Mother with gay sons speaks up

1906

“I am quite sure we are not in the majority. We will never be. I have two gay sons. I am divorced from their father. So that’s my family. It is as real as any family in Singapore. To tell me this is not the case, I think that is definitely not correct.

“I have met people who said I became a divorcee because I have two gay sons. That cannot be true either. Our sons told us they were gay when they were 15, years before we separated.”

The mother, Khoo Hoon Eng, 63, presents another side to the gay story with these words. A professor in biochemistry, she is currently the Director for Special Projects at Yale-NUS College.

She is also the president and founder of SAFE – a support group for parents with LGBT children. She speaks to The Independent Singapore about what it means to be a mother to two gay sons in a society that has not quite accepted them.

“I want them to be happy. I want them to do the things they are good at and be able to contribute to society but most importantly, be happy.” Her sons were 15 and 18 years of age then.

“I started buying books from overseas about the LGBT community. I used to tell people this joke- at that time, I was so afraid to borrow books from the National University of Singapore where I was working, in case someone spotted my name stamped on the books. People would say, ‘why is she reading such books?

“I was so in the dark then.

“I think, throughout the whole journey, the hardest part was trying to figure out how to be more supportive as a mother in light of society’s prejudices against gay people.

“There I was once, walking down Orchard Road, a policeman told my younger son to stop holding another male friend’s hands.

“Not long after, my sons went to the United States  to do their undergraduate studies. I was so proud of what they did during those times.

“My oldest son, when he was in the university in the US, he was part of the LGBT student society; they would go out to high schools to give talks about LGBT youth. I was visiting him and I heard him speak to the teenagers in the schools and it was amazing to see him reach out to other people.

“My younger son, he became an active volunteer with the AIDS Victim Memorial in Singapore. When the organiser could not be there one day, he took over and ran the campaign.

“To see that my sons are capable of doing things like these, they made me proud.

“In 2006, I was on my own. My sons were working in the US and Australia. I was also separated from their father by then. I started getting involved in social work and I met a local gay activist, Alex Au. I learned from him that a number of young gay people were kicked out of their homes when they came out to their parents.

“Rejecting your child because he is gay never occurred to me. If your child goes out and robs someone or kills someone, then you reject your child; that I can understand.

“I met more people with gay family members and gay people who were afraid to open up to their families.

“On Mother’s Day in 2006, I and two sisters of gay brothers, a supportive Christian woman and a newly-out-of-the-closet gay person started SAFE.

“Initially we just wanted to share stories about people who love their family members who are gay in the face of negative societal stigmatisation. Then we started having people coming to us for support.

“There was a mother of a HIV-positive gay son whom the father did not accept. There was another mother who was torn between her church and her gay child.”

“I know accepting your child can be really difficult in view of society’s negative attitudes. So, at SAFE, we try to share how we continue to love and accept our children and other gay or lesbian family members and we try to help these parents in their journey,” she said.

Today, a non-profit organisation, Calling It Out, runs a Facebook page that posts incidents of gay people being bullied or ostracised. A quick check has shown nearly six incidents since Feb 24.

“I think it is also hard because there is no way for parents here to see positive images of gay people in the media. To a fairly large extent, it is quite evident in the United States of America with more and more sports people, newscasters, actors and politicians coming out. People can see they are normal people.

“In Singapore, I think that needs to happen. If someone is gay and he has a husband, the news report should just report ‘husband’ rather than ‘partner’ or ‘friend.'”

She was referring to the 2011 Channel News Asia’s report which referred to David Furnish as Elton John’s ‘partner’ in the news report during the couple’s visit in Singapore. The couple got married in 2005.