By Lim Wee Kiat
The topic of the day is the quiet removal of children’s books that are deemed not to be “pro-family” by the National Library Board. From the looks of it, there was no consultation with broad sectors of society. Neither has it indicated an established process in NLB that highlights books of objectionable content to be reviewed, and if removed, announced to the public.
Some quarters of society, especially the conservative and the religious, applaud the move by NLB, arguing that it is acting with integrity. They argue that NLB is exercising its authority to safeguard the societal moral fabric and protect our children from lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).
They label those who protest against the NLB’s withdrawal of children’s books (not just the initial two: Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express) as being pro-LGBT.
I believe positions around this issue are more varied than what the pro-NLB group suggests. For one, being pro-family binds one automatically to the anti-LGBT camp, or vice versa. Because if what they believe is true, my position of being pro-family and not anti-LGBT makes me either a fictional character or a highly delusional person.
I am pro-family. I believe the family is sacrosanct and Singaporeans should do what we can to protect one of the oldest institutions in society. But a family in real life is not one that consists of only a man, a woman, and their children. We have widows and widowers with children. I am sure you know one.
Single moms and dads. I am sure you have heard of them, too. And as much as some quarters condemn them: same-sex couples with or without children. Whether same-sex families receive blessings from anyone or they fall outside the official definition of a family, these social groups are present in our society. They cannot be wished away simply because some Singaporeans do not agree with them and their beliefs . They also serve the purposes of family, regardless of its configuration. They provide a sense of identity and kinship, affection, as well as social and economic support.
But I am also not anti-LGBT. At the same time, I am also not saying that we should encourage or promote it. I am not sure if allowing them to exist will encourage children to follow them. Following the logic, it also makes sense for us to ban gambling, which many of us surely agree it is far more a deleterious to moral fabric and the integrity of families. (Whether your dad bets on Germany is not the question.)
For me, it is not my business to dictate your sexual orientation, whether yours is the same as or different from mine. It is also besides the point whether your sexual orientation is believed to be acquired like a lifestyle choice or inherited at birth.
People like me are concerned by NLB’s ban because the issue at stake goes beyond the removal of books that are deemed not pro-family by the NLB. (The books are also not considered anti-family, no?) The issue at stake concerns the role of libraries as public services.
Should public libraries restrict what its patrons read? Should public libraries succumb to the pressure from vocal members of society or the majority? Are public libraries helping Singapore to become a more gracious and big-hearted society? A more pragmatic question is whether public libraries are helping generations of Singaporeans to learn diverse, even opposing, stories? If stories contain knowledge, and knowledge can be wielded as tools in this increasingly knowledge-dependent world, would we desire our future generation to hold only hammers?