SINGAPORE: Institutes of higher learning (IHL) in Singapore have the autonomy to manage their own campus activities, including inviting speakers or performers who may identify with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) causes.
At the same time, however, these schools need to “be respectful” of Singapore's social norms and laws and "exercise appropriate judgment and sensitivity" when dealing with potentially socially divisive issues.
Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah said this in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 5) in response to a supplementary question from Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira.
“When you have public spaces, you must ensure that your spaces are safe spaces for your audience. And your audience and the people attending those spaces will have many different views, will be of many different persuasions whether it’s race, religion or sexual orientation,” she added.
During his supplementary question, Associate Professor Theseira raised two examples in which LGBTQ performers or speakers decided to withdraw from scheduled appearances at SIM Global Education (SIM GE) and Singapore Polytechnic (SP) after being “asked to censor content”.
In September, musician Leon Markcus pulled out of a concert at SIM Global Education, claiming that the school asked him to "restrict" his performance and avoid "suggestive or provocative" attire and song content. He also said the school asked that his performance did not promote the LGBT community.
In response to his claims, SIM said in a statement to Yahoo then that as an "educational institute with very diverse stakeholder groups", it was important for it to "remain sensitive to the different interests of our stakeholders ".
In a Facebook post on Jun 30, local DJ Joshua Simon said he was removed from the speakers' list of a TEDxYouth@SingaporePolytechnic event after he refused to edit a script that contained LGBTQ themes.
In a statement then, SP said that Mr Simon “was advised that certain references to his sexuality might be sensitive, given the diverse profile of the audience”.
Citing the two incidents in his supplementary question, Assoc Prof Theseira noted that IHLs should make decisions on campus activities based on established policies, rather than “personal views”.
“It is not clear whether these decisions were motivated by these broader national policy concerns rather than any personal views,” he said.
Ms Indranee clarified that such decisions should not be made “on the basis of personal views”, because “different individuals may have very different personal views”.
Noting that there is “an element of discretion” for institutions to make these decisions, she said: “That element of discretion should not be decided based on your own personal belief, but from the viewpoint of this is common space, you want people coming into the common space to be comfortable, and to take the decision appropriately.
“It depends on your audience, some audiences may well be able to be much more accommodating, others may feel a little uncomfortable so the institutions will have to take that call.”