“Stop abusing us!” – transgender women in Singapore are sending a strong message to their bullies and aggressors with the launch of the first-ever campaign in Singapore to end discrimination against their community. Named “Sisters in Solidarity”, the campaign was sparked by the recent public humiliation and verbal abuse of Marla Bendini Junior Ong, a local transgender performance artist, at a popular night spot on Clarke Quay.
Ms Bendini says, “I experienced discrimination twice. The first time was when I was having drinks with my friend, also a transgender woman. The club manager came over and told my friend to ask me to leave. He did not know she was transgender. When I asked him why, he said, “Ok, not everybody knows you are a man,” to which I promptly replied, “So what’s the problem here.” He said, “This is simply not their THING.”
Only last week, Ms Bendini was invited as part of a pole dancing troupe to perform at the club, but she was promptly escorted out by the bouncer although she was part of the guest list. Again, the club manager yelled at her and said he did not want to see her in the club, and he also said he had told her so before. Ms Bendini’s dance instructor who was witness to the incident was present at a media conference held today to corroborate her account.
Ms Leona Lo, Founding Working Group member, Asia-Pacific Transgender Network, says what happened to Ms Bendini “is not new.” Since her own ejection from a popular club on Clarke Quay in 2007, she has received a stream of emails from aggrieved transgender women complaining of abusive treatment at the hands of bouncers and club managers at various Clarke Quay night spots.
Ms Lo says, “What’s alarming is the club operators are targeting transgender women at random and verbally abusing, publicly humiliating and throwing out those they perceive as transgender, based on physical attributes such as large hands, angular jawlines, low voices and other such stereotypical assumptions. When in doubt, they then use the gender status on the identity card as a crude measure of ‘acceptability’ and as a passport to entry.”
Ms Lo decried such methods as “barbaric” and “Neo-Nazi” and urged the landlord of the Clarke Quay entertainment stretch to investigate and end the discriminatory practices immediately.
Campaign to end all forms of discrimination
The “Sisters in Solidarity” campaign aims to end all forms of discrimination against transgender women in Singapore, so they can work and play on an equal footing with their fellow Singaporeans. Also present to share her experience with workplace discrimination was Ms Trisha, a transgender pioner.
Since news of the discriminatory act broke on Facebook, the campaign has drawn close to 700 supporters in Singapore and worldwide. On Saturday, 8 May 10, the public can pledge their support for SIS by signing a petition to end all forms of discrimination against transgender women from 2 to 6 pm at Food #03 on Rowell Road. Once 1000 signatures have been obtained, the campaign organisers will send letters to discriminatory organisations and institutions. The public can also purchase SIS badges to express their solidarity. More information is provided in the attached fact sheet.
Social enterprise launched
A social enterprise for transgender women was also launched at the media conference. With immediate effect, companies can log on to endtransgenderdiscrimination.wordpress.com to view a listing of professional services offered by transgender women, such as make-up and Ms Bendini’s pole-dancing performances.
Ms Lo says, “The listing will provide a platform for supportive employers to engage the services of and even recruit transgender women who may otherwise find it difficult to find employment by virtue of their gender identity.”
A separate listing for transgender women who choose to remain anonymous will be posted on www.talksense.biz. The first person to be featured is “Mdm Cyn” (pseudonym) who is a talented illustrator in her late 40s.
Ms Lo says, “Mdm Cyn started her career as a professional model in the 80s but was told to pack her bags when her employer found out she was transgender. Since then, she has been drifting in and out of jobs and frequently sinks into depression. I discovered Mdm Cyn’s talent for drawing whilst interviewing her. Thus I’ve decided to offer her works for sale on my business site on a profit sharing basis. I am open to showcasing the works of other transgender women who choose to remain anonymous.” Ms Lo will also approach the relevant statutory boards regarding funding for social enterprise schemes for transgender women.
Ms Bendini says, “Hopefully, with the launch of the SIS campaign, Singaporeans will adopt a kinder, gentler and more understanding attitude towards transgender women, which is really in keeping with our Asian values.”
Principal Consultant, Talk Sense Pte. Ltd.
SIS or “Sisters in Solidarity” is a public education campaign organised by a group of transgender women who have experienced social discrimination at some point in their lives. SIS aims to empower transgender women to respond to discrimination with dignity and grace, and to live their lives on an equal footing with their fellow Singaporeans.