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SINGAPORE, Jan 27 — Three people, aged 19 to 32, were arrested after they staged a protest outside the headquarters of the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE), the police said.
Yesterday afternoon, images circulating on social media showed five young people outside the building along Buona Vista Drive holding up placards, a rainbow-coloured pride flag and a transgender flag with pale-pink and blue stripes.
Some of the placards read “#Fix schools not students” and “Why are we not in your sex ed”.
Recently, an 18-year-old junior college student alleged that the ministry had prevented her from obtaining a doctor’s referral letter to begin hormone replacement therapy.
It sparked a debate on what students who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) are facing discrimination in schools.
The police said in a statement yesterday that the group outside MOE’s headquarters had allegedly gathered at around 5pm even though they did not have a permit to carry out the public assembly.
When the police arrived, only three of the protesters were there. Freelance journalist and activist Kirsten Han, who posted the images on her Twitter account yesterday, said that two of the five protesters left after security officers showed up to ask them to leave.
The remaining trio had ignored the police’s warnings to stop their activities and the police then issued them with a direction to stop their protest and warned that they would be arrested if they failed to do so.”
The three refused to comply despite the police’s repeated warnings and were arrested under the Public Order Act at around 5.35pm,” the statement read.
Five placards, two multi-coloured flags and a blue bag were seized, the police said.The trio have since been released on bail at around 10pm and police investigations are ongoing.
Protest against discrimination
In a statement issued by the group who is alleged to have assembled illegally, it said that they were a group of students and supporters staging a peaceful demonstration to call on Singapore Education Minister Lawrence Wong to end discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in schools.
The plus-sign in LGBTQ+ signifies a desire to be inclusive to all representations of sexual orientations and gender identities.
Two protesters named in statement are student activist Lune Loh and Elijah Tay, founder of LGBTQ group My Queer Story SG.
It is not known if they were among the three who were arrested.
Some of the protesters were pictured wearing masks with a smiley face, a symbol popularised by civil rights activist Jolovan Wham.
He was charged in November last year with staging a one-man protest without permit after he held up a piece of cardboard with a smiley face drawn on it.
Singaporean writer Ng Yi-Sheng, who was one of the five who had initially been part of yesterday’s protest, recounted how “plain-clothed” personnel approached them less than a minute after they held up the placards at MOE.”
He came out to say to Kirsten that she shouldn’t be taking photos. Then later, after maybe two to three minutes, a security staff in uniform told us to disperse,” the playwright and LGBTQ activist told TODAY.”
Before that, I had agreed (with the others) that I would not put myself on the line to be arrested due to my loved one’s concern. I and another person decided to leave at that point.”
Ng, who claimed that he was invited to be part of the protest at the very last minute, said that he accepted the invitation because it “was a way of showing the people and the Singapore government the importance of the equal and fair treatment of people of all gender expressions and identities in schools”.
student in the recent case, who wanted to be known only as Ashlee, previously told TODAY that she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2019.
The condition refers to the psychological discomfort or distress experienced by an individual who believes that there is a mismatch between his or her sex and gender identity.
Ashlee, who is undergoing therapy because she identifies as female, also alleged that her school threatened to expel her if physiological changes from the hormone replacement therapy meant that she would not be able to fit into a boy’s uniform.
MOE has refuted the claims and denied interfering with the student’s decision to go on therapy.
In a joint statement with the Institute of Mental Health last Thursday, it added that final medical treatment decisions involving the use of hormonal therapy rest with clinicians and their patients.
Minors planning to undergo such treatment will also require the written consent from parents, they said.
“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,” they added.
The police yesterday sought to remind the public that organising or taking part in a public assembly without a police permit is illegal.
The sole exception is Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park, where Singaporeans may gather to demonstrate without a police permit.
Applications to hold such events at the park are now suspended due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Organisers of demonstrations without permit can be fined up to S$5,000 (RM15,257.97) while participants can be fined up to S$3,000. — TODAY