SINGAPORE - Singapore Polytechnic (SP) has rebutted an allegation by local DJ Joshua Simon that it cancelled his talk at an event there last Saturday (June 29) so as to abide by Ministry of Education (MOE) regulations.
Instead, a school spokesman said on Wednesday that the student organising committee of the TEDxYouth@SP event had given him a chance to change some sensitive parts of his script, but he declined and chose not to speak at the event.
Mr Simon, 29, a DJ with SPH Radio station Kiss 92FM, had said in a Facebook post on Sunday that SP had cancelled his talk due to the content about his sexuality in his script, and that they had done so to "abide by the rules of the Ministry Of Education".
He wrote: "The night before the event, I received a phone call informing me that Singapore Polytechnic, upon discovering that my talk included LGBTQ+ themes, removed me from the speakers list. They urged me to edit my script and leave out any content in relation to it. I said no."
On Wednesday, the SP spokesman said all speakers were required to submit their scripts ahead of the event to ensure their content is aligned to the theme and appropriate for the audience. "Joshua Simon was advised that certain references to his sexuality might be sensitive, given the diverse profile of the audience," she said.
The spokesman added that the committee, which received the script the night before the talk, reviewed his script and "found it inspirational but assessed that certain parts relating to his sexuality might be inappropriate, for the target audience".
They sought the advice of the staff of SP, who agreed with the students' views, and suggested Mr Simon "consider reviewing how these mentions are expressed in his script, given the audience profile, while preserving the integrity of his story".
"Unfortunately, he decided not to speak at the event at all."
In response to queries from The Straits Times, an MOE spokesman said that all institutes of higher learning (IHLs) can decide on events conducted on campus. "For this particular event, MOE was neither informed of it, nor involved in the event organisers' deliberations on the selection of speakers," he said.
The spokesman added that MOE has guidelines for IHLs. "We encourage open discussions on various topics, but some issues, especially those that concern race and religion, are sensitive and potentially socially divisive. Organisers need to be cognisant of them and exercise appropriate judgment," he added.
Speaking to ST, Mr Simon, who is gay, said the day of the event was supposed to be especially significant for him.
"Exactly one year ago, I had a break-up that almost destroyed me. And a situation with my family because they found out about my sexuality on the same day," he said. The talk was going to be on how he was able to overcome those personal difficulties, he said, adding that it was an important milestone for him. He had spent about four months working on the script.
"TED talks are about ideas. I wanted to do something that I couldn't do on radio. I don't talk about personal life (on radio), so I thought I could feel safe in the TED talk."
Mr Simon said that last Friday, the eve of the event, he received a call from the organisers late in the afternoon, informing him that the school staff wanted to see his script.
At around 7pm, he said he received a call from them asking if he could remove elements of his script that mentioned his sexuality - and if not, he would not be allowed to speak.
He later decided not to compromise on his script, and to give up the talk altogether.
The next day, he received a call from the organisers again, who said that a school representative wanted to meet him personally to apologise for the course of action taken, as SP had to follow MOE's rules. He was not told what the rules were.
"I am a bit stung by this whole thing," said Mr Simon. He told ST he was very confused and disappointed at SP's statement on the incident, because it had seemed to him all along that the student organisers were supportive of his talk, throughout the various rehearsals.
The SP spokesman said the students were disappointed but respected his decision to pull out.