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A devotion to public service

A former non-government organization worker on Boracay island, Raffy Cooper, 34, is the first gay barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan. While raising two of his three kids, he hopes younger LGBTQIA people to “better yourself until you’re ready to take flight.”

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

So said Raffy Cooper, the 34-year-old barangay secretary of Caticlan in Malay, Aklan (Malay is where Boracay is).

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Raffy was in Grade 1 when he said he noted having male crushes (his classmates). “I couldn’t explain why I had male crushes then,” he said, adding that he found this “peculiar so I didn’t entertain it then.”

In Grade 6, he became more effeminate; and by high school, “I got interested in using make-up, wearing clothes used by women, and joining gay beauty pageants. My life became complicated because of these.”

Initially, Raffy’s family wasn’t too shocked when they found out he’s gay. “Perhaps because slowly, they noticed I was different.”

Raffy’s aunties also used to dress him up in girls’ clothing, so the “progression” was expected.

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But when he started joining beauty pageants, wearing clothes used by women, and even used hormone replacement, “they weren’t very comfortable with those,” he said, adding that the discomfort may have also been because “my family is very religious.”

Raffy has four siblings; all of them are boys. All his brothers didn’t want to have a gay sibling.

“But at the end of the day, with families, no matter the SOGIE you choose, if you love your family and if you don’t bring troubles (for the family), they’ll accept you,” he said. “They’ll come to love you, to accept you. And with what I’ve done in my life, they’re proud of me.”

“It’s important for us to know why we’re being discriminated. And then empower ourselves to find ways for the world to also respect us.”

Overall, by going through everything he did as a gay child, “I think it’s a good experience overall because it allowed me to discover what I can do. It also taught me how to (affect) people for them to realize that even if you are just like that, you still deserve respect.”

Not surprisingly, Raffy calls for parents of LGBTQIA children to “respect your children. You won’t be able to change them by hitting them or by verbally abusing them, or by discriminating or treating them as less than your other children just because they are LGBTQIA. It’s important to support them so they don’t lose their way. There are parents who do not treat their LGBTQIA children rightly or equally. These LGBTQIA children lose their way; some run away. And when this happens, their lives are ruined. So it’s better to just also respect your LGBTQIA children.”

But he also wants young LGBTQIA people – particularly those still living at home – to obey their parents “because they are raising you. So, study. After studying, when you can support yourself and live away from them, then spread your wings like a butterfly and do whatever you want.”

“Sometimes people think LGBTQIA people are just deviants in this world,” Raffy added. “But if you have lofty dreams and achieve these dreams, you will be unquestionable and you will be respected in your community.”

Coming as a surprise for many, Raffy actually had a wife; and they have three kids.

“I’m not okay with my wife now,” so “two of my kids are with me now; I send them to school. Our youngest child is with my wife because it’s still a baby.”

Raffy said that having a wife was “somewhat surprising not just for my family but even my community. But what’s important is that I’ve been a good father to my children. I do everything I can to offer the best quality of life to my children, the best education.”

Raffy believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community. So my children are never underestimated for having a gay father. I think the community even loves them more because I am their father.”

With raising kids as a gay father, “I am more gender-sensitive. Perhaps with straight fathers, there’s this imposition on kids to be macho.”

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Raffy’s son, for instance, is not into sports. “He doesn’t like getting dirty or being sweaty. Perhaps if his father isn’t gay, he’d be asked why he’s like that, and he’d be forced to play – say – basketball. For me, it’s okay if he doesn’t like sports. I don’t think (that by not being sporty) he has plans to be part of the LGBTQIA community. But whatever his plans in life are, I’ll support him.”

Raffy Cooper believes “my kids are all happy. They never experienced being taunted that their father is gay. I think I’ve done my part to help the community; I’ve proven what I can do. So I earned the respect of the community.”

Though he finished BS Biology in college, Raffy’s career path has not be aligned with that field.

“Currently, I’m the barangay secretary of Caticlan. I started working as the barangay secretary last June (2018). This is my first time in public service. I used to work for a non-government organization. Perhaps I caught the eye of the barangay captain, who asked me to work for him. I am enjoying my work because I am directly dealing with people, and I am able to help somehow.”

This is the first time that a member of the LGBTQIA community became a barangay secretary in Raffy’s place, and “my presence there is (deemed) peculiar… a little more colorful. Many are happy with this.”

Should he choose to also become a local leaders, “my first priority will be empowerment,” Raffy said. “I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is also actually the reigning Queen of Aklan.

When he was younger, he regularly joined beauty pageants, going to far areas just to do so. But he stopped when he had his family.

And then they had Queen of Aklan, and “I got interested to join. Its advocacy was good.”

Malay, where Boracay is, has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Aklan. Meanwhile, Aklan has the second highest number of HIV cases in the whole of Western Visayas.

Boracay is a hotspot for HIV infection because it’s a tourism area. “Here we can say that sex work is also rampant, including members of the LGBTQIA community. This is tolerated, and even accepted, because it’s a product of the tourism industry,” Raffy said. “I’m not saying it’s the main product of the tourism industry, but it’s happening. It’s the reality.”

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Raffy thinks that “if we will encourage these people to know their HIV status and teach them how to protect themselves from HIV, the number of people getting infected in Aklan will lessen.” And so for Raffy, “it is very important for a person like me who has the voice for the community to join a contest that will raise awareness about HIV.”

Luckily, he said, he won.

“I want for members of the LGBTQIA community to be more empowered; for them to be more capable to compete not just locally but globally.”

Raffy is big on education.

“When you’re LGBTQIA, invest first in your education. Because in the future, you will need a job. You won’t just party or sleep around. It’s okay to discover yourself. But at the end of the day, you have to invest in your education.”

He also sees this as an important tool for self-empowerment.

“To members of the LGBTQIA community, continue to empower yourself. Don’t consider yourself as a lesser human being than other people. You should always be proud of yourself, and always do your best.”

And to people who may continue to frown upon LGBTQIA people: “I think it’s time (for people) to be open-minded that the world is not only filled with straight men and women. There are also people who chose different ways to express themselves/their SOGIE. So we have to be respectful. At the end of the day, your life won’t change by forcing other people to change.”

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