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Singapore's LGBTI community has a drug problem and it's time to fix it

How do you help LGBTI people with drug problems in a country with strict drug laws and that criminalizes homosexuality?

Singapore's LGBTI community has a drug problem and it's time to fix it
The four storytellers in Singapore's 'Our Story Is' campaign. | Photo: YouTube

Singapore has some of the world’s strictest anti-drug laws. So trying to stem the growing use of recreational drugs in the LGBTI community is very challenging.

The small nation criminalizes homosexual sex and there are no anti-discrimination laws in place to protect LGBTI people.

In the past five years LGBTI advocates, working very closely with the community have noticed the worrying trend. Many have tried to provide counselling and support services, including Leow Yangfa who runs the LGBTI organization, Oogachaga.

He and another advocates have had to try and get creative in reaching out to LGBTI people.

‘Talking about drugs in the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore is difficult and sometimes controversial,’ he told Gay Star News.

‘It can also be divisive: both between the LGBTQ+ & non-LGBTQ+ communities, and also between different segments within the LGBTQ+ community too.’

One big hurdle to providing effective support is the lack of data about drug use in the LGBTI community.

‘It’s not easy to conduct research on an illegal activity (drug use), while ensuring safety of the research subjects – the already marginalised LGBTQ community. Even if there is any data, it has not been published or made available yet,’ Yangfa said.

‘It thus becomes a circular problem – we need data and statistics, so that we know how to help and address the issue, so that the impact can be measured in subsequent data.’

Oogachaga and other groups have come to rely heavily on information coming from the ground about drug use. For example, one group of gay and bisexual men, Lifeline, have made their own peer-led drug recovery programme.

Thinking outside the box

In order to reach LGBTI communities Oogachaga teamed up with SG Narratives. They’ve come up with a video campaign about drugs, which has been a year in the making.

Four official storytellers talk about the seriousness of drug use and how to ‘prevent it from becoming a health crisis’.

The video campaign called, Our Story is Drug Free, is unique not only in its approach but the people it has chosen to give voices to.

‘You will notice the absence of the gay, cisgender Chinese (majority race) male, who has been the “dominant” voice in the local LGBT community for a long time,’ Yangfa said.

The video series wants people to understand ‘that Singapore’s LGBTQ+ narrative is so much more than that of drug abuse’.

The website will serve as an online resource hub. It will also be a place where Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community can contribute stories that form their individual experiences. Then all those stories will be collated into a video.

‘We want to build up an archive of local drug-free LGBTQ+ stories, in hopes that we can all look upon them as a reflection of who we all are,’ Yangfa said.

‘Talking about harm reduction is not an option in Singapore, due to our strict anti-drug legislation.

‘We came up with the idea of sharing stories – while acknowledging that the dominant narrative at the moment may appear to be one involving drug use, we also want to disrupt that by surfacing counter narratives and otherwise subjugated stories that we all have in our diverse LGBTQ communities.’

Meet the storytellers

The four stars of the video series include; Paralympic medallist, Theresa Goh, Transgender SG co-founder, Cassandra Thng,  Oogachaga counsellor, Shamini Nedumara, and Oogachaga center manager, Muhammad Faliqh Bin Abdul Rahman.

Goh wanted to join the campaign because as an athlete she could be a role model for other LGBTI Singaporeans.

‘As an athlete who’s been continuously tested and who’s always been clean, I wanted to be one of the many representations of a drug free life,’ she told Gay Star News.

‘I just want to say that, for those who may be going through a hard time, to please not be ashamed to ask for help. Sometimes, that may be one of the hardest steps to take but no one can help you if you are not willing to seek it and receive the help.’


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