If someone were to ask me what a “progressive” is, I’d be at a loss to reply. The term as used by those who call themselves such seems but an exercise in self-approbation. The progressive does not tell us to what place we are progressing, what we must abandon to take the journey, and why we should want to go there anyway. If I were pressed to give an empirical rather than an analytically coherent answer, I’d say that a “progressive” believes in an ever-wider scope of sexual license for the individual and a greater concentration of authority in quasi-governmental bodies outside the direct control of the political process (Child Protective Services, the World Health Organization, the National Education Association), to effect changes that the subject peoples would be too slow to accept on their own. [Emphasis added]
Shortly after that last post, the Association of Women for Action for Action and Research (AWARE) has modelled, almost to the letter, this "progressive" ideology in its opinion piece in MyPaper, titled "Inclusive society must promote health of all" (6 February 2014):
THE Health Promotion Board (HPB) has a simple mandate: "to build a nation of healthy people". As a government agency, its responsibility is to promote the physical and mental health of all members of society equally, regardless of sexual orientation.
The publication of factual, non-judgmental information about homosexuality and bisexuality falls squarely within this mission. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights identify access to health-related information, including sexual health, as a crucial part of access to health care.
Unless the information available reflects the reality of human diversity, many will be excluded from a better understanding of themselves and those close to them, and consequently from the opportunity to make informed decisions about their own health.
The recent statements on sexuality that have attracted so much attention are unambiguously supported by longstanding medical and scientific consensus. The WHO explicitly names "recognising and respecting sexual diversity" as one of a few "key principles" for policymakers seeking to promote sexual health.
Experts with an evidence-based approach widely agree that homosexuality and bisexuality are not mental illnesses.
Over 20 years ago, the WHO, after reviewing the evidence, removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases. This position is shared by numerous medical and scientific bodies, including the American Psychological Association, Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) and the Chinese Psychiatric Association.
The HPB has not only the right, but also the duty to dispel any myths to the contrary. In fact, a commitment to improving public health necessitates battling the stigma surrounding same-sex relations.
A fear of prejudiced health professionals can hold gay, lesbian and bisexual people back from seeking necessary medical help, or discourage them from sharing with their medical advisers potentially relevant information, such as the nature of their sexual activities.
The HPB is also sensible to focus on educating the parents of young gay, lesbian and bisexual people. The RCP notes that societal discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, including rejection from family members, often has a strong negative impact on the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
Researchers in San Francisco found a strong association between negative parental reactions to sexual orientation and young people's experiences of depression, suicide and unprotected sex.
Addressing parental misconceptions about sexuality can prevent needless anguish on the part of children and parents alike, helping to preserve family relationships by improving mutual understanding.
Of course, one set of frequently asked questions cannot single-handedly vanquish all discrimination that lesbian, gay and bisexual people may face.
Referrals to appropriate support services are therefore crucial to assist them and their loved ones in navigating an often hostile or uncomprehending social environment.
Importantly, such services should not treat homosexuality or bisexuality as a wrong to be "cured" – an approach which the WHO has described as "unscientific, potentially harmful" and a contributor to "stigmatisation".
It was disappointing to see the HPB remove information previously found on the webpage about reliably supportive services offered by Action for Aids, Oogachaga and Safe Singapore.
No doubt, some in Singapore regard same-sex sexual relations with distaste or disapproval. But the HPB's primary concern is health; and, in an inclusive society, health is for everyone, not only those judged by the self-styled guardians of sexual normality to be suitably pure.
The state must not deny access to vital information about sexual health out of deference to unevidenced ideological prescriptions.
And, as individuals, we can all come to our own moral judgments – including on those who push for their discriminatory ideals to come before the physical and mental well-being of real people.
It is not surprising that AWARE is so vehement in its defence of HPB's FAQs, given its similar push in 2009 as well as last year (see "Health Promotion Board on Homosexuality" and "AWARE's Sexual Indoctrination Agenda"). Indeed, one would wonder whether AWARE was among the "professional counsellors" who helped put the FAQ together.
Nevertheless, issues like these should always be addressed on their merits, and it is to these we now turn.
The thrust of AWARE's argument, as well as the HPB FAQs, goes broadly as follows: since homosexuality and bisexuality are not mental disorders, and yet homosexuals and bisexuals experience high levels of physical and mental health problems, any mental health problems must be due to stigmatisation. It follows then that homosexual lifestyles should be normalised.
Does this accord with the data?
Reality is far more complicated than the straightforward narrative proposed by AWARE.
At the outset, it is important to note that the angle of AWARE's article is ill-targeted. The role of HPB on issues of public health is not in question. Neither is the role of HPB "to promote the physical and mental health of all members of society equally" in doubt.
Criticisms of HPB's FAQs so far have instead focused on particular responses and positions taken, some of which were discussed, for example, in the previous post titled "Health Promotion Board on Homosexuality" as well as Lawrence Khong's "HPB's sexuality FAQs undermine family" (6 February 2014) published next to AWARE's article.
Is homosexuality a mental disorder?
Without conclusively addressing the question whether homosexuality is a mental disorder, there are a few points of note.
Politicisation of the question. As discussed in a previous post, the issue of homosexuality has been so heavily politicised that scientific objectivity has been severely compromised, as with the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. The American Psychological Association followed suit in 1975. According to former president Dr. Nicholas Cummings, unbiased open research "was never done" and "[the] gay rights movement sort of captured the APA". Notably, the World Health Organization waited almost 20 years before removing homosexuality from its own list, following their trend. The Chinese did so in 2001. The position taken by the Royal College of Psychiatrists appears in turn to be based on the decisions of both the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization. N.E. Whitehead, writes in "Homosexuality and Mental Health Problems":
In conclusion, then, if we ask the question "Is mental illness inherent in the homosexual condition?" the answer would have to be "Further research–uncompromised by politics –should be carried out to honestly evaluate this issue."
Homosexuality linked to other mental disorders. Although the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, it continued to maintain that homosexuality was "a possible cause of depression and other problems" for patients "who are uncomfortable with their sexual orientation". In fact, the HPB FAQs recognise the link to "anxiety, uncertainty, confusion and lower self-esteem" and that this "can lead to depression", although on the website it is claimed that this is due to the "questioning" of one's sexual orientation.
Is "stigmatisation" the cause of physical or mental health problems?
So, then, it seems that the question turns on whether or how far "stigmatisation" of homosexuality, by oneself or others, causes physical and mental health problems in homosexuals and bisexuals.
Evidence shows that the effect of societal "stigmatisation" on the physical and mental health of homosexuals and bisexuals is not as significant as often alleged. Whitehead writes in "Homosexuality and Mental Health Problems":
The Effect of Social Stigma
[Does] pressure from society lead to mental health problems? Less, I believe, than one might imagine. The authors of [a Netherlands study (Sandfort et al. 2001)] were surprised to find so much mental illness in homosexual people in a country where tolerance of homosexuality is greater than in almost all other countries.
Another good comparison country is New Zealand, which is much more tolerant of homosexuality than is the United States. Legislation giving the movement special legal rights is powerful, consistently enforced throughout the country, and virtually never challenged. Despite this broad level of social tolerance, suicide attempts were common in a New Zealand study and occurred at about the same rate as in the U.S.
In his cross-cultural comparison of mental health in the Netherlands, Denmark and the U.S., Ross (1988) could find no significant differences between countries – i.e. the greater social hostility in the United States did not result in a higher level of psychiatric problems.
Support services originally linked by HPB
Perhaps the only support service originally linked by HPB which is justifiable is Action for Aids, which is a registered IPC under the Ministry of Health. However, its role in the education of children and teens remains doubtful.
On the other hand, links to unregistered groups like Ooga Chaga and Safe Singapore are clearly off limits. A group like Ooga Chaga which teaches people how to engage in orgies or "group sex" should have no place anywhere near children or teenagers, especially those who are struggling with sexuality issues.
AWARE's Double Doublethink
Contrary to AWARE's assertions, it is not merely "some" in Singapore who "regard same-sex sexual relations with distaste or disapproval". According to the survey conducted by Our Singapore Conversation, Singaporeans generally disapprove of homosexuality. Another survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies found that almost 80 percent disapprove of homosexual relations between adults, while 73 percent disapprove of "gay marriage". High consensus is recorded across religious persuasions (see "Singaporean Attitudes Towards Sexuality").
Hence, at this point, AWARE commits a double doublethink.
While AWARE criticises "self-styled guardians of sexual normality", it has itself become one such "self-styled guardian". It has spared no effort in attempting to normalise homosexuality (see also "AWARE's Sexuality Education Doublethink"), and has condemned those who disagree as "prejudiced" or "discriminatory". This is its first doublethink.
AWARE's second doublethink comes when it criticises the "deference to unevidenced ideological prescriptions", a term which in context appears to refer to scientific evidence. In fact, AWARE's emotionally-charged moral condemnation of "prejudice" and "discrimination" is itself based on what it calls "ideological prescriptions" which cannot be proven or disproven by science. Furthermore, neither is AWARE "neutral" with regard to "ideological prescription", since it holds to a form of "progressive" ideology as articulated above.
Ironically, the criticisms AWARE lodges against others apply equally or with greater force to itself. This is a classic example of what gamers refer to as "self-pwnage", shooting oneself in the foot.
To be clear, the objection made here is against AWARE's criticism of "self-styled guardians of sexual normality" and "unevidenced ideological prescriptions".
Issues like these are inevitably intertwined with morality, and should be candidly treated as such rather than dismissed as based on "unevidenced ideological prescriptions". (See also posts on Modernism, Postmodernism and Moral Relativism)
In recent times, the word "progressive" has come to refer to one who believes in an ever-wider scope of sexual license for the individual and a greater concentration of authority in quasi-governmental bodies outside the direct control of the political process to effect changes that the subject peoples would be too slow to accept on their own.
AWARE has exemplified this ideology in its recent ill-targeted opinion piece on the HPB FAQs, where it has committed a double doublethink through its criticism of "self-styled guardians of sexual normality" and "unevidenced ideological prescriptions", because these apply to AWARE itself.