Here's the EXCLUSIVE unedited version the YOH Pink Profile!
We talk to the everyday heroes who make Singapore a better place person by person, day after day. These LGBT support groups will also have a booth (or a picnic mat) at Pink Dot 2011, so come by and say hi!
Who They Are: Young Out Here aka YOH is a queer youth community group started back in 2006 by Elsa Tay, Jeremy Kwok and Benjamin Xue. It caters to queer youths between the ages of 16 to 22 and hopes to help queer youths build ties with the larger queer community.
What They Do: YOH provides a safe and inclusive space which enables the youth to talk about queer youth specific topics and issues. The Support Group programme is composed of 13 sessions, focusing on topics like Coming Out, Family, School, Safer Sex, Relationships & Self.
How To Get In Touch: Sign up for the YOH Support Group at young-out-here.blogspot.com. If you are interested to be a volunteer, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out the group on Twitter: twitter.com/young_out_here and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/youngouthere
We sit down for a chat with Benjamin Xue, one of the moving forces behind Youth Out Here. Ben talks to us about how a simple catchphrase – For Queer Youths, By Queer Youths – has paved the way for the group to provide a safe and inclusive space for the queer youth community to come out, speak up and have a voice of their own.
Tell us about the first run of the YOH Support Group programme. What was memorable about it?
We learned a lot from that first run. I refer to YOH1 as the guinea pig batch as we were all new in organizing and facilitating a support group. I really have to thank the batch participants for trusting us and coming forward to join the support group. I remember one of the participants telling me that he made his first lesbian friend in YOH1! A number of YOH1 participants are still either helping with facilitation in the Support Group or are being ardent supporters of YOH. With every subsequent run, we always try to make it more relevant and interesting to the participants.
YOH5 started last March. How is it going so far?
It’s been going great! The issues brought up by the participants are really interesting. Some of them have never met another queer person in their life! Kudos to them for making each session lively! There has been a gradual shift of focus on the issues raised. Coming out was a huge deal during YOH1 and YOH2, with many of them having not told anyone else in their lives that they are queer. The emphasis is now spread over a few main topics especially about where they belong amongst the larger queer community here, and the larger Singapore community.
Of the different topics covered, which one is your personal favorite?
One Foot In, Both Feet Out – that’s the coming out session. I never get tired of listening to the participants’ coming out experiences, as each one is different and unique. Their voices do add to the fabric of the queer youth community here in Singapore – as equally and culturally diverse – and uniquely Singaporean!
In your opinion, how does the Singapore public now view the LGBT community?
Overall the sentiment on the ground, the Singapore public has grown to be more accepting of the LGBTQ community here. Though there are still big steps to be made, from talking about an all inclusive sexuality education in schools, to changes that need to be made to the dated penal laws, to a much needed update of censorship guidelines amongst mass media and the arts – friends and allies of the LGBT community are not afraid of stepping in the foreground to their queer friends (who are usually hidden from mainstream view) – and events such as PinkDot & Indignation over the past few years have provided that space for that dialogue to grow and be heard.
Is it “easier” for the younger generation to come out compared to a decade ago?
Considering I’m the ‘oldest’ in YOH, I can certainly say yes. They very much have the support and resources to turn to when they come out today – from Pelangi Pride Center to Oogachaga to YOH to Sayoni to online platforms like Trevvy and Fridae. Youths don’t have to feel that they are alone should they choose to come out.
What are the issues that today’s LGBTQ youth face today?
Lately, we’ve been hearing quite a fair bit of name calling and bullying that is going unreported in schools during our Support Group sessions. Making schools safe for queer youths is still pretty much unheard of, but there are strides in that some queer teachers in some schools have taken it upon themselves to make sure that these youths are safe and, hopefully the bullying stops and ends. It ain’t easy being a queer youth here in Singapore – with school work, CCAs, family responsibilities, and being part of the larger queer community, while keeping abreast of their multitude of interests – the list doesn’t seem to end. If there is a realization of who they are inside, their individual quirks and a celebration of that, that’s the best realization any queer youth can make for themselves here in Singapore.
In your opinion, how do events/groups like Pink Dot help LGBTs living in Singapore?
PinkDot as a movement that have grown very much larger than the main event, over the past three years. And rightfully it should. For years we’ve been talking about being racially diverse and culturally tolerant in Singapore – and it’s something that Singapore have lauded to being proud about. To add to that list, Singapore should be proud of that such a simple yet meaningful event is allowed to take place here in Singapore.I was overseas just recently and tons of my friends in DC and NYC have seen that fabulous PinkDot promo video. And it does make you feel proud to be a queer Singaporean. My own family members and my close friends have all supported and came down for PinkDot – it’s one experience like no other.
What are you going to wear to Pink Dot?
Pink of course! We had YOH tee shirts made for the event, and we’re very busy planning our booth for the event. Do come down to PinkDot to talk to us! And most of all to enjoy and bask in the sea of Pink!
Lastly, If there’s one message SG LGBTQ youths should know, what is it?
I’m going to give three. Never lose sight of who you are inside. Feel free to feel everything you want to. Be happy doing what you are most passionate about!