Singapore’s first and only shelter for homeless transgender women is fighting to keep its head above water as a lack of funds is forcing it to move out of its current premises.
Started in 2014 by prominent transgender activist June Chua, The T Project occupies the attic of a two-story shophouse in central Singapore and is currently home to three trans women who used to live on the streets.
However, due to a lack of funds, the shelter is in the process of looking for a new space that it can afford.
In an interview with Gay Star News, June shared that it is her passion and commitment to continue to serve her community through the shelter.
She explained that many in local transgender community faced rejection when they came out to their family, and some were kicked out of their home. Without any financial support, they had to leave school early to work.
‘They often end up with low paying jobs, or they have to do sex work to survive,’ she said.
So when it comes to helping these individuals, June’s approach is a pragmatic one.
‘I want to provide concrete help to fulfil immediate needs.’
Her current shelter can house around four people. Besides functioning as an interim accommodation, The T Project seeks to help its unemployed residents find jobs, which can be difficult to come by for a transgender person.
June, who works at a women’s healthcare centre as her day job, shared that she and her sister, who was also transgender but passed away last year, were lucky that their parents accepted and supported them when they came out.
‘People always ask me why my parents can accept that both me and my sister are trans. Well, they choose love,’ June said. ‘Which is why I want to share my blessing with other trans people.’
June’s shelter operates on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy — where she accepts any homeless transgender person without much of a question.
‘I never asked them any question [about their past], unless they are willing to share with me,’ June said.
She added: ‘I have no rules for them here — they can live freely and as themselves.’
To get referrals for the shelter, June often works with medical social workers from local hospitals.
Pearl, a resident of the shelter, used to live on the streets with a supermarket trolley full of her belongings.
Dubbed as the ‘trolley lady,’ the 64-year-old was suffering from a severe case of skin rashes and had to be admitted to a hospital to get treated.
It was then when The T Project heard about her situation and offered her a place to stay.
‘Now Pearl works at a bakery,’ June shared.
Another resident is 78-year-old Rose, who recently got featured in a video created by Singapore’s annual LGBTI pride festival, Pink Dot.
Watch her story here:
Being transgender in Singapore
In Singapore, transgender people who have gone through gender reassignment surgery are able to change their legal gender, as well as get married to an opposite-sex spouse.
Those who transition early and are able to have the surgery before the age of 18 will not be required to serve National Service, which every male citizen of the country will have to go through.
June, who had her surgery done in Thailand when she was 17, was able to skip the conscription process entirely.
Talking about living in Singapore as a trans woman, June said that she is happy that the country provides sufficient legal rights for trans individuals, as compared to other countries in the region (like Malaysia or Indonesia) which provide little or none.
She also commented that as compared to the past, people in Singapore are now more educated about the trans community and its terminologies, adding that it’s been a long time since she was last called a derogatory name:
‘These days there’s less finger pointing, and people know how to use the right language.
‘They may exclaim, “She’s trans, she’s trans!” But they don’t call names,’ June said.
However, the trans community still deals with a lot of stigma and untrue beliefs.
‘Some people think that trans women want to have as much sex with men as possible to affirm our identity,’ June said. ‘Or they think we die early because of the hormones we are taking.’
She shared that she hopes to do more in the future to educate the public.
‘I want to open a transgender resource centre one day, so people can learn more about us and the real issues we face.’
To find out more about The T Project and how to help keep its operations going, visit www.facebook.com/TheTprojectsg.