Sunday, May 3, 2009

How it got to this

May 2, 2009

Aware's new exco has shrunk from 12 to 8 in just five weeks

THE women who founded and ran Aware for 25 years had a rude shock at its annual general meeting on March 28, after more than 100 people turned up. They were expecting 30 or 40.

Most of those who came were new members who had joined in recent months. Aware's rules made it easy for anyone to join, and any member could stand for elections.

When the election of new office bearers began, outgoing president Constance Singam nominated Mrs Claire Nazar to be president and she was returned without a contest. But when longtime Aware member Chew I-Jin was put up for vice-president, she lost to new member Charlotte Wong Hock Soon by a wide margin.

The leadership takeover was completed with nine unknowns making up the majority of the new executive committee. Longtime Aware members did not get many answers when they asked the newcomers who they were, what they stood for and why they staged such a takeover.

In the tumultuous weeks since, the old guard expressed doubts that the new team shared Aware's values of equality for all, or were acting in its best interests.

When Dr Thio Su Mien revealed her role and her reasons for the takeover on April 23, the old guard had to fend off accusations that the group had been promoting lesbianism and homosexuality.

They also had to defend Aware's sexuality education programme against charges that it promoted homosexuality, and said it gave youngsters comprehensive information to help them make good choices, based on their own values.

If today's meeting gets round to it, the old guard and their supporters hope to table a vote of no confidence in the newcomers and get back Aware.

IT WAS not until April 23 that the reasons for the power grab at Aware became clear.

That was the day senior lawyer Thio Su Mien finally revealed how she encouraged several Christian women to join the association and change its leadership.

She began looking into Aware's affairs in 2007 after reading a letter in the Today free tabloid, from a man complaining about the choice of a lesbian-themed movie, Spider Lilies, for an Aware charity show.

She said she then discovered that Aware's comprehensive sexuality programme for students aged 12 to 18 treated homosexuality as a neutral term, not a negative term.

Upset, and fearing that calls for same-sex marriage would come next, she started telling people to join and change Aware.

Aware's sex education programme is clearly an issue that the new team and its supporters are unhappy with. This week, the Education Ministry began receiving complaints about it.

Dr Thio, who called herself a 'feminist mentor', said she had been guiding some of Aware's new faces for up to 10 years. She is the mother of Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann, and new Aware president Josie Lau is married to her nephew, Dr Alan Chin.

Dr Thio also knew Mrs Claire Nazar, who nominated Ms Lau for an exco position and resigned as president after only 11 days.

Dr Thio, Ms Lau and five other new exco members attend the Anglican Church Of Our Saviour, which also takes a strong position on homosexuality.

Three long-time members who were on the exco have resigned too, leaving the women who were unknown just a month ago firmly in control.

The members of the new team have yet to explain why they never declared openly what they were upset about or what they wished to change, before launching their takeover.

[On 2 May at the EOGM of AWARE, 3000 members turned up. for the meeting. When the meeting started at 2.30, the new Exco took the stage to jeers and boos from the crowd. The Exco was, according to reports on the meeting, grilled on various issues and generally had a hard time. At several points, the President Josie Lau asked security to escort unruly members out of the hall. One report said that this was not carried out. At another point, an Exco member, Sally Ang yelled at the crowd to shut up and sit down. She was booed and the crowd demanded that she leave. Josie apologised and tried to move on from that.

Eventually, the meeting skipped to the issue of the no-confidence vote. At about 4.00 pm the voting begins. The results were announced at 8.00 pm with about 1400 votes of no-confidence, and 700 votes supporting the new Exco. At about 9.00 pm, Josie announces that the Exco will be stepping down.

I feel sorry for the ex-new Exco. They may be having a "why have you forsaken me" moment this evening. Certainly the EGM doesn't seem like it was particularly fun for them. That they naively thought that the "forces of evil" would just roll over and let them win speaks as much about their faith as it does about their inability to grasp the realities of life.

I thought the supporters of the old guard did not carry themselves well. They acted like hooligans if the reports are any reflection. Perhaps the ex-new Exco brought it upon themselves. Perhaps passions were running high. Perhaps the lesson to learn is don't rile a mother bear by trying to take away it's offspring.

I feel sorry for them because they don't get it. They will walk away from this defeat thinking self-righteous thoughts and seeking comfort in prayer and solace in god, and wondering where they went wrong with their plans but never once asking if perhaps they were wrong in the first place. About AWARE. About its objectives. And about homosexuality and gender orientation.

Because in their minds, they are right, and they are right with the force of their faith and with the divine backing of God almighty. And yes, they won't get it.]

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