SINGAPORE: Gender identity issues have become bitterly contested sources of division in some Western societies, and Singapore should not import these culture wars, said Minister for Education Lawrence Wong on Monday (Feb 1).
Mr Wong was responding to a parliamentary question from Sengkang MP He Tingru of the Workers' Party about the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) policies and guidelines on students with gender dysphoria; how often the policies and approaches are reviewed; and the level of autonomy schools have over setting these policies and approaches.
This comes after an 18-year-old student said in a Reddit post on Jan 14 that the Education Ministry had intervened with her treatment, preventing her from obtaining a doctor's referral letter to begin hormone therapy.
MOE denied these claims two days later, saying that it was "not true" that it interfered with the student’s hormonal treatment.
On Jan 26, three individuals, aged between 19 and 32, were arrested after a protest against transphobia was held outside the MOE building. Police said the three were arrested for allegedly taking part in a public assembly without a permit.
“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,” said Mr Wong in Parliament.
“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.”
Mr Wong also reiterated MOE’s previous statement that all medical treatment decisions, including the use of hormone replacement therapy, ultimately rest with medical professionals, the person with gender dysphoria and their family.
Where anyone below 21 is concerned, parental consent is also required before any hormonal treatment can commence, he added.
“Such medical decisions are beyond the purview of MOE or any educational institution.”
The Education Ministry’s focus is “on the school environment and the students involved”, said Mr Wong.
“Schools are a common space for all students regardless of their backgrounds and circumstances. We have a duty of care to every student.”
READ: Final decisions on use of hormonal therapy 'rest with clinicians and their patients': MOE, IMH
For students with gender dysphoria, MOE’s “main focus” is providing them with a “conducive learning environment” and to support their overall well-being, he added.
“Recognising that the issues are complex, and that there are diverse opinions among students and their parents, we strive to deal with these situations sensitively and with compassion.”
School rules are a “particularly difficult” issue, said Mr Wong.
"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," he said.
"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."
Mr Wong added that since each student’s situation is unique, these matters must be dealt with individually.
He said: “Our guiding principles are to treat these students with dignity and respect, and to provide as much support as we can to help them.”
In her question, Ms He also suggested that MOE consider presenting a public report on these matters to Parliament on a regular basis.
In response, Mr Wong said that family members, especially parents of such students, are “very uncomfortable” with their situation being aired publicly.
“We ought to respect their requests for privacy, and avoid putting out information that will compromise any student or family confidentiality," he said.
"Let us give the students and their families time and space to resolve matters among themselves, in consultation with their doctors and counsellors.”