We Love Diversity in Hawker Food. Why Can’t We Do the Same for Society?

R: Why do you think some forms of diversity are celebrated but not others?

YS: Speaking in my capacity as an observing citizen, I feel like there certain forms of more acceptable diversity in Singapore. There’s racial diversity, which is widely celebrated, with Racial Harmony Day and all.

Other types of diversity like gender or sexuality, are more controversial. And I feel it’s because of the policies and narratives of the government has established. We talk about racial riots and the importance of respecting other races and religions, and that’s great. They’ve played a vital role in nation building. But we’ve inherited 377A from colonial times and done nothing about it, because it’s not part of our nation’s narrative.

With the state policing the kinds of conversations we have to maintain order, and the illegitimacy of certain types of diversity censoring their expression, how can we move forward? Without being represented, without being able to talk about it, some forms of diversity—namely, LGBTQ diversity—are just not widely accepted.

R: And how do you think the LGBTQ community handles diversity within itself?

YS: Diversity is a work in progress. It’s not just inherent to our community but also our country. Of course, some people tend to be more judgy, especially on dating apps where you can see discriminatory preferences. On top of that, I think it’s good to note that there’s different shades of diversity, even within the LGBTQ community.

As a Chinese gay man, I enjoy racial majority and male privileges that others in my community might not. Like, there are Malay and/or Muslim folks who are queer, and they face a “triple whammy” of challenges—they belong to a sexual and racial minority and also face their own set of challenges regarding their religious practice. There’s definitely work to be done to promote more diversity and we’re aware of that.

But I want to contest the idea that the LGBTQ community is a monolith. Different people have different beliefs regarding the direction of our movement—and that’s okay! In an ideal world, we should be able to pursue our own ways of advocacy. Treating Pink Dot as the be all and end all of the LGBTQ community in Singapore shows how accustomed we are to having a single narrative, and we should break out of that.

R: When we talk about hawker culture, we can see that there’s this organic commingling of different cultures and cuisines that brought about hawker food as we know it today. Do you think this organic, ground-up intermixing should be how we push for diversity?

YS: I don’t think so. I’m a believer in affirmative action. If current forms of diversity are state-sanctioned, policies are our fastest way forward. It might take a very long time to organically change the status quo if there’s already controversy. This is where the government has to say “this is the right thing, you’re either on board or not, we’re going to do it.” They’ve already done this before for economic policies, racial policies. Just not for such social issues.

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