Conversion therapy, which is the pseudoscientific practice of turning homosexuals straight or, at least, encouraging them to abstain from gay sex while living as a heterosexual person would, is a major focus of the ex-gay movement in Singapore.
It began with the establishment of the Choices ministry at the Church of Our Saviour by a charismatic American ex-gay pastor, Sy Rogers, in 1991. Since then, the church has used its influence to promote its ex-gay message in the press and on television, and to affect government policy in concert with Focus on the Family.
- 1 Early attitudes towards conversion therapy in Singapore
- 2 Church Of Our Saviour invites Sy Rogers to institute conversion therapy
- 3 Patrick Lee describes traumatic experience of conversion therapy
- 4 TrueLove.Is
- 5 Muslim conversion therapy
- 6 Aqua Man, short film on conversion therapy
- 7 Efforts to ban conversion therapy in Singapore
- 8 Counselling of victims of conversion therapy by Oogachaga
- 9 Free Community Church
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Acknowledgements
Early attitudes towards conversion therapy in Singapore
The general public, religious organisations (especially churches) and, indeed, many isolated gay individuals themselves were only made aware of the existence of a sizeable LGBT community in Singapore after the publication of a groundbreaking 4-part feature by the evening broadsheet, New Nation, entitled "They are different..." on 4 consecutive days from Monday, 24 July to Thursday, 27 July 1972. A single-article sequel to the series was published the following week, on Monday, 31 July 1972.
"So, who else can homosexuals here turn to when they want to reach out and discuss their problems and dispel their anxieties?
Few of them bring their problems to the church. This is partly because such a small proportion of the population are Christian, and probably also because the church here has always been known to come down severely on homosexual practices.
But the attitude of the church has changed. It does not condone homosexuality, but it has come to take a more sympathetic view.
Some homosexuals have gone to the Churches Counselling Centre for help.
Comforting those in desperate need.
The Churches Counselling Centre and the Samaritans of Singapore service probably have more experience in helping homosexuals here than anyone else with the exception of a few psychiatrists.
But their experience Is limited to several cases mainly male homosexuals plus a few lesbians.
Some homosexuals have approached the Churches Counselling Centre direct but more usually they ring up the SOS service.
The counselors at the SOS will talk things over with distressed callers and invite them to the office for further discussion of their problems.
After they have been to the SOS office they may be referred to the service's own counseller or to the Churches Counselling Centre.
A spokesman for the Churches Counselling Centre, an inter-denominational organisation, said that most of the homosexuals they encountered were latent male homosexuals whose main problem was relating to members of the opposite sex.
According to him, these homosexuals are overawed by women. Women frighten them because they feel Inadequate and uncomfortable In their presence. They do not know how to act or behave and so fail totally in forging warm and close relations with any woman.
On the other hand, the latent homosexual does not have any compensating relationship with a man either.
This inability to relate to anybody man or woman is extremely bewildering and frightening.
We do not know how many latent homosexuals there are In Singapore, much less how many suffer such agonising trauma. What we know is that a few, desperate for help, have gone to the Counselling Centre.
The overt homosexual Is not without his problems either though they are probably less painful and terrifying than the latent homosexual's.
Still, the Counselling Centre has encountered a few of them.
Though the practising homosexual can relate with his own sex, he feels that society has let him down. He feels that people do not approve of him and he is constantly living in the shadows, afraid of detection.
Among the encounters the Counselling Centre has had with practising homosexuals is the fairly typical problem of the homosexual and his partner breaking up.
This normally happens after a quarrel and for any of the reasons which cause heterosexual relationships to split.
A spokesman for the Counselling Centre said: "The homosexual I talked to was frantic because his partner was moving to another city. He was, emotionally, completely dependent on the partner."
These relationships are often closer than that between a man and a woman because homosexuals tend to feel that society is hostile to them so they cling to one another for security.
The Counselling Centre has also observed that lesbians here from the few who have approached it for help are not so emotionally dependent on their partners as the males.
This is probably because lesbians can live together with no suspicion whatsoever of their sexual inclinations.
And, without the pressure or censure of society, there is less need to cling together.
So far the majority of those who have appealed to the Counselling Centre for help have been the English-educated, ranging from the lower-middle to the upper-middle class.
This does not mean that most of the homosexuals in Singapore fall into this category. What is probable is that the image of the Counselling Centre, its association with the church, "attracts" a particular section of the population.
However, its approach to the problem is radically different from that of pastors and priests.
It does not believe in "reforming" the homosexual or making him give up his homosexual practices.
Neither does it believe in just playing Freud and holding sessions to delve Into the homosexual's past and uncovering whatever deep emotional traumas afflicted him.
The spokesman said: I would spend many sessions with a latent homosexual, helping to restore his trust in people, starting with myself.
"I would be willing to talk with him on any of his thoughts or fantasies, and would be able to accept whatever he says without laughing, criticising or judging.
"Then I would help him to decide on ways in which he could improve his relations with people. I would make him face up to what he Is but I would never set the goals for him.
"What I would do is sit with him and examine the various choices open to him and what would happen to him if he accepted one of the various options.
"But I would never make decision for him. It is entirely up to him. I believe in making people more responsible for their own lives."
The Counselling Centre feels that this is one of the most difficult problems it is called upon to solve.
Although there are various theories on what makes a person homosexual, the spokesman said that in Singapore environmental factors play an important part.
It is not uncommon for families here to dress up and treat a girl as a boy and vice versa. One case the spokesman knows of personally concerns an Indian family who had twin boys.
This was considered bad luck so one of the boys was brought up as a girl until adolescence.
He is now a teenager and the spokesman is convinced that he will encounter problems of sexual identity and relationships.
Once a person has grown up under such environmental conditions it is unfortunately very difficult for the Counselling Centre or the psychiatrists to sort him or her out.
First mention of conversion therapy
"Some New Nation readers were shocked and dismayed to learn of the extent of homosexuality here. While many advocate greater understanding and more liberal laws and attitudes towards homosexuals, others feel something should be done to "bring them to heel."
By this method a man or a woman is punished for his or her homosexual tendencies by the application of electric shocks.
"In treatment, a picture of a nude male is flashed on the screen. When the patient sees this, he is given a nasty shock. On the other hand, when a female is shown he will be given a pleasurable feeling. He is thus conditioned to associate unpleasantness with his homosexual tendency."
The psychologist said: "I realise that this method is considered by many to be cruel. Apart from this method, however, there is no real treatment.
"My opinion is that counselling is insufficient, and cannot help change the homosexual as his problem is far more deep-rooted.""
Church Of Our Saviour invites Sy Rogers to institute conversion therapy
Conversion therapy did not exist as a structured programme until it emerged following a series of events beginning with the announcement of the first cases of HIV infection in Singapore in April 1985 and the first death from full blown AIDS in 1987 (see main article: Earliest cases of HIV/AIDS in Singapore).
In the years following the general panic that ensued, the Church Of Our Saviour (COOS) invited charismatic American ex-gay Christian pastor, Sy Rogers, to Singapore in 1991 to start an ex-gay movement locally. Rogers set up Choices at COOS, the first ex-gay Christian ministry in Singapore, as well as a conversion therapy programme. The name ‘Choices’ was Rogers' brainchild. Clients who attended his 14-week lecture series, divided into three modules, realised its significance and pertinence when they were clearly told that regardless of the situation that led them to be gay, they could now make a choice to say ‘No’ to it. It was also Rogers who came up with the cliche, ‘Freedom is when you are able to say “No”’. He had the blessing of the Government who probably thought this was a good way to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. It commandeered the press to give publicity to Rogers as well as Focus On The Family and their efforts to turn unhappy homosexuals straight.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the Choices ministry would periodically hang gigantic banners with anti-gay slogans on the exterior facade of the Church of Our Saviour, eminently visible to passers-by or anyone travelling on the above-ground MRT which skirted the building. Two of these messages which caused an outrage in the gay community were, "Homosexuals can change" and "Gay but not happy? Call CHOICES."
As part of the official campaign to encourage gay Singaporeans to turn straight, a television programme was produced in Mandarin and broadcast in May 2003. It featured actors re-enacting the supposedly true-life account of a young, masculine, gay Singaporean man cruising for sex in public swimming pools and toilets. This reinforced the misconception that homosexuality resulted from having an unhappy home, parents who constantly fought, and being sexually abused. In this case, the protagonist was only 6 years old when he was asked by an adult female to perform sexual acts with a girl his age. Finally, the man was "successfully'" converted through counselling from a dissatisfied, unfulfilled homosexual to one happily married to a female spouse and who begot a son. The docudrama was made in consultation with Choices, whose spokesman delivered some advice at the end of the film,, (see also: Singapore gay documentaries).
Patrick Lee describes traumatic experience of conversion therapy
A former ex-gay ministry pastor, Patrick Lee, was the first Singaporean to describe in detail his traumatic experience of undergoing conversion therapy and surviving the ordeal. His story was published in a Yawning Bread article entitled, "A proven ministry" dated December 1999.
Lee's narrative stretches over 14 years. In October 1994, he was hospitalised at Adam Road Hospital and received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It erased about 4 weeks of his short-term memory and what he now knows about this period of his life is from what others have told him. He first thought he stayed just a few days at the hospital but later learnt he was warded for 3 weeks.
“It took me no less than 2 months,” Lee emphasised, “before I realised that I was seeing a psychiatrist. All this while, I knew that I felt like a ‘sick person’ who needed medical attention and that my mum was lovingly taking me to every one of the appointments. She would also sit in together. And every day, she was also the one who gave me my medication.”
“One day, two months later, I noticed that the signboard at the Adam Road Hospital said ‘Mental Wellness’. Only then did I realise I was being treated by a psychiatrist. I also began to wonder why I had such a severe loss of memory of the past 2 months.” At that instant, Lee thought about two of his church members who had mental instability and who had been subjected to electro-convulsive therapy. “Did Dr Wong do to me that most inhumane act of ECT??? I needed to know and wanted to know, and so at my next visit I questioned him. But beyond ‘yes’, Dr Wong was reluctant to release any more information to me. He tried to appease me with some magazine articles extolling the great benefits of ECT and the near-zero side-effects. He said that ECT is the quickest and most effective method to terminate the ‘trauma’ a patient suffers from. The only side effect is the loss of the immediate memory which could be weeks or months.”
In 1982, the Billy Graham Crusade came to Singapore. Lee, who had been with the Church of Our Saviour since 1975, and Christian even way before that, found his convictions rekindled. “I was awakened to the seriousness of homosexuality. It was wrong, immoral and a sure road to hell. If I were to persist in my pursuit of casual and paid sex, I would end up in hell. It really affected me. I sought spiritual help. I told God that I would know he was real if he could break the power of my dependency on gay sex.”
His friends, many of them from the same school, but all gay, sniggered at the idea that God could help overcome homosexuality. After turning the issue many times over in his mind, Lee decided he did not want to hide it. “I didn’t want to go to hell.” So he confessed to his Pastor the same year. “He was so happy,” Lee said, raising his arms, recalling the Pastor’s grateful heavenward glance, “that someone who was gay had seen his sinful ways and turned to God for help. ‘Hallelujah, you’ve seen the light, son!’ ”
On the Pastor’s advice, he destroyed everything that connected him to his gay past: the photographs, the clothing accessories, contact numbers, gifts from boyfriends. “I was serious. I wanted to go to heaven.” Lee was also required to separate himself from all his gay friends. “It was one of the 12 steps of therapy. I never saw those friends again till last year.”
Lee’s church touted him as a model Christian, someone who, by the power of God, had found the determination and strength to reform himself. “Although I only gave my ‘conversion from homosexuality’ testimony 3 times in my home church; the ‘good news’ was told by my Pastor to all his other clergymen, and church members were encouraged to go and testify to their friends and relatives of the power of God that has delivered a homosexual from his sinful ways. Consequently, I became more and more popular, and this resulted in a flood of people coming to see me for counselling. It was people with all kinds of problems who came to see me: women involved with married men, young man confessing their bondage to heavy petting or premarital sex, and of course, homosexuals who wanted help. The logical reason was that if God could break the power of the worst sin, i.e. homosexuality, then any other sin is of no problem. So why don’t we talk to Patrick, and ask him how did he avail himself of the power of God?”
Soon the number of people who came to see Lee was more than he could reasonably handle. His Pastor said to him, “You have a proven ministry. Give up your secular job and come serve the purpose of the Kingdom of God.” A scripture from Matthew’s Gospel was quoted to Lee: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” So in January 1984, Lee officially became a member of the pastoral team. Not longer after, he was awarded the title ‘Pastor’.
Lee was proud of what he had achieved. He was sure that he had made the right decision. It wasn’t going to be easy living a new life, it was going to take continuing effort and willpower, but the reward in the end would be his. This is not to say it was smooth sailing. Even though he never went cruising again, nonetheless there were lapses, occasional moments of weakness. They were not frequent — fewer than twenty times in the 12 following years — and never premeditated. It was just by chance, meeting someone while swimming or cycling, or being cruised in a public toilet.
Yet after each slip, there were overwhelming feelings of guilt for 3 to 4 months. It would weigh heavily on his mind. He saw himself as diseased, for sin is a moral disease. He had committed the sin of sodomy, the sin of perversion, the sin of homosexuality. And he needed healing. “The teaching in the Book of James, chapter 5 verse 16 said, ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.’”
His conscience prodded by this biblical injunction, Lee always confessed his slips to his Pastor. Typically, the Pastor would frown and sigh, “you need more accountability and more deliverance.” Lee also needed to work towards achieving the Crown of Victory over homosexual orientation, i.e. marrying and procreating. For the first three years, Lee did not think he was ready to get involved with a woman. He could give up his gay life, but it would take a while before he was ready to date someone of the opposite sex.
At first, his Pastor planted ideas very subtly. “But one day, he lost all his politeness. ‘Are you impotent?’ he asked.” So the pressure began to build, and Lee felt he had to prove himself otherwise. Even the Bishop got involved. In a private interview he asked WHEN Lee intended to get married and have children, because this would greatly enhance his ministry as a Pastor.
“The first woman I dated was Marjorie, a concert pianist. It lasted one week! I was frightened at the thought of this girl. Janice, my second, lasted 3 months. She was from the same church and a Clinique sales assistant.” After Janice, there was a break of about 3 years. “Then there was Erin, a Creative Director. That lasted 7 months. After her, I saw no one for 5 years.”
In the meantime, Lee went to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and stayed three years. “In 1990, which was the 7th year of my pastoral service, I was granted a ‘special sabbatical’ in appreciation of my contribution to the growth and development of the church. This followed from a mission trip which I led to Ireland. There was a church in Belfast which was interested in the ‘ministry of deliverance’.
Lee was an outstanding example of a ‘deliverance candidate’, so it seemed the right thing to send him to teach the “Western” church this powerful warfare tool called the ‘ministry of deliverance’. Since this request coincided with his due sabbatical leave, he volunteered to go and spend 3 years there. While there, he took the opportunity to further his theological knowledge, signing up as an external candidate for the Diploma in Religious Studies with Cambridge University.
“The Church’s recognition of my contribution,” said Lee, “was seen in their generosity in that they paid for 3 years’ study at Cambridge which included tuition fees, books, food & board. This was in addition to the fact that every month I continued to receive my full salary with year-end bonus too. I was the only one in the Church’s pastoral staff awarded with such a generous support.”
He spent about 70% of his time on theological studies and 30% in helping the local church in Ireland. “In June 1993, I graduated with a full diploma with distinction for consistent high performance throughout my course. The diploma also made special mention of my proficiency in the New Testament Greek.”
Upon his return, Lee resumed his role as a Senior Pastor but had five new portfolios added to the previous two. He began seeing Regina, an engineer. “I saw her for over a year, and she was the first woman I had sex with. I thought she was a virgin like me, but I discovered much later, and to my regret too, that she had slept with all her previous boyfriends.” Good Christians are supposed to remain virgins till after marriage. “Then one night,” Lee continued, “while we were lying naked in bed, she suddenly turned me over, and with deft fingers, she took my manhood and plunged it right into her private garden. Being a virgin boy, the first experience of intercourse was like a journey to seventh heaven. If you’ve never had a woman before, you can’t know what a great feeling it is!”
But...“Though in body I felt like I had taken a trip to heaven, in my spirit I had fallen into the depths of hell. In the Bible, Apostle Paul made sexual sins — the sins of adultery, fornication and homosexuality — to be the worst a Christian could commit. So once again, I was troubled by guilt; yet I was afraid to confess it especially now that I had become a Senior Pastor. I finally did so, to my fellow Senior Pastors, only 3 months later, instead of my usual immediate confession. But the procrastination only meant that the guilt continued to burn and torment me for 3 months.”
Soon after, Lee decided to marry Regina and the wedding was set for 7 January 1995, even though he was increasingly aware that Regina was the wrong choice for him. “She was controlling, possessive, demanding and most often, unreasonable. On the one hand she gave me sexual ecstasy but on the other hand she tormented me in ways no less than Delilah’s as she tormented Samson. As a result, I needed to find comfort in men again, whom I knew would be reliable.”
So in a way, it was waiting to happen. “We took a short holiday in July 1994 and stayed two nights at a well-known hotel in Kuala Lumpur. There, I discovered their spa pools. There was a big one that could sit 20 people and three smaller pools, each in its own room. And the doors could be locked! You can imagine what went on. There were so many men! I had a glorious time!”
“But immediately after, I was extremely guilty and extremely stressed again. I was guilty of the sin of fornication and the sin of homosexuality compounded together. I was an incorrigible sinner. Everything was caving in. The torment was terrible. The scripture in James kept coming back to me. Otherwise there would be no healing. None.”
Evolution of conversion therapy at Choices
"I actually did some of my own CSI into this programme a few months ago. I called the church number and inquired about this 'ministry', and the lady on the line actually passed me the contact number of the gay conversion therapist herself.
I actually called her and we had an hour long conversation about what she does. It was enlightening(in the worst way possible) and here are some key takeaways:
I asked her about the demographics of the people she sees. She told me most of her 'patients' are young gay men in their late teens and early twenties. Most of them come from Christian backgrounds and attend church and were referred to her via word of mouth.
I actually asked her if she saw more gays or lesbians. Interestingly, she told me that the people who see her don't call themselves/identify as gay or lesbian, they refer to themselves as 'struggling with same-sex attraction'. She told me that people who identify as 'gay' or 'lesbian' don't go for conversion therapy.
I asked her to tell me more about herself, her age, qualification etc. She is in her thirties, with a bachelor's in psychology from SIM, and received further training from Counselling and Care Centre (CCC). The CCC is a non-profit organisation providing counseling services that is affiliated with the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) which is a governmental organisation. This was shocking as counsellors/therapists if I'm not wrong need at least a master's degree to legally practice as counsellors or psychologists. So the gay conversion therapist was unqualified.
I asked her about the success rates. She said that turning them straight isn't actually the goal, and that most don't 'become straight' afterwards. Bingo. Straight from the horse's mouth. She said it's more about 'managing' the desires and feelings.
I asked her about how she she goes about doing it. Basically it was religious talk therapy with bible reading and prayer thrown in.
From the exchange, one can surmise that the church's female "conversion therapist" agrees that someone who is attracted to members of the same sex cannot be ‘converted’ to being ‘straight’. Choices' programmes have therefore evolved from ‘conversion’ to ‘management’ based on a new realisation and paradigm that if the ministry cannot stop individuals from being gay, it can at least try to prevent them from acting on their urges.
TrueLove.Is epitomises the reformed face of the ex-gay movement in Singapore. It promulgates a toned down, contemporary version of conversion therapy and is a ministry of 3:16 Church. The latter was started in January 2013 and is led by Senior Pastor Ian Toh. The TrueLove.Is ministry itself developed as an offshoot five years later, in June 2018.
TrueLove.Is reaches out first and foremost to LGBT Christians, as well as other Christians who want to be equipped with Christian-centric resources on LGBT issues. Its Facebook states that “The ministry provides Christian stories, resources, and a safe community to help Christians with unwanted same-sex attraction.” Its Instagram account is dotted with interviews featuring Christians who are “born again.” In videos, soft piano keys play in the background as people speak about their journey to finding God, and discovering the truth behind their same-sex attraction (SSA). These clips and IGTV features often speak about being “set free.” Its core message is simple: "Don’t just come out, come home".
In an article dated 24 August 2018 on Rice Media written by heterosexual Christian Grace Yeoh, the author opines that anyone who chances upon its Facebook page may initially conclude that the church is truly affirming and welcoming of the LGBT community, which is exactly how the initiative hopes to appear. In fact, Truelove.is is a textbook example of effective and excellent branding. After all, Pastor Norman Ng, the creative director of the ministry, worked in the marketing industry for close to a decade.
Firstly, Truelove.is understands its target audience: Christian millennials who are well-read and well-intentioned. Through high-quality videos and nuanced articles showcasing the intimate stories of several Christians who struggle with “same sex attraction” (SSA) and who claim to have overcome it, the in-house creative team manages to soften the church’s typically hard line stance against the LGBT community.
Secondly, the singular tactic of Truelove.is is foolproof. The initiative makes clear that it comes from a place of ‘love’, it wants to listen to LGBT Christians without passing judgement, it wants the church to be a safe space for LGBT Christians to feel loved and accepted, and it wants LGBT Christians to know that God loves them unconditionally, whatever they choose to do with their SSA.
Finally, Truelove.is understands the visual power of renowned symbols. It uses the rainbow flag to draw attention to its cause, aligning the church as allies of the LGBT community. It is effective because it is ‘radical’.
However, detractors of the ministry allege that its approach is pure deception, employing the slickly packaged marketing of an updated form of conversion therapy designed to force LGBT Christians to suppress their sexuality.
In one of the ministry's videos featured on their Facebook page, a woman only identified by her first name Tryphena says: “I was so filthy, and so messed up. But He still loves me.” On its Instagram page, she is showcased as one of the many people who worked with the church to get over the “same-sex attraction” she faced since she was a teenager. In another post featuring Tryphena, she tells the church, “Ever since childhood, I needed to be the man. To protect my friends, be the surrogate husband to my mother, to be a better man than my father was. I tried to be better, but was not man enough for her.” She explained that yearning to be a man made her want to be a lesbian but that TrueLove.Is has helped her find God and realise she did not actually want to date women.
Alessio, another TrueLove.Is member with only his first name disclosed, shared a story similar to Tryphena’s. “Was I born gay?”, he asks in a sombre video. He describes his fear of women, supposedly brought about by witnessing them putting men down. He says that with the help of God and TrueLove.Is, he realised that he is not gay. It was, the organisation argues, just fear. “Alessio has found peace instead of a tortuous struggle,” said the text on the video.
Essentially, when Truelove.is tells LGBT Christians to “come home”, they are not saying that it is acceptable to be gay or to have sexual relationships with others of the same gender. They are saying that it is not a sin to have gay desires, nor should anyone be ostracised for having them. However, it would be sinful to act on them in the eyes of the Lord. As such, “coming home” is merely about a commitment to Christ and His ways, which includes not acting on one’s SSA - something straight Christians may see as a perfectly reasonable path.
Truelove.is firmly asserts that the church must win the trust of LGBT people by using the right language and respecting their journey. Its flock is reminded never to harp on whether an LGBT Christian has ‘turned straight’ nor try to ‘fix’ or ‘save’ LGBT Christians. It claims that its approach is not conversion therapy. Embarking on a journey with someone who has SSA is simply about remaining present in their lives and constantly reminding them that because God loves them, He knows what is best for them.
According to both Truelove.is and Choices, the three factors which cause to homosexuality are:
- a sensitive child as a victim
- a dominant mother
- a distant father.
Both ministries preach that if individuals' lives comprise these three elements, they “may get their sexual desires messed up during the course of puberty”. It is grounded in the theory that because sexuality can be altered, homosexuality is caused by sin.
No one at Truelove.is says being gay is “wrong”, but they do not need to. Unlike the Lawrence Khongs of the world, they never make their intolerance explicit. They use soft power, and words like ‘love’, ‘vulnerability’, and ‘safe spaces’, to hide their unspoken rejection. They wholeheartedly believe that “true” love conquers all. But when handled carelessly, the author feels that love is also a form of violence that cannot be undone.
Muslim conversion therapy
The vast majority in the LGBT community did not know about Muslim conversion therapy or whether it took place at all in Singapore until the late 2010s when a groundbreaking bachelor's thesis published by Nurul Qistina bte Fadhillah on 19 April 2019 dealt with the issue. It was entitled, "(I can't) pray the gay away! Experiences of conversion therapy amongst queer Muslims.".
"In Singapore, Conversion Therapy (CT) is an open secret. Christian ministries and psychiatric professionals openly advertise their services to “cure” queer individuals, besides holding public campaigns to lead “wayward” queers back to the right path of God (e.g. Truelove.is slogan: “Don’t come out, come home”). While controversial elsewhere, there is no official condemnation nor criminalisation of CT by public institutions here. What is not well-known or studied is CT for Muslims, especially when its adherents dismiss the existence of the Queer subject. To begin with, neither are well-documented in local literature, if they even are. Using paradigms of Violence and Voice, I attempt to introduce new narratives into discourses surrounding queerness and religion. I frame CT as violence, focusing on the consequences of CT on subjects: how they react to such violence, and heal from it. I argue that violence begins and is reinforced in the invisibilised privacy of the home, with families and communities playing an equal – if not, bigger – role vis-à-vis practitioners in “converting” subjects, causing lasting damage that obliterates the subject’s relationship with religion and God, themselves, and others. Nonetheless, powerful cognitive schemas and discourses that devalue the queer subject shape the thoughts and behaviours of social actors involved, reiterating the connection between socio-legal policies, social institutions, and individual behaviour. In sum, violence towards queers exists on a continuum, beginning with institutionalised prejudice before culminating in one extreme of conversion therapy."
On 16 December 2020, Heckin' Unicorn published an article describing the conversion therapy trauma of Iani, a female Malay-Muslim Singaporean whose preferred gender pronoun was "they, their",. Iani had a history anxiety and depression due to physical abuse by her parents and an episode of sexual assault. At the age of 16, they were outed as lesbian to their parents after which they were soon visited by their grandmother and uncle who was an Ustaz, a male Islamic religious teacher. The Ustaz proclaimed that Iani was possessed by a jinn, an evil spirit in Islamic mythology, which was influencing Iani’s sexuality and needed to be expelled from their body for them to become “normal”. A week later, the Ustaz performed ruqyah (Islamic exorcism) on Iani. During the ritual, he made Iani memorise and recite verses from the Qur’an, and whenever the recitataion was not to his liking, he would whip Iani with a cane. The Ustaz also made Iani perform sujud (prostration to Allah in the direction of Mecca) after which he held a lighter to each of Iani’s feet as he recited Qur’anic verses to cast the jinn away. Iani screamed in pain from the searing heat of the flame, but their parents only saw it as a sign that the exorcism was working. Needless to say, the repeated sessions of ruqyah failed to change Iani's sexual orientation but instead caused Iani to suffer a severe psychosis which required hospitalisation at the Institute of Mental Health.
Aqua Man, short film on conversion therapy
- Main article: Aqua Man (short film)
"Set in the 2000s, Aqua Man talks about the emotional transformation of a young boy, Junjie, and its religious dilemma of being a gay Christian individual in Singapore.
Aqua ah kua, ah kwa /kuah, kʊɑː/ n. & a. [poss. Hk. (邪 k’hwa (sëà distorted, perverse (Medhurst); Mand. kuā (literary language) askew, crooked, aslant, oblique (+ xié evil, heretical, irregular) (Comp. Chi.–Eng. Dict.)] Also ah gua, ah qua, and abbrev. to AK, AQ. derog. A n. 1 An effeminate man. 2 A male transvestite. B a. Effeminate, sissy."
It was Ho's directorial debut, which although taking only one month to conceptualise, write, cast and produce, was immensely difficult for him to promote. This was due to Singapore's draconian censorship laws regarding homosexuality and the story of student Jun Jie, his distressed mom, and Bible-armed pastor was rejected at least 15 times by streaming platforms and film festivals.
Efforts to ban conversion therapy in Singapore
Recommending Government ban of conversion therapy at Universal Periodic Review
In preparation for second Singapore's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 27 January 2016. Pink Dot SG and Oogachaga Counselling and Support submitted a joint report about LGBT issues to the United Nations' Office of the High Commission for Human Rights.
A simplified and eye-catching version of the report to facilitate education of the LGBT and mainstream communities regarding these issues was published and may be read here:,. (The report's layout was done by graphic designers and long-term gay couple Kenneth Chee and Gary Lim).
In the week leading up to the UPR, the two organisations released a series of 6 comic strips drawn by openly gay cartoonist Otto Fong to highlight some of the key concerns raised in the joint report. The second part dealt with conversion therapy:
- Part 2: LGBT persons are subjected to harmful reparative therapy
LGBT youth in Singapore are exposed to Reparative Therapy in order to change their sexual orientation and/ or gender identity. Internationally, these practices are denounced as harmful and unethical. We recommend the Government outlaw all such clinical practices.
For Singapore's third UPR scheduled for 12 May 2021, a stakeholder report was again jointly submitted by Oogachaga and Pink Dot SG on 15 October 2020. The full publication was released in early 2021 and included recommending a ban on conversion therapy. Oogachaga published a series of comic strips to illustrate these issues on its Facebook page in March and April 2021. One of them dealt with conversion therapy.
- The United Nations defines ‘conversion therapy’ as interventions based on the belief that a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity (LGBTQ+ identities in particular) can and should be suppressed and changed. Such practices have been proven to have a severe, lasting negative effect on one’s physical and mental health. Yet various forms of this continue to be practised in Singapore by religious leaders, social service and healthcare professionals. It is recommended that all medical and social service professional associations to implement guidelines that explicitly prohibit all practices that seek to change one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Illustration by Heckin' Unicorn.
Anthea Ong queries Health Minister in parliament about conversion therapy, 2020
On 4 May 2020, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong queried Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong in Parliament regarding conversion therapy,. She wanted to know whether the Ministry would consider:
- stating an official position against conversion therapy, as it was not approved by expert bodies in psychology including the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the British Psychological Society (BPS)
- disseminating guidelines against conversion therapy to mental healthcare professionals
- establishing complaint mechanisms for clients who have experienced conversion therapy and
- pursuing disciplinary action for mental healthcare professionals who practise or refer patients for conversion therapy
"The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th revision (ICD-10), which is the current standardised medical classification list by the World Health Organisation (WHO), states that sexual orientation alone is not to be regarded as a clinical disorder that needs to be cured. Homosexuality has not been considered a psychiatric diagnosis since 1973 (by the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and 1977 (by the WHO International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems).
MOH expects doctors and other healthcare professionals to practice according to evidence-based best practice and clinical ethics, and to consider and respect patients’ preferences and circumstances (including sexual orientation) when providing care. For individuals who seek care with a desire to change one’s sexual orientation through clinical means, healthcare professionals should care for and support these individuals with empathy and sensitivity.
Mechanisms for the public to feedback on care provided already exist at public healthcare institutions and members of the public can submit a formal complaint to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) if a doctor is acting unethically or providing inappropriate treatment.
The SMC takes complaints against doctors seriously and will investigate and impose disciplinary action if the doctor was found guilty of misconduct."
Heckin' Unicorn's campaign to ban conversion therapy, 2020
In December 2020, Teo Yu Sheng, author of the Heckin' Unicorn blog, published a series of 4 articles describing the trauma of victims of conversion therapy. At the end of each article, he exhorted readers to take action against the practice, saying that it was a public health issue. He felt that the LGBT community and its allies should continue to defend the right of people to practice their religion and beliefs, yet strike a balance to ensure that the health and safety of individuals are not disproportionately affected by any practice, especially those that were known to cause deep harm.
He prepared an email template that readers could send to relevant ministries (Health, Law, Home Affairs), as well as members of the political opposition parties, asking them to protect teenagers from the harms of conversion therapy. He proposed the following regulatory changes to help safeguard minors from the harm of conversion therapy:
- Require any person who practices “conversion therapy” to give participants a warning message that “conversion therapy” has no scientific basis and may not work. This would be similar to how tobacco products are mandated to contain health warning labels.
- Prohibit advertisements of “conversion therapy" practices in Singapore. This would be similar to how tobacco products are barred from all forms of advertising in the country.
- Prohibit medical professionals from suggesting, endorsing, or prescribing “conversion therapy” practices. Although the Health Minister has said that medical professionals are expected to practice according to “evidence-based best practice and clinical ethics”, this stance isn’t a prohibition of the harmful practices of “conversion therapy”.
- Amend regulations to close the loophole on domestic abuse laws, by explicitly categorising “conversion therapy” as a form of domestic abuse.
- Amend regulations to explicitly include “conversion therapy" as a form of ill-treatment under our child abuse laws.
Position statement from Singapore Psychological Society
"Imagine waking up and finding yourself in a completely different planet. One where you are celebrated for only parts of you (e.g., the way you work hard, sell products, are kind to strangers)…. but not for other parts of you that make you tender, feel connected to yourself, love yourself and help you fall in love with others. What happens when we feel buried under many other peoples’ expectations and truths that we don’t even feel ourselves anymore?
As the professional body for psychologists, the @singaporepsychologicalsociety reiterates the principles in our Code comprising:
- Respect: It the responsibility of psychologists to accord respect onto everyone they professionally work with, which includes respect of differences.
- Integrity: Psychologists are to practice within their areas of competence, and to ensure that they are up to date about the research evidence that best supports the clients they are working with.
- Beneficence: Psychologists are to strive to do good for their clients, which includes incorporating the research evidence for best practices.
As Pride Month draws to a close, SPS stands with every single person for their deepest “self” (ie who they really experience and identify themselves as) — and in particular, we honour the LGBTQ+ population who have suffered deeply, and who we deeply cherish just as they are."
- Outlaw “conversion therapy” practices.
Counselling of victims of conversion therapy by Oogachaga
- 📧 Email counselling: CARE@oogachaga.com (daily)
- 📲 WhatsApp counselling: 8592 0609 and https://wa.me/6585920609 (text-based) on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7pm to 10pm, and on Saturdays from 2pm to 5pm.
Free Community Church
LGBT Christians seeking a church in Singapore which accepts their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression unconditionally may wish to worship at the Free Community Church located at #02-01, One Commonwealth.
- Ex-gay movement in Singapore
- Sy Rogers
- Patrick Lee
- Leslie Lung
- Singapore anti-LGBT movement
- Singapore anti-LGBT organisations
- Archive of the article, “The Choices Ministry” by Patrick Lee
- Nurul Qistina bte Fadhillah, "(I can't) pray the gay away! Experiences of conversion therapy amongst queer Muslims.", Bachelor's thesis, National University of Singapore, 19 April 2019.
- Carolyn Teo, "Gay ‘conversion’ is being debated in Singapore. So it’s too bad few will see ‘Aqua Man.’", Yahoo! Style, 22 March 2021.
This article was written by Roy Tan.