Meet 23-year old Singaporean Daryl Yang.
Anyone who has ever subscribed to the notion that millennials are all apathetic social media addicts has obviously never met Daryl. Not your typical selfie-stick wielding millennial, Daryl is one of the most prominent student activists in the local LGBT rights movement today.
Actively involved in various LGBT community groups such as SGRainbow and The G Spot, Daryl has even had his writings published in The Straits Times despite the fact that he hasn’t even graduated yet! Fiercely outspoken about queer issues, his passion for activism is widely known. His private life however, remains largely private.
From his own personal coming out experience to his motivation for getting involved with the fight for equality, this is Daryl’s story.
Daryl’s brush with same-sex attraction was relatively non-eventful. Unable to recall exactly when he first felt attracted to men, what he did remember however was that it was never much of an issue for him personally.
I can’t really remember when I first realised I was different because I never thought it was “wrong” or “different” anyway.
The first time I realised what I felt had a word to it was when my secondary school teacher (Otto Fong) came out on a blog and I realised that I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.
This was also his first encounter with prejudice and discrimination as his teacher came under intense public scrutiny and pressure for coming out. Personally, Daryl himself wasn’t much of a target for bullies during his younger years.
I’ve never faced very serious bullying or discrimination, except that I remember some of the sports jocks making snide remarks about me in school.
I tried to avoid them whenever I saw them around school, but that was about the worst it got for me.
For someone so vocal about LGBTQ+ issues, it comes as a surprise that Daryl had never intended to be an activist. Like most other youths his age, his aspirations centred around matters of the heart.
I never thought I would become a student activist; all I wanted to do was to find someone and live happily ever after.
But fate had other plans for him. His first venture into a gay club was surprisingly the spark that first ignited his interest in activism.
I went to PLAY for the first time with a group of friends and saw how for many of us, it was only in the night and the darkness of the club that we could fully express ourselves.
That experience led me to reflect on whether there could be other possibilities and spaces for others to feel safe and authentic.
Daryl made his first foray into the activist scene by volunteering with SGRainbow -a social group for gay, bisexual and queer men. He subsequently became a part of the organising team for SGRainbow where he helped organise regular community-building events for gay, bi and queer youth.
His interest in activism was further amplified when he decided to come out to his parents. With no prior contact with queer people and desperate to understand what Daryl’s homosexuality entailed, his parents turned to questionable resources for more information.
In their desperation, they found out about Liberty League, a Christian ex-gay conversion therapy group that has since closed down that was funded by the government when it first started.
They were given very problematic ideas about homosexuality and how it is the fault of the father for being absent in his son’s childhood, or how it is possible for a person to change their sexual orientation.
Unable to come to terms with Daryl’s sexuality, the relationship between Daryl and his parents became tense. It was during this time that the controversy over a proposed censorship of a set of Frequently Asked Questions on youth sexuality on the Health Promotion Board’s website erupted.
I felt particularly strong about this controversy because it was something that was very close to my own experiences.
If only there was reliable information provided to parents to better understand their children, my family may not have had to go through those several years of acrimony and pain.
Daryl decided to pen an Open Letter in response to the proposed censorship. That controversy was the catalyst that solidified his determination to join the fight for equality.
Daryl furthered his activism by joining and eventually becoming the coordinator of The G Spot at Yale-NUS College, a student group that focuses on advocating for gender and sexuality issues.
He also c0-founded the Inter-University LGBT Network – a network for University groups to collaborate in fostering safer and more inclusive school communities regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. And he was invited last year to speak at Tedx Pickering Street on his experiences as a student activist
Looking back on the 4 years that he has been involved with student activism, Daryl reflects that:
It’s been very enriching and I’ve definitely grown and learnt a lot from all the different challenges we’ve faced
When Daryl is not busy trying to make the world a better place, you might find him walking his adorable Chow Chow, Richie!
Currently pursuing a double degree in law and anthropology at Yale-NUS College, Daryl also has a peculiar tendency of embarrassing himself on national television
I’ve embarrassed myself on national television twice so far.
The first was when I participated in Singapore’s Brainiest Kid in Primary school and made a mess out of pronouncing the word “eucalyptus”.
The second was on “We Are Singaporeans”; I tripped right at the start of the programme because they wanted us to run excitedly onto the podium and well, I tripped.
Daryl has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to answer our Q&A so read on to find out more about student activism in Singapore!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
I first decided to come out to a friend who was flying off to the UK for college because she and another friend disagreed over whether I was actually gay. I was very closeted at that time, but I guess the other friend had a very strong gaydar.
Unfortunately for her, she probably had no gaydar at all. She was very sure I wasn’t gay (we have been classmates since Primary Three and she’s my oldest friend, mind you!). At first I told her I wasn’t gay because I wasn’t planning to come out to anyone at all because I didn’t think that it was something I wanted to or was prepared to share with anyone else. But after seeing how proud she was at being “right” about my sexuality, I couldn’t not tell her that she was actually wrong.
2. How did your family respond to your sexuality?
It’s been a complicated few years, and I’m still trying to figure out and learn how to understand, accept and respect our differences and expectations.
Looking back, I wish I could have been more patient and understanding of their point of view. It’s so easy to just sweep aside our parents’ “rejection” of our identities as fear, homophobia, hatred or bigotry but I think it’s a lot more complex than that.
I am trying to learn to empathise with my parents’ perspective that really comes from a place of love and concern. It’s hard that this is still something that is difficult for us to agree on, but I think what’s more important is realising that both parties just care about each other and want to make sure that we’re okay in our different ways.
At the end of the day, I just hope that both my family and I can be happy, and if that means compromising and being open/ ambiguous, I am more than willing to compromise.
3. What has been the greatest challenge for you in being involved in all of these LGBTQ community groups?
Burnout. I’ve seen so many friends come and go. I have also had times when I just feel like giving up. Sometimes, it just feels like we’re not making any progress and you wonder if it’s even worth it. Activist burnout is real, and I’m still learning how to take better care of myself and others around me because we’re in this for the long haul.
After all, one of the first lessons I learnt when I got involved with activism was to realise that we might not see the change ourselves but we’re creating ripples of change that slowly but surely contribute to the more inclusive society that we hope Singapore will be eventually.
4. What has been the greatest reward for you in being involved in all of these LGBTQ community groups?
Seeing how things have changed over the past three years that I’ve been involved in campus activism.
We started with the first orientation event for LGBT freshmen at NUS in 2013 attended by around 20 people, to having over 150 people this year attending across three universities campuses. We’ve also organised the first anonymous HIV-testing on campus this year, as part of a month-long campaign at NUS called Sexuality & Gender Month. I was so surprised that almost 200 people turned up to get tested in just two afternoons because it shows that our younger generation is becoming more sex-positive and open!
Some might feel like all of the work we do is pointless because nothing will change, but having been at this for almost 4 years, I can feel the change. It’s small and slow, but it’s definitely there; we just need to continue working at it.
5. Do you agree with the common notion that LGBTQ youths in Singapore are too apathetic?
On the contrary, being involved in these community groups have shown me just how much impact young people can make.
SGRainbow was started by one young man when he was in NS to address a gap in the gay community by creating safe, inclusive spaces for gay people to meet and build relationships beyond the chatroom and mobile dating apps.
The Purple Alliance was started by two brothers to create a community for like-minded people to come together to contribute to the community. I’ve also had the chance to work with many passionate and committed young people in NUS and across different universities, polytechnics and even junior colleges in organising Qrientation and other projects.
Nonetheless, I think more young people can and should definitely get involved to organise and mobilise themselves to create the change they want to see here in Singapore and around the world. Turning up at Hong Lim Park once a year is great for starters, but we definitely need more than pink t-shirts to create real, sustainable change!
6. What advice do you have for gay people still hiding in the closet?
I have struggled for a long time with negotiating between my family’s heteronormative expectations and my personal identity and I continue to struggle with it even today after almost 4 years. I’ve spent a good part of that time being angry, disappointed, frustrated that my parents aren’t like the “perfect” parents in Pink Dot videos who would come to Hong Lim Park in pink with their children.
My advice to someone in a similar situation with their families is to learn to process your emotions. As difficult as it may be, try to understand and empathise with why they may be unable to come around to your identity.
Most importantly, I think we need to dispel the narrative that a happy gay person must be someone who is out to their family. There are more ways than one to being gay than being in or out of the closet. What’s most important at the end of the day is love, and love can be expressed in more ways than simply “acceptance” of your sexual identity.
7. What do you think is the biggest misconception straight people have about the gay community?
This is not so much a misconception as it is an incomplete understanding of the history of the LGBTQ movement. With the landmark US Supreme Court ruling in 2015, many people have come to regard this legal change as “the” goal of the LGBTQ movement.
This is so much so that in a recent SG100 poll, the question was not even whether S377A should be repealed but whether Singapore should legalise same-sex marriage. I found that very confusing: why are we even talking about marriage when same-sex relations are still criminalised in the first place (with very real public health implications)?
I see this as a strategic maneuver to maintain the status quo because discussing something so divisive that will almost definitelydraw a very clear divide between being “pro” or “anti” LGBT. This then allows the government to justify its supposedly “neutral” position because LGBT issues are so “divisive”. Instead, I have suggested that we need to move beyond both morals and rights and find a common ground between the “pro” and “anti” groups: public health.
Also, it’s important unpack what someone means when they say they are pro/ anti LGBT. A lot of times, they are not “anti-LGBT” but anti same-sex marriage. It’s important not to conflate the two because marriage equality should not and cannot be the “goal” of the movement when it benefits only a small proportion of monogamous couples. To buy into the idea that it is will only impede our movement’s broader progress and in fact could do more harm than good to a large proportion of our community.
Worse still, we distract ourselves from more critical problems facing our community like youth homelessness, HIV/AIDS and mental illness. It takes away resources and cannibalises on the limited resources we already have.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Daryl Yang for sharing his story with us.
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