From the Editor

Picking a fight for the rainbow…

Michael David dela Cruz Tan says that “there’s no going around this: Our silence is emboldening our abusers. And it’s time we stop tiptoeing as if we’re more concerned with the feelings of those who abuse us than with the abuse they did/are doing to us. Because we all should speak out when we see abuses. No matter how seemingly ‘trivial’ this abuse may be. This… is the essence of being #HereTogether.”

And so I had to walk a few blocks for Pride.

I boarded a bus at Ayala Triangle, heading to Dian Street corner Gil Puyat Ave. But we have yet to reach my destination – we were still at the corner of Chino Roces Ave. (formerly Pasong Tamo) and Gil Puyat Avenue, some four blocks away – when two young passengers alighted. They were flamboyantly gay; loud both figuratively (in their presentation of themselves/the way they carried themselves) and literally (they were yakking about this or that guy).

And just as they got off the bus, the konduktor (i.e. the person who collects the fares) said quite loudly: “Hoy, magpakalalaki na kayo (Hey, start acting like/being men)!”

An older guy (seated behind the driver) snickered before adding: “Babakla-bakla, nakakahiya (Acting gay, it’s embarrassing)!”

At least two other (younger) guys chuckled.

That’s when I sorta snapped.

Kuya,” I said, “walang ginawa sa inyo ‘yung mga bata pero inaaway nyo (those kids didn’t do you any harm yet you’re picking a fight with them).”

The konduktor looked surprise. BUT – annoyingly – he didn’t seem apologetic.

Bakla kasi eh (Because they’re gay),” was all he said, looking me over.

Ay, bakla din po ako (Oh yeah, I’m also gay),” I said, as a matter of fact. “Ano naman hong kinalaman ng kasarian ng tao sa puwede nang bastusin (What does one’s sexual orientation have to do with the claim that one can already be harassed)?”

He went quiet, even avoiding my eyes. But he still had that half smile on his lips, like he knew better than me. “Sorry na,” he begrudgingly mumbled.

The older man who earlier snickered suddenly found something interesting outside the bus; he didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with the conversation, and instead started to keep to himself. The two younger guys who chuckled started murmuring to each other; but like the older man, they didn’t seem to want to have any part in the conversation, too.

Para na po (Stop the bus),” I said; I was sorta annoyed. Then – just as I got off the bus – added: “Sa susunod ho, huwag kayong mambabastos ng tao – kahit na anong kasarian. Hindi ho sila ang nagmumukhang gago; kayo po (Don’t disrespect people no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. It isn’t them who end up looking stupid; it’s you).”

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The konduktor didn’t say anything anymore; perhaps just gladly anticipating my getting off the bus (before they all could start talking again, and this time with me as the subject).

But – very small that move may have been – I was glad I did it.

Because we all should speak out when we see abuses. No matter how seemingly “trivial” this abuse may be. This, for me, is the essence of (and how we can start showing) being #HereTogether…

Having been to various parts of the Philippines for the LGBT advocacy, I have encountered more “extreme” abuses.

In Iligan City, for instance, I met numerous members of the LGBT community who repeatedly shared the story of a gay boy from Marawi City whose father allegedly picked his teeth one by one, using nothing but pliers. Every time a tooth is removed, the father supposedly asked the son: “Lalaki ka na (Are you now a straight man)?” The son would say: “Bakla po (I’m gay).” And so this father (if he can be called that) continued picking teeth. By the time the father picked most of his son’s teeth, the boy was (obviously) still gay. So this father supposedly then stuffed his son in a rice sack, tied this close, and the hanged this sack in some river until “magising siya na lalaki na siya (he realized he’s straight).”

My biggest question was: “Did anyone say anything to stop the father?”

Wala (None),” I was told. “Iwas-gulo (To avoid skirmish).”

There’s the profiteering in HIV “advocacy” – that is, those who get the bulk of the money/budget from donor agencies do nothing but have parties/travel the world/hold photoshoots/et cetera, while the very people they claim to be serving are dying in treatment hubs (or get lost to follow up, so they just disappear completely).

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I asked grassroots NGO (that raised this issue with me) if they’ve made their complaints about the profiteering official. I was told “No”. There’s the fear of being ostracized; of funding being kept from them if they complained.

And so this very abuse (for they can’t be called anything but) committed by the very people who are supposed to serve continues to happen.

I know a gay guy who – while in a hospital – was allegedly forced by a doctor (who also happens to be married to a former high-ranking government official) to have HIV test. Her supposed reasons: he’s a young gay guy, and he works for a call center.

I brought up this issue with the head of one of the biggest HIV-centric NGOs in the Philippines. And to my surprise, he recommended NOT pursuing the issue by NOT lodging a complaint against the erring doctor.

Huwag na palakihin ang isyu (Don’t make matters worse),” he said.

That gay guy was – eventually – allowed to leave the hospital after he threatened them he’d jump out of the window if they kept haranguing him. That suicidal ideation all because he was told to just shut up.

I know of transwomen who weren’t allowed to graduate (e.g in Cebu City and in Dapitan) unless they started presenting themselves in a masculine way. In Dapitan, the school head involved is even gay; and he allegedly told the trans students he’d sign their clearances if they had their breast implants removed.

I asked: “Was a complaint filed?”

I was told: “No. Kung puwede kasi mag-comply, comply na lang para matapos na ang issue (If we can comply, we may as well comply just to end the issue).”

I can go on and on and on with examples of abuses I’ve (so far) encountered, but the point remains the same: So many of these abuses happen because those involved opt to stay silent.

Note that a lot of the abuses start small.

At homes, verbal abuses that are taken as “just normal” do not only live emotional and psychological scars, but even lead to physical abuses. As a kid, I saw a father hit his gay son with metal chain. He said he’s been telling the son for years to “straighten up”, but that this was not heeded. So the “next step” was to physically hit the son. No one – not the mom, not the school officials who noted the son’s scars, not the barangay officials – said a thing; instead, it was taken as “just normal” way for a father to discipline an erring son not for doing anything wrong/bad but just for being gay.

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In communities, treatment of LGBT people as “not normal” at times eventually end up being used as reasons for hate crimes. A transwoman from Malay, Aklan once shared the story of a trans sister being stoned because she was seen as “different”. The victim did not – will not – even complain…

Again, we can go on and on and on with cases…

There’s no going around this: Our silence is emboldening our abusers.

And it’s time we stop tiptoeing as if we’re more concerned with the feelings of those who abuse us than with the abuse they did/are doing to us.

It always starts with at least one word. So speak up.

It’s not always comfy, I admit. There’s always price to be paid.

Looking inwards, it’s also not always comfy because it could mean we extend a hand to those who even we (members of the LGBT community) hold biases against (e.g. pamhinta versus pa-ghirl and trans community members). But we need to back each other because no one else will.

We ought to be willing to pay this price (LET ME STATE THIS: unless our lives are at stake; though there’d be those who’d be willing to die for the cause). Our (rainbow) freedom is always worth that price.

Sounds like some motherhood statement, yes.

But no, we all don’t need to make grand gestures. Not everyone can, or even ought to.

But we can all always start small. Like opening your mouth as needed… and walking a few blocks for Pride…

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