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  • Nabilah Awang

Church leaders discuss hurt, trauma faced by LGBTQ people in dialogue session

(From left) Mr Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, Ms Chia Moey Hiang, Pastor Miak Siew, Assistant Pastor Chang Tou Chen and Pastor Ian Toh at the dialogue on Jan 15, 2022.

  • The panelists in the dialogue session included executive pastor Miak Siew of Free Community Church and two pastors who lead Christian group TrueLove.Is

  • The dialogue on Saturday titled “Can I be a queer Christian?” was attended by about 80 participants from diverse backgrounds

  • A panelist said the trauma of being rejected and shamed by the Christian community has led some LGBTQ youths to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drug and sex addiction

  • They largely agreed that the way forward is to have open and constructive dialogues and to meet in the middle ground where possible, even though fundamental differences and disagreements exist.

SINGAPORE — Some members of the Christian community in a dialogue session on Saturday (Jan 15) noted that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community has faced a lot of hurt within their religious groups, which may have led to trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

During the session organised by non-governmental organisation The Whitehatters and attended by 80 participants, the group also largely agreed that the way forward should involve more open and constructive discussions and meeting in the middle where possible, even though fundamental differences and disagreements exist.

The Whitehatters, through dialogues, sports and other activities, aims to create safe spaces for conversations among Singaporeans so as to build a cohesion that transcends social, racial and religious barriers.

Executive pastor Miak Siew of Free Community Church, an LGBTQ-affirming church, said that the unhealthy coping mechanisms that might arise from the trauma of being rejected and shamed by one's religious community could include drug and sex addiction.

“The problem lies when we tell someone there is a part of them they need to deny. (It cause) a sense of shame, a sense of unworthiness… This leads to people leaving the church and being afraid of stepping into the church,” he said.

“They have been traumatised so much and hurt so deeply that they will not step into that space.”

The dialogue on Saturday, titled “Can I be a queer Christian?”, was moderated by interfaith advocate Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib. Aside from Pastor Miak, the other panelists were Pastor Ian Toh and Assistant Pastor Chang Tou Chen, who lead Truelove. Is, a Christian group that provides resources on LGBTQ issues, and Ms Chia Moey Hiang, a mother of three, including a transgender daughter.

The 80 participants came from various religious communities.

Assistant Pastor Chang said that there is still work to be done in raising awareness with leaders in the community about LGBTQ issues, especially on the issue of homosexuality.

“Because the space is very nuanced. There's a difference between experiencing (same-sex) attraction and the acts around the attraction," he said.

"And if churches don't even start from that premise, they might end up responding in a way that we hear in the stories,” he added, referring to stories of LGBTQ youth who had had bad experiences within their church communities.

Noting that there were conflicting views on the panel, Pastor Toh said the key is to respect differences.

“There are two responses most of the time. (On one end), they believe everything about homosexuality is wrong and then on the other end, they believe everything about homosexuality is fine and we should celebrate it.

“I think the path that we’re taking is much more nuanced and I will say much more difficult… but we’re in this for the long haul.”

Pastor Miak noted that there is a high rate of suicide and self-harm among the LGBTQ community.

“The cause is not (being) LGBTQ in and of itself but the experience of being LGBTQ, that space of being discriminated, that space of being told you are not good enough, that we will reject you,” he said.

Ms Chia agreed, saying that the church her daughter had previously attended brought her a lot of hurt, and it took about six years for her daughter to be more receptive to the religion.

“Even the messages (that were shared) in the open (in that church) were homophobic and made her really upset,” she said.

“At that time I didn’t know she was transgender so I had no awareness,” admitted Ms Chia. “I was wondering why her reaction was so strong. I didn’t understand.”

During the dialogue itself, the panelists also worked through some differences of opinion and beliefs that they had about transgender issues.

Pastor Toh from Truelove.Is said his stance is that gender reassignment surgery involves the removal of healthy body parts, which to him is “very grieving”, but added that this is an issue he is still learning about.

As a counterpoint, Ms Chia said: “It’s not about the cutting off of healthy body parts, but more a restoration of the body to one that the transgender person is comfortable with, and feels is matching (to their identity).”

Pastor Toh acknowledged that there are many opposing, and at times extreme, views on LGBTQ issues, especially on whether LGBTQ persons should be condemned or celebrated.

But a majority of Christians here have views that lie somewhere in the middle, he noted, and hence there is a need to navigate this space carefully.

This is why open and honest dialogues should continue, he added.

Speaking to TODAY after the dialogue session, one of the audience members, Mr Mohamed Farouq, 30, said he agreed with Pastor Toh's comment, and believes such dialogues should take place within other religious communities as well.

“There are quite a number of LGBTQ persons who are faithful people, who still approach religious leaders for guidance," he said.

“So having such human conversations is so important. We need to have the intellectual humility to realise that we don’t know everything and that there is no single narrative.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been amended to better reflect the range of views at the dialogue session.

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