Singaporean transgender activist leads the way to acceptance

Nestled on a corner of a quiet street in Singapore, June Chua and her volunteers are preparing a fundraising dinner called the ‘Giving Table’ at Artistry, a cafe run by LGBT campaigner Prashant Somosundram. 

In 2014, June Chua and her late sister opened Singapore’s first transgender homeless shelter and started The T Project. Back in 2015, a fundraising project raised around $6,000 through merchandise sales. After losing the shelter this year due to a lack of funding, June has been fundraising to open a new shelter.

In just less than a month, The T Project raised over $136,000 on the Indigogo community fundraising platform. Giving Table is the new initiative of The T Project and they intend to do this quarterly so the donations can help sustain the shelter in the long run. Importantly, June noted that mostly all the guests at the fundraising dinner were non-transgender or not from the transgender community. 

The Giving Table raised just over $5,000 through ticket sales and donations on the night. June said that funds are still coming into the account, some anonymously. With the extra funds and quarterly fundraising, June hopes to expand the shelter to create a resource centre, forming the first transcentric group in Singapore. 

With many transgender individuals left homeless after being rejected by their families and employers, June believes it is important for those staying in the shelter to save money by staying for free. 

“My aim is to push forward trans visibility – we are part of the LGBT community but we are very different,” June said, adding that transgender is a large spectrum. 

“Although the amount raised must be our first priority in any fundraising campaign or event, I am always awed and humbled by the amount of support and love shown to the transgender community and The T Project,” June said.

June is the first transgender woman to be awarded “Promising Advocate of the Year” by the Singapore Advocacy Awards. The awards are a celebration of the contributions of individuals to the development of a vibrant civil society in Singapore. The SAA is organised by The Working Committee 3 (TWC3), a group of civil society activists. 

“Although she has been working quietly for her community for a number of years it is only in the past year or so that she had started raising issues about their human rights and doing advocacy work on their behalf,” said Constance Singam, who chairs TWC3, adding that very few people know of their struggles and even Constance didn’t know until she met June last year. 

“She is an amazing young women, courageous, smart, ever so smart and with a great sense of humour. I wonder what heights she would have risen and how successful she could have been if she is not seen only as a transgender woman,” Constance said.

Constance added that this attention humanises them as much as celebrates them in a culture which frames her only as transgender.

“Attitudes change very slowly, but they will.” 

Reporting by Imogen Braddick and Nicole Nee. Writing by Imogen Braddick.