find themselves. Assure them that you'll be there for them. It's not that hard to be human first.”

Follow Vanda Miss Joaquim on Instagram @vandamiss.joaquim. Watch past performances and vlogs of Vanda Miss Joaquim and House of Miss Joaquim on youtube.com/houseofmissjoaquim.

Oogachaga
Photograph: Oogachaga

Oogachaga

What started with a support group that met regularly in a member’s living room has grown to become one of Singapore’s most established non-profit LGBTQ+ organisations with four full-time professional staff, and supported by more than 60 trained volunteers.

Providing a safe environment
Oogachaga is the listening ear we all need. It’s known for its counselling services via hotline, WhatsApp or face-to-face sessions, allowing LGBTQ+ individuals to talk and share without worrying about being judged or rejected and helping them get through the difficulties they face. “When counselling clients coming to our office in Chinatown for the first time and see the décor (colours, rainbow flags), they tell us that they find it a safe and queer-affirming space to share their issues with us,” shares executive director Leow Yangfa.

Highlighting human rights issues
In 2015, Oogachaga teamed up with Pink Dot to submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review process that every UN member state including Singapore has to go through. They highlighted specific human rights issues that impacted Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community and made a number of recommendations.

“We have [also] engaged directly with Minister Shanmugam to give him feedback about the harassment faced by the LGBTQ community, and other issues. We’ve also worked with his staff in MHA and CNB to co-organise a closed-door, feedback session on drug use in the LGBTQ community,” adds Yangfa.

Keep supporting
To keep the good work going, Oogachaga is holding a fundraiser selling limited edition moral disapproval stickers designed by Heckin Unicorn. You can also make a donation at oogachaga.com/donate as Oogachaga continues to provide LGBTQ-affirming emotional support through these difficult times.

“Whether you are lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, gender-diverse, asexual, non-binary, genderqueer, intersex, or just questioning who you are, it’s okay. And to all our allies – friends, supporters, family members – we love you for loving us, standing with us and looking after us, we need you, and thank you!”

For more information on Oogachaga, visit oogachaga.com.

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 Sayoni
Photograph: Sayoni

Sayoni

This feminist, volunteer-run organisation has been putting in the hard work to secure human rights protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore since 2006. “We organise and advocate for equality in well-being and dignity regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and sex characteristics,” shares co-founder Jean Chong.

Advocate for policy changes
Through in-depth research, including discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ women in Singapore, Sayoni has not only spread awareness through reports but has even managed to change the discourse and language in parliament. The team has also gone beyond to engage in global advocacy. “We were the first LGBTQ group to submit reports to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) and were met with success in Asia. [As a result], we’re organising and forming the ASEAN Feminist LBQ Womxn’s Network. We had a conference last year in 2019, so we are moving ahead to formalise and strategise regionally.”

Gather the community
During the circuit breaker, Sayoni has hosted online webinars on how to deal with hostile families, singlehood, and self-care through art therapy. On June 25, the team is partnering with Indignation to present What is Queer?, which discusses diversity within the community. “The next two months, we will be doing a series of online support groups to address some of the isolation many LGBTQ persons feel during this period.”

Every little bit helps
Based on a survey conducted by Sayoni, 64 percent of LGBTQ individuals are facing mental health challenges, with some facing domestic violence during the circuit breaker. To help LGBTQ persons in need, the team has set up the Relief and Resilience Fund, where you can make a contribution via its Facebook page or give.asia/lgbtqrrfund. “During this pride month, let’s work together to support the LGBTQ organisations that are working hard to create change!”

For more information on Sayoni, visit sayoni.com.

Prout
Photograph: Prout

Prout

The brains behind the most colourful trivia nights in Singapore, Prout is a community-based app that builds safer spaces to help connect and champion a healthier LGBTQ+ community. It has also gone regional by launching Qurrent, Asia’s first LGBTQ+ News Telegram channel that delivers weekly updates directly to users.

More than just events
“I got into this for two reasons. The first being a desire to see the community come together in spaces outside of parties or dating sites. Our novel take on events have also demonstrated that there is a need to address certain matters that are prevalent in the community,” says co-founder Cally Cheung. “[Previously], we ran Meet Your Next: Housemate with 99.co, and it showed how there is a clear housing issue for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Work hard, play hard
Since it’s launch, Prout's signature Queer Trivia Night has been a big hit, filling up slots fast. And this year’s Pride edition on June 17 is no different. “[It’s] almost fully booked but interested teams are still able to text in.” Cally adds, “It will be a massive party with eclectic categories, fantastic prizes worth over $500, and some of the wildest and most hilarious repartee.” 

That’s not all – Prout also sources and curates LGBTQ events and activities every Monday and Thursday via Qurrent. “This period has been challenging for many of us – not only the loss of income or personal space, but also loss of a safe space for many LGBTQ+ folks to be themselves. If you need to reach out, all our channels are open!”

For more information on Prout, visit proutapp.mystrikingly.com.

All you need is love

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