SINGAPORE — Singapore should not import the culture wars of Western countries or allow issues of gender identity to divide its society, said Minister for Education Lawrence Wong in Parliament on Monday (1 February).
“Issues of gender identity have become bitterly contested sources of division in the culture wars in some Western countries and societies,” he said while responding to queries from Sengkang GRC Member of Parliament He Ting Ru.
The Workers’ Party MP had asked about the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) policies regarding students with gender dysphoria, the level of autonomy schools have in setting policies and approaches for such students, and whether the ministry would consider presenting a public report on such matters to Parliament on a regular basis. Gender dysphoria refers to the psychological distress felt by individuals whose gender identities do not align with the sex they are assigned at birth.
Wong said in reply that that MOE’s focus is on the school environment and the students involved as other areas, such as medical treatment decisions and the consent to undertake them, lie outside of the ministry’s purview.
“We have a duty of care to every student. For students with gender dysphoria, our main focus is continuing to provide them with a conducive learning environment and to support their overall wellbeing.
“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,” he added.
Wong also noted that his ministry recognises that students who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria and are undergoing hormone therapy could face difficulties with certain school rules.
“Where there are valid medical grounds schools can exercise flexibility and work out, practical arrangements for the students,” he said, adding that schools will work with the different stakeholders involved, including parents and medical professionals, to put in place such arrangements.
“As each student's situation is unique, the matter must be dealt with individually. Our guiding principles are to treat these students with dignity and respect and to provide as much support as we can to help them,” said Wong.
Regarding He’s suggestion for a regular report, Wong said that the ministry’s experience in handling students with gender dysphoria found that the family members involved, “especially the parents, are “very uncomfortable with a public airing of their situation”.
“We ought to respect their requests for privacy and avoid putting out information that will compromise any student or family confidentiality,” he said.
The issue of gender dysphoria has been in the spotlight since a transgender student attending the Millennia Institute accused the school in January of barring her from attending classes on several occasions for not complying with the school’s dress code.
“Ashlee”, who prefers to be identified by she/her pronouns, claimed in a statement issued by a group of LGBTQ organisations that Millennia Institute told her she could attend classes if she cuts her hair and wears the uniform for male students. The statement also alleged that she had been facing difficulties in seeking hormone replacement therapy as a result of MOE’s interference.
MOE released a statement on 16 January, denying that it had interfered with Ashlee’s medical treatment. It later issued a separate joint statement with the Institute of Mental Health that “the school is committed to providing the education support the student needs to graduate, including via home-based learning”.
Separately, three people were arrested last Tuesday after staging a short protest outside the MOE headquarters in Buona Vista. The trio said in a statement that they were calling for Wong to end what they perceived as discrimination against LGBTQ+ students at MOE schools.
They also called on Wong to “uphold the fundamental right of all students to an education within a safe and supportive school life”.
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