We sometimes like to think of the figures we write about in these pages as characters in a novel. Viewed in this way, Dr. Li-ann Thio, the visiting NYU law professor who apparently isn’t a fan of gay rights, is one of the most compelling we’ve come across recently.
We have a weakness for strong, outspoken Asian women — hi Mom! — and this description fits Dr. Thio to a T. Our only disappointment: Dr. Thio was whiny when attacked. (We agree with Professor Brian Leiter — playing the victim card was weak, Dr. Thio.)
Now, meet an even more compelling character — one who wouldn’t have responded to a random IT guy by playing victim, but by treating him like Obama treated that fly. She’s the original Dr. Thio: Li-ann Thio’s mother, Dr. Su Mien Thio (pictured), who taught Thio the Younger everything she knows (e.g., that gay sex is evil).
From a tipster:
It looks like Dr. Thio’s mother — a former judge who inspired Li-ann Thio’s own rise in politics — was involved in some serious anti-gay drama this year, after battling what she saw as a conspiracy to generate a “generation of lesbians.”
It all started with unrest over a screening of Spider Lilies, a lusty Taiwanese movie about an Internet cam girl [Ed. note: A cam girl? Like SexyLexus?] falling in love with another girl. The elder Dr. Thio, filled with the same heroic indignation as her daughter, filled with the same heroic indignation as her daughter, ended up locked out of a building after a failed takeover of a feminist organization.
And the trailer for the movie is totally hot!
Update: Not surprisingly, given her staunch opposition to homosexuality, Dr. Thio Su Mien is also against abortion. A headline from Roll on Friday: “Leading Singaporean lawyer blames abortion for SARS.”
More about the Spider Lilies controversy and Dr. Su Mien Thio’s impressive résumé, after the jump.
Dr Thio has a distinguished professional history, having been the Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Singapore, a senior partner in a large firm in Singapore, and holding Judgeships in the administrative tribunals of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for various terms.
Very much a grand dame of the corporate legal scene (her looks, as you can see, belie her experience), she counts many of the country’s judges and high-ranking officials among her ex-students.
“[H]er looks, as you can see, belie her experience.” Has she had some plastic surgery, or is it just those Asian genes? (For a less flattering photo, click here; for a more flattering photo, taken back when she was dean, click here.)
Law firm bios are often full of puffery, but S.M. Thio is the real deal. According to Chambers & Partners, publishers of authoritative guides to lawyers worldwide, Thio Mère is one of Singapore’s leading banking and finance lawyers, “highly renowned and a firmly established name in the legal community.”
Second, as for Spider Lilies, an award-winning Taiwanese lesbian drama film, the trouble began when the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) hosted a screening of the movie. This, combined with statements in AWARE literature to the effect that “homosexuality is neutral” and “anal sex can be healthy,” did not go over well with Thio Su Mien.
So Su Mien Thio orchestrated a coup, recruiting like-minded woman to join the group in droves. Her well-orchestrated, stealthy efforts resulted in new leaders being installed at AWARE. And even though Su Mien Thio was not one of the new leaders, it was clear to everyone that she was the power behind the throne:
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) [back in April], 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.
But Dr. S.M. Thio’s victory was short-lived. As reported by the Singapore Straits-Times, her minions were eventually thrown out of the leadership of AWARE. At an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of the organization, Dr. Thio tried to speak, but “was booed by the large crowd at the EGM, and shouted down when she tried to explain that she was a Singapore woman pioneer.”
It sounds like she needs a break from Singapore. Maybe she should spend the fall in New York, where she can crash at her daughter’s digs by NYU. It sounds like a great sitcom pitch: two homophobic female lawyers from Singapore spend a year living in Greenwich Village, where they learn to love the gays.
Alas, converting the Doctors Thio into card-carrying members of PFLAG won’t be easy. Their opposition to homosexuality is longstanding. Back in 2003, S.M. Thio wrote a letter to the Singapore Straits-Times (scroll down to “No to homosexuality”) asserting that “[h]omosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not a mental disorder:” Although the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), it did so, according to Dr. Thio’s letter, as “a result of pressure tactics of homosexual activists, rather than scientific data.”
Some might disagree. Malik Graves-Pryor — the impudent IT guy at NYU, whose angry letter to Dean Richard Revesz prompted an 18-point response from Dr. Li-ann Thio — hasissued a rebuttal to Dr. Thio (the younger). He discusses how various groups of psychiatrists and psychologists have changed their views of homosexuality over the years. You can read his full letter below.
MALIK GRAVES-PRYOR — OPEN LETTER TO DEAN REVESZ, MEMBERS OF HAUSER GLOBAL, AND DR. LI-ANN THIO
Greetings Dean Revesz, members of Hauser Global,
cc: Professor Li-Ann Thio
Professor Thio presented several interesting arguments regarding the nature of freedom of speech, differing legal and moral viewpoints, tolerance for those differences, and finally the concept of Academic Freedom.
And while I felt the strong urge to discuss these individual topics as a student and as a person directly affected by the views she shares with the anti-gay bloc here in the United States, I realize that at a fundamental level, Professor Thio’s reply has shed light on her lack of qualification to teach “Human Rights Law in Asia.”
Academic Freedom is a concept that has been hard fought for and won through the years due to persecution by society and governments for ideas that go against the popular; the acceptable; the status quo. To be a member of the avant-garde in any field brings with it risks that academia decided long ago to negate as much as possible, hence the creation of Academic Freedom.
It is the freedom to engage in rigorous scholarship, that which may be exploratory and/or even controversial. However, after reviewing Professor Thio’s arguments against basic LGBT recognition and equality, her legal, scholarly, and intellectual opinions on this subject fail as neither rigorous nor scholarly.
Her arguments are in fact nothing more than logical fallacies and/or debunked and discredited pseudo-science, relying on debating techniques which serve as nothing more than pure deflection from the fact that her prejudices, biases, and outright hostilities towards LGBT individuals have no redeeming academic value, and no place within the walls of the NYU School of Law.
Below are three items that are among the most egregious:
ITEM #1 – Ex-Gays and Conversion Therapy
Professor Thio references several “ex-gay” friends of hers who suffer backlash from the LGBT community when they speak out. She states that they have a right to change their sexual orientation and defends the “ex-gay” concept as scientifically “unsettled” and indeed “controversial”.
Her beliefs, however, have long been debunked and discredited, labeled as nothing more than pseudo-science at best, and a license to pursue harsh and inhumane legal penalties at worst.
The worldwide scientific and medical consensus concluded years ago that “ex-gay” conversion therapy never did work, does not work, never will work, and is in fact harmful and detrimental to the mental health of LGBT individuals.
The American Psychiatric Association put out a statement in 1998 which reads:
“The potential risks of “reparative therapy” are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone “reparative therapy” relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed. Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as “reparative” or “conversion” therapy which is based upon the priori assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.”
The American Psychological Association put out a statement in 2006 reiterating this scientific consensus viewpoint. It reads:
“For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA’s concern about the position’s espoused by NARTH (The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) and so-called conversion therapy as that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”
Professor Thio’s past and present reliance upon “ex-gay” fringe theology, for lack of a better word, is neither scholarly nor rigorous in light of this scientific consensus.
If she truly believed in the core principles of Academic Freedom, rather than using it as a convenient shield when it suits her, she would expunge this outmoded and nonfactual rhetoric and instead embrace scientific truth.
Because she has not done so, her beliefs do not meet the criteria for protection under Academic Freedom and reflect poorly upon her credentials as a legal professional on the subject of Human Rights as it pertains to the LGBT community and individuals.
ITEM #2 – Respect
Professor Thio states that she has first-hand experience as a minority (a person of color, an Asian) and takes offense. The implication, of course, is that she would not discriminate against other minorities. Similarly, she mentions that she has gay friends and students who know that she “respects them” despite their differences.
This is clearly a logical fallacy. The word “Respect” has multiple meanings and derivations, all of which point to being held in honor and esteem, refraining from intruding upon or interfering with another individual, and to welcome and/or greet said individual.
None of the meanings of the word “Respect” apply to one who has sought for the continued defamation and criminalization of another class of human being. And as we have seen in the black community in terms of its general disrespect and disregard for the LGBT community and individuals, minority status does not automatically preclude one from holding prejudices, biases, and even outright hatreds for other minorities.
Proposition 8 is a stark reminder of this reality, where a disproportionate number of blacks, 70%+, voted for it whereas other racial/ethnic groups were in the 40-55% range in support.
In other words, Professor Thio can no more use her status as an Asian woman or use her so-called “Respect” for her LGBT colleagues and students as a shield while simultaneously having worked for and spoken vociferously for their continued relegation as second class citizens, subject to criminal prosecution and societal scorn.
ITEM #3 – “Affluent and Literate Gays”
Professor Thio mentioned that real estate developers cater their high quality dwellings for the consumption of “homosexuals in Singapore [who] are by and large affluent and literate”. She argues that due to their wealth they are able “to lead quiet lives which most of us want,” and that “they are basically left alone in practice.”
First, many sociological studies have shown that gays and lesbians cover the same socio-economic strata as every other population group. Unfortunately, Professor Thio has chosen to rely upon the debunked pseudo-science of the “rich gay” myth.
She should take the opportunity to read, for example, the peer-reviewed and oft-cited “Income Inflation: The myth of affluence among gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans”, a 1998 joint study released by the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies. The primary writer was Lee Badgett, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Since this and other peer-reviewed and accepted research has been readily available for a decade, I hope that Professor Thio will avail herself of this information now that she has undeniably been exposed to it as of today.
Second, the reason why it may appear that all gays in Singapore are wealthy is due to the fact that economic stability is one of the primary ways in which LGBT individuals are attacked in society.
Whether it is the teenager who is kicked out of their home before they are ready and finding themselves on the street with no economic recourse for no other reason than their sexuality, or the person who is fired from their job for no other reason than their sexuality, socio-economic terrorism has long been one of the primary ways to keep LGBT individuals “in the closet”.
Individuals who feel no economic threat are thus more inclined to come out in repressive societies.
Third, Singaporean law, Section 377A states:
“Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.”
While she states that members of the LGBT community are “basically left alone in practice,” the sheer fact that the law of the land codifies discrimination, persecution, and fear presents an untenably hostile situation for said members of the LGBT community. This much has been proven by numerous studies on the effects of legal restrictions and penalizations against women, blacks, and other minorities here in the United States.
Nothing about the human condition changes when it is repressed, even if the repression is selectively enforced. It holds deleterious social, economic, mental, and emotional effects on those who are the subject of said repression, and it is deplorable that a member of parliament and a legal scholar would choose io ignore these well-established facts.
Additionally, due to the fact that sex between same-sex individuals is criminally prohibited in Singapore, the dissemination of safer-sex materials (pamphlets, condoms, videos, seminars, etc) for same-sex individuals for the purpose of same-sex sexual interactions is also prohibited. This has naturally led to a significant roadblock in the attempts to slow and ultimately cease the spread of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases, a roadblock which clearly moves into the sphere of life and death.
In other words, Professor Thio allows her biases to cloud her judgment and clarity on issues pertaining to the LGBT community when there is established scientific consensus and legal precedent that clearly invalidate her beliefs.
Dean Revesz, members of Hauser Global,
Is this the kind of representative that the NYU School of Law desires? One who parrots logical fallacies and spouts debunked and discredited theories only supported by right-wing fundamentalist theology held by some fringe religious groups and churches? Do you desire this individual who so lacks in scholarly rigor in the issue of Human Rights as they pertain to the LGBT community and then hides behind Academic Freedom as a way to mask her deeply ingrained prejudice and malice toward said LGBT community?
Thankfully she cannot simply ignore LGBT rights in this fall’s course, particularly given recent events in India. To ignore the issue would pose a grave academic disservice to her students. Therefore, she must cover an issue that is identical to what provoked her abhorrent speech–the repeal of a law that was a vestige of British colonial powers. Because she was unable to discuss this topic in Parliament without using what amounts to unfounded, unscholarly, and debunked ideas regarding sexuality, and reiterated her strong and unchanging positions in email just days ago, she should be precluded from being given another opportunity to spread her discredited beliefs while passing them off as rigorous, contemplative, and unassailable academic thought.
Above all else, I certainly hope that this is not the kind of representative the NYU School of Law, and NYU as the larger entity, desire as an avatar to the world.
If not, you have only one choice: full and immediate revocation of her position as visiting faculty member for the purpose of teaching “Human Rights Law in Asia”. As has been shown, she does not bring an unbiased scholarly rigor to this subject and is thus wholly unqualified to serve in this capacity.
That said, Professor Thio,
You mentioned being “tired of this obsessive and narcissistic obsession with ONE of the speeches [you] made during [your] 2.5 years tenure in Parliament.”
If you truly feel this way, I have an appropriate balm for your wound.
Go before Parliament again and not only rebuke and disassociate yourself from your prior statements on the LGBT community and individuals, but bring forward a bill for the full decriminalization of LGBT sexual interactions and the instatement of full equal rights for LGBT citizens of Singapore as well.
Only then will you find the peace you so desire on this issue.
In closing, I’d like to leave you and everyone else with a final thought. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
You may not realize it, but people who place bigotry, prejudice, and bias above equality, human decency, and justice have already lost. Even 10-20 years ago, i.e., within my lifetime, the anti-gay bloc here in the United States led by such luminaries as Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, and Anita Bryant felt triumphant in their successes. And yet, look at the state of their movement today.
And while there is a long way to go before full and equal rights are had by all LGBT individuals in these United States, we have indeed come a long way. The fact that I can marry my in-all-things-save-federal-recognition husband of nearly 9 years in Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine, and have that marriage recognized here in New York State is a far change from the position of the psychiatric community 40 years ago which would have surely put us behind bars and subjected us to all kinds of medieval “reparative” therapy.
In other words, even if it may take a lifetime, we know that when the light of science is shone and the collective weight of human empathy bears down, these views will be relegated to the abyss of the unimportant periphery.
If you are truly concerned with the bedrock principle of Academic Freedom, you will realize this and modify your thinking. If you choose not to, it will only further the impression your 2007 speech to Parliament and your Saturday email reply fomented.
With that, I thank all of you for allowing me to participate in this discussion as a free-speaking member of the NYU community. One of the things I value as a member of this community is the respect you place on freedom of speech and the spirited and robust intellectual debate founded upon scientifically proven fact. This is a privilege not found in many places of employment, and even in some places of academia, so for that, I am truly grateful.
That said, I hope that it has been as invigorating and illuminating for you as it has certainly been for me.
Dr. Thio Su Mien [TSMP Law Corporation]
Banking & Finance: Singapore [Chambers & Partners]
Thio Su Mien’s idea of a takeover unravelled [Singapore Straits Times]
Coup leader comes open [Singapore Straits Times]
AWARE press conference [Yawning Bread]
Debunking the “pro family” fallacies perpetuated by Dr Thio Su Mien [The Wayang Party]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Li-ann Thio