Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) has banned and destroyed copies of three children’s books that deal with same-sex couples and adoption after it received a complaint that the books are not “pro-family.”
NLB removed the books And Tango Makes Three, Who’s In Your Family, and The White Swan Express from the children’s section after a visitor questioned the appropriateness of including the three books in the library. The chief librarian at the NLB quickly responded by assuring the complainant that “NLB takes a strong pro-family stand in selecting books.”
Dr. Justin Richardson, one of the authors of And Tango Makes Three, told The Online Citizen in an interview that NLB’s action has sent a “chilling message about the government’s attitude toward the freedom of expression in general and toward gay and lesbian people in particular.” The book is based on a true story of two male penguins who raised a baby penguin as their own at the New York Central Park Zoo. Meanwhile, the two other banned books also featured stories about non-traditional couples and families.
NLB’s decision to ban the books was met with fierce reactions from the reading public, especially mothers and academics. Many Singaporean authors have publicly criticized the NLB for allowing itself to be bullied by a “conservative minority.” Some of them have already boycotted recent literary events sponsored by the NLB. Last Sunday, more than 400 people gathered in front of the NLB to participate in a public reading event to protest. They also distributed copies of the banned books.
But NLB found support from Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore’s minister of Communications and Information, who reminded the critics that public libraries exist to give consideration to community norms.
“The prevailing norms, which the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans accept, support teaching children about conventional families, but not about alternative, non-traditional families, which is what the books in question are about,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
The issue has highlighted the continuing confrontation between conservative forces and an emergent community that accepts the gay community and advocates for LGBT rights.
Before the NLB issue, the most recent clash was just a few weeks ago during Singapore’s annual Pink Dot celebration. This year’s event attracted more than 26,000 people, the largest Pink Dot since the first in 2009. But this year was also the first time that religious groups openly and actively opposed the Pink Dot by urging people to wear white on the same day.
While the LGBT community and their supporters assembled at Singapore’s freedom park to celebrate love, tolerance and diversity, about 6,000 Christians participated in a “family worship” in opposition to the principles espoused by Pink Dot. They were joined by prominent Islamic educators who initiated the #WearWhite campaign to rally Muslims against homosexuality and to reverse the “normalization of LGBT in Singapore.” Even Catholic Archbishop William Goh issued a pastoral letter criticizing the LGBT lifestyle as “detrimental to society.”
But more solid proof of the continuing marginalization of the LGBT is reflected in the country’s laws, like the notorious Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalizes male homosexual acts.
The LGBT community continues to grow in Singapore but there are still powerful conservative forces that are vehemently opposed to the mainstreaming and even existence of the LGBT sector. The NLB issue has clearly demonstrated the clout of this conservative bloc.