24 January 2006

Reason #1,846,778,387 why the gay movement in Singapore is infantile

Blogger requested in email to cease criticisms of PLU

Yesterday evening, pleinelune, who speaks for gay lobby group PLU on Singabloodypore, emailed me, requesting that "for the sake of community image" and the image of PLU, I should not expose the public to further criticisms of PLU's modus operandi and public statements. Somehow, the image of PLU and the community is threatened every time I comment that I do not agree with their policies or actions. Newsflash: PLU does not have a mandate for sole representation of the community. Newsflash: Even in a one-party state, people are allowed to openly raise disagreements with party policy. Newsflash: Wong Kan Seng, Minilee, and Papalee have NOT said that criticisms by Singaporeans will lead to a diminishing of the public image of Singapore.

Most recently, Alex Au issued a statement that the NVPC is not a real NGO, because it gets funding from the government. His usual spokespersons on Singabloodypore also maintained that as the offices of NVPC are located in a ministry building, NVPC is not an independent organisation.

I have taken pains to point out this line of argument is untenable. Alex Au, with more than 10 years in activism and what his defenders call "constructive engagement" with the government, wouldn't know an NGO if it came up and slapped him with a trout. I pointed out several NGOs which receive substantial proportions of their budgets from governments:

1. A quarter of the US$162 million income in 1998 of the famine-relief organization Oxfam was donated by the British government and the EU. Applying Alex Au's logic, Oxfam is not independent!
2. The Christian relief and development organization World Vision US collected US$55 million worth of goods in 1998 from the American government. Therefore they are run by the government!
3. Médecins Sans Frontières gets 46% of its income from government sources. It's a stooge of the French government! It's NOT an NGO!

Gentle bloggers, these are facts that one can easily look up on the internets. Did Alex Au conduct due diligence before he accused NVPC of being non-independent due to government funding?

I have also commented that PLU's second press release "Behind the Liberty League Scandal", was a strategic failure. When the Ministry pulled a reporter's news story off the papers at the last minute, PLU went ballistic and accused the government of censorship, of poor governance of NVPC, and said "the hole is being dug deeper and deeper".

PLU's defenders then went on to say that MCYS and NVFP ganged up on the lobby group. Presumably, that's why the news article was pulled off. And presumably that's why PLU has issued a statement that preemptively cuts any lines of communication and goodwill it has with the bureaucracy.

1. NVPC is an NGO. It is not a "government body", as PLU's statement erroneously claims. Did PLU do any research before typing out its statement? The ministry provides the funds, but it is up to NVPC to spend it, as it wishes. There is no issue of governance here, merely an issue of poor judgement: NVPC foolishly funded a sex ed quack.

That Liberty League is a Pte Ltd is irrelevant. As long as it declares itself a non-profit to NVPC, it is obliged to provide full and regular accounts. That it has only $10 in startup capital is irrelevant. It will find the rest of the money elsewhere, in order to match NVPC's funding, dollar for dollar.

2. I don't know if there was a secret agreement by MCYS and NVFP to oppress gay people. Certainly it's nice to think so, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. I don't know if MCYS called off the news story because it supports NVFP, or whether it needed time to conduct investigations with NVFP on the Liberty League, or whether it needed time to spin an appropriate response. Certainly it's nice to think of the possibilities, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. Or even to blog about it.

It would be prudent, if one wanted to do more than blog about it (like say, issue a press statement), to make inquiries about the status of the investigation by MCYS and NVFP. PLU did not do so, and instead chose to issue its statement. For all we know, MCYS and NVFP could be doing background checks on Liberty League; making Leslie Lung conform to the rules; finding a way to drop the Liberty League quietly; anything. In fact, there is insufficient evidence for myself or PLU to guess what is going on.

Yet PLU has chosen to interpret the removal of the press story as outright censorship, whereas it could be a media blackout. One would assume that as PLU had cooperated with the reporter to write her story, it would've contained all the errors I have pointed out, like the insistence that NVFP is a government body, or that in effect the Ministry has sanctioned Liberty League for schools as a semi-official sex ed course, for example.

3. It's very nice to preemptively tag the issue as a "scandal" and frame it as a scandal, even before the public gets to know about it and get all worked up over it. Along with the insinuations of a ministry pulling the strings of an NGO, and the claims of press censorship, this is a particularly nice and constructive way to engage the issue with the government, and to persuade the bureaucrats to listen to your lobby group in the future.

By pointing out these flaws in PLU's statements and operations, I have once again undermined the image of PLU, an image so precious to them, they're asking me - through their proxies - very nicely to keep quiet. I'm sure the very possibility that mistakes should be pointed out when they're made doesn't matter. Or perhaps we're witnessing the doctrine of PLU exceptionalism - it is free to criticise the government, but for the sake of 'unity', no one is allowed to criticise them in public.

PLU is too weak to stand up to public scrutiny! The Government has always been hostile to PLU! Don't give PLU any more trouble by criticising it! I fail to understand how by pointing out the flaws in PLU's very open actions, that I'm washing its dirty linen in public. Or that it's a very bad thing.

As a blogger and contributor to Singabloodypore I take this request to stop talking about PLU as an insult to myself and to the ideals of SBP. They suggest I voice out my dissention privately to their organisation in the future, instead of subjecting it to public scrutiny. Actually, I find their suggestion very humorous.
I concede your point about PLU having to be open to criticism. Every organisation, every society has to be. However, the issue of washing our dirty linen in public comes into question. Yes, PLU has made mistakes, but it is ineffective to publicly denounce PLU in front of anti-gay people. We are only penalising ourselves.

No. I hold that the more mollycoddled PLU is, the less its mistakes are pointed out as such, the more its defenders penalise it. I don't wish to see PLU as a monolithic party that is more interested in party unity than an open marketplace of ideas. I would hate to think of PLU as having a monoculture, and dominated by groupthink, where no one dares to tell its leaders that what they're doing might be not quite right.

See also:
More reasons why the gay rights movement in Singapore is infantile.

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