When Singapore-based blogger Sean Foo first came out as gay to his predominantly straight friends, he quickly realized they had a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be gay.
The problem, Foo found, was that most LGBTQ websites speak to queer audiences rather than straight people, so on July 26, 2015, he founded Dear Straight People, a website that sought to create a bridge between the straight and LGBT communities in Asia. He has been running the site since, aiming to bring people together, regardless of their sexuality.
The following August, Foo published a post about coming out and self-acceptance by openly gay Korean-American photographer and production designer Dustin Sohn, and it helped the blog grow its audience considerably.
Singapore definitely needed a site like Dear Straight People. Although gays and lesbians can serve in the nation’s military, male same-sex sexual encounters are technically illegal in the country (punishable by up to two years in prison), and it doesn’t have legalized same-sex marriage or anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
The Singapore Media Development Authority prohibits the “promotion or glamorization of the homosexual lifestyle” on TV and radio.
Although Singapore hosts the well-attended annual “Pink Dot” LGBTQ celebration, this last year the government banned foreigners from attending since the event is technically a protest. The country might also prohibit the Oscar award-winning film Moonlight from being shown within its borders.
As the site’s popularity grew, other LGBTQ people in Foo’s community began to criticize him for his hypocrisy. After all, how could he run a popular queer website about coming out when he hadn’t even come out to his own family?
“As much as I wanted to come out to take ownership of the content that I was producing,” Foo recently wrote, “the only thing stopping me from doing so was my parents.”
Foo’s parents weren’t particularly religious or uneducated, but, as far as he knew, they’d never met an openly queer person, and Singapore’s censored media had “warped” their understanding of the queer community. As their eldest son, he felt that he’d already disappointed them with his career choice, so he put off coming out to them, worried he’d disappoint them with his personal life too.
He finally made the decision to come out to them months ago.
“My dad cried,” Foo writes. “My mum blamed herself. But thankfully, neither of them threw me out.”
Though he says that his home situation has improved considerably since coming out, he says they’re tolerant but still struggle with truly accepting his orientation.
“Asian parents tend to struggle with accepting their queer children,” Foo writes. “And truth be told, it’s unfair to fault them for their attitudes.”
Foo is right. Asian homophobia isn’t based on religion as in the United States, but rather from a regional expectation of children to marry and have kids to help comfort their parents as they age.
But ultimately, if Singapore and Asia are to progress on LGBTQ issues, people like Foo and others will have to be willing to come out to their friends and family.
“That is why coming out stories are so important,” Foo says. “Not just to educate the straight community, but also to show the next generation that it is possible for a queer Asian to be open and happy.”
Photos courtesy Dear Straight People