Rev Yap Kim Hao with wife, Mrs Yap at Pink Dot 2016

The LGBT community in Singapore today lost a dear friend and advocate. Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, who is a long-time LGBT rights advocate and the first Asian bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia from 1968 to 1973, passed away on Thursday, 16 November, at the age of 88. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife and family.

We acknowledge with gratitude the support and affirmation Rev Dr Yap has publicly shown towards the LGBT community in Singapore. He was also the Pastoral Advisor of Free Community Church, an inclusive and affirming church in Singapore; the former Vice-President of the Inter-Religious Organisation (Singapore) and former Convener of Singapore Interfaith Network on AIDS.

Rev Dr Yap was an outspoken advocate of LGBT acceptance and equality. He publicly supported Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee’s legal challenge which sought to have Section 377A declared unconstitutional. He also wrote commentaries and letters to the press, gave talks and participated in Pink Dot events from its inception including appearing in Pink Dot’s campaign videos in 2009, 2011 and 2014.

“My hope is that people in Singapore – after seeing and experiencing what has been happening with the Pink Dot movement – will begin to accept that we will always have a diverse society; that they will be able to respect differences, and accept and affirm these differences. No one should be discriminated against; no one should be marginalised by having a different sexual orientation and gender identity,” he wrote in 2014.

Born in Port Dickson, Malaysia in 1929, he attended Baker University in Kansas, United States where he earned his first degree in Biology and Chemistry; and Boston University where he obtained his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees and received its Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988.

From 1973-1985 when he was the General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, he became directly involved in social justice issues and ministry to the oppressed and marginalised in the Asian region.

In various talks Rev Dr Yap has given as early as in 2005, he said that his ministry to the LGBT Christian community is a natural extension of his calling to serve God despite the fact that his support of LGBT Christians had yet to be accepted by the majority of the Christian community.

“My sympathies have always been for people who are victimised, the poor, and the handicapped,” he said in a talk at The Substation in 2005.

At a young age of 15, he was beaten by a group of drunken Japanese military policemen in 1945 and was crippled for life as a result. Not one to give up on life, he made his way to Kansas to attend college and worked as a garbage collector, dishwasher, gardener and houseboy in a dormitory to support himself.

He had often shared how he came to be sympathetic to struggles experienced by LGBT individuals when as a student in Kansas, he saw for himself the discrimination and injustices the African-American community faced.

“It was the beginning of the Civil Rights struggle and I made friends with the African-Americans and sensed in a personal way what racial discrimination is all about. The professors in my college and seminary had a strong social passion and supported the civil rights struggle. For me it was a natural transition to the gay issue when it emerged here.”

He added, “In trying to understand the question of same-sex attraction I can only naturally look at my own life and examine my sexual life. Did I at any time choose between heterosexuality and homosexuality? No, it just came naturally and it was not a matter of choice. Of course, I don’t experience how gays and lesbians become aware of same-sex attractions. I can only surmise that it came naturally to you too. I did not choose heterosexuality and you did not choose homosexuality.”

Rev Dr Yap is survived by his wife, four children, 12 grandchildren and a great grandchild.

The wake will be at Mount Vernon Sanctuary, 121 Upper Aljunied Road, S367878 on Saturday 18 Nov at Purity Hall, and then on Sunday 19 Nov and Monday 20 Nov at Purity and Cherish Hall. Free Community Church will conduct “simple and informal” celebration of life services at 8pm on each of the three nights. The cremation will be at Mandai Crematorium on Tuesday 21 Nov, 10.30am.