By Janelle Wong
By now, everyone has probably seen the infamous screenshots and videos floating around on the Internet. If you haven’t, a quick summary – on the 22nd of July, a video was uploaded on City Revival’s Instagram account, where two members of the Christian group talked about a variety of topics, ranging from the LGBTQ+ community to abortion, and even suicide. What drew the most backlash, in particular, were the comments where they likened celebrating queer pride as the manifestation of Satan in the world.
As with all controversial things uploaded online, the video was swiftly taken down but the damage had already been done. Joanna Theng and Jaime Wong, the two featured in the video, also issued apologies of their own, before the former decided to “take some time off social media”. Despite the criticism, some have come to their defence, asserting that the pair were merely expressing their own harmless opinions. And this is where I disagree.
Before continuing, I’ll preface that I’m not saying differing opinions shouldn’t be tolerated. Diverse opinions should be welcomed and celebrated because they allow society to grow and think in creative ways. Opinions like the ones in the video however aren’t just mere harmless opinions. There is much more at stake compared to a debate on whether pineapple belongs on pizza. Real human lives and communities are affected when harmful opinions like these are expressed and take root in the lives of others.
Those who fail to recognize that opinions towards the LGBTQ+ community are more than just opinions are often living with privilege. This privilege bars them from seeing that, when it comes to the queer community, lives are often damaged due to these carelessly tossed around opinions. Existing research has already shown that LGBTQ+ people face a higher risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and self-harm. A 2015 report by the United States’ Centre of Disease Control and Prevention also showed that queer youth are more likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
The issue is further complicated when queer youth who are religious already feel persecuted by their own faith. Of course, the relationship between religion and one’s sexual orientation differs from individual to individual, and as someone who is not religious, I’m not at liberty to comment on this issue. And of course, not everyone who is religious is homophobic as well.
But what still stands is that this saga cannot be dismissed as a video where “they are entitled to their opinions”. Joanna Theng’s non-apology (as seen above) falls back into this fallacy where she basically says that whatever she asserts is her opinion, and she has a right to that. Discrediting the criticism and opposition levied at her claims by claiming that she is entitled to her opinions is misleading. Whether she has a right to anything has nothing to do with whether her assertions were true or false. And in this case, not only were her opinions false, they were extremely harmful accusations against the queer community who are already marginalised in Singapore.
Furthermore, Joanna Theng is clearly privileged. And it is her privilege that enables her to say these comments without much repercussion (other than taking a break from social media), and without understanding exactly how much discrimination those in the queer community face on a day-to-day basis.
Ultimately, I’m not saying that opinions shouldn’t differ. There are certain opinions that leave room for disagreement. However, when it comes to opinions like these, related to the lives of other people, it is important to not dismiss them and in fact, actively call them out. Especially in cases where one is more privileged, their privilege should not be used to enact violence onto a marginalised community, but instead used to better educate and support those around them who are less privileged.
So, the next time you come across something like this, stop before you dismiss their assertions as harmless opinions. These opinions hold weight and importance because they affect people’s lives, some more than others.
Should you feel distressed, please know that there are hotlines and resources available to help you:
Samaritans of Singapore
1800-221 444 (24 hours)
Institute of Mental Health
6389-2222 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health
1800 283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
1800 377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Brahm Centre Assistline
6655-0000 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
8823-0000 (WhatsApp available)