SINGAPORE – In 2014, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) published a set of FAQs on youth sexuality and received backlash for being affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) experiences. There was even a petition asking for it to be taken down.
Mr Daryl Yang, then 20, organised at least 20 other young people to write in to the Health Ministry to highlight the importance of such a resource to LGBT youth, and even drafted an open letter to thank HPB.
“I guess the letter got a little viral…I’d say that was my first foray into activism,” said Mr Yang, who is in the final year of a double degree in Law and Liberal Arts.
He has not stopped since. Just a semester into his studies at Yale-NUS College in 2014 he took over The G Spot, a student group focusing on gender and sexuality issues.
The next year, he co-founded the Inter-University LGBT Network, which supports LGBT students across universities here including the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University.
Through these groups, he has successfully introduced consent education for orientation programmes at NUS, brought anonymous HIV testing to campuses, organised an orientation for LGBT students at NUS, and also held numerous workshops and panels to deal with LGBT issues.
“It’s encouraging that increasingly more people care about such issues and are stepping forward,” Mr Yang said.
Now, at 25, he is already a well-known name in the fight for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights. But his activism work does not stop there.
His participation in social causes has extended to areas such as disabilities and migrant workers.
Mr Yang, who now volunteers with the Disabled People’s Association, says there are common challenges across different communities, such as the lack of knowledge about legal and political processes.
It was with this problem in mind that he co-founded Cape (Community for Advocacy and Political Education) with other students from NUS’s Law Faculty and Yale-NUS in December 2016.
To encourage political literacy and make civil society accessible, Cape has organised workshops on parliamentary processes, created an open historical archive of activism in Singapore, and also has recurring initiatives such as Parliament Tracker, which looks at statistics, for example, on attendance and Bills tabled at Parliament seatings.
But Mr Yang admits that activism can sometimes be discouraging.
“Sometimes change seems so impossible, and even if it seems possible it may seem very far away,” said Mr Yang.
“I hold on to a sense of hope that it will eventually change. If we do nothing, things won’t change at all, but if we do, there is at least the possibility it might.”