Chapter 5 Blame it on the Bogey: The Christian Right's Construction of Homosexuality and the AWARE CSE Programme
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74 Dominic Chua, James Koh and Jack Yong 74 C H A P T E R 5 C H A P T E R 5 Blame it on the Bogey: The Christian Right’s Construction of Homosexuality and the AWARE CSE Programme Dominic Chua, James Koh and Jack Yong Introduction Introduction While AWARE’s (Association of Women for Action and Research) “old guard” had repeatedly stressed that their Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) package was but one among many programmes, and that it had received disproportionate publicity, the CSE programme was, nonetheless, the focus of an intense war of words in the run-up to the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM). The Christian-led “new guard” attempted to justify their takeover by charging that the CSE programme was proof that AWARE had taken a “homosexual turn” (The Straits Times 24 April 2009a), and that its continued implementation would result in “an entire generation of lesbians” (The Straits Times 24 April 2009b). Post-EGM, the CSE programme continued to be a target for a conservative constituency that had previously been galvanised into action by the anti-gay rhetoric of the new guard. Our chapter examines how the Christian Right in Singapore,1 as exemplified by Dr Thio Su Mien and the new guard, employed a range of discursive strategies to capture and dictate the terms of public discourse on homosexuality and sexuality education, build a movement against AWARE’s CSE programme, and attempt to sway the public’s Homosexuality and the AWARE CSE Programme 75 perception on such issues towards their own understanding of sexuality and homosexuality (Thio 2008). Toward this end, moral conservatives spotlighted the issue of homosexuality in AWARE’s CSE curriculum,2 and framed it as a dangerous contagion while, in the ideological contest over AWARE, Thio and her new guard team mobilised support for their cause by evoking fear, anger and disgust toward gay people. Could the strategies employed by the new guard be better understood in terms of the globalisation of the “family values” movement initiated by the Christian Right in the US? We suggest that rhetorical similarities between the local campaign against AWARE’s CSE programme and anti-sexuality education campaigns in the US and Australia are interesting insofar as they are paralleled by links between local Christian Right actors and those on the global stage (see Gibson 2007). Our chapter also examines how the discourse of the Christian Right had an “echo chamber effect”, in which key cultural messages travelled beyond the initial circle of influence where they were articulated, and were reproduced in the public domain as “facts”. As a result of this echo chamber process, any attempts to contest such messages by supporters of AWARE’s CSE programme were stifled, and alternative discourses about homosexuality and sexuality education effectively silenced. The Dominant Discourse The Dominant Discourse The words, narratives and symbols used in national debates can shape how we think, talk and feel about major socio-political issues. Firstly, by dictating the terms of debate, one side gains the ability to position its own movement’s worldview as common knowledge, and in the process, normalise a particular set of meanings. The side that exercises control of the language and vocabulary used in the discussion of a given issue wields power in determining the parameters of debate (see Foucault 1978; Fairclough 1989). As the sociologist William Gamson (1992) has noted, once a social movement entrenches its own terms in broader public discourse, it becomes very difficult for its opponents to avoid using the same terms, without risking confusion in listeners. Secondly, words can be used to mobilise people. They persuade the indifferent or the ignorant by appealing to fear and outrage, as seen during the AWARE saga (The New Paper 9 May 2009). When a large cohort of likeminded individuals starts to use the same words repeatedly, they can drown out the more timorous voices of their 76 Dominic Chua, James Koh and Jack Yong opponents. This visibly (and audibly) happened at the AWARE EGM, and again in online spaces, when conservative protesters flooded Internet forums with anti-gay rhetoric (TODAY 5 May 2009). Our analysis focuses on the rhetorical strategies of the local Christian Right. This is for a compelling reason — while the new guard were fairly reticent about their motives for hijacking AWARE, when one takes into consideration the larger perspective of the public fora, both in print and online media, the Christian Right said more, and said it more loudly. There was...