In our small and still fairly young country, the LGBTQ+ community has pushed for acceptance in the last decade and made strides, with over 20,000 queer people and straight allies pledging their support at Pink Dot in 2017.
However, a successful yearly event isn’t representative of how much our society has progressed. We all know that there’s still plenty of judgement and intolerance, and same-sex marriage is far from becoming legal.
And as much as they band together for a common cause, LGBTQ+ Singaporeans aren’t as well connected as we think.
Aside from the one day each year that they gather in splashes of pink, they rarely have outlets to create social circles—other than dating or hookup apps.
While these social apps do connect people easily, they foster an unsafe environment at times and don’t help the community be seen for who they are; as more than a distorted image of promiscuity in the eyes of the public.
Kyle Malinda-White, Cally Cheung, and Wakka Kong, three Singaporeans who are Out and Proud, believe that people deserve much better and safer online platforms to form friendships.
Even while they’re still students, they already began thinking about how they could help the community get the right support and exposure.
Being Students, Entrepreneurs, And Advocates All At Once
Kyle, now 27, began working on his passion early in life, co-founding the digital youth culture publication Popspoken during his last year of polytechnic in 2011.
Through Popspoken, Kyle goes way back with another driven millennial, Cally (24), who has been contributing to various media outlets in the region since she was 18, and later dabbled in marketing, public relations, and advertising too.
While working together on an LGBTQ-focused vertical for Popspoken, their eyes opened to a gap to be filled:
“[People are interested] in learning more about the community, but parts of the community [are] still afraid to share their stories online for fear of friends and family finding out about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”
This led to discussions to create a platform that could overcome some of the underlying issues faced by the LGBTQ+.
Both currently completing their final year at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the “sudden prospect of dealing with a future outside that sanctuary [of schooling life]” excites and pushes them forward.
Despite juggling many roles—including their final year projects, undergrad research that Cally intends to carry on into post-grad level, and their responsibilities at Popspoken—it doesn’t slow them down from advocating change.
Their friend and third co-founder, 28-year-old Wakka, helms the gritty tech aspects of the platform, as a recent graduate from the Singapore Management University’s (SMU) School of Information Systems.
Recognised As Pink Dot 10’s Official Broadcast Partner
Since they conceptualised the platform in late 2017, the founders spent close to a year educating themselves through community leaders and potential users.
Then in October 2018, their crowdfunding campaign went live on Indiegogo.
But before they asked people to spend money backing them up, they first showed their commitment by creating “The Qurrent”, a Telegram newsletter that delivers LGBTQ+ news and events twice a week.
Running since March 2018, Qurrent has gathered over 1,500 subscribers, shared more than 250 events, and worked with many regional NGOs.
It also became the official broadcast partner for the 10th edition of Pink Dot last year, providing live updates of the event’s schedule, lineups, and crowd control.
“The responses have been absolutely heartening,” Cally says. “Although the channel is young, we love our subscribers and work to provide them with relevant content.”
Qurrent not only brings updates to the community, but more importantly, it gives subscribers privacy by letting them remain anonymous.
For LGBTQ+ individuals that aren’t ready to be out, this is a small but crucial key.
Cally shares about an encounter she had with one subscriber, who approached her while she manned their booth at Pink Dot 10. “This very shy and petite woman came up to me, [and] confided that she was a long-time subscriber of our Qurrent channel,” she says.
Prout: ‘Out’ And ‘Proud’
When asked how their app will serve people differently than Qurrent, Cally says it’s like “comparing a newsletter to its website”.
Prout, which combines the words ‘out’ and ‘proud’, will be a one-stop platform to bring the LGBTQ+ community together in Singapore.
More than just disseminating updates, it’s a place where people can find events or create their own, chat with other users, look for LGBTQ-specific resources, as well as get support or emergency help from experts.
These features are available on their site now, but it’s still some time before Prout launches its mobile app to put the service in the palm of users’ hands.
“Once the right talents are in place, we estimate that the research and development process will take about two years before the product is released to our first batch of waitlisted users,” says Cally.
Their crowdfunding campaign, which closed in December 2018, aimed to raise US$18,000 to recruit a 3-person development team that will be led by Wakka, as well as support Prout for a 6-month runway.
While they fell short of the target with US$12,200 (just over S$16,400) raised, the team presses on and is currently working to engineer the platform while simultaneously continuing their search for other talented developers to bring on board.
“If we do not reach our goal, we will still pour 100% of funds into developing the product through a shorter runway period. Our focus will still be to get the product into your hands and that remains our topmost goal,” they had promised backers on their Indiegogo page from the start.
Besides relying on funding, Kyle shares that Prout also draws some of its revenue from event partnerships, and merchandise created with local artists.
Not To Be Confused With Grindr
Prout’s founders have firmly established that their app is dedicated to a healthy community that isn’t all about hookups.
But how will they make sure predators among users don’t abuse what they’ve created, and turn it into another Grindr?
Kyle explains that it begins with user verification, which they will enable through Facebook.
The team will ensure all users’ identities are first verified when they come onto the platform. But that said, they’ll still allow options for users to hide their photos and create aliases to maintain privacy online.
Users will also have to agree to a code of conduct.
While we all know that Terms and Conditions are notoriously the least read document in existence, Prout has its measures to hold users accountable after clicking “I agree”.
Beyond penalising users, they also take the approach of rewarding good behaviour.
“Incrementally, we hope to instil trust within the community through incentives like online badges for users who have been on Prout for a longer period of time, who have served in our volunteer corps and have validated event attendance,” Wakka adds.
“Through valves like these, we can identify community users who are on good standing and better understand flagging and reporting dynamics to help in promoting a safer community.”
To Make Healthier Communities Available In The Future
Kyle, Cally, and Wakka today are strong role models who embrace and fight for themselves. But like most LGBTQs, they once struggled with uncertainty and fear in the process of coming out.
Wakka first noticed his attraction to the same sex when he was in secondary school, before the advent of smartphones and social apps like Grindr.
As there were no resources to help him then, he became distracted from his studies, trying to figure out where he belonged, and turning to gaming and queer friends he knew outside of school.
“I was lucky [to meet] a group of queer friends who became my support system, [as we] bonded over similar interests: DOTA, badminton, and lots of tea,” he says.
In turn, Wakka was also one of the first sources of support in Kyle’s life. “[When we, along with a transgender friend], would go out to meetups and LGBTQ+ venues, it was my first taste of what a safe space could be,” says Kyle.
Before these friendships, Kyle came out three times to his family—first when he was 14.
While his family was a little more supportive the second time, they still took a religious stance, until Kyle stood firm at the age of 22 and told them that he would never change who he is.
Chiming in, Cally says there’s still lots to be done in terms of educating people about LGBTQs.
“People find it hard to explicitly come out because they anticipate rejection from their families, friends, and their surrounding social circles,” she says.
But she says, since prejudice is founded on ignorance, that also means it can be changed for the better with continuous exposure to real stories from the LGBTQ+ community.
Although it’s still early in Prout’s journey, the trio have discussed the possibility of focusing on it full-time in the future, and they hope this will come through after they’ve gone past initial testing and found the product’s right fit with its users.
Featured Image Credit: Prout