Criticism against the Ministry of Education (MOE) has continued to mount over the past week after a transgender student claimed that the ministry blocked her from receiving hormone therapy. A new joint statement the MOE issued alongside the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) this week did little to minimise the backlash.
The issue came to light when a junior college student took to the SGExams subreddit page on Thursday (Jan 14) to draw attention to her plight in the education system after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria at the IMH. She said:
“Since getting a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria from the IMH, my schooling life in the MOE system has gone from great to utter trash, pretty much forcing me to transfer from my current school to a polytechnic course which is not really ideal and not exactly in line with what ambitions I had in mind.”
The student, who later identified herself as “Ashlee” said that she informed MOE of her diagnosis through her JC and was initially told that the ministry would like to work with the student. She claimed that she was set to undergo hormone therapy but was blocked from doing so after the MOE intervened.
She said: “This meant that my doctor had to call off the referral, causing me further mental trauma as this affected my ability to pass and present as a female.”
On top of this, the student said that she had to cut her hair to fit the boys’ hairstyle in the school handbook and was specifically told to wear the male uniform that same month.
The MOE denied the student’s allegation in a Facebook post on Saturday (Jan 16). It said: “MOE is aware of the Reddit post which claimed that MOE had interfered with a student’s hormonal treatment. This is not true.”
It said: “We invite the student to approach the school to clarify and discuss how the school can support his schooling better.”
It added: “MOE and schools work closely with and respect the professional advice given by MOH’s healthcare professionals. We are not in a position to interfere with any medical treatment, which is a matter for the family to decide on.
“All schools have a duty of care to students and will work closely with parents and medical professionals. We encourage students who experience unkind behaviour from peers to approach the teachers or school leaders as they are committed to keep students safe.”
The student updated her reddit post and hit back: “MOE has posted a complete denial of this issue on Facebook. That is an outright lie, contradicts what I was told by my doctor, and I am sure my classmates can vouch for me.
“In addition, they do not respect my pronouns and instead intentionally misgendered me (against the advice and recommendations).”
The ministry’s initial response was censured by many individuals and groups like Pink Dot SG. Criticising it for misgendering the student, Pink Dot SG said on Facebook:
“We urge MOE and others involved in this matter to accord the student the basic respect by using the right pronouns. Such errors are symptomatic of the lack of understanding and empathy towards transgender issues by educators and education professionals.”
The LGBT advocacy group, which organises Singapore’s biggest pride gathering every year, also put forth three questions to the MOE. It asked: “How will MOE ensure that schools are properly equipped to provide a safe, affirming environment for transgender students for genuine dialogue to occur?
“What is MOE’s policy regarding the care, protection and support of transgender students while they continue their education? Who are the relevant healthcare professionals or organisations that MOE collaborates with to ensure transgender students receive the appropriate support whilst in school?”
Pointing out that schools are often not a safe and affirming space for LGBT students, which may leave them at a heightened risk of mental problems, depression and anxiety, Pink Dot called on the ministry and Education Minister Lawrence Wong to commit to keep all students, including students diagnosed with gender dysphoria, safe by:
“Affirming the existence of transgender students and working with students and parents to ensure that their education is not disrupted while they undergo medical treatment;
“Holding discussions with LGBTQ NGOs to understand the issues that LGBTQ students face in school; and
“Formulating inclusive policies that care for, protect and support LGBTQ students, publish these policies on MOE’s website and familiarise parents, students, teachers and school counsellors on these policies.”
The most liked comments on MOE’s post also criticised it for misgendering the student. In a comment that drew more than 400 likes, journalist and activist Kirsten Han wrote:
Teo Yu Sheng, the founder of Singapore-based queer accessories brand Heckin’ Unicorn, said in another popular comment:
MOE responded to the criticism by issuing a second statement on Thursday (21 Jan), this time in conjunction with the IMH.
While IMH clinicians typically seek input from a wide range of stakeholders when it comes to treating individuals who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the ministry said that the final medical treatment decisions rest with clinicians and their patients as well as their parents if the patients are minors.
Promising to support Ashlee, MOE said: “Within the school setting, the schools work closely with IMH and the parents to support these students, and to maintain a conducive learning environment.
“In this case, the school is committed to providing the education support the student needs to graduate, including via home-based learning. The school will continue to work with the parents and IMH medical professionals to support the student’s education journey and well-being.”
It added: “We urge all parties to respect the privacy of the family, so that the parents can have the space to decide what is in their child’s best interest.”
While some understood MOE’s point of view, the majority of those responding to the statement slammed the statement for not adequately addressing the criticisms against it.
Some said that the ministry is trying to shield itself by asking people to respect the privacy of Ashlee’s family while others asked why it made a reference to home-based learning when Ashlee had said earlier that she found acceptance among her peers in junior college. Read the top comments here:
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