SINGAPORE — It was the student organising committee behind a TED Talk event at Singapore Polytechnic (SP) that first flagged the “inappropriate” content in guest speaker Joshua Simon’s speech, which led to the Kiss92 FM DJ pulling out entirely from the event.
The 29-year-old had been invited to speak at the TEDxYouth@SP event on Saturday (29 June) but was asked the night before if he would amend his script to remove “mentions of his sexuality”, said an SP spokesperson on Wednesday.
Instead of doing so, Simon chose to pull out of the event entirely.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, he claimed he had been removed from the list of speakers after his speech was found to contain lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) themes.
“They urged me to edit my script and leave out any content in relation to it. I said no,” he wrote.
Simon added, “I chose not to censor my script. Doing so would also set a hurtful precedence to the next gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer person offered a chance to speak.”
In an e-mail interview with Yahoo News Singapore, Simon said that he had first received a call from a female student saying that SP had wanted him to remove the “coming out story” from his script. When he declined to do so, the student allegedly tried speaking to her teachers and later informed Simon that he had been taken off the speakers’ list.
“A couple of hours later, another student asked if I was willing to change the topic or talk around the subject as a TED Talk is still a great opportunity,” he said, adding he again refused to change his script.
The SP spokesperson said all speakers for the student-led event were required to submit their scripts beforehand to “ensure that their content is aligned to the theme and appropriate for the audience”.
The student organising committee had received Simon’s speech on the eve of the event, the spokesperson added.
“They found it inspirational but assessed that certain parts relating to his sexuality might be inappropriate, for the target audience. They sought the advice of the staff of SP who agreed with the students’ views,” said the spokesperson.
The committee then suggested that Simon consider reviewing the mentions of his sexuality in script, taking into consideration the audience profile, while also “preserving the integrity of his story”.
However, Simon chose to pull out entirely from the event instead. The students were disappointed by this but respected Simon’s decision, the spokesperson added.
While SP offered to meet Simon to express “our regret over his decision”, he said he was not ready to meet.
“The students were really sad. We’d worked on this talk together for a while and my story was one that they connected deeply with,” said Simon.
“They had a lot of confidence in my talk which is why they had put me as the first speaker. I hadn’t and still haven’t spoken to anyone directly from the school,” he added.
In his Facebook post, Simon said that SP had reached out to him to issue an apology as they “had to abide by the rules of the Ministry of Education (MOE)”.
Responding to queries on its policies regarding guest speakers at schools, an MOE spokesperson said on Wednesday that institutes of high learning (IHLs) can decide on events conducted on campus. MOE was also not involved in the event organisers’ decisions on the selection of speakers.
“Having said that, we have guidelines for IHLs. We encourage open discussions on various topics, but some issues, especially those that concern race and religion, are sensitive and potentially socially divisive,” said the spokesperson.
“Organisers need to be cognisant of them and exercise appropriate judgement,” the spokesperson added.
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