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Writer, ‘ally’ to Singapore’s trans youth, on why he protested the MOE

Coconuts logo Coconuts 27/1/2021 Carolyn Teo
‘Ashlee's case was infuriating,’ says Ng Yi-Sheng, who joined those rallying to #fixschoolsnotstudents. ‘Ashlee's case was infuriating,’ says Ng Yi-Sheng, who joined those rallying to #fixschoolsnotstudents.

While one group of Singaporeans went to court to fight for a gay sex law to be removed, another went to the Education Ministry to protest discrimination against transgender students.

Writer Ng Yi-Sheng, 40, was the oldest of five people there yesterday holding signs with messages supporting trans students. He and another attendee left as soon as passers-by gathered, including some he thought might be plainclothes police officers. The three who remained, aged 19 to 32, were taken into custody and later released on bail. 

Ng said the police have asked him to report at 3pm today for questioning.

“As soon as [ministry] Security came (which was maybe 2 minutes after we began standing at 5pm), I decided to leave. I had previously stated that I was willing to be part of the protest but would avoid engagement with the police,” the writer told Coconuts via message, hours after the incident.

Ng was photographed holding a sign that read: “Trans students deserve access to healthcare and support.” He, like the others, was motivated to attend by one student’s account of disregard by ministry officials. 

He was invited to the protest by other participants and said he wanted to show his support “mostly as an ally” and so young trans people “know that cisgender people also care about them.” 

“This protest is focused on the treatment of young transgender students in the school system and it’s something I care deeply about. I – and many other friends, of all genders and orientations – were also bullied in school because we did not conform to standards of ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity,’” he said.

In a statement late last night, the police confirmed that three people were arrested for allegedly taking part in a public assembly without a permit. They continued to protest even after receiving repeated warnings from the police to stop, police said. Five placards, two multi-colored flags and a bag were seized.  

The protest took place on the back of accusations earlier this month the Education Ministry blocked the doctor-recommended hormone treatment of a trans student, who also alleged she had been threatened with expulsion for not conforming to a male identity. 

After the student, identified only as Ashlee, rebuked the ministry in an online rant, officials issued denials in patronizing statements in which they suggested she might be better off learning at home. Facing a groundswell of criticism, it hasn’t addressed the issue since last week.

Protestors yesterday shared a statement calling for Education Minister Lawrence Wong to “end discrimination against LGBTQ+ students by MOE schools” and highlighted some examples of the mistreatment of queer students by schools, such as controlling how they dress and wear their hair.

Regarding Ashlee, the student at the center of the recent controversy, Ng said her experience shows there is still work to be done on how schools treat students.

“Ashlee’s case was infuriating. When a student with the support of doctors and her parents for her transition can’t get [Ministry of Education] and school support… that clearly shows there is STILL something wrong with the way students are being treated based on their trans identity or gender expression,” he wrote.

This article, Writer, ‘ally’ to Singapore’s trans youth, on why he protested the MOE, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.

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