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Them and us: let's get rid of the divide (Streats [Singapore])
4 Aug, 2001

On the eve of National Day, there will be an all-night party at Sentosa.

The event is called Nation and its organisers bill it as a National Pride Party. They also say it will history-making event - the biggest gay and lesbian party in Singapore.

"You're proud. Of your country. Of your community. Of who you are," says Nation's promotional material.

Pride takes a different meaning depending on which side of the pink you're on.

But at its most literal, sure, gays and lesbians have every reason to be proud of Singapore.

They are economically contributing citizens who hold down jobs, pay their taxes, serve National Service and helped make Singapore what it is today. Now if only their country would return half the pride they feel for it.

Where are they placed in civil society? Don't ask, don't tell- Disadvantaged by archaic Victorian laws, the message they have always received is that they are not part of the mainstream.

Them and us.

For a brief few months, transsexuals were shunted aside when the one remaining clinic in Singapore offering transgender surgery closed quietly. When Project Eyeball broke the news, it quoted the Ministry of Health as saying that sex-change operations are not life-saving procedures and should therefore be given "less priority".

Them and us.

Our children now have Racial Harmony Day in school to learn about other Singaporeans who are like us, yet not like us in some of their practices. But are the adults as willing to learn more about others who are like us, yet not like us?

Do we take pride in our multi-cultural society because we respect our differences or is this display of diversity just for tourist brochures?

Celebrate the rich, vast tapestry that is diversity. But don't be obsessed by it-Obsession with diversity underlines the intensity of difference. That way stereotyping lies.

One year into the new millennium, we are still crawling our way through having handicapped access retrofitted into train stations - access that should have been there in the first place.

While last month US regulations came into place requiring new government web pages to guarantee access to the handicapped.

It would mean web pages have to support voice recognition software for the blind, and videos have to be captioned for the deaf.

Yes, the blind do go on the Net. But we haven't given that much thought here. The same way we didn't think the wheelchair-bound take the MRT, Them and us.

When we say every Singaporean matters, do we mean each and every Singaporean or just the ones like us?

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