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Pride in the eyes of those at the fringes of LGBT community

Discussions on the evolution of Pride has already been happening overseas (e.g. commercialization), even if the same has not been really happening in the Philippines. And in the midst of all the noise, what needs to be kept in mind is that Pride is supposed to celebrate the “rainbow diversity”. That is, it’s supposed to be for everyone, not just for the select few (who can afford to access it). Because there remain many members of the LGBT community whose narratives are often just left in the cutting room… the #KaraniwangLGBT. For #Pride2017, Outrage Magazine chats with some of those who are at the fringes of the already minority LGBT community.

ARTWORK BY AARON BONETTE

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Everything LGBT-related is magnified in June every year, marked as the month when LGBT Pride is supposed to be celebrated (thanks, largely, to its Western-led identification as “Pride Month” because it was when the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City in 1969).

But while discussions on the evolution of Pride has already been happening overseas (again, largely in Western contexts, with the commercialization of Pride getting flak, such as THIS, THIS and THIS; and yes, some support), the same has not been really happening in the Philippines. Yes, discussions about the annual “walk” being identified as a “march” (meaning it’s political) versus a “parade” (meaning it’s just for show) have happened in the past, but – by and large – the evolution of Pride here to end up mimicking Western model/s can be argued to be not happening.

Fact: There will be opponents and supporters of both sides.

But in the midst of the noise, what needs to be kept in mind is that Pride is supposed to celebrate the “rainbow diversity”. That is, it’s supposed to be for everyone, not just for the select few (who can afford to access it).

Because there remain many members of the LGBT community whose narratives are often just left in the cutting room, marked as “not sexy” or “not newsworthy”.

These are the #KaraniwangLGBT, our LGBT brothers and sisters who are at the fringes not just of society, but even of the LGBT community. Those whose idea of Pride is limited to “it’s not for people like us”.

Outrage Magazine chats with some of those still looking for Pride… and yet seemingly left by the very movement that’s supposed to help them find this Pride.

THE LESBIAN CONFIDANT

People always mistake them as lovers. They’ve known each other for more than five years now.

But “magkaibigan lang kami. May boyfriend siya at mga anak, tapos ako, may nililigawan (we’re just friends. She has a boyfriend and kids, and me, I’m wooing another),” Jeng said.

They both live in Tondo, among the informal settlers there. Each day, they share meals together – with the kids and other family members.

Alas-otso ng umaga nung tumawag siya sa akin. Iyak siya ng iyak. Binalita niya sa akin na nakuha na niya ‘yung HIV test niya, at positive siya (She called me at eight in the morning. She was crying. She told me she got the result of her HIV test, and that she tested positive),” Jeng continued.

Jeng is a pedicab driver. On a good day, “kumikita ako ng P150. Pero kung wala masyadong pasahero, P50 lang. Nagbibigay pa kasi ako sa may-ari ng pedicab (I earn P150. But if there aren’t many passengers, just P50. I also have to give the pedicab owner his share).”

But nowadays, “mas mahirap kumita. Kasi binabantayan at sinasamahan ko siya palagi kapag nagpupunta sa ospital. Hindi ko siya kayang pabayaan kasi ang dami na namin pinagsamahan. Noong ako ang nagkaproblema dati, nandun siya palagi sa tabi ko. Kahit na hirap ako sa sitwasyon ko, okay lang kasi masaya ako at kasama ko best friend ko (it’s harder to earn. I go with her to the hospital. I can’t leave her alone. We’ve been through a lot already. When it was me who had problems, she was there. It’s not easy but I’m happy I can be with her),” Jeng said.

Asked about Pride, and the annual march/parade, she looked confused: “Pride March? Ano ‘yun? Puro kasiyahan lang yata yan at same-sex marriage. Paano naman kami makikinabang dyan (What’s that? It’s just for partying and for same-sex marriage? What’s that to us)?” she asked.

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THE ‘KERI LANG’ WORKER

“Al – two letters lang. ‘Yan ang binigay sa akin na pangalan. Keri lang, at least madali lang tandaan (My name is Al – just two letters. That’s the name given to me, so that’s okay. At least it’s easy to remember),” he said.

Al flips burgers for a living.

Wala akong basic na sahod, porsyento lang. Kapag kumita itong store, may take home ako (I don’t get basic salary, just a percentage of what the store earns. If the store earns something, then I get to take home something),” he said.

Al works for 16 hours every day. Sometimes, he earns P500 in a day. But on a regular basis, his take home is from P150 to P200 per day.

Pinapaaral ko pa kapatid ko. Tapos nangungupahan lang kami (I also send a sibling to school. And we just rent our place),” he said.

Then trying to sound optimistic: “Keri lang, buti nga at may trabaho ako. Hindi katulad ng iba dyan, hirap na hirap maghanap ng trabaho (It’s okay, at least I have a job. Others have a hard time finding a job),” he added.

With Al only getting some five hours of rest every day, “celebrating” Pride is far from his mind. The priority, he said, is for him to earn a decent living – even a small amount – as long as “wala akong ginagawang masama (I don’t do anything illegal).”

THE DEVOTEE

Ano pangalan mo? Dadasalan kita. Sa ngalan sa Amahan, sa Anak ug sa Espiritu Santo, amen. Senyor Sto Niño, Mama Mary, Senyor San Pedro Calungsod, mga santos, mga santas. Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño…”

Her name is Gretchen. She has been a candle vendor at Magellan’s Cross in Cebu for more than 30 years now. She inherited her job from her ancestors. It was passed onto her mother, and after she passed away, Gretchen took over.

Araw-araw ako nagdadasal dito kay Senyor Sto. Niño. Si Sto. Niño, mas more na malapit kami sa kanya, maraming blessing siya binibihgay sa amin,” she shared.

As a devout Catholic and believer of Sto. Niño, Gretchen is always ridiculed because she is trans.

But she said: “Unsa ang kinahanglan nga ako kaulawan? Dili ko usa ka kriminal, dili ko usa ka kawatan (What should I be ashamed of? I’m not a criminal. I’m not a thief),” she said.

Gretchen thanks God that despite the discrimination she is experiencing, there are still many people who continue to trust her with their religious intercessions.

But – aside from praying for others – every night, she also prays for people to respect her for who and what she really is.

Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño, salamat sa pagpasaylo kanako (thank you for forgiving me). Viva Pit Senyor! Mahal na Sto. Niño,” she ended.

THE CHARMING WAITRESS

Nagkaroon ako ng boyfriend dati, estudyante lang siya. Gwapo siya, fresh na fresh ang itsura. Kaya lang tuwing nagkikita kami, binibigyan ko siya ng allowance para may panggastos siya sa school (I had a BF before. He was a student. He was handsome. But every time we met, I had to give him money, his allowance for his schooling),” Kakay shared as she prepared the pares orders. “Wala naman akong choice. Wala ako mahanap na matinong lalaki na pwedeng maging boyfriend. Isa sa marming rason, wala akong maayos na trabaho – trabaho na pwede ako ipagmalaki at iuwi sa bahay para ipakilala (It’s not like I have a choice. I couldn’t find a proper man to be my BF. One of the reasons is I don’t even have a good job – a job that will make him proud to introduce me to his family).”

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Kakay works in one of the pares houses in Manila. She has been with them for many years already, even if “mababa lang ang sahod, okay na rin (I don’t earn much, though that’s just fine).”

She tried her luck – several times actually – to apply for other jobs. But the usual answer that Kakay said she gets: “Hindi kami tumatanggap ng bakla. Mahirap na, baka magkaproblema pa kami sa iyo (We don’t take in gay people. You could just give us problems).”

Kakay identifies as a woman, and she longs to be able to transition. “Hindi ako pamhinta, hindi ako bakla, babae ako. Hindi niyo palang nakikita ang totoo kong anyo (I’m not ‘straight-acting’, I’m not gay, I’m a woman. But you haven’t seen my real personhood yet).”

Kakay is proud with her life – somehow. Pinaghirapan ko ang lahat ng ito (I worked hard for what I now have),” she said. “Pero kung may pagkakataon na mas maging okay ang sitwasyon ko, syempre attack ako doon. Pero sa tingin ko malabo na mangyari ‘yun, kasi hindi naman kami nakikita (But if there’s a chance to do better, I’d go there. Though this doesn’t seem realistic because no one really sees us).”

THE ANGEL BARKER

Outrage Magazine first met the Angel of Quezon Avenue in 2014, a transgender woman barker who said “matagal ko na ginagawa ito. Bata palang ako, barker na ako (I’ve been doing this for a while now. I was just a child, I was already a barker).”

She did not finish college because her family could not afford to send her to school. She was left with no choice but to succumb to one of the easiest ways to earn a living.

Sumubok ako rumaket sa iba last year pero walang nangyari. Tapos naghanap ako ng ibang trabaho, wala rin tumanggap sa akin (I tried looking for other jobs, but nothing happened. No one wanted to hire me),” Angel said. “Ganito talaga ang buhay, kailangan mong tanggapin ang sitwasyon mo. Ngayon tiis-tiis lang. Basta magkakasama kami ng pamilya ko (That’s life. You have to accept your situation. Now, you just put up with things. As long as I’m with my family).”

Of course, if given a chance to do a different work with a better pay, “tatanggapin ko ‘yun! Walang pagdadalawang isip (I’ll accept that – no second thoughts).”

Today, Angelo continues to be a jeepney and FX barker. She earns P50 to P60 in a day.

THE SEX WORKER

PJ just turned 18 last May. He celebrated his birthday with two of his closest friends over a bottle of Red Horse Mucho and Chippy while walking at Plaza Divisoria.

Ito lang kaya ng budget. Wala kasi masyadong customer. Okay na rin, na-celebrate ko naman birthday ko (This is all I can afford. There aren’t a lot of customers. But it’s okay, I was still able to celebrate my birthday),” he said.

PJ is from Cagayan de Oro. When he was 16 years old, he went to Manila to look for work. In just a matter of two days, he got a job at the pier. He was earning P150 per day.

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Pero wala akong tinutuluyan ‘nun, doon lang din ako sa pier natutulog. Tapos syempre maliit lang ‘yung P150 na kita. Kadalasan isang beses lang ako kumakain sa isang araw (But I was homeless then. Often, we just slept at the pier. Also, P150 isn’t a big amount. At times we just eat once a day),” PJ recalled.

To augment his income, he resorted to sex work.

Pagkatapos kong magbuhat ng mga delivery, naglalakad na ako sa Roxas Boulevard hangang Star City. Minsan may edad na babae ang kumukuha sa akin, minsan matandang bakla, minsan mag-asawa (After work, I’d walk along Roxas Blvd. until I reach Star City. At times, older women hired me, at times older gay men, and at times couples),” PJ said.

But after three weeks, he lost his raket at the pier. And since he did not have a place to stay or know anyone in Manila, he saved up – from paid sexual encounters – and went back to CDO.

Today, he is with his boyfriend and girlfriend – yes, he is in a relationship with two people. Both are also sex workers.

Wala naman masama kung tatlo kami sa relasyon. Nagmamahalan kami. Mabuti rin ito, at least tatlo kami nagtutulungan sa buhay (There’s nothing wrong with having three people in a relationship. We all love one another. It’s also good since we’re all able to help each other out),” PJ ended.

THE FATHER AND THE SON

Dati akong construction worker, pero huminto na ako ngyaon. May anak akong bakla (I used to be a construction worker. But I stopped. I have a gay son),Mang Rey shared.

His gay son is only 16 years old and they live in Quezon province. Every two months, they wake very early in the morning, around 2:00 AM, to travel to Manila.

Nalungkot ako nung nalaman ko na HIV-positive ang anak ko. Tinatanong ko siya kung saan o paano niya nakuha yung sakit, pero hindi siya nagkukwento. Tumutulo na lang ang luha niya (It saddens me knowing he has HIV. I ask him how he got infected, but he doesn’t tell me. He just sheds tears),” Mang Rey said, wiping his own tears.

Their family used to be in a better financial situation, but because of his son’s medical condition – and the insufficient support that PhilHealth gives to PLHIVMang Rey is now struggling to make ends meet.

Lumapit kami sa iba’t-ibang agencies para humingi ng suporta. Tapos nung nalaman nila na bakla ang anak ko, parang naging komplikado yung proseso. May ganun pa pala hangang ngayon (We’ve approached various agencies to ask for help. But when they found out my son’s gay, the process changed. I didn’t know things like that still happen these days),” he said, dismayed.

He added: “Sana ung mga NGO dyan o ung mga grupo para sa mga bakla at may HIV, tignan nila ung mga may kailangan talaga, hindi lang ung mga may kaya. Kami ang mas may kailangan ng atensyon at suporta (I hope NGOs, LGBT groups and groups for PLHIVs look at those who really need help, not those who are affluent. It’s us who really need attention and support).”

Pride – we say – is for everyone, including (if not particularly for) those at the fringes, the people most in need of finding this Pride.

Because sans them in the equation, ours is a tattered rainbow, with the destruction coming from within…

Living life a day at a time – and writing about it, is what Patrick King believes in. A media man, he does not only write (for print) and produce (for a credible show of a local giant network), but – on occasion – goes behind the camera for pride-worthy shots (hey, he helped make Bahaghari Center’s "I dare to care about equality" campaign happen!). He is the senior associate editor of OutrageMag, with his column, "Suspension of Disbelief", covering anything and everything. Whoever said business and pleasure couldn’t mix (that is, partying and working) has yet to meet Patrick King, that’s for sure! Patrick.King.Pascual@outragemag.com

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Perya ng buhay

From Bataan, peryante Louise David Flores – who self-identifies as bakla/gay man but lives as a woman – did not get the chance to be educated, so he believes his life won’t amount to anything. He wants other LGBTQIA people to grab all opportunities to better themselves and not have regrets.

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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.”

“As a gay person, you have to learn to enjoy life. When you’re gay, you are ridiculed. But for me, when people belittle me, I say: ‘Take a rest!’”

So said Louise David Flores, 20, from Dinalupihan, Bataan.

Self-identifying as “bakla” (gay), Louise actually “lives as a girl” – perhaps exemplifying the still commonplace confusion with sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE) particularly among those living outside metropolitan areas in the Philippines.

With his father already dead, and his mother with another family (in Lubao, Pampanga), Louise currently lives with an aunt. “I hardly see (my mother),” he said. “Sometimes, I don’t even see her in a year.”

Louise was in Grade 6 when people teased him, referring to him as gay. “That’s also when I realized I’m really gay. I actually told myself: Maybe I’m really a woman,” he said.

And then one time, “I went home with my make-up on. I also started using women’s clothes then. My family didn’t stop me from living as I am; they accepted me immediately as a girl.”

Louise was in Grade 6 when people teased him, referring to him as gay. “That’s also when I realized I’m really gay. I actually told myself: Maybe I’m really a woman,” he said.

For Louise, it isn’t necessarily difficult to be LGBTQIA in Bataan. “This will depend on you – on whether you choose to enjoy your life,” he said. “Living a sad life or living happy – that’s entirely up to you. I say just enjoy life while you’re still alive.”

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Louise admitted that he also experienced discrimination, such as “when I step out of my house, or when I go to the public market. There are some people who’d call me a faggot,” he said. But “I just ignore them. Really, why give them attention? These people do not know that it’s nicer if they have friends who belong to the LGBTQIA community. So, for me, there’s no need to give them attention. I have lots of friends who accept me for who I am anyway.”

Louise currently works as a “peryante” (one who works in a fair/carnival). “We bring the fair/carnival to different places.”

For Louise, it isn’t necessarily difficult to be LGBTQIA in Bataan. “This will depend on you – on whether you choose to enjoy your life,” he said.

He actually started working early.

“I was 13 when I started working. My first job was in a farm, planting rice. There are lots of things to do in a farm. You can plant rice, harvest rice… you can do things like that.”

And now as a “peryante“, “I make people gamble. Our salary depends on the winnings. Sometimes, we just get twenty pesos for a day’s work. Sometimes we get nothing, particularly if we (the betting house) lose. So we don’t have regular earnings.”

Louise doesn’t believe that LGBTQIA (particularly gay-with-straight-identifying-men, which is still common in provincial areas) relationships are real.

“Among 100 men, only one man will truly love a gay man. And he may already be taken by someone,” he said. “And so I don’t take men seriously. I don’t take relationships seriously because the other party isn’t serious anyway. You can always tell when one is serious.”

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To younger LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “As long as someone wants to send you to school, study. I regret not going to school. I want to have a proper job, but I can’t get one because I did not have formal education.”

This is actually also why Louise has sort of lost hope already. “I don’t think I can still have a good future. Because I didn’t get formal education, I can’t find a good job. Maybe in the future, I’ll be stuck at home. I’ll do nothing but look after my nephews and nieces. Perhaps that’s what future holds for me.”

To younger LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “As long as someone wants to send you to school, study. I regret not going to school. I want to have a proper job, but I can’t get one because I did not have formal education.”

And to people who continue to belittle LGBTQIA people, Louise said: “Your ridicule reflects badly on you. Just because a person is gay, doesn’t mean you have any right to abuse him. Those who do this have narrow minds. Put yourself in the shoes of LGBTQIA people to know what they are going through.”

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The lone drag queen

Kenneth Lemuel Esteban interviews Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who believes that doing drag is not just a way of expression but is a way of self-empowerment that can also empower other people.

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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 is very hard to fight for my sexuality and, at the same time, fight for my drag artistry here in the province because most people here are not open enough to understand both.”

So said Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who continues to experience hardships for being part of the LGBTQIA community and for being a drag artist in the province.

For Lawrence, discrimination happens every day for him as a member of the LGBTQIA community. “On a daily basis, discrimination is inevitable here in the province. You can witness discrimination in public and sometimes even at work.”

And as if Lawrence is not oppressed enough because of his sexuality, he is also forced to abstain from being the drag performer – something that he always wanted to become – due to the lack of drag culture, and the knowledge and appreciation of the same in the province.

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.”

Not surprisingly, Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

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Lawrence discovered the art of drag when, “I was in high school, I saw ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ on TV, and I got curious. I just tried to watch a single episode.” Lawrence said that at that moment, “I had zero interest and idea on what drag is. I just got the urge to know more about it.”

As soon as he finished college, he tried looking for a hobby, and “I rediscovered drag artistry on social media and I had the time that I didn’t have before so I decided to explore more from the world of drag.”

Lawrence’s drag name is Wire Shun, inspired by his favorite character from a Korean drama that he always watches.

Sometimes, Lawrence wants to go outside as Wire Shun but he can’t because “people here in the province might not understand my art.” he said. “Most of my neighbors might judge me because of my craft because other than the fact that they don’t understand the concept of drag, my drag style is very different and creepy so things might get too overwhelming for them.”

Lawrence added that “even my family is not aware that I do drag… No one knows that I do drag and that drag is my passion.”

And so for Lawrence, the only way for him to express his artistry is “by performing alone in my room.”

Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

His drag style is, “very alternative. I serve looks that are very unique, spooky and sometimes it may even look alien-ish,” he said.

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Alternative drag is, Lawrence said, not the typical style that other drag artists do. “It is very different from the looks of other mainstream queens appearing on television because those queens are more focused on serving beauty pageant aesthetic and feminine looks. “

For him, “alternative drag on the other hand has no limitations when it comes to expressing your artistry”

Lawrence is very different from his drag persona; they are like a paradox.

Lawrence can be just as “mundane as I could be. I am just a person trapped in what the society expects me to be. I am just an artist looking for a way to express my talent and creativity.” When out of drag, “I am just this shy person who lacks a huge deal of confidence.” But when he is finally in drag, he can “get very wild and cocky… a complete opposite when he (I am) out of drag.”

Lawrence believes that doing drag is not just his outlet and way of expression, but is also his way of self-empowerment with hopes of empowering other people.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.” He gushed as he added that for him, “my drag artistry is my way of expression and through my art is how I convey that message to people.”

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

To the aspiring drag queens and artists in general who thinks that they are limited because they are in the province, Lawrence has this to say: “Living in a (non-metropolitan) city is not that big of a deal because no matter where we are, we can showcase our talent and artistry. We just need to learn how to be resourceful. Just unleash your creativity and you can do it no matter who you are. All drag is valid. So just keep on honing your craft and artistry. Let’s just live on and keep on learning so that we’ll be able to reach our goals in life.”

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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.”

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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.

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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.”

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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.”

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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The dancemaker

When bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog – 26 years old, from Parañaque City – was told he couldn’t dance, he persevered and eventually formed his own dance group. More than a passion, dancing helped him finance his family’s needs. He now says that “if you really want to dance, even if you’re LGBT, you can – and should – dance.”

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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.”

“For me, even if you’re an LGBTQIA person, you can also dance if you really want to dance. And you can do any genres – ballet, jazz, street dance… There’s no dance that is just for LGBTQIA people. Whoever you may be, whatever you may be, if dancing is your passion, you can dance. Everyone’s equal when dancing. Any genre is accessible for people who want to dance no matter the level of their talent so long as they have the passion.”

So said bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog, 26 years old, a dancer cum choreographer with his own dance group in Parañaque City.

Lee Magdaraog thinks that “it’s also easy for (my family) to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee was in sixth grade when he knew he “may be bakla (gay).” “But I hid this from everyone because I didn’t want to be bullied. I was also afraid to come out because of discrimination,” he recalled. The realization came “when I started getting attracted to other men, but I was ashamed to show it.”

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Fortunately for Lee, “my family accepted me; I have another sibling who’s gay. I also know that they’ll accept me whoever/whatever I may be.”

Lee also thinks that “it’s also easy for them to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee eventually identified as bi.

He discovered dancing unintentionally”.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t really like dancing. I liked singing then. But one person made me try dancing, so I did. There was one problem: I wasn’t very good at it. But it still inspired me, it motivated me. It feels good to dance,” he said.

And then there was one person who belittled Lee, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way. My goal was to become a dancer; it was my dream and I believed I can attain this dream.”

Eventually, he founded his own dance group.

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better so that they can still fulfill their dreams,” he said.

Their dance group has approximately 100 members, divided into five sub-groups. He oversees them all, even if they are – in a way – autonomous. “Dumarating sa punto na nag-lalaban-laban kami (There are times we battle each other),” he said, “pero lagi ko sinasabi sa kanila na kahit ano pa ang desisyon ng judges, hindi kami kalaban. I-enjoy lang nila ang pagsasayaw (but I always tell them that whatever the judges’ decision may be, we’re not really competitors. So better to just enjoy the dancing).”

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His dance group does different dances – e.g. jazz, modern dance, hip hop, fire dance and poi dance. “We try everything, believing that if we can, we should do all dances.”

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better.”

Dancing, said Lee, isn’t cheap.

“To be good at dancing, we join workshops given by good choreographers from all over the Philippines and even globally. This gives us knowledge about dancing,” he said. “By joining these workshops, we are also able to share the knowledge to those who can’t afford to pay to attend these same workshops.”

Lee spends from P150 to over P1,000 to attend a workshop, depending on what the workshop is for, and who is giving the workshop.

Lee’s dance group also gives “street dancing” a literal meaning – i.e. they often rehearse on the streets.

“It’s challenging for us to rehearse on the streets because we can’t control what happens there. Like when it rains, we don’t know where to rehearse. Or sometimes, there’s no proper lighting. We do everything in the dark, just as long as we can rehearse,” he said. “Other dance groups have dance studios, where they can see all the dance moves. But for us, we just have to be meticulous when checking the moves of every member. And because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

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For Lee, while dancing can be challenging, some can make a living from it. “If you’re serious about it, you can earn from this,” he said. “Using your talent, you can earn from this. Like when doing fire dancing, which is in demand particularly during summer. Or poi dancing. Or doing backup dance in corporate events. You can definitely make a living from dancing. But you also have to invest in it.”

In his case in particular, because of dancing, “I’ve been able to help send my siblings to school. I’ve helped in buying my father’s medicines. I also give money for expenses at home. I may not be giving money regularly, but when I have earnings, I try to help out.”

There was one person who belittled Lee Magdaraog, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way.”
“Because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

Lee’s message to LGBTQIA people who want to dance: “It really feels good to dance. There will be lots of difficulties. Because when you dance, you won’t immediately be on top. You have to go through steps, through levels. But if you really want this, if you’re really serious about this, you can attain your dream to be a dancer.”

But aligned with his teaching that dancing is for everyone, he said that “I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change. The young should learn about respect, and dancing, can teach this, along with discipline and nurturing of dreams.”

To people who continue bashing the LGBTQIA community, “I pray for you,” Lee said. “I’m even thankful to you. You challenge/inspire us to do better and succeed in life.”

“I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change.”

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Rainbow rising in Bataan

Only 18, Maria Ella Danaya Gigante – self-identifying as a gay man in Bataan – already makes a living to help his family. He tells other LGBTQIA people to find happiness in what they are, and show others that LGBTQIA will find ways to show we deserve to be accepted completely.

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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.”

Maria Ella Danaya Gigante, 18 from Brgy. Payumo, Dinalupihan, Bataan, was still in elementary school when he started feeling “different” – i.g. he was attracted to other men, and he also expressed himself in an effeminate manner.

“I really just want to give my family a good life. I want to be able to buy them everything that they want.”

He was “lucky”, in a way, because his family accepted him.

“At first – when family members noticed there was something different with me – I
was scared tell them who/what I really am,” he recalled. “But an elder sister told me that when I start high school, I’d be more gutsy to be who I am and tell them the truth. And indeed, this became true. And when I finally came out to them, they accepted me immediately. They told me that there’s nothing they can do if I’m really like this.”

This is perhaps why, for Maria Ella Danaya, family always comes first.

“I read somewhere that a person who talks too much has nothing worth hearing; and those who stay silent are better thinkers.”

He is currently studying at Eastwoods College of Science & Technology, also in Dinalupihan, Bataan, where he taking up IT Programming.

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This is not the course he really wanted to take up. “But gay men are talkative. And with this course, I can work in a call center, or have any job that will allow me to use my loquaciousness,” he said. In the end, “I really just want to give my family a good life. I want to be able to buy them everything that they want.”

Maria Ella Danaya, in fact, already currently works as a freelance hairdresser.

“It started when a gay friend rebonded my hair. It didn’t work on my hair, and it angered me. I did to my mother’s hair what my gay friend did to my hair, and it worked. I also have an auntie who has five salons in Batangas. She taught me the proper ways to do hair rebonding, give Brazilian treatment, do hair cellophane, and so on. That’s how it started for me,” he said.

Everything he earns from work, “I give to my family, particularly to my mom.”

Though his family has been accepting of him, Maria Ella Danaya admitted that, “to be honest, there’s really discrimination done against LGBTQIA people, particularly outside our homes. This is an unavoidable fact. People like us become outcasts; society just doesn’t prioritize thinking about us.”

Now how does he react to this?

“I stay quiet. I read somewhere that a person who talks too much has nothing worth hearing; and those who stay silent are better thinkers,” he said.

Everything he earns from work, “I give to my family, particularly to my mom.”

For Maria Ella Danaya, “my message to other LGBTQIA people is not to mind what other people say. Instead, show who you really are. Be happy in who you really are, and what you have.”

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And to people who continue to discriminate against LGBTQIA people, “I can only say one
thing: The same LGBTQIA people you put down will rise to show you we also deserve complete acceptance.”

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A life in pink

Having experienced discrimination, trans pageant enthusiast Sophia Montecarlo even thinks this is “normal”, though she also thinks LGBTQIA people should use their bad experiences to do better in life. “Take failures and challenges to be better versions of yourselves,” she says.

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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.”

Sophia Montecarlo, 21, from Imus City in Cavite, knew of her sexual orientation since she was a child. “I always knew I’m not male,” she said. “There’s something inside me telling me that I’m really a woman.”

Perhaps to be expected (and even if this is saddening), “my family was initially shocked. And at first, they couldn’t support me for being who and what I am.”

Sophia Montecarlo sadly thinks that it is “normal” for LGBTQIA people to experience discrimination and/or bullying.

What made it difficult for her family to accept Sophia was their religious affiliation.

“I am not part of the Roman Catholic Church; I am from Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ),” she said. And “in our religion, we do not support… we do not believe in people being LGBTQIA.”

Because Sophia couldn’t deny who she is, this created a fracture in her relationship with other family members. “All family members are part of the Church of Christ. And for me not to harm them because I also love them, I chose to separate myself from them,” Sophia said. And so while she still lives with her family, “but I am no longer an active member of the Church of Christ.”

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It was this move – her “courageous step” – that allowed Sophia to start to openly express herself especially to her parents. And “that’s the time they also opened up to me and started accepting me.”

Sophia sadly thinks that it is “normal” for LGBTQIA people to experience discrimination and/or bullying.

There will always be people, she said, who will say that God only created man and woman. “These same people (will) say that LGBTQIA people were not really created by God. But one thing is for sure, I believe that the discrimination we experience can uplift us and make us stronger persons.”

When Sophia Montecarlo was in her third year in college, she started joining beauty pageants.

When Sophia was in her third year in college, she started joining beauty pageants. “I was 18 then, and this became my passion,” she said. “I and my friends decided to just join a pageant; and I had fun experiencing what was happening backstage and onstage, so I continued joining pageants.”

Since 2017, she must have joined over 20 beauty pageants already. “But I only join pageants when I have free time, or when I am readily available.”

Sophia already placed in pageants in Cavite, and even won titles already. The biggest prize money she said she got was from P7,000 to P10,000.

“It hurts when you don’t win. I particularly feel sad because of the effort given by my handler and my friends,” she said. “But I also take these failures to become better, and use them to win in the next pageants.”

“Being true to yourself will lead you to become a better person, to become a stronger individual who can influence other people as well.”

Having finished college at Cavite State University-Main Campus (with a degree of Bachelor of Science-Business Management, majoring in marketing management), Sophia is currently working as a call center agent.

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But “I am looking forward to having a stable job that will help me provide for the needs of my family.”

To younger LGBTQIA people, “be true to yourself,” Sophia said. “Being true to yourself will lead you to become a better person, to become a stronger individual who can influence other people as well.”

And to people who continue to discriminate or bully members of the LGBTQIA community, “you’re not doing anything (substantial) to us. All you do is say that we’re failures; that we’re not really members of this society. But I can say that there’s nothing you can really do; we’re already here. And we’ll prove to you that we’re living (our lives) and we’re (going for it).”

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