'Please don't leave me'
The T Project founder June Chua says transgenders are told too often how to behave, so they get free rein at her shelter
The law recognises them. Transgenders who have officially changed their sex can legally marry here.
But to be accepted by society?
That is a major hurdle that The T Project is struggling to overcome.
The T Project runs a shelter for homeless transgenders, many of whom have been kicked out of their homes by their families, rejected by some strangers and refused jobs by others.
Miss June Chua makes it her mission to help them. She was born male, but at 17, she decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Thailand.
"I did not have to 'come out' to my parents as I was already wearing 'girl clothes'. They knew all along that I was different," says Miss Chua, now 43.
"I am fortunate that they showed me unconditional love. They have never seen me as their son or their daughter but their child."
But not every transgender is as lucky.
Two years ago, Miss Chua decided to help the transgender community by setting up The T Project with her sister, Alicia (not her real name), who was also a transgender but died last year.
"I wanted to share my blessing with other less fortunate transgender people," she tells The New Paper on Sunday.
June Chua is the founder of T Project, Singapore's first shelter for homeless transgender individuals. TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Located in central Singapore, the shelter has been home to eight people over the years. But due to a lack of funds, the shelter has to move out of its current premises.
When Miss Chua, who works at a women's healthcare centre during the day, broke the news to the residents on Wednesday, Rose (not her real name) broke down.
She told Miss Chua: "Please do not leave me."
Rose, 78, was recently featured in a video posted on Pink Dot SG's Facebook page as part of a campaign for the movement in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Miss Chua says: "Rose is very attached to the shelter as she has lived here for two years. It breaks my heart to see her like this. She is like family to me."
The shelter can house up to four people and acts as an interim accommodation for homeless transgenders, says Miss Chua.
The shelter is in a shophouse attic and funded by a non-profit organisation here.
"They get free lodging and food so that whatever they earn from working can be saved to help them get back on their feet," says Miss Chua.
She declined to disclose the shelter's benefactor and its address.
Besides Rose, the other shelter residents are Jess and Pearl (not their real names).
When TNPS visited the shelter on Thursday, it was neat and clean, filled with several wall art contributed by well-meaning people.
Miss Chua says: "I have no rules for the residents here.
"They have been told enough times by society to act or be a certain way. I want to give them the freedom to do whatever they want."
She claims the transgender community faces discrimination everywhere they go.
"They get rejected at job interviews, social welfare centres and healthcare service providers," she says, adding that homeless transgenders struggle to survive every day.
"It is a vicious circle," explains Miss Chua.
"Those with early transition might get kicked out of their homes by their families and drop out of school.
"Without adequate educational qualifications, some resort to becoming sex workers to make money."
The transgender women who have stayed in the shelter have their own heartbreaking stories of abandonment and rejection.
Pearl, for example, was homeless for several months, lugging a trolley full of her belongings around Clarke Quay.
Miss Chua says: "Pearl got skin rashes from sleeping on the streets. The rashes were so bad that she had to be admitted to Singapore General Hospital.
"She now works at a bakery and is saving money to get a place of her own."
Miss Chua was recently informed that The T Project might be relocated to a dormitory that houses 70 migrant workers.
She says: "I was devastated when I thought about Rose. I do not know if she can cope at a place full of strangers."
Miss Chua says its costs about $500 each month to operate the shelter.
She hopes she can raise enough money to keep it going.
"I hope to one day open a transgender resource centre where people can learn about transgender issues."
For more information on The T Project, go to www.facebook.com/TheTprojectsg