The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population often faces regular challenges such as family rejection, discrimination, accepting themselves, etc, in their daily lives and they need an outlet to help them cope. Oogachaga (named after the dancing baby in the hit sitcom “Ally McBeal”) was started in 1999 and its services/programmes have grown to reach out to this often neglected and growing population. SALT Online finds more about the organisation’s origins and its challenges from its centre manager, Bryan Choong, who joined in 2005:
Tell me more about Oogachaga’s beginnings.
The group started in 1999 in a very different environment. At the time, the LGBT community were interacting quite underground but today, the LGBT community is more visible. Oogachaga was launched as a gay men’s support group. It was very ground-up and was started by two gay men. Often the support group sessions took place in their living room. It also provided face-to-face counselling support with the help of four to five counsellors. The shoestring manpower of five core volunteers also handled the work and developed the programmes. The first men’s support group consisted of 10 men. In 2005, Oogachaga added a women’s support group, which opened the door to lesbians as well as bisexual women.
In 2006, we decided that there were more needs besides support group and counselling, so we started a hotline service that year. Our volunteer pool slowly expanded and currently, we have 70 active volunteers, mostly gays and lesbians, and a small portion consisting of bisexuals and some who are straight. They range in ages from 20 to 60.
We received enough private donations to start a counselling centre in 2007 and after which, we expanded our services by running more events and workshops in the community, holding at least one event per month. Through our counselling and support groups, as well as our events and workshops, we reach out to 500 people per year. Compared to when we held our first event in March 2005 where we did a talk about coming out to family members, only 60 people attended.
In 2011, we introduced the transgender programme with a small-scale workshop. Transgenders are different from gays and bisexuals because most of them are actually heterosexual but they are not accepted by the “mainstream” community. The workshop talked about how they could protect themselves and understand how their body responds sexually.
We currently have four full-time staff and we are the only community-based organisation that provides counselling and support to the LGBT population in Singapore. Our mission is really for the LGBT community to accept themselves.
Continue to read this article on SALT Online