Taboo-busting Singapore podcast gives gay men a voice

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When Singapore radio DJ Joshua Simon was asked to tone down a “sensitive” speech on coming out as gay, he pulled out of the talk but ended up revealing all – by launching a podcast.

The SG Boys, a new podcast focusing on LGBT+ issues hosted by three Singaporean gay men including Simon, is unusual for the modern city-state, where sex between men is illegal and the subject is still largely seen as a taboo.

“When you’re denied a space, you’re going to create your own space,” said Simon, referring to the TEDx talk he withdrew from last year after the local school hosting the event asked him to drop “sensitive” comments about his sexuality.

“I was ready to give my true self, but Singapore wasn’t ready for me to tell my story,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. “So I thought let’s do the podcast I wish we had.”

Simon, 30, teamed up with a journalist and a student to launch the weekly podcast last month, sharing their personal struggles to topics ranging from LGBT+ portrayal in pop culture and serving in Singapore’s compulsory military service as gay.

“In the wider Singapore culture, there is a lot of representation about the LGBT+ community that is based on outdated notions,” said co-host Kennede Sng, 23.

He said this include the use of slurs to refer to gay people in TV shows and everyday conversations, or misleading portrayals that suggest they were sexual predators or responsible for spreading HIV/AIDS.

“The representation now is not positive, it’s largely negative and really inaccurate about what our gender identity is,” Sng said, adding that he wants to change public perceptions with a more “holistic” views of who they are.

Photo: Ya Ting/The SG Boys

Tongue-in-cheek

Since its launch, the podcast has drawn big names including Melanie Chisholm – also known as Mel C of the British pop band The Spice Girls – and American singer-songwriter Lauv who appeared on the programme as guests.

They named the podcast “The SG Boys” as a tongue-in-cheek using a coded language adopted by gay men in Singapore to connect with each other online.

But some of the racy photos posted on social media using the hashtag has led to misperception of gay people, they said.

“There’s certain impression when you hear the words SG Boys. We want to grow this definition,” said Simon, whose father is a pastor.

Both came out in their youth and have suffered bullying and prejudice for being gay, which they said stemmed partly from a law that bans gay sex.

Singapore still has a British colonial-era law known as Section 377A that says a man found to have committed an act of “gross indecency” with another man could be jailed for up to two years, although prosecutions are rare.

Singapore activists have sought to overturn the law, but a court upheld it in March despite opinion polls showing growing acceptance for gay rights in recent years.

The podcasters understand the risks they face for speaking up, but said they they hoped the conversations could lead to change.

“As much as the shadow (of Section 377A) is always looming above us, we look at it as a challenge and an opportunity for us to be brave,” said Simon.

Beh Lih Yi

This article is re-published with permission from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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