Dear Fellow Millennials,
When it comes to the history of our own community, I’m afraid to admit that the vast majority of us know nothing.
But there’s no need to get defensive. This isn’t a millennial shaming post. Because truth be told, our ignorance isn’t our fault. We weren’t taught the origins of the LGBT+ rights movement in school. And LGBT+ activists don’t really get much time in the media spotlight.
But it’s high time that we receive the history lesson that we never got. And getting to know the following 25 heroes of the LGBT community would be a great start.
In no particular order, here are the Batmen and Wonder Women of the LGBT+ community:
1. Reverend Yap Kim Hao: Singapore’s Most Outspoken Gay-Affirming Pastor
Despite drawing harsh criticism from other Christians, Reverend Doctor Yap Kim Hao has remained a staunch ally of the LGBT community for over a decade.
A social justice warrior, the good Reverend is currently serving as the Pastoral Advisor of the Free Community Church (FCC); Singapore’s only gay-affirming Christian Church. Over the years, this remarkable man has helped numerous LGBT individuals reconcile their faith with their sexuality.
But the thing that really impresses us is that Reverend Doctor Yap Kim Hao is straight. And yet, he’s willing to fight for our community despite knowing full well that the association will have serious repercussions on his reputation. For that, we salute him.
Update: Reverend Yap Kim Hao has passed away after suffering a heart failure on the morning of 16th November at the age of 88.
2. Alex Au: A Pioneer Of The Gay Rights Movement
One of the pioneers of the gay rights movement in Singapore, Alex Au has been championing LGBT rights long before it became cool.
Not only was Alex the co-founder of People Like Us (PLU), Singapore’s first equality lobby group. He also helped organise IndigNation in 2005, Singapore’s first gay pride event. An incredibly skilled writer, Alex regularly blogs about LGBT issues on his website, Yawning Bread.
In 2002, he was awarded with the Utopia Award for his contribution to the LGBT community.
3. Eileena Lee: Singapore’s Most Outspoken Lesbian Activist
Arguably Singapore’s most vocal lesbian activist, Eileena started RedQuEEn; Singapore’s oldest mailing list for queer women. What started out as a list of only a few women has since grown to a community of over a thousand women.
But that’s not all. Eileena also helped launch Pelangi Pride Centre in 2002, Singapore’s first LGBT community centre, together with Dinesh Naidu and Charmaine Tan.
4. Nicholas Lim: The Voice Of The LGBT Community
As the founder of the largest online LGBT community in Singapore GLBT Voices, Nic has one of the loudest voices in the community. Thankfully, he has been putting that loud voice to good use.
He used his large social media presence to organise a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando Massacre recently, a landmark event that hit the headlines both locally and internationally. He has also organised social gatherings for the members of GLBT Voices as a way for them to make new friends.
Not many people know this but Nic has also put up quite a couple of readers in the past when they were kicked out of their homes after being outed of the closet. You can read more about his life story here.
5. Benjamin Xue: The Man That LGBT Youths Turn To For Support
Before Nicholas Lim stepped in with GLBT Voices, Benjamin Xue was the man most troubled LGBT youths turned to for support.
At the age of 23, Benjamin founded Young Out Here (YOH) with a group of other queer youths. YOH runs a support group program catering to LGBT youths between the ages of 15 and 22 where they discuss topics such as coming out and bullying.
A low-key activist, Benjamin also used to be in the Pink Dot committee for one year.
6. Otto Fong: The Teacher Who Refused To Apologise For Coming Out
In 2007, when coming out was pretty much unfathomable in Singapore, a teacher at Raffles Institution risked his career to come out on his personal blog.
The aftermath that followed Otto’s blog post was dramatic to say the least. His coming out hit the front-page news and attracted a barrage of letters from anxious parents calling for his resignation. Throughout the entire ordeal, Otto refused to issue an apology and told the principal ‘You can fire me before I apologise, I did nothing wrong.’
Otto has since retired from teaching and is currently focusing on his dream of being a cartoonist. Read his coming out story here.
7. Paddy Chew: The First AIDs Patient To Publicly Come Out In Singapore
In 1998, Paddy Chew made history by becoming the first Singaporean to publicly come out as an AIDs patient when he acknowledged his condition at an AIDs conference.
A bisexual, Paddy helped put a face to a heavily stigmatised disease at a time when AIDs awareness was at an all-time low. He used his newfound fame to shine the spotlight on HIV and AIDs by staging a one-man play and donating all proceeds to the charity organisation AFA.
Paddy may have passed away on 21 August 1999. But his legacy lives on.
8. Jean Chong: The Founder Of A Platform To Empower Queer Women
Jean Chong was one of the 6 co-founders of Sayoni; a volunteer-run social organisation that aims to empower queer Asian women.
Since its inception, Sayoni has conducted a wide array of activities including workshops, forums, camps, talks and many other activities targetted at helping queer women. Apart from her involvement with Sayoni, Jean also played an active organisational role at the Free Community Church and IndigNation.
9. Bryan Choong: The Long-Time Director Of Singapore’s Only LGBT Counselling Centre
For 6 years, Bryan Choong led Oogachaga; Singapore’s only community based counselling centre for the LGBT community.
During his stint as its Executive Director, Bryan directed numerous outreach programs and counselled countless troubled souls. For his contribution to the LGBT Community, Bryan was one of only three Singaporean recipients of the 2014 Asia Pink Awards.
In 2015, Bryan stepped down from his position to join B-Change; a not-for-profit organisation for the LGBT community. However, he continues to serve Oogachaga by being its consultant.
You can read his life story here.
In 2012, long-time gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee very bravely filed a legal challenge against Section 377A; the law that criminalises sex between men.
Their constitutional challenge failed, but it sparked a much needed national conversation on Section 377A and what it stood for. The following year, Gary and Kenneth hired top lawyers to launch an appeal against Section 377A but unfortunately, their appeal was again unsuccessful.
11. Dr Khoo Hoon Eng: The Mother Of Gay Sons Who Started A Support Group For Parents Of LGBT Children
Not only did Dr Khoo Hoon Eng accept her two gay son’s homosexuality, she has also been relentlessly campaigning on their behalf for greater acceptance of the LGBT community.
Apart from sharing her heartwarming story at talks and conferences, Dr Khoo is also the co-founder of SAFE Singapore; a support group for parents and families of LGBT children. Highly eloquent, intelligent and insightful, you can check out our video interview with Dr Khoo above.
12. Leow Yangfa; The Man Who Collected Coming Out Stories
Long before Dear Straight People started publishing coming out stories, Leow Yangfa published a compilation of coming out stories in his book ‘I Will Survive’.
A social worker by training, Yangfa recently published the second edition earlier this year which comprises of 21 coming out stories. Yangfa is now the Executive Director of Oogachaga; Singapore’s only community based counselling centre for the LGBT community.
13. Iris Verghese: One Of The Pioneering Crusaders Against Aids In Singapore
Born in 1946, Mrs Iris Verghese has been an activist for AIDs/HIV in Singapore since the 1980s.
For over 3 decades, Iris has dedicated much of her time to tackling the AIDs/HIV issue. Not only has she counselled countless AIDs patents and their families, Iris has also been actively involved in raising funds for HIV prevention. In addition, she has shared her knowledge at various conferences and forums in an effort to tackle the stigma and misinformation surrounding AIDs/HIV in Singapore.
For her outstanding contributions to public health, Iris was awarded with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award‘ at the inaugural 2008 Red Ribbon Awards.
14. June Chua: Trans Woman Who Started Singapore’s Only Shelter For The Trans Community
June may be relatively new to the activist scene but she has already made waves in the LGBT community.
A transgender woman herself, June Chua co-founder The T Project in 2014; Singapore’s only shelter for homeless transgender individuals. Dedicated to empowering the trans community, June has also given numerous talks and interviews in an effort to raise awareness on the plight of the trans community in Singapore.
The T Project is currently organising a fundraising dinner to be held on 15th August. You can support their cause by getting tickets to their dinner here.
15. Prof Roy Chan: Co-Founder And President Of Singapore’s Leading NGO Against AIDs/HIV
In 1988, Prof Roy Chan co-founded Action for AIDS (AFA); an independent NGO advocating on behalf of persons living with HIV/AIDs.
Since its inception, Roy has served as the President of AFA, spearheading the fight against HIV/AIDs in Singapore. During its early years, AFA focused on prevention measures and providing support to those living with HIV/AIDs. But gradually, AFA launched outreach programs in an effort to educate the wider public about the heavily stigmatised disease.
A former President’s Scholar, Prof Roy Chan was awarded with the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Gold Award Medal for his contributions to public health in Asia.
Fun fact: Roy Chan used to be a national swimmer who competed in the Olympics!
16. Kelvin Wong: The Founder Of A Gay Sports Group AND A Gay Buddhist Group
Kelvin Wong didn’t just launch one gay community group, he founded two different ones!
Kelvin started ADLUS (Adventurers Like Us), a gay sports group as well as Heartland, a gay buddhist group in 1999. Both groups started out as mailing lists that aimed to connect gay people with common interests at a time when technology wasn’t so advanced yet.
Kelvin also made history by being one of the first few Asians to earn a feature in a 2001 Times article as an openly gay man. An active blogger who regularly writes about issues pertinent to the LGBT community, you can check out Kelvin’s blog here.
17. Roger Winder: The First Programme Director Of AFA Singapore
Roger Winder was the first Programme Director of AFA Singapore; a leading NGO in Singapore advocating against HIV/AIDs.
During his time at the helm of AFA, Roger has been instrumental in its advocacy efforts. One project which he helped launch and took part in was ‘Riding For Life‘, a 900km long fundraising charity bike ride that took 8 days!
Roger has since stepped down from his role and is currently working at a local University.
18. Olivia Chiong: The Woman Who Co-Founded Singapore’s only same-sex parenting support group
Together with her wife Irene, Olivia co-founded Rainbow Parents; the only same-sex parenting support group in Singapore.
A long-time activist, the idea for Rainbow Parents came about when both Olivia and her wife found that there was a dearth of resources available for same-sex parents. In order to fill that gap, Rainbow Parents was born in 2010 as a way for same-sex parents to connect and share information with one another.
In 2016, Olivia wrote a book titled ‘Baby Zoey: Our Search for Life and Family’ hoping to inspire and educate other same-sex couples. Her book can now be found in bookstores across the island including Popular!
Find out more about Olivia in our interview with her here.
19. Prashant: Prominent Long-Time Activist With Pink Dot And Indignation
When we were sourcing around for prominent activists to include on this list, one name that kept popping up was Prashant.
A long-time activist in the LGBT community, Prashant has been actively involved with Pink Dot since its inception, and is currently part of its organising committee. Prashant was also actively involved with Indignation; Singapore’s first gay pride event.
Prashant is also the owner of 2 different cafes; Artistry and Red Baron, which he regularly utilises as a venue to support social causes. The latest event that Prashant has agreed to use his cafe space to support is a fundraising dinner for a trans shelter that will be held at Artistry on 15th August.
20. Madeleine Lim: Lesbian Activist Using Film To Further LGBT Rights
An award winning filmmaker with a penchant for making LGBT related films, Madeleine’s work has earned her numerous awards in the international film circuit.
Madeleine started her activist journey at the tender age of 20, but was forced to flee Singapore 3 years later for her activism work. Since then, she has become a prolific filmmaker known for creating art that focus on the struggles faced by LGBT individuals. In fact, one of her most prominent works ‘Sambal Belacan’ remains banned in Singapore.
Currently based in America, Madeleine was also the co-founder of SAMBAL (Singaporean & Malaysian Bisexual Women and Lesbians) and the US Asian Lesbian Network.
21. Roy Tan: The Man Working Hard To Keep Singapore’s LGBT History Alive
The unofficial historian of Singapore’s LGBT community, Roy Tan has been relentlessly documenting Singapore’s LGBT history on virtual platforms such as the Singapore LGBT encyclopaedia and YouTube for over a decade.
From the birth of Singapore’s first gay disco in the early 1970s to the police entrapment and caning of gay cruisers in the early 1990s, Roy has lived through it all. And he has taken it upon himself to ensure that these salient events do not fade into obscurity.
What’s more impressive for us however, is the fact that he does all this work without expecting anything in return, be it recognition or prestige. For that, we salute him.
Find out more about Roy’s eventful life in our interview with him here.
22. Miak Siew: The Openly Gay Pastor Helping People Reconcile Their Religion With Their Sexuality
Miak Siew is the Executive Pastor of Singapore’s only LGBT affirming church – the Free Community Church (known as Safehaven back then).
Since graduating from the Pacific School of Religion in California in 2011, Miak has counselled numerous tormented souls torn between their religion and sexuality.
I have had the privilege of walking with folks in their darkest moments.
It is humbling and rewarding at the same time.
Not your typical pastor, you can read about Miak’s story here.
23. Khairul Ikhwan: The Drag Queen Who Inspired So Many While Battling Cancer
At the very young age of 22, the late Khairul Ikhwan was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer.
Despite suffering from a terminal illness, Khairul did not indulge in self-pity. Instead, he took it upon himself to make a positive impact on the world.
Khairul spoke out about his personal struggles with gender identity in an effort to inspire others in an interview with Happy TV. He also staged an art exhibition titled ‘Hope’ featuring 87 art pieces that serve to inspire hope in others.
A former drag queen with PLAY who was known for his visual artistry, Khairul Ikhwan may have passed away in August this year. But his legacy continues to live on.
24. Ng Yi-Sheng: The First Person In Singapore To Collect Coming Out Stories
An award winning playwright who picked up the Singapore Literature Prize in 2008 for his poetry anthology Last Boy, Yi-Sheng is still best known for the stories he helped to pen and compile for SQ21. Featuring 15 different coming out stories from a diverse group of queer individuals, SQ21 continues to inspire and touch hearts almost a decade since it was first published.
25. Andrew Chan: Founder Of LGBT Social Group – MOVE Community
In 2013, Andrew founded MOVE Community – a LGBT friendly social & community club in Singapore.
Andrew was formerly a Program Coordinator with Oogachaga; Singapore’s only community based counselling centre for the LGBT community. The idea for MOVE Community was first hatched in August 2012 and after months of preparation, finally launched on the first day of 2013.
It has been 3 years since MOVE Community was founded but the group remains active, with their next event happening on 7th January 2017.
There Are Many Other Unsung Heroes Out There As Well
Dear Straight People would like to emphasise that this list was never meant to be an authoritative one.
Yes, the 25 heroes highlighted above have all made outstanding contributions to the LGBT+ community. But they aren’t the only ones. Nor are we implying them to be the most important advocates of the LGBT+ community.
We just want to celebrate the unsung heroes in our community. And hope that the millennials of today will know of the good work that those before them have done for the betterment of our society.
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