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TODAY Youth Survey: High overall acceptance of LGBTQ people among youth, but family members having same-sex relationships harder to accept

SINGAPORE — When Rachel, 33, found out three years ago that her younger brother was in a same-sex relationship, she struggled to accept it at first.

The TODAY Youth Survey 2021 found that Singapore youth were less accepting of family members having same-sex relationships than they were of their friends and colleagues.

The TODAY Youth Survey 2021 found that Singapore youth were less accepting of family members having same-sex relationships than they were of their friends and colleagues.

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  • A TODAY survey found that 80 per cent of respondents were willing to work alongside LGBTQ people
  • It also found that 75 per cent were willing to form close friendships with them
  • In comparison, 58 per cent said they were willing to accept LGBTQ family members
  • Women were most accepting of LGBTQ individuals, while men between the ages of 30 and 35 were least accepting

SINGAPORE — When Rachel, 33, found out three years ago that her younger brother was in a same-sex relationship, she struggled to accept it at first.

This is despite her frequent engagement with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals in her job as a youth social worker.

Rachel, who declined to publish her real name, told TODAY: “I have many friends who are LGBTQ but when it came to my brother, I felt a little disappointed. I don’t know why.”

While she has since come round to accepting her brother’s identity, Rachel is not the only millennial who has dealt with such conflicted feelings.

The TODAY Youth Survey 2021, which polled 1,066 respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 in early October, found that although overall acceptance is high, Singapore's youth were less accepting of family members having same-sex relationships than they were of their friends and colleagues.

The inaugural annual survey, which is demographically representative, covers a range of topics: Racism, religion, LGBTQ attitudes, gender dynamics, the impact of Covid-19 on mental well-being and social ties, and career and material success. It seeks to give voice to millennials and Gen Zers on societal issues and everyday topics close to their hearts.

Among other things, the survey found that:

  • 80 per cent of the respondents were willing to work alongside LGBTQ people beyond a social setting
  • 75 per cent were willing to accept friends having same-sex relationships
  • 73 per cent were willing to form close friendships with LGBTQ individuals
  • 58 per cent were willing to accept family members having same-sex relationships

The high level of acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community among the respondents is unsurprising, the experts said, as the global push for awareness of LGBTQ issues has intensified in recent years especially across social media. 

A 2018 study by the Institute of Policy Studies similarly found that Singaporeans had become more liberal towards homosexuality in the past five years, especially among the young. For instance, the paper showed that 11.4 per cent of respondents felt sexual relations between two same-sex adults were not wrong at all. This was more than double the figure in 2013 (5.6 per cent).

The IPS study also found that the shift in attitudes was more pronounced among younger Singaporeans than older respondents.

In 2013, nearly half of Singaporeans aged 18 to 25 (47.6 per cent) felt that gay sex was always wrong. In 2018, the figure was nearly halved (25.4 per cent). In comparison, IPS found that in 2018 six in 10 Singaporeans above 65 (64.9 per cent) felt gay sex was always wrong.

Ms Jean Chong, the founder of women’s gay rights group Sayoni, said it was not surprising that the TODAY Youth Survey found people were more accepting of LGBTQ individuals when they were not their own family members.

Individuals have varying degrees of acceptance towards members of the LGBTQ community, depending on how close the individual is to their personal lives, she said. The closer they are, the more it takes for the individual to accept it.

“You start to evaluate how it affects you if your siblings or family members are LGBTQ,” she added.

Attesting to this is content strategist Ash (not his real name), who did not want to be identified by his family.

The 28-year-old, who is gay, said that even he himself was initially unsure how to respond to his younger sibling, who came out to him as transgender two years ago.

“I always thought that since I’m the gay one, he could be the ‘normal’ one in the family, you know? So it wouldn’t be a double disappointment to my parents.”

Indeed, Mr Alexander Teh, a youth worker at Oogachaga, said that there remain many barriers for LGBTQ youth to come out openly to family members.

“These factors include fear of rejection by immediate and extended family members as well as their wider social or faith communities, pressure to ‘change’ or ‘stop’ being LGBTQ, and the lack of accessible LGBTQ affirming support,” he said. Oogachaga is a non-profit community-based organisation that works with LGBTQ individuals.

WOMEN ARE MOST ACCEPTING

The survey found that women were most accepting of LGBTQ individuals, with 78 per cent agreeing that they were willing to form close friendships with them, slightly above the average of 73 per cent.

Ms June Chua, founder of transgender shelter The T Project, said that this can be chalked up to the significant progress in human rights for women and the LGBTQ community, which changed the socio-political landscape in the last few decades.

Agreeing, a spokesperson for the National University of Singapore’s gender and sexuality research cluster said of the TODAY Youth Survey finding: “Our guess for the gender divide is that women are perhaps more likely to be understanding because they understand what it is like to live on the margins of a patriarchal society.”

The survey also found that men between the ages of 30 and 35 were the least accepting, though even among this group, acceptance is high — 68 per cent agreed that they were willing to form close friendships with LGBTQ individuals.

Ms Chua said that this could be because men in their 30s are settling down, starting to have children and provide for their family, so more of them start to embrace traditional gender norms. 

DIFFERENT ACCEPTANCE LEVELS

Among the different ethnic communities, the minority groups were found to be less accepting of LGBTQ friends and family members.

For instance, half of the Malay respondents said that they were willing to accept family members having same-sex relationships — lower than the overall finding of 58 per cent.

As for friends who have same-sex relationships, 69 per cent of Malay respondents and 66 per cent of Indian respondents said they would be willing to accept them — lower than the overall finding of 75 per cent.

Among the different ethnic communities, the minority groups were found to be less accepting of LGBTQ friends and family members. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY Mr Teh of Oogachaga said the barriers that prevent LGBTQ youth from coming out openly to their loved ones are especially challenging for those with other minority experiences, in terms of their race, religion, social and economic status, mental health status or disabilities.

Agreeing, marketing executive Muhd Yusry, 30, said that even though millennials may have liberal views on sexuality, some are still influenced by their faiths, especially those who practise Abrahamic religions such as Islam and Judaism.

Mr Yusry, who has faced barriers gaining acceptance from extended family after coming out as gay, believes that having little representation of queer people in the vernacular media is also why this group of millennials are less accepting of same-sex relationships.

MEDIA PORTRAYALS OF LGBTQ ISSUES

When asked how LGBTQ issues were covered in mainstream media, a third of the survey respondents (33 per cent) said that they were positively portrayed, while almost half (46 per cent) were neutral about it. About a fifth (22 per cent) said that the portrayals were negative. The percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.

In terms of frequency, the respondents were generally divided on how often they felt mainstream media featured LGBTQ issues.

Noting this, the spokesperson from the NUS gender and sexuality research cluster said: “So when survey participants say LGBTQ individuals and issues are vastly under-represented, it could mean a number of things — from negative representation to lack of representation to discussion of such issues but only at a superficial level.”

The spokesperson added: “Again, this all needs to be compared to the amount of coverage of cisgender heterosexual people and their issues, which on the whole receive much more positive attention and are simply present everywhere in the media, even in articles and shows that aren't presumably about them.”

Members from the LGBTQ community who spoke to TODAY said that although representation of the community in the media has significantly risen over the years, they felt that it was still not enough.

Ms Chua of The T Project said: “We need more than just having one or two gay boys on TV. We need to get rid of this stigma altogether by having more representation.”

 

This is the fourth instalment of a five-part series on the findings of the TODAY Youth Survey 2021. Look out for our daily reports this week on the survey topics of racism, religion, LGBTQ attitudes, gender dynamics, the impact of Covid-19 on mental well-being and social ties, and career and material success. We will also be holding a webinar series on Instagram and TikTok to discuss the survey findings.

Related topics

TODAY Youth Survey millennials Youth LGBT family

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