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Speaker from varsity LGBT group dropped by SJI for TED Talk

SINGAPORE — St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) barred a representative from a varsity LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group to speak at a TED Talks event on Friday (July 20).

Speaker from varsity LGBT group dropped by SJI for TED Talk

St Joseph's Institution barred a representative from a varsity LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group to speak at a TED Talks event on Friday (July 20). Photo: Google Maps

SINGAPORE — St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) barred a representative from a varsity LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group to speak at a TED Talks event on Friday (July 20).

The last minute decision, which was conveyed to the speaker on the eve of the event, was taken after “further deliberations on the relevance of the speakers” to the event’s theme, said SJI in a statement issued on Saturday.

The school said that the TEDxYouth@SJI talk is a “school event”, and this year’s theme aimed to “share information and ignite a love for learning in others”.

It noted that the talk was initiated and organised by its students, who also selected the speakers. “Regrettably, the teacher in charge did not go through the programme and choice of speakers before the event was finalised,” SJI said.

It said that the Ministry of Education (MOE) was “not involved in the decision”.

However, Ms Rachel Yeo, a research and advocacy director at the Inter-University LGBT network, was told on Thursday by the student organisers in an email — which was seen by TODAY — that the decision was due to “MOE regulations”, and “beyond our control”.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, an MOE spokesperson said: “We would like to clarify that MOE was neither involved in nor informed about SJI’s deliberations on the TEDxYouth@SJI programme and selection of speakers. The school has full authority to make such decisions on its own.”

She added that there are “no MOE regulations that are either applicable” or were used in this instance.

Contacted by TODAY, Ms Yeo, 23, a fourth year Nanyang Technological University student, said her speech would have been about “(how to) champion your causes, and have conversations with people that don’t stand on the same side as you in a way that is constructive and civilised”.

“I was obviously going to draw examples from my experience in LGBT advocacy, but it wasn’t going to be the focus of my talk,” she added.
Started last year, Friday’s event was the fourth TEDxYouth@SJI event. Despite the absence of Ms Yeo, the event carried on with other speakers such as engineering professor Dr Joachim Loo, musician and writer Joseph Pereira and stand-up comedian Sharul Channa.

On Friday, the Inter-University LGBT Network — which was founded in 2015 — said on its Facebook page that the 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”.
Ms Yeo added: “The whole thing was pretty ironic… My message was going to be about constructive conversation and not silencing people’s differing viewpoints.”

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