Friday, March 29, 2013

Workshop: Discrimination and Homophobia

(filed by Ng Yi-Sheng)

You see what happens in Thailand? The food’s so good that people refuse to go anywhere after lunchtime. I got to the workshop room ten minutes after stuff was supposed to begin at 1400 hours: the room was EMPTY. Poedji had to send volunteers downstairs to force folks to stop talking and stuffing their faces and come up.

Three presenters!

1) Impact of Homophobia and Transphobia on LGBTQ individuals in Singapore
Bryan Choong, Oogachaga, Singapore
Oogachaga’s one of only two registered LGBTQ groups in Singapore. (The other one’s a church.) It got its status ‘cos it focuses on counseling, bridging the community and the social service sector.

 Part of their work is training counselors on LGBTQ issues, just so they have some passing familiarity with our lives. Problem is, all the stats on homophobia and transphobia were based on surveys in the West - Singaporean counselors weren’t prepared to believe our own multi-cultural, mind-your-own-business city-state was so hateful.

So, in March 2012, Oogachaga conducted an online survey. Results were released in May, on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), and distributed to ministries, even to schools, where LGBT awareness training isn’t allowed.

Bryan: We were trying all we could to go through the back door.

Heehee. The complete results are available HERE.

 But some basic findings: out of 448 respondents, 60.2% reported some SOGI-based abuse and discrimination. Mostly this was in the form of name-calling and homophobic jokes; a lot of this happened in schools. Here were the top 7 behavioral issues reported:

excessive use of the Internet
social isolation
compulsive shopping
avoidance of sex (quite unexpected!)
excessive sexual activity
eating disorders
unprotected sexual activity

Also personal stories: suicidal thoughts that lasted over a year, dropping out of school because schoolmates viewed the respondent’s lesbianism as a “disease”, stopping halfway through MTF transitioning because of social pressures.

One piece of good news: the Straits Times reported on this survey, even though they usually only ever talk about LGBTs in the context of rapes, drug busts and prosecutions for public sex.

Ooh, and news from the audience: Hong Kong’s doing a similar survey. Stay tuned.

2) Legal Recognition and Social Acceptance of Homosexuality in Asia… and what’s next?
Jingshu Zhu, China/Netherlands 

I met Jingshu back at ILGA World, when she assisted Leiden Law School’s Kurt Waaldijk in a similar presentation. They’ve been trying to quantify the progress of gay rights and acceptance using two metrics:

a) Eight stages of legal rights: decriminalization, equal age of consent, non-discrimination in employment, non-discrimination in goods and services, same-sex cohabitation, registered partnership, adoption, same-sex marriage.

b) The DHN index: the percentage of people who say they’d Dislike a Homosexual Neighbor, based on reports from the World Values Survey. (E.g. DHN=90 means 90% of people wouldn’t be comfy with a gay neighbor.)

They can therefore chart gay legal rights vs. gay acceptance on a graph – and then play it over time. I've recorded a bit of the presentation on YouTube - here’s what happened in a few countries between 1990 and 2012!

You can see that countries follow irregular paths – in Australia, South Africa and Brazil, law reforms took place before social acceptance; in the Czech Republic, Portugal, Argentina and India, society changed before the laws did. There’s also been a clear social backlash against gay people in Colombia, Croatia, and Slovenia.

But what about Asia specifically? What can we guess? Maybe the following:

- Singapore’s DHN is 46. No other country with under 67% gay-neighbour-dislikers criminalises homosexuality! Decriminalisation should be coming soon.

- Thailand and Vietnam both have a DHN below 40. They look like they’re racing one another on the gay marriage legalization process, but elsewhere, that step’s usually happened only to nations with DHN < 10. Maybe they should be looking at non-discrimination legislation first?

- The Philippines is the “most most progressive country in Asia”, Jingshu says, with a DHN of 24. Could it surprise us all and legalise a bunch of wonderful stuff?

- Also, in response to a question from the floor, Jingshu suggests we should look out for Burma. South Africa reformed its laws after apartheid fell – now that Burma’s going through a political and social revolution, could sex laws open up as well?

Strategies and conjectures may be all well and good, but our presenter also reminds us that patience is a virtue.

Jingshu: How to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

3) LBT Discrimination in China
Gong Yu, Common Language, China

I honestly couldn’t pick up on a lot of this – Gong Yu had a magic touch that made any microphone she touched go dead within ten seconds. Very difficult to concentrate on her presentation with all the ensuing electromagnetic drama.

Anyhow, her group’s been surveying the country’s policies of discrimination against queer women. They’ve held focus group discussions in Beijing, Suzhou and Jinan, and they’re planning to submit the evidence to lawyers in July 2013 so they can sue for anti-discrimination legislation (Article 12 already protects workers against discrimination based on “nationality, race, sex or religious belief”). By August 2014 they’ll also have a report for advocates to understand the real situation of LBTs in China.

Oh, but there’s barely even an understanding of discrimination in China: the culture often practises a subtle form of discrimination; then there’s the internalized homophobia even among forum discussion groups, not to mention the extant classification of “ego-dystonic homosexuality” as a psychosexual disorder…

And what form does tolerance of homosexuality take?

Gong Yu: If you do not step out, speak out, you will not be targeted. 

The one piece of good news is that as of 1 July 2012, lesbians are no longer banned from donating blood. No, it’s just dirty dirty gay men who’re banned.

Damn, that was depressing. Gotta take Sahran’s advice.

Atleastwe’renotAfrica, atleastwe’renotAfrica, atleastwe’renotAfrica.

Now I just feel bad about Africa. Grrrrr.

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