A really serious matter of public censorship has arisen. The National Library has banned 2 books which, because of references to homosexuality, are deemed to have “conflicting content”. It appears the complaint on which they acted was from a member of the “We Are Against Pink Dot” FB page. The matter of banning books is extremely serious and should get citizens very worried, regardless of your views on homosexuality. I have written to the NLB officer who carried out the ban. Please consider writing too. This is the text of my letter fyi:
Ms Tan Ai Ching
Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Librarian
Public Library Services Group
National Library Board
Dear Ms Tan Ai Ching,
I note from a posting on the Facebook page, ‘We are against Pink Dot’ that in response to feedback, you have withdrawn two books from your shelves. The books are And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express: A Story about Adoption.
This has been reported on the mothership.sg website. It notes that And Tango Makes Three “is a children’s book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole. The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book follows the six years of their life when they formed a couple and were given an egg to raise.” The White Swan Express: A Story about Adoption is described as “an understated message that families come in all shapes and sizes, and are bound together by love.”
Under our Constitution, Singapore is a secular society which prohibits selective discrimination against specific groups of people. The National Library is the nation’s principal knowledge repository. Your decision to withdraw two books on limited feedback without wider consultation is an extremely worrying development given your mandate to cater to all Singaporeans.
All three of our Prime Ministers have articulated a clear non-discrimination position on homosexuality. In 1998, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said in a CNN interview: “But what we are doing as a government is to leave people to live their own lives so long as they don’t impinge on other people. I mean, we don’t harass anybody.” In 2007, he said: “If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual – because that’s the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes – you can’t help it. So why should we criminalise it?” In his book, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, he said: “No, it’s not a lifestyle. You can read the books all you want, all the articles. There’s a genetic difference, so it’s not a matter of choice. They are born that way and that’s that. So if two men or two women are that way, just leave them alone.”
In 2003, Mr Goh Chok Tong said that the government does not “chase [homosexuals] all over the place”. He said that the government no longer forbids the employment of homosexuals in the civil service.
In 2013, Mr Lee Hsien Loong said that on the subject of homosexuality, we should “agree to disagree”.
As such, it is entirely clear that the government no longer has a policy of discrimination against homosexual people. I can only interpret your decision to remove the books as an arbitrary action without reference to current policy.
The banning of books is an extremely serious matter with major ramifications for our community. I’m sure you are familiar with Heinrich Heine’s quote: “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” I therefore consider this to be a matter which deserves further consideration.
In order to take the matter further, I would appreciate it if you would clarify the following:
1. You describe the National Library as having a “strong pro-family” stand. Would you point me to the policy document which states this explicitly?
2. Your policy on removing books based on feedback. Does the National Library remove books based on private feedback without wider consultation?
3. You describe the books as containing “conflicting content”. Given that one book is based on a true story and the other on the idea that families are bound together by love, could you advise me as to the specific nature of the conflicting content?
4. Does the National Library operate a system of selective discrimination in respect of its stock?
I would be grateful of a response at your earliest convenience.
I am copying this letter to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information and Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Communications and Information.