Hwa Chong staff reprimanded, suspended from sex education lessons after discriminatory presentation on LGBTQ issues
- Hwa Chong Institution has reprimanded a counsellor and suspended him from teaching sexuality education classes
- This was after he made discriminatory claims against the LGBTQ community during a presentation
- The school is reviewing its processes to ensure such incidents do not happen again
- LGBTQ rights groups were appalled but not surprised by what happened
- They called for more safeguards to better protect LGBTQ students
SINGAPORE — Hwa Chong Institution has reprimanded a staff member and suspended him from delivering further sexuality education lessons after he made a presentation making discriminatory claims against the LGBTQ+ community last Wednesday (July 13).
"We are aware of the incident, which took place during a presentation on sexuality where a staff member incorporated content outside the scope of the Ministry of Education's (MOE) sexuality education curriculum into his slides," the school said on Monday.
"The views presented were the individual staff’s personal perspectives and not representative of the position of the school or MOE."
On online forum Reddit on Monday (July 18), a photo taken of the presentation slide had more than 3,400 "upvotes", which means it was a topic of much interaction and comments.
The presentation slide, titled Community Health, made claims such as "one in 15 homosexuals is a paedophile" and "58 per cent of homosexuals have problems with intestinal worms". This was presented to the Secondary 4 cohort.
Hwa Chong Institution said: "The staff has since been reprimanded for delivering content without the school’s approval and suspended from delivering further sexuality education lessons.
"We take a serious view of this incident and have met up with our students to address their concerns."
The school confirmed later that the staff member is a counsellor. It is also reviewing its processes to ensure such incidents are not repeated, it added.
MORE SAFEGUARDS WANTED FOR LGBTQ STUDENTS
Four LGBTQ rights groups that spoke to TODAY said that they were appalled by what happened, but they were not surprised because they have heard before of such incidents happening anecdotally from students in schools here.
The groups also said that such misinformation may embolden bullying behaviour towards LGBTQ students, and they are concerned about students at Hwa Chong Institution who may have been affected by the presentation given by the counsellor.
They called for more safeguards to be put in place to prevent such incidents from happening again.
Mr Leow Yangfa, executive director of Oogachaga, a non-profit that works with the LGBTQ community, said that there have been other instances where people spread misinformation to young people in schools “often under the guise of sexuality education that includes content that is drawn from religious sources, rather than evidence-based research”.
He noted that upon investigating the data source for the infographic used by the counsellor in this latest case, they are “either unavailable, blocked or from made up spoof sites”.
He also pointed out that this is not the school’s first brush with discriminatory messaging during sexuality education classes. In 2014, staff members from Focus on the Family spread sexist and misogynistic language during a relationship module at the school.
Mr Leow said: “Anecdotally, we hear from students in other schools here that inappropriate and sometimes offensive language is used to describe the LGBTQ community, and it is often difficult for students to determine if what is being shared by their teachers and counsellors is evidence-based fact or just personal opinions.
“The damage has been done through the offensive stereotyping of LGBTQ people as diseased, immoral, criminal, violent and promiscuous. These are clearly the opinions of the presenter and not backed by scientific evidence.”
In a press statement, rights group Pink Dot SG called for more transparency on what actions Hwa Chong Institution will take to prevent this incident from recurring, beyond the counsellor’s suspension.
The rights group also called for MOE to put in place safeguards to ensure counsellors and teachers do not perpetuate misinformation and fear-mongering against the LGBTQ community.
“To chalk this up to the actions of one rogue counsellor ignores systemic issues of inadequate sexuality education and the fact that schools in Singapore have repeatedly evaded accountability on matters of sexuality,” it added.
For example, educational institutions have turned away LGBTQ performers and speakers by “claiming non-existent MOE regulations or to supposedly ‘inappropriate content'," Pink Dot Sg added.
“If the counsellor was brazen enough to deliver such a speech before hundreds of students, we fear what might have been said to LGBTQ students behind closed doors in private counselling sessions.”
Ms Cally Cheung, director of Prout, an online resource site that helps to connect LGBTQ people, said: “A counsellor’s priority should be the welfare of students, instead of bringing in his own biased perception of the LGBTQ community without any fact-checking.
“Many teenagers at that age are still coming to terms about their own identity and sexuality, and this may cause those students to further retreat into their closet or self-harm… (while) emboldening some (students to) bully others based on their sexuality or gender identity.”
Similar to the other activist groups, Ms Cheung added that LGBTQ youth may reach out to community groups such as Prout for mental health support and resources.
Mr Benjamin Xue, co-founder of LGBTQ youth support organisation Young Out Here, told TODAY that such incidents of counsellors doing harm are not new. For example, school counsellors have, in some instances, exposed students’ sexual orientations and gender identity to their parents and teachers.
“LGBTQ+ students, who at those ages should be supported and affirmed for who they are, find it tough to seek help about their mental health issues through their proper channels such as school counsellors,” he said.
Mr Xue added that such false narratives provide excuses for parents to take their LGBTQ children to undergo sexuality and gender identity conversion or management, which can exacerbate the children’s sense of shame and low self-esteem.
“This incident is just a sign that a larger change needs to happen for the safety of LGBTQ+ students in schools… more can be done to ensure that this incident is the exception, not the norm, for LGBTQ students everywhere in Singapore.”
Among his suggestions on what can be done to better safeguard students, Mr Xue proposed having anti-discrimination and anti-bullying guidelines to protect them and ensuring that school counsellors are trained.
Content presented to students should be vetted and guided by ethical guidelines set by the Singapore Association for Counselling, he added.
TODAY has reached out to MOE for comments on this incident. Hwa Chong Institution has declined to respond to further queries from TODAY.