Home News Culture wars?: Cherian George asks after Lawrence Wong comments on transgender issue

Culture wars?: Cherian George asks after Lawrence Wong comments on transgender issue

He says “the calls to address unfair discrimination aren't necessarily calls to arms"

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Singapore — Hong Kong-based Professor Cherian George has posted a response on Facebook to Education Minister Lawrence Wong’s comments in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 2) on the issue of gender dysphoria.

The topic has been in the news of late, with the Ministry of Education (MOE) coming under criticism after a transgender student named Ashlee claimed on Jan 14 that it had blocked her from receiving hormone therapy.

The MOE denied her claims.

Later that month, on Jan 26, three young people protesting in support of LGBTQ+ students were arrested by police outside the MOE building in Buona Vista.

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In Parliament on Tuesday, Workers’ Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) had asked Mr Wong what MOE’s policies and guidelines are on students with gender dysphoria, such as Ashlee. She also asked about the support transgender teens receive at school and the kind of training school staff receive with such cases.

And while Mr Wong acknowledged “how strongly some people feel about this issue”, he warned against importing “culture wars” from the West.

“Issues of gender identity have become bitterly contested sources of division in the culture wars in some Western countries and societies. We should not import these culture wars into Singapore, or allow issues of gender identity to divide our society,” he said, adding that the MOE would continue to deal with gender issues with sensitivity and compassion.

In response, Prof George said that “the calls to address unfair discrimination aren’t necessarily calls to arms”.

He agreed with what the minister said concerning how individuals who have gender dysphoria should be treated, as well as with not importing culture wars.

But the academic added some “principles to think about”.

Firstly, Prof George, wrote: “Since it takes more than one side to perpetuate a war, any effective ‘peace treaty’ would require all potential combatants to stand down. A call for ‘disarmament’ should apply to all, not selectively to certain groups based on political expediency.”

Secondly, he pointed out that “the ultimate weapon of mass destruction” in this war “is any ideology that promotes us/them tribalism and denies other humans equal dignity”.

But what would ultimately counter this “is an inclusive mindset that embraces, not erases, difference”.

Calling the culture war from America “intractable”, Prof George noted that “some of the language of the US culture war has seeped into different sides of political debates in Singapore”.

He added that it would be “alarmist”, however, to think that Singapore is “in danger of heading towards the dysfunctional polarisation of American politics”.

The conditions and perspectives in Singapore, as well as its politics and governance, are  not headed in the same direction as the US or other places in the world that are as deeply polarised and where “national conciliation and cooperation” are “impossible”.

Prof George ended his post with this call: “As long as our political parties and governing institutions disavow exclusivist thinking and commit themselves to the national values of justice and equality, we’ll be more than capable of dealing with difference in ways that make Singapore a big-hearted home”. /TISG

Read also: Lawrence Wong: MOE will continue to deal with gender issues with sensitivity, compassion

Lawrence Wong: MOE will continue to deal with gender issues with sensitivity, compassion

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