At a press conference hastily called by some members of the new executive
committee (exco) of the Association of Women for Action and Research
(AWARE) on Thursday evening, the most prominent person at the head table
was not even a member of the exco.
Thio Su Mien (right) had evidently decided she
could no longer rely on the hachet-women she had put into AWARE's exco to
hold their own in the face of media publicity. They had done a risible job
ever since the controversy broke.
Thio, who is the mother of Nominated
Member of Parliament Thio Li-Ann –- yes, the same one known for her
tirade against gay sex in Parliament in October 2007 –- was introduced
to the media as the "feminist mentor" of the exco leaders. Asked
about what role she had played, she effectively conceded to the media that
she was the mastermind behind the putsch.
Dr Thio Su Mien also revealed that she
had emailed several groups with her concerns about the direction the
association was taking, which prompted reporters to ask if the takeover
"It depends on what you mean by
organising. It is kind of flattering in a way. I’m frustrated, I talk
to people, I collect info, I send to different people. You want to join,
(then) join. I will help you. We discover that networking helps,"
said Dr Thio, adviser to the new AWARE exco.
-- Channel NewsAsia,
23 April 2009, New exco wants to bring AWARE back to its "original
The Straits Times reported similarly:
Senior lawyer Thio Su Mien yesterday
revealed the key role she played in bringing about the change of
leadership at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).
Appearing at a press conference called
at short notice by some of the association's new leaders, she said she
was alarmed to discover that Aware had lost sight of its original
purpose and become pro-lesbian and pro-homosexual.
Dr Thio, 71, a born-again Christian who
runs her own law firm, is the mother of Nominated Member of Parliament
Thio Li-ann and her nephew, Dr Alan Chin, is married to new Aware
president Josie Lau.
She was the first woman dean of the Law
Faculty at the then-University of Singapore, from 1969 to 1971.
Introducing herself as a 'feminist
mentor' to working women, she said she began monitoring Aware's affairs
about a year ago.
Disturbed by what she saw as signs that
it was promoting lesbianism and homosexuality, she began urging women
she knew to challenge Aware's attempts to redefine marriage and
-- Straits Times, 24
April 2009, Lawyer's
key role in Aware coup
On Straits Times' Stomp
portal, someone with the nick Diabolo2428 posted (at 6:43 pm, Thursday
23 April 2009) what he claims is an email from Thio:
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, Undisclosed-Recipient:
Subject: Re Aware Attachments
AWARE_membership_mail-in_application_form.pdf concerned parents.1.do
PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL
Please see Attachments on some recent
developments in Aware. Aware is a woman's organization which conducts
comprehensive sexual programmes for girls and it runs this programme in
some of the schools. They encourage girls to express their full
sexuality and this includes experimenting with other girls. It would be
a good idea to join it and change its focus to other problems of women
..Please ask your like-minded friends
to join Aware so that you can give the vote to those who wish to be an
agent of change for the Lord. They could also contribute to the
activities of the oprganization as there is much to be done for women
and families in this dowturn of the economy. Unfortunately, I cannot
surface but shall be assisting in the background . I attach the Aware
membership application form for your use. The Aware application form has
a section as to who ( if any) told you about Aware. You can just leave
it blank . Please let me know whether you can join and attend the AGM
which will be towards the end of March 2009. The fee is $40/ and should
be mailed to the Aware Office ( see application form).
Look forward to hearing from you.
Please call me. May I have your phone no?
Blessings, Su Mien
Although the above email is undated, its
reference to the AGM "which will be towards the end of March
2009" indicates it was sent out before that.
Diabolo2428 also posted (at 6:45 pm) what
appears to be a follow-up email spreading the call further:
To: leonglh@xxxxxx, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org., email@example.com,
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Fw: Re Aware Attachments
AWARE_membership_mail-in_application_form.pdf McFarlane v. homosex
therapy.htm selected articles (1).pdf
Dear beloved Sis In Christ,
Would like to ask you and your
like-minded friends who are believers to join as members of AWARE to
cast votes and be a change agent for the Lord in some of the recent
issues happen in this organization that is not according to the Lord's
principles........... Please pray for Lord's wisdom to pass on this
important message as it is confidential......
There is no way I can verify if the
emails are authentic, but they do sound real because firstly, they are written in typical
Christian-speak, and secondly, they bear the same points as Thio would
later reveal at the press conference.
Dr Thio explained that her concern
about the direction that Aware was taking was partly prompted by a
letter from a parent who was concerned that the society was promoting a
He wrote to the Today newspaper in 2007
to ask why Aware's choice of a movie for a charity show was Spider
Lilies, about two lesbians who fall in love.
Dr Thio said she went on to discover
that in Aware's comprehensive sexuality education programme, which is
taken to schools, homosexuality is regarded as a neutral word, not a
'I started thinking, 'Hey, parents, you
better know what's happening,'' she said.
'I talked to parents. I said: You
better do something about this, otherwise your daughter will come back
and say, 'Mum, I want to marry my girlfriend.'
'Or your son will say: 'Dad, I want to
marry my boyfriend.''
These parents were flabbergasted, she
said, adding that such sexuality education was taking place in the
United States and Europe and was not new.
'What is happening in society is that
we are redefining marriage, we are redefining families,' she said.
'So I'm a concerned citizen and if
people are so ignorant, I think I want to teach them.'
Pointing out that Aware's programme was
already in 30 schools, she said: 'The suggestion is that in this
programme, young girls from 12 to 18 are taught that it's okay to
experiment with each other.
'And this is something which should
concern parents in Singapore. Are we going to have an entire generation
She then started looking into the
affairs of Aware to see what was going on at the organisation set up by
She said that there were many women's
issues that needed to be looked into, and cited the need to ensure that
retrenched women are dealt with fairly.
'I find to my dismay that Aware seems
to be only very interested in lesbianism and the advancement of
homosexuality, which is a man's issue,' she said.
-- Straits Times, 24
April 2009, Lawyer's
key role in Aware coup
* * * * *
|I find it amazing that Thio thinks
homosexuality is a man's issue.
The only way one can come to this
view is if one denies that same-sex attraction in women exists.
This is usually linked to the
completely outmoded idea that no sexual impulse can possibly
exist in females. Women have no agency with regard to their
sexual lives; they do not have desires of their own. They're
basically a piece of meat lying there for men to use.
How can a person holding such an
attitude call herself a feminist?
Now we can begin to
reconstruct what happened and understand better the issues that this drama
It began with Thio getting upset that
AWARE was living up to its mission and going about its work in an
inclusive, non-discriminatory way. The organisation was beginning to
recognise the existence of lesbian and bisexual women, and take on board
this group in addition to its multitude of programs.
Thio also felt that AWARE message of
empowerment of women -– "take charge of your own lives, take
control over your own bodies, make your own decisions in your own best
interest..." -- severely contradicted her religious leanings. So she
went about recruiting others who shared her views.
Stripped down to the basics, the
"agenda" of Thio and her recruits had nothing to do with serving
women or advancing feminism. It had just one objective -– to purge AWARE
of anything to do with tolerance, diversity and the empowerment of women.
During the last few weeks, many people
have wondered why this clique that took over AWARE did not instead set up
their own Christian-linked organisation to promote their views. As you can
now see, that wouldn't have achieved their objective: It was never to
construct an alternative discourse, it was to silence and destroy AWARE's
Thio must have known that it might meet
resistance and would provoke a public outcry, even if the official leaders
on the exco
were too naive to anticipate that. So stealth was essential to success.
The plan must have been to take over
AWARE, and while proclaiming for public consumption that they were running
a secular organisation, infuse their fundamentalist Christian views into
AWARE's programs on the quiet. By the time outsiders realise what they
have done, it may be years later. Schools will have gladly invited AWARE
speakers to talk about sexuality when in fact they will have been
promoting conservative Christian norms.
More interestingly, a double layer of
stealth was designed. Thio herself wanted to conceal her role as the
mastermind. I don't know why, though I think it would be an interesting
angle to inquire into.
I cannot imagine why anyone even imagined
that they could get away with stealth. Within a day of the annual general
meeting when they successfully mounted the coup with the help of new
members of AWARE whom Thio and disciples recruited, questions were raised
about their intentions.
Since they couldn't declare their true
intentions, the new exco leaders resorted to evasion. But they weren't
good at it either, and kept getting caught out with discrepancies between
what they said one day and the next. Accusations of "lies" began
circulating on the internet. Questions about "integrity" flew
thick and fast.
The new exco also had nothing to say about their
positive program for AWARE -- since they had none -- falling back on
generalities that only sounded more suspicious the more they repeated
This is roughly where the
story is now, but it leaves us with an interesting question -– why did
Thio choose to reveal herself last night? I can think of three, not
mutually exclusive, possibilities:
- She realised that the stealth game was
up and decided to change strategy to attack the old guard directly as
pro-lesbian, which, if you see my earlier article Pirates ahoy! Gay netizens and the AWARE hijacking
would not be supported by actual facts. Yet, she had no confidence
that her hachet-women were competent enough to wage this battle, so
she had to get involved on the frontlines.
- She realised that her emails and early
role would leak, and decided that she might as well reveal herself.
- She faced a revolt by her hachet-women.
They might have got upset that they were getting all the public flak,
while the mastermind was cowardly hiding behind them.
* * * * *
I am sure more twists and turns will
come. Even as I am writing this, I know that the old guard are calling a
press conference Friday (24 April) evening.
The big showdown however, will be the
Extraordinary General Meeting (EOGM) scheduled for early May. It is not
clear which side will prevail. Yet, even if the new exco, by shoehorning
in as many church friends as they can find, wins the vote, I really can't
see how that will be anything but a Pyrrhic victory.
The grand plan could only have succeeded
if executed with stealth. It was crippled once the cover was blown. There
is no way now that they can take their Christianist message into schools
under the pretence of a secular sexuality education package. The glare of
scrutiny will be intense.
Moreover, the new exco has begun a purge
of all old hands, which means all the human resource assets critical to
AWARE's mission will be lost.
Even if the old guard and their
hundreds of new supporters lose the EOGM vote, I believe they are
determined to start a new organisation, and that's where the skills and
experience will be.
© Yawning Bread
"proofs" the new exco put to the media that AWARE had
adopted a mission to promote homosexuality, was this:
When Aware wanted to conduct
health education courses, it invited Alex Au, 'a famous
homosexual activist', to talk about HIV.
-- Straits Times, 24 April
2009, New exco members tell of death threats (sidebar)
This was the original synopsis of
the 20 August 2005 talk at the forum on HIV and women titled
"Playing it Safe - Keeping HIV at Bay"
My talk's title: "In the
beginning, there was sex"
"I hope to talk about how
often we are unable to deal with sex without the baggage of
power and dominance, abstinence and religion, shame and
morality, love and fidelity. I will argue that all this
baggage hinders our ability to deal rationally and effectively
with health issues that spring from the incredible variety of
real behaviour (as opposed to a narrow set of normative
behaviour ) either through alienating attitudes, offensive
communication, neglect from being unable to imagine
situations, and a misreading of power centres in sexual
relationships. I will argue that before we can act effectively
against HIV, we have first recognise that there was, is and
will be, sex."
AWARE thought the language was
too difficult, so I rewrote it:
Title: Relearning the alphabet
A is for Abstinence, B is for
Be faithful and C is for Condoms. It's a message that covers
all bases, and yet may not work. Why? Alex Au argues that to
understand HIV, we have first to understand people.
The essay When sex, condoms and HIV remain unspeakable
refers to this talk I gave.
Indeed, I was telling the
audience that if we are ever to stop the spread of HIV among
women, particularly heterosexually married women, we must first
be realistic about the incredible variety of human behaviour,
which includes philandering husbands and same-sex relationships.
It is pointless, in fact dangerous, to over-stress the
faithfully-married heterosexual model, because many women are
then led to believe that their husbands do not stray. In their
minds, the theoretical model replaces the true reality. They
believe their husbands are faithful because the orthodoxy says
they are supposed to be.
Add to that the inability to talk
openly about sex, as promoted by religious conservatism, and we
have a situation where married women either do not know or do
not believe they are at risk, or are unable to do anything to
protect themselves even if they do know.
Is this not a legitimate area of
concern for AWARE? How does organising this forum and hearing me
say what I said prove that old AWARE had lost its way?