Defiant Love: From Nigeria and Singapore

“Homosexuals are doomed to spend eternity in hell. If they wanted to change, they could be healed of their evil ways. If they would turn away from temptation, they could be normal again. If only they would try, and try harder, if it doesn’t work.”

These were the words said by Mary Griffith to her son, Bobby Griffith, in the movie “Prayers for Bobby” – a story of a how Mary Griffith, staunch Christian Mom of Bobby Griffith, fights to cure her gay son of his homosexuality. Bobby eventually spirals into depression and self-loathing. One night, he falls off a bridge on a highway into the path of an oncoming truck, which kills him instantly.

I still remember that afternoon, almost ten years ago by now. My mom and I were in the car on Grange Road, just about to turn left into Ngee Ann City. This was during the aftermath of the AWARE saga in Singapore (AWARE is a women’s organization in Singapore. in 2009, a group of right-wing Christians orchestrated a takeover protest of their sexual education material in which same-sex attraction was deemed OK). The radio was covering the story and asked for listeners to call in with their views on the matter. After listening to the cover, my mom at the steering wheel turned to me and said a sentence I will never forget.

“These homosexuals are evil, and they should burn in hell.”

I understand that in staunchly religious households, such words would not have been uncommon. However, what affected me was the speed, the surprise, and the suddenness of it all. I was minding my own business in the car, and in that single sentence, the mom that I knew for twenty years was gone. In her stead I could only see someone else – caring in same way, but it never felt like the same person that I could trust. If this person found out about my secret, what would happen to me? I dared not find out.

To my mom, it was an off-handed comment that she probably won’t remember. But to me, it felt like my entire world was upended.

Have you watched the Pixar movie, Inside Out? Central to the movie was the idea of core memories, which were key moments in one’s life that shape one’s personality. This very moment, to me, became one of them. The suddenness of the topic and the vitriol in her voice was unforgettable. This memory has stuck to me till this very day, almost ten years down the road.

If you’re gay, no one is safe, not even from their families. The world felt a lot darker, and a lot more dangerous.

I stayed silent for the rest of the journey. At the time, it was only a few more months until it was time for me to go to America to pursue my undergraduate studies. It was in that very moment, I vowed to myself that I *must* keep my secret away from family. I knew that had my parents found out, there was a real danger that they would cut off funding to me and call me back because they would assume I was ‘influenced by the western agenda’ – even though I already knew starting in secondary school!

For the next four years, I bided my time in college. I did call back to my parents, but I hated the idea of doing so. I figured that the less I share about my life, the less likely my parents would find out, and I could graduate in peace. The goal was to remain closeted until I was financially independent, and I succeeded. I am fortunate to come from a financially stable family. My parents have absolutely no need for me to support them for retirement. Hence, my primary concern was to establish a stable income for myself. It was only through freedom of a stable income could I not rely on the parents that could possibly kick me out for being gay. Was that paranoia? True, it was highly unlikely for my family. But it was a chance I could not afford to take.

Overall, I had a good college experience. Back in Singapore, my church, while not outwardly hateful, did weigh in on the topic of homosexuality with the usual quotes from Leviticus, along with a sprinkle of “lifestyle”, “choice”, and (my personal favorite) “hate the sin, not the sinner.” At least I could now enjoy my Sundays, without the occasional self-denigration from the pulpit.

But the past sermons and that memory continued to affect me. Night after night, I called out to God and asked him why? Why couldn’t I, like the Book of Mormon musical, “turn it off”? It certainly didn’t feel like a choice. If it was, why burden me with such a choice when everyone else seems to have it easy? Is this God’s cruel punishment on me for something else? I always wondered what would have happened if I was born gay in a different environment. I read of Matthew Shepherd, the American student who was beaten, tortured, and left to die. I read of news about ISIS, where brothers and parents threw their gay families off buildings. Some friends dismissed it as the work of crazy people. All I could think of was that car drive on Grange Road. I could not shake off the look in her eyes. Perhaps society is just a few laws away from craziness, after all.

Four years passed and I got my degree with distinction. I returned back to Singapore, with a stable job waiting for me – mission accomplished! But shortly after, my dad decided to have a private talk with me – one of the few he’s ever had with me his entire life. He inquired why I felt so distant, so different from the boy he once knew. My mom, who was always a worrywart, has visibly aged since four years ago. Because I have become so distant and resistant to communication, she worried even more in my absence.

I was not ready to share the real reason why I was so silent. I clammed up again. I felt no motivation to share my reason anymore. I have survived four years without sharing my life. Why start now? I have learned to stop caring about sharing my life with my parents.

Shortly, my mom found out about my sexuality. I gathered it was probably due to my over-zealous sharing of Pink Dot posts on Facebook (I didn’t really care about them finding out at this point). One day, my Mom confronted me about it. When she took my silence to be a ‘yes’, while holding back tears, the first words out of her mouth were “We shouldn’t have sent you to the U.S.” In the end, my prior fears were not unfounded. In that moment, I felt validated – validated that my strategy for those four years was not unfounded and could have saved me from an early withdrawal from school.

Thankfully, for me, it was a (reasonably) happy end. After the tears, she said that while she can’t approve of my ‘lifestyle’ due to the church, she did say that she still loves me.

Overall, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. Besides this incident, my parents have given me every material need, the necessary attention, and tools needed to succeed in life. I was never thrown out of the house, beaten as child, nor been assaulted on the street (yet). However, I cannot say the same for some of my friends and the greater gay community as a whole. I have no illusions; I’ve had a great life so far. But if that single moment on Grange Road still affects me ten years after, I am sure that some other son, in some other less privileged family, with less money, less love, and denied opportunities to stay hidden, would have it much worse. “Prayers for Bobby” was based off a true story, after all.

Hence, for those who believe that 377A is ‘just a symbol’, then consider yourself even more fortunate than I am. To many, 377A is not ‘just a symbol’. For some, 377A has become the flag in which the religious right is using to rally its supporters. For some, 377A is a constant reminder that we feel less like citizens but more like a bargaining chip to the government. For some, 377A has become the perfect veil for others say hurtful, ignorant comments with little repercussions on sunny little Singapore.

To me, it is clear: day after day, 377A is a sum of all of the above. It is a constant reminder that we are alone against our bullies.

To the religious who believe that repealing 377A will lead to the moral decay of Singapore, the story of “Prayers for Bobby” does not end at Bobby’s death. Marry Griffith desperately searches for answers to her son’s death and eventually realizes that it was her hurtful words that drove her own son to suicide. She shares in her closing speech:

“Unknown to you, they will be listening, as you echo ‘amen’. And that will soon silence their prayers. Their prayers to God for understanding, and acceptance, and for your love. But your hatred, and fear, and ignorance of the word ‘gay’ will silence their prayers. So, before you echo ‘amen’ in your home, and place of worship, think. Think, and remember. A child is listening.”

So if you’ve read all the way to this point, please remember that even if you are a regular churchgoer with no contact with the gay community, I am sure that someone you know and love is being hurt by your very actions. It could be one of the quiet kids sitting in the corner every Sunday School. It could be your best friend, your cousin who’s never seemed to have a girlfriend. Above all, it could be your son who you never suspected a bit. And just like every mention of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 from the pulpit, I can tell you from personal experience that each mention of 377A along with the “hate the sin, not the sinner” rhetoric will chip away at that kids self-esteem and self-worth.

So let the movie “Prayers for Bobby” be a cautionary tale. The real damage to society will not come from the moral decay that you speak of. It will come from the erosion of trust between you and the children that you never knew were listening to your words all along. As Mary Griffith realized too late, you can’t turn back the clock once the deed has been done.

But unlike Mary Griffith’s situation, the Singapore story does not end… yet. The absence of 377A itself will also be a new symbol. A symbol that a secular Singapore with religions preaching harmony and not division as the way forward. A symbol that the government does not make short-term voter gains at the expense of minority citizens. A symbol that gay people are no longer defined by a law ‘gross indecency’ but are finally reduced to mere human beings, just like everyone else.

And for those who aren’t LGBT and are quiet or ambivalent about showing your support, we do need your help to drown out the noise of bigotry. Just as how my experience was traumatic and drove me back to hiding, your outward show of support, whether you realize it or not, is a huge deal for those around you who are still closeted and in hiding. It will give them less and less reasons to hide. The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood, but with your help, I pray that the tide will turn sooner.

 

Ho Bing Zhao

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Link to the petition that will be circulated to your MPs: http://bit.ly/ready4repeal

#Ready4Repeal #Repeal377A

 

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14 Responses to “Defiant Love: From Nigeria and Singapore”

  • End_of_LGBT:

    Let’s have LGBT throughout the world and let mankind be destroyed by diseases and zero birth. Stroking your emotions with sympathy, understanding and standing along with LGBT spells dooms day ever nearer than you thought of.
    We know the ultimate intention of LGBT ended with sex using anus and oral.
    It’s not so much of the law like 377a or the society perceives the LGBT action but the person’s conscience pricks you forever it’s wrong be it morally, spiritually or physically.
    Just pause for a moment and think of your own being conceived with a man and a woman. Would you think yourself being conceived by same sex ? Think harder please !

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  • DOOMERANG:

    PRAY EVERY NIGHT FOR JUST ONE HOUR,

    YOUR LOT WILL N CAN BE SAVED…..

    TRY ELISHA GOODMAN’S PRAYER POINTS…

    ONLY IF YOU WANT CHANGE, SONNY BOY…

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  • LIONS:

    Why not fight for jobs,CPF n removal of GRC first?

    So,you gays dont care about these common issues?

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  • HarderTruths:

    Male. femal LGBTQ are all humans.

    As long s LGBTQ are given their dues by society as humans and live according to their choice that is all society can do for anyone.

    LGBTQ should not blame males and females for their condition – we did not make you the way you are.

    LGBTQ should not ask for special rights – you get as much as anyone else and not more.

    LGBTQ should not be as an excuse to get things that have to be worked for by everyone equally. To say an LGBTQ person had a problem dealing with the world is that person’s problem and that person needs to get help to adjust. Do not blame the rest of us for something nature did.

    Do not tell normal people we have to change or accept LGBTQ thinking because you say so. We do not. But we can give LGBTQ their dues.

    $G people by and large do not discriminate against LGBTQ.
    Why is this true? – look around you and tell me how many LGBTQ have actually been imprisoned under 377A since independence.

    LGBTQ is a minority – as such understand what that means – laws cannot be made to suit everyone.

    LGBTQ should stop bashing others and learn to live and let live. LGBTQ are not the only one with problems.

    There is a method in nature and survival – wander too far in either direction and nature will show you why she does not tolerate the weak or stupid.

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  • nihon:

    what a sob story.

    I can;t feel sorry for you. I feel v sorry for myself wasting my time reading your nonsense. and for putting me through an emtional journey.

    next, a thief will say, ;’I was born a thief, can’t help it.’

    if you want to poke til you die, its your choice. don’t campaign to make it acceptable.

    pls don’t spread this n corrupt our young. what’s wrong with love? problem is – its NOT love.

    lastly, pls learn to shut up. no one hates you. its self-hatred.

    there are more important issues at hand – hdb, cpf, ftrashes stealing our jobs, hdb and healthcare, no ns sgs, imported voters and high cost of living.

    YOU are NOT the victim, WE ARE.

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  • ganessk:

    Ho Bing Zhao

    Your description of famiies not accepting people like you is not confined to LGBT issues. Have you heard of honour killing in the middle east. Where girl meets biy from a family which the family diapproves.

    So the disease is in the family or environment or background.

    No legislation is going to solve it. They got to change.

    For argument sake if 377A is repealed and someone still acts agains the LGBT community what then, is your community going to campaign for justice because, it is legal now.

    We constantly have minorities discrimated at job places. Well that is life.

    Is it the fault of the person to be born a minority in a majority country.

    He just has to make use of the choices available to him and move on.

    You dont feel safe in this environment move to a place where you feel safer.

    But remember the grass is always greener on the otherside.

    My 2 cents/

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  • Rabble-rouser:

    After I’d read this & went “WTF!”. Why come back to S’pore if you’re part of LGBT community? A good US education but very poor decision making skill!

    Ho Bing Zhao: Four years passed and I got my degree with distinction. I returned back to Singapore, with a stable job waiting for me – mission accomplished!

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  • patriot of Temesak:

    LGBTQ…is a WAY of LIfe the same as a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian & Muslim CHOSE to LIVE!!!

    UNCERTAINTY is the downfall of many NOT knowing whether their feelings of a friend of the same SEX be it Sexual or Platonic especially when one is in school and young to KNOW if it is NATURAL or to be NURTURED

    Many will grow older and leave their feelings in the past BEHIND and LIVE a NORMAL LIFE???

    Some will pursue and NURTURE it as Natural

    God gave us the FREE CHOICE!!!…in the Ten Commandments nowhere is there a COMMANDMENT that says you cannot LOVE another of the SAME SEX and the Commandments should NOT be SPIN to suit Oneself!!!

    In Sodom & Gomorrah, sinful men were even eying the Angels sent by God for sodomy AND God Destroyed S & G for all the sinful ways NOT at one Particular sin of men eyeing another with Lust for Lookin with Lust is a SIN in itself as taught by Jesus!!!

    So “LIVE and let LIVE”…Life is Precious and should NOT be taken even through LEEgal Abortion!!!

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  • nihon:

    patriot of Temesak:
    LGBTQ…is a WAY of LIfe the same as a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian & Muslim CHOSE to LIVE!!!

    UNCERTAINTY is the downfall of many NOT knowing whether their feelings of a friend of the same SEX be it Sexual or Platonic especially when one is in school and young to KNOW if it is NATURAL or to be NURTURED

    Many will grow older and leave their feelings in the past BEHIND and LIVE a NORMAL LIFE???

    Some will pursue and NURTURE it as Natural

    God gave us the FREE CHOICE!!!…in the Ten Commandments nowhere is there a COMMANDMENT that says you cannot LOVE another of the SAME SEX and the Commandments should NOT be SPIN to suit Oneself!!!

    In Sodom & Gomorrah, sinful men were even eying the Angels sent by God for sodomy AND God Destroyed S & G for all the sinful ways NOT at one Particular sin of men eyeing another with Lust for Lookin with Lust is a SIN in itself as taught by Jesus!!!

    So “LIVE and let LIVE”…Life is Precious and should NOT be taken even through LEEgal Abortion!!!

    10 Commandments did not say, but Bible has said no same sex relations.

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  • patriot of Temesak:

    nihon: 10 Commandments did not say, but Bible has said no same sex relations.

    Nihon+++…The Bible was written by men,…The Ten Commandments is God’ Law and Jesus in all His teachings NEVER Condemn the Love of Men & Women in WHATEVER form but said TO Love one another as he LOVE us…

    Let there be PEACE in this Evil World starting with the evil of The Man who CON YOU…God is LOVE and LOVE will be the INSTRUMENT that makes the world go round with Joy!!!

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  • Boh Kia See:

    I think it is better to “Give to Ceaser the things that are Ceaser’s and to God the things that are God’s”.

    So long as people contribute positively to society they are “giving to Ceaser”. As for their souls, it is best to leave it to God. He has infinite wisdom and mercy to touch the human heart.

    There is no need for laws or labels for anyone. Whether a person is going to be “saved” or not is a decision for God to make at the appropriate time –not for mere mortals to decide who will be “saved.”

    It would not surprise me that if one cannot enter into heaven but goes to hell, it would like a Church. One may see pastors and priests there in hell for they have fooled men but not God.

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  • The Preacher:

    I have good news for ALL OF YOU. the Bible says YOU ARE ALL SINNERS. Only by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior will you be spared the flames of eternity.

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  • All are hetero:

    They can do what they want but don’t promote homosexuality.

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  • A big deception:

    Same sex attraction is a mistake. But sexual acts of same sex are voluntary. People who love homo should know but they don’t tell the truth. Medical professionals are deceived by them or some medical professionals deceive the general public that homo is born.

    When homo is wrong, there would be no equality or rights to ask for. They should not do it and seek for help or rehabilitation — just like drug addiction.

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