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Lawrence Wong is a politician and a member of the People's Action Party. He was appointed the Minister for National Development after the 2015 General Elections. On 22 August 2016, he was concurrently appointed the Second Minister for Finance. He has previously held appointments in the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. He has been a Member of Parliament (MP) since 2011 representing West Coast Group Representation Constituency (2011-2015) and Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (since 2015).

Wong has publicly commented on LGBT issues on three main occasions.

Comments during TV interview, September 2012[]

In mid-September 2012, during a televised interview on Channel News Asia with then Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong, filmmaker Boo Junfeng called up to ask him about the Singapore's marginalised LGBT community[1]:


Transcript:

Interviewer: Well, in November, you're going to be heading up a new ministry - Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth - and one part of the, I mean one big part is the arts as well. That something you're going to be looking after. We have a caller and now waiting - he's from the arts community. Can you hear us?

Boo: Hi, yes I can hear you.

Wong: Hello!

Interviewer: You have a question for the Minister?

Boo: Hi, yes, my name is Junfeng. I'm a filmmaker... Well, there's a second question that I wanted to ask which sort of also talks about a marginalised community in Singapore which is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Singaporeans. I mean, from the earlier caller, I was listening in talking about single parenthood, I kind of disagree in that some of these issues need necessarily be consensus-based, especially when some of these communities are a minority. And when a minority group is concerned, how would the Government be protecting them?...and I'm talking about the LGBT community in Singapore.

Wong: No, I understand where you are coming from. We should respect the consensus of society but I think it's also important that we respect every individual and treat each individual with dignity. And regardless of one's beliefs, regardless of what one, how one, what the behaviours or the preferences of a particular community or individual, all of us should treat each other with dignity and respect. And so I think there is something about consensus that's important to understand but it's also another, it's also important to have that sense of understanding and acceptance of individuals for who they are.

Boo: Well, but the reality is that LGBT people, while there is a growing acceptance in Singapore and growing support through events like Pink Dot, for example, the reality is there is also still is a lot of discrimination and prejudice. So should it not be the role of the government to help educate and alter misconceptions about some of these minority groups because, I mean, the truth is, you know, that thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living in Singapore, and many of them are hardworking, talented individuals who contribute to society, who have their families, who love their families. So how does, I mean, should it not be the role of the Government as well to be educating the public about some of these things.

Wong: Well, I mean there is a role for all parts of society to play, I think. What exactly, what more can the Government do, or what exactly should the Government do, I think let's, we can discuss that in terms of whether it's public education or awareness. But in the end, as I said, it's more important that we also look beyond what the Government can do and look at society more broadly between people to people - how we help to raise understanding, raise awareness - and at the end of the day, I think it's important that we accept individuals for who they are. And it's important that we give support to people, you know, regardless of what their preferences may be.

So I think there is, certainly we can talk about a role , what role Government can play, but let's also think more broadly beyond the role of the Government to, how we as individuals behave, how we as individuals can reach out to others in a way that treats one another with dignity and respect.

Boo: Thank you. I look forward to this inclusive society that we're always talking about.

Wong: Thank you.

Parliamentary reply to question on gender dysphoria, February 2021[]

See also: Transgender schoolgirl Ashlee saga

Opposition MP He Ting Ru.

On Monday, 1 February 2021, He Ting Ru, Member of Parliament for Sengkang GRC tabled the following questions in Parliament for then Minister for Education, Lawrence Wong[2]:

  • what are the Ministry’s policies and guidelines on students with gender dysphoria
  • how often are such policies and approaches reviewed at the school and Ministry levels
  • what level of autonomy do schools have over the setting of such policies and approaches
  • whether the Ministry will consider presenting a public report on these matters to Parliament on a regular basis
Education_Minister_Lawrence_Wong_on_students_with_gender_dysphoria

Education Minister Lawrence Wong on students with gender dysphoria


In response, Wong said[3]:

"Gender dysphoria is a clinically diagnosed condition. Medical professionals recognise that each person with gender dysphoria is different. Thus, the treatments too are individualised.

All medical treatment decisions, including the use of hormone replacement therapy, ultimately rest with medical professionals, the persons with gender dysphoria and their family. Where minors are concerned (meaning anyone below the age of 21), parental consent is required before any hormonal treatment can commence. Such medical decisions are beyond the purview of MOE or any educational institution.

MOE’s focus is on the school environment and the students involved. Schools are a common space for all students regardless of their backgrounds and circumstances. We have a duty of care to every student. For students with gender dysphoria, our main focus is continuing to provide them with a conducive learning environment and to support their overall well-being. Recognising that the issues are complex, and that there are diverse opinions amongst students and their parents, we strive to deal with these situations sensitively and with compassion.

One particularly difficult issue is with school rules. They are in place to help students cultivate self-discipline and a sense of responsibility. But we recognise that students diagnosed with gender dysphoria and undergoing hormone therapy could face difficulties with certain school rules. Where there are valid medical grounds, schools can exercise flexibility and work out practical arrangements for these students.

The schools will consult and work closely with different stakeholders, including the relevant medical professionals, the students concerned and their parents, in putting in place these arrangements. As each student’s situation is unique, the matter must be dealt with individually. Our guiding principles are to treat these students with dignity and respect, and to provide as much support as we can to help them.

I recognise how strongly some people feel about this issue. We welcome continued dialogue and feedback, and will strive to provide a supportive environment in schools to support our students holistically. Issues of gender identity have become bitterly contested sources of division in the culture wars in some Western societies. We should not import these culture wars into Singapore, or allow issues of gender identity to divide our society.

Ms He suggested a report to Parliament on a regular basis. Our experience dealing with such cases is that the family members themselves, especially the parents, are very uncomfortable with a public airing of their situation. We ought to respect their requests for privacy, and avoid putting out information that will compromise any student or family confidentiality. Let us give the students and their families time and space to resolve matters among themselves, in consultation with their doctors and counsellors."

Forum on identity politics, November 2021[]

During a forum on identity politics organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on Tuesday, 23 November 2021, then Finance Minister Lawrence Wong discussed the different segments of Singapore’s population, whose identities may be linked to characteristics such as their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation[4],[5],[6],[7],[8]. Wong pointed out that LGBTQ people felt that society did not accept them or even recognise them as different. He cautioned: "These are important concerns. One cannot say to any of these groups that their concerns are illegitimate or exaggerated. If we are to live up to the founding ethos of Singapore, every Singaporean deserves a place in our society, regardless of his or her background, status or racial or cultural identity. That is what a fair and just society must mean. And we cannot - in the name of avoiding the dangers of identity politics - deny the rights of a variety of groups to organise themselves, so as to gain recognition for their concerns, or seek to improve their conditions." For its part, the Government would not let any group feel unheard, excluded or ostracised[9],[10].


Wong last spoke on the topic of race in June 2021 at another IPS-RSIS conference, following a spate of racist incidents at the time. He noted how other aspects of identity had surfaced since then, surrounding gender, sex or other causes that people felt strongly about. “This is not surprising: The natural instinct of humans is to look out for those who are most like us. Around the world, we see the rise of what we might call a ‘new tribalism’ in politics, or ‘identity politics’ as it is commonly described,” he said. In mono-ethnic societies like Poland, which was ethnically homogeneous with Poles comprising more than 95% of the population, there had been witnesseed an intensifying stand-off in recent years between supporters of LGBT rights and conservatives who opposed them. Some parts of the country had declared themselves "LGBT-free zones" amid strong resistance from liberals. He suggested that the rise of tribalism was linked closely to the rise of individualism as the “reigning ethos”, which came at the expense of community and weakened connections between people. This had caused them to fall back on such primeval defences that ran deep in human societies when they felt lonely and alienated. “Tribalism is inherently exclusionary, and it’s based on mutual hate: ‘us’ versus ‘them’, ‘friend’ versus ‘foe’. Once this sort of tribal identity takes root, it becomes difficult to achieve any compromise,” opined Wong. “Because when we anchor our politics on identity, any compromise seems like dishonour.”

Five approaches to identity politics in Singapore[]

Instead of ignoring identities and tribes, Singapore had to recognise that the pull of identity politics arose from real differences in lived realities as a starting point. He suggested five possible approaches to address the competing demands of diverse identity groups while maintaining a cohesive and harmonious society[11].

Strengthen relationships among people[]

Firstly, he advocated for Singaporeans to strengthen their spirit of reciprocity and kinship at the daily level, which would ultimately increase the mutual trust between people. “We must be good friends, good neighbours, good Samaritans,” he urged. Human relationships must be strengthened through day-to-day interactions, he suggested. In doing so, people build up the trust they have in one another, which helped keep societies together. While the Government could not compel people to build relationships, it could work to gird social norms — in caring for others, kindness and graciousness — that brought people together.

Avoid stereotyping groups[]

Secondly, he said people should avoid assuming that each community was monolithic or homogenous. Referring to his previous speech on race, he said the phrase “Chinese privilege” was a form of stereotype — a female Chinese from a poor background would have a vastly different lived experience compared to a male Chinese from a wealthy family, for example. “Minorities especially are subject to such prejudices; and all of us must be more conscious of the stereotypes we might harbour. We must avoid reducing our understanding of each other to a single dimension,” he explained. He added: “We may be Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, or any other race. But we are first and foremost Singaporeans. Likewise, regardless of our gender or sexual orientations, regardless of the cause we champion, we are all Singaporeans, first and foremost.

Draw on "the better angels of our nature"[]

Thirdly, while humans were tribalists, Singaporeans were also traders by nature, noting Singapore’s entrepot history. Traders were characterised by the desire to explore the unknown, meet new people to trade and live with, grounded on norms of reciprocity, trust and mutual benefit. “This same instinct is crucial in setting the tone of our society,” he emphasised. "We must continue in this vein — continue to engage with one another, cooperate and work towards mutual benefit. We must do so not only with those outside Singapore, but also between different segments of Singaporeans as well.” That meant listening, understanding, compromising and negotiating for win-win outcomes, knowing that the community will be stronger by cooperation, he said.

Give hope and chance at a good life to all[]

Fourthly, Wong added that the Government must continue to give Singaporeans reason to “hope and a fair chance to have a good life”, noting the rising inequalities elsewhere in the world that had led to economic woes and, consequently, extreme politics. “We must never allow this to happen in Singapore. So we will continue to work hard to promote inclusive growth, and to ensure that all Singaporeans can succeed in their pursuits,” he explained. Through this, Singapore would be able to break out of having a zero-sum mindset, in which the success of one group came at the expense of another.

Government must remain a fair, honest broker[]

Lastly, undergirding this was the Government’s duty to be fair and honest, even with the difficulties in establishing consensus on controversial issues. “In such cases, the Government will do our utmost to recognise the challenges and needs of different groups, decide on the appropriate policy, and convince the rest of society that this is a fair way to move forward,” he resolved, referring to policies such as the HDB Ethnic Integration Policy and the Special Assistance Plan for schools. He said the authorities would never waver from its commitment to working with people to broaden common space and to build a society where every Singaporean could express their views and be empowered to effectuate positive change. “We may not always arrive at a perfect solution, but we will never let any group feel unheard, ignored or excluded. We will never let any group feel boxed in or ostracised. All must feel they are part of the Singapore conversation, all must feel they are part of the Singapore family, all must feel there is hope.”

Panel discussion[]

Main article: 2021 IPS-RSIS identity politics forum discussion: LGBT rights

IdentityPoliticsForumPanel.jpg

Wong's speech was followed-up by a dialogue moderated by former ambassador Ong Keng Yong and a subsequent panel discussion moderated by Mathew Matthews, the Institute of Policy Studies’ principal research fellow and head of its social lab[12]. It comprised three speakers (Prof. Joseph Liow, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University, Prof. Vineeta Sinha, from the Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore, and Prof. David Chan, professor of psychology and director of the behavioural sciences initiative at the Singapore Management University) and three 'respondents' (Corinna Lim, executive director at the Association of Women for Action and Research, Sharvesh Leatchmanan, co-founder of Minority Voices, a platform for minorities who have faced discrimination to share their experiences, and Ng Yi-Sheng, a writer and LGBTQ activist).

During the discussion, one 'respondent' argued that those who were marginalised may take to social media as ‘formal’ platforms were not always available to them. Another speaker countered that such anger may simply cause the opposing group to be riled up. Other issues raised included the divergence of views between the LGBTQ community and conservative religious groups. Acknowledging these sentiments, Wong said people had very strong views on sexual orientation and gender identity, and this was the case all over the world. "But I would say to LGBTQ groups that the attitudes are not static, they are shifting," he added, noting that the Government frequently engaged people, including those from LGBTQ and religious groups, about the issue. "It's very clear (that) sentiment and attitudes are shifting especially among young people, but also shifting for the whole of society." This showed that conversations were not futile, he said, clarifying: "It's not as though things will be static forever. "As these attitudes and sentiments shift, society will have to think about where the balance might be. And the Government, too, will have to consider what balance would be appropriate for society and what policies we might have to adjust."

See also[]

References[]

Acknowledgements[]

This article was written by Roy Tan.

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