Op-Ed

Pride – The politics of politeness

Robert Flores notes that LGBT politeness may at times be understandable, but he believes that “the time of being polite is now over. I am saying exactly what every gay person who is involved in any way in the fight for equal rights is thinking, but who may be too polite to say out loud. Is that statement rude? Absolutely. Is it inflammatory? It better be.”

There is nothing more difficult, or frustrating than trying to help someone who clearly doesn’t want to be helped.

We have heard this popular saying hundreds, if not thousands, of times before, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the gay community in the Philippines. There. I’ve said it.

The time of being polite is now over. I am saying exactly what every gay person who is involved in any way in the fight for equal rights is thinking, but who may be too polite to say out loud. Is that statement rude? Absolutely. Is it inflammatory? It better be.

The Philippines lives in a unique little bubble where the LGBT community enjoy certain liberties other individuals who identify as LGBT in other countries might not. But at the same time, the Philippine LGBT community is, as of this time; the biggest underrepresented group in Philippine politics. We have gained a lot in terms of personal and professional freedoms over the years, and are now poised to take everything that is due us as citizens of this country: marriage, the right to adopt, rights of succession, protection against discrimination. But why are we not moving forward?

In the last two elections, the group Ang Ladlad failed to get even a single seat in Congress. Political pundits had a field day. After successfully reversing the decision of the Commission on Elections, disqualifying Ang Ladlad from participating in the 2010 polls on blatantly moral grounds, and making history as the first party-list organization that seeks to finally represent the LGBT in Congress, Ang Ladlad went on to lose by a wide margin in the election, not even coming close to securing a seat. Ang Ladlad tried again in 2013, and again failed to reach the minimum number of votes to get a seat in the lower house. Working during both elections as first an intern, then as a coordinator for an NGO that monitored the conduct of the campaign and campaign spending, it was a truly exciting time to see history unfold… Well, almost. Excitement gave way to disappointment as it became more and more apparent, as election returns came in, that Ang Ladlad will have to wait three more years before trying yet again.

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Disappointment not at Ang Ladlad, despite the shortcomings of the campaign as observed by some, they are not to blame. They held themselves; the whole party, not just the nominees, out there, and the rest of the country just stood there, and simply did not vote for the party. We seem to have a very shallow depth of field when it comes to elections in this country: the point of elections is that ultimately, those who vote are the ones responsible for the acts of those voted into office, both the good and the bad. There’s a reason why people get offended when one says “Why are you complaining, you voted for him!” people don’t like it when they are made to look at their mistakes directly. And those who choose to speak the unadorned truth about how the whole gay community in the Philippines failed Ang Ladlad and themselves; are called rude by pointing it out. The time for being polite as a community should end now.

It is understandable, our decision to be polite: Not all gay people are out of the closet, in both the personal, and professional context, though it eludes me why one chooses to stay there since it should be a non-issue for individuals beyond the boundaries two adults who mutually consent to a relationship. But granted that they’re there and they choose to stay there, it is their life, and their right to be left alone. For people, not just those inside closets, politeness is the default setting hardwired into our consciousness as a minority: What one can and cannot say in polite society. What one can and cannot discuss in social circles. What one can and cannot incorporate into the curriculum. It is a form of emotional surrender, when one chooses politeness over dialogue. It chips away at you; every time you defer to your desire to lie low, to stay “under the radar”, to seem “polite”, rather than say what you really think. It slices off parts of your resolve, and unknowingly, you weaken us, the whole LGBT community as a political force. On a personal level, we don’t want to stand out, we don’t want to call attention to ourselves; simply because of the perceived inadequacy society has forced upon us. We are not inadequate, we are citizens, full-blooded citizens of this country, and in exchange for our loyalty and fidelity to the words that made this country materialize out of thin air, it owes us our rights that have long been denied. Being polite is easy: it is infinitely more tempting to be polite instead of being correct.

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The LGBT community in the Philippines has to wake up: The rights that should be granted to all citizens under the law, regardless of the gender they identify with, are not going to be handed to the LGBT community on a silver platter. We have waited for years, and no such voluntary recognition of our rights are forthcoming from the politicians and policy-makers in the Palace. The LGBT community must be represented in Congress where all the issues which we seek to address may be properly codified in law, that is binding and carries the weight of enforcement. But without any representative willing to take up the cudgels for the LGBT, there is no way that any form of LGBT-friendly legislation will ever see itself as an actual law. And gay people, up and down this country, will continue to be deprived of the power to fully live as citizens. The failure of Ladlad, twice, is indicative of a deeper problem, a general apathy in the LGBT community that must be addressed. We are a community divided, but with common concerns, and if we will be able to get our heads out of our asses, we might be able to accomplish something utterly extraordinary.

The straight community has long been aware of the presence of the LGBT community, despite their best efforts in looking the other way and pretending we don’t exist: because frankly, if something doesn’t exist, it can’t be a problem. And for years we have long deferred to the straight establishment, saying to ourselves, “Well, they’re the majority… So I’ll just do my own thing…” Not anymore. The time has come for the LGBT community to ask the questions we should have been asking a long time ago. The time for politeness is at an end. We need to confront our leaders and demand the rights that are rightfully ours. It is time to get involved, while we have time to prepare for the next showdown at the polls in 2016. Don’t be embarrassed to correct straight and ignorant colleagues or family regarding notions about homosexuality, don’t be afraid to not laugh at jokes made with poking fun at “the fags” at its core, don’t be scared to ask the questions that have been sorely needing answers for decades. Don’t give a f*ck if you are labeled rude, controversial, or a troublemaker: they will never wake up to face reality if you tread lightly around them. Find a way to help the effort, and to wear your colors proudly. Show them that we are here, and we are not going away.

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There will be opposition. There will be adversity. There will be casualties. But ultimately, we will prevail.

It is all up to you.

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