Nicholas Deroose’s “Gays, Greeks and Gay Asians” event was the first step for his lifetime aspirations – to fight for gay rights in his home country.
Nicholas Deroose aspires to lift the mute button from sexuality in the Asian community and create a safe place for gay teens to talk and feel accepted.
The sophomore photojournalism major, recently a Jonathan Lax Scholarship for gay men recipient, was raised by his Belgian father and Chinese mother in Singapore. He came to Temple two years ago after his father acquired a job in Philadelphia, and the family moved with him. Previously, Deroose served a mandatory two years in Singapore’s navy.
Singapore, Deroose said, is not a country accepting of homosexuality – many there still consider it a mental disorder. School counselors presented themselves as models of the conservative Singapore government and religion, and Deroose said they were “ill equipped” to handle the questions of teens in the closet.
On Nov. 5, Deroose hosted a “Gays, Greeks and Gay Asians” at the Tyler School of Art.
Trana Pham, a sophomore tourism and hospitality management major, attended the discussion and said it was needed.
“Especially in the Asian community, it’s taboo,” Pham said, adding that when her gay Vietnamese friend revealed his sexuality to his parents, they “cried for a year” because they were “worried” about him.
Tyrone Penserga, a Temple Student Government senator for the College of Science and Technology who helped organize and spoke on the panel for “Gays, Greeks and Gay Asians,” said he was grateful for the support from Greek organizations and Tyler. The junior chemistry major said he hopes to continue the discussion of race and diversity on Temple’s campus.
“At Temple, we have a diverse community,” Penserga said, “but are they talking to each other?”
“Gays, Greeks and Gay Asians” varied in discussion topics, from Asian homosexuality to the conflicting stereotypes of Asians in America and the process by which immigrants – particularly those of Asian descent – find an identity in America.
Deroose said he personally came out at 17, to an underground Singapore peer-to-peer group called TPAJ. A year later, he came out to his mother, after she accidentally found his profile on a gay Web site. He said his mother’s only request was that he be honest with his father and her.
“Acceptance is a journey through honest open communication with your parents,” he said, acknowledging his mother’s difficult advice.
The most common thing people coming out must know, Deroose said, is they’re not alone, and there are people in the same situation who can support them.
Deroose said moving to America was a learning experience that taught him race was a visual aspect. He admitted he was homesick his first few months away from Singapore, but being away from home forced him to grow.
Philadelphia has been welcoming, but Deroose’s home is still Singapore, he said.
Though Deroose said he feared politics and government in Singapore, which still has legislation that criminalizes homosexual acts, because he is gay, he said he couldn’t cut the ties to his home country.
“It is still possible to make changes,” he said. “It’s possible to have changes in Singapore.”
Deroose said he realizes being an activist can be a payless job but is OK with it because he does it so he can speak for the people after him.
He admits that it may sound cliché, but after he came out years ago, he said he felt, “a large burden off my shoulders” and if he can bring that clarity to just one person, the hard work would be worth it.
Victoria Hudgins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.