Why Disney's 'Gay Moment' is Causing Hysteria in Singapore

Why Disney's 'Gay Moment' is Causing Hysteria in Singapore
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
What you need to know

The church's lack of acceptance has a very real impact on the mental health of LGBT people, writes Kirsten Han in Singapore.

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Let us not fall victim to the mistaken assumption that only gay people are flamboyant and melodramatic: Singapore’s National Council of Churches (NCCS) would like to demonstrate that it is just as capable of hysteria.

“THE GAY AGENDA IN DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,” it blasts in a letter to pastors and church leaders issued on 14 March.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell: Disney has remade its 1991 animated film "Beauty and the Beast" – a “tale as old as time” about a young woman succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome and falling in love with a prince turned into some sort of animal hybrid via witchcraft – into a live-action movie, and some Christians are really upset that one of the minor characters in the film is gay.

In a recent interview, director Bill Condon said that the character of LeFou – the villain Gaston’s trusty sidekick, played by Josh Gad – would be Disney’s first LGBT character, with an “exclusively gay moment.” We don’t know what this “moment” is, exactly, but indications from film reviews suggest that it isn’t a very big one.

Nevertheless, the uproar kicked off in the United States, where some theaters have gone as far as canceling film screenings, and quickly spread to countries like Singapore and Malaysia, where conservatives remain committed to defending “Asian values”.

“Some Christian leaders here are deeply concerned about the LGBT representation in this new Disney movie. They see this as an attempt to influence young children and socialize them at an early age into thinking that the homosexual lifestyle is normal,” write the NCCS in their letter.

“Studies have shown that watching LGBT characters in popular entertainment may not only result in greater acceptance of these groups but also the lifestyles they have adopted,” they added. This, apparently, should be seen as a bad thing.

It would be understandable if parents were concerned that "Beauty and the Beast" would lead to their impressionable young sons accepting the lifestyle of living in enchanted castles and acquiring wives via hostage-taking, but this furor over the mere existence of an LGBT character in a film belies the conservative claim that they are “pro-family”.

The handwringing over LeFou has been framed in terms of “guiding” or “protecting” children, without acknowledging that denying the existence of LGBT people fails to prepare children for the real world – where LGBT people definitely exist – and is harmful to children who are themselves queer.

When the National Council of Churches Singapore gets worked up about a “GAY AGENDA” just because of one minor character’s sexual orientation, it’s sending a message that it cannot stand to see LGBT people’s existence publicly recognized or validated, even when it’s only on the sidelines of the main action. It’s saying that LGBT people should not be acknowledged, that parents should be wary of allowing their children to see LGBT people, that “greater acceptance of these groups” is a problem.

What does this tell gay children – particularly those who are Christian, or come from Christian families?

If churches in Singapore not only believe that there is such a thing as a “homosexual lifestyle”, but that such a thing is problematic and abnormal, how can they properly protect and support LGBT people in their congregation? When NCCS heavily implies that it does not agree with the acceptance of LGBT people in society, how does this support families with LGBT members?

Dressing anti-gay rhetoric up as “pro-family” is pernicious because it erases the fact that gay people have families too. It acts as if love and bondedness between family members is the sole province of heterosexual people, and that LGBT people are somehow dangerous and “anti-family”.

But it’s the fearmongering and refusal to acknowledge queer lives and experiences that really damages children and families. The lack of acceptance has a very real impact on the mental health of LGBT people: it increases feelings of isolation and damages relationships when someone feels like they can’t be who they really are with the people they live in closest proximity to. It also has an impact on their physical well-being: homophobia affects access to healthcare, and also increases the likelihood of hate crimes and violence against LGBT people.

The more a society insists that LGBT people and their issues are excluded from the mainstream media – even in the form of a singing, dancing comic relief character whose name literally translates to “The Fool” – the more ill-equipped we will be to address the very real harm that is being done.

Editor: Edward White