The LGBT activist hopes the transgender community can lead dignified and fulfilling lives.
In 2 months, June Chua has raised an astounding $136,000 for The T project, a group she co-founded with her late sister Alicia in 2014 to lend support to the transgender community in Singapore.
The bulk of the donations poured in after this year’s Pink Dot, an annual gathering at Hong Lim Park which celebrates diversity and equality. Part of the donations would go into securing a new shelter for homeless transgender people.
The T Project previously ran a shelter out of an old shophouse attic, but its residents moved out when the non-governmental organization (NGO) which offered them the space relocated.
With the fresh funds, June could start housing transgender people who are rejected by their own families again. She’s also working on registering The T Project as a new NGO, one with a management committee to uphold accountability and transparency.
“Who would have thought 2 trans sisters can start a NGO?” June quipped during an interview with The UrbanWire.
The Chua siblings were born male. June, 43, went through a sex change surgery, or what she called “an affirmative surgery” in Thailand when she was 17. Her elder sibling, Alicia, did not opt for surgery. She died on November 20 last year. It was Transgender Day of Rememberance.
At 12 years old, June became aware that she’s different when some of her peers started calling her names such as “Ah Gua” and “Bapok” – derogatory terms used in reference to effeminate males.
As she grew up, she became more and more certain that she’s born into the wrong body. Her parents, owners of a small business, accepted her gender identity and respected her decision to opt for surgery.
“My family taught me how to love and they’re my main support,” June said, adding that she’s grateful that her parents see it more important to love her than to conform to mainstream norms. She also appreciates God for blessing her parents with big hearts, making them capable of loving their 2 transgender children.
With their parents’ support, June and Alicia felt a strong calling to help the helpless in their community.
“My late sister always told me we’re very blessed and that’s why we have to share our blessings with our community,” said June, who has a day job at a women’s healthcare centre.
The Chua siblings hence embarked on a public education drive to spread awareness about the plight of Singapore’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, numbering around 350,000 according to LGBT Capital, an asset management business serving the LGBT consumer sector. June also floated the idea of running a shelter for the homeless under The T Project.
“It was during one of those talks where a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a NGO heard me,” said June. “The next day, the CEO emailed me, saying that she’s started a new shelter and asked if the T-project would like to share the space with them.”
This conversation led The T Project to the attic of an old shophouse at an undisclosed location, where they set up the first shelter and have since moved out of.
Now that The T Project has received a fresh financial boost, June said she will also study the feasibility of opening a Transgender Resource Center (TRC), which she hopes can serve as a melting pot for cisgender and transgender people to better understand one another.
An unpleasant exchange that June encountered recently has reaffirmed her belief in spreading the reach of her public education program.
During that episode at nex shopping mall, a food stall owner and his customer mocked at June’s appearance when she was queuing to buy her meal.
“They thought that since I’m a transgender I must be lower than them, I must be cheaper than them, I must be lesser than who they are,” June lamented.
“But with more understanding, they will respect and accept us,” she added.
Her drive and vision have drawn praises from many who have worked with her.
Katherine Yiu, 19, a polytechnic student, said June has done a great job in educating the society about the need to support the minority.
“June understands the community and has made us more motivated to live on,” she said.
Another student Nicholas Wong, 20, was also all praise. “June’s an amazing woman who has given safe spaces for the transgender community in Singapore,” he said while volunteering at this year’s Pink Dot gathering.
June also hopes that more members of the transgender community will stop feeling “challenged” by their gender identities. Instead, she challenges those who have yet to accept them to try to understand them better.
This is her mission for life.