Another look at whether Filipino LGBTs should already be celebrating Pride
On 14 May 2012, Dr. Andres Gumban, 63, of DC 3 Regeant Pearl, Barangay Alijis, Bacolod City was bashed and then stabbed 35 times to his death by two alleged “call boys” (or male sex workers) he supposedly met via Facebook, 16-year old Neil Jun Distrisa (whose name, while initially not released, was eventually included in filed reports) and 18-year-old Fof Pascual.
The crime in itself was heinous; but, arguably, what made it even more atrocious was the recording of the crime by one of the murderers via his mobile phone’s video camera – and in due course, the video clip of the murder made the rounds online.
Senior Superintendent Ricardo De la Paz, Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO) director, claimed that the two suspects admitted being drug users and, in fact, will have to undergo drug-related tests. More interestingly, however, was the supposed admitting of the suspects that they are “call boys”, and supposedly have had bad experiences with gays, which turned them into gay haters. Bringing the “gay panic defense” to the fore, De la Paz was quoted as saying that “maybe, there was something they don’t like to do with the gays that triggered them to hate gays.”
That “something” that they didn’t like about gays merited the 63-year-old victim 35 stab wounds in different parts of his body, including the slashing of his throat and a V-shaped wound in his right upper head, leading to his death.
Worryingly, Dr Gumban was actually the third gay man reported to have been killed in the Bacolod City alone. As reported, his two alleged murderers were, in fact, also suspected to have possibly been involved in the killing of Ian Sherwin Sandoval, a call center agent and resident of Victorias City, inside a pension house in 2011. There were, supposedly, similarities in the manner of the killings of Gumban and Sandoval.
Worse, the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch cited that, since 1994, when the now defunct group started recording LGBT-related crimes in the Philippines, over 130 instances have already been reported as of end-2011, with 37 happening in 2011 alone.
These LGBT-related hate crimes that lead to deaths are not the only problems faced by the LGBT Filipinos, of course, with anti-LGBT occurrences continuing to happen. On January 5, for instance, one Erano Padilla poured boiling water on his gay son, Edmund, simply because… he’s gay. On June 8, five Filipino transgenders (Santy Layno, Aiyah Mayer, Jazmine Ramona, Nadine Barcelona, and Amone Reyes) were barred from entering Icon Bar of Intercontinental Hotel Makati simply because they’re TGs. Meanwhile, the Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño-authored House Bill No. 1483, an anti-discrimination bill, continues to face an uphill battle as many – including the Roman Catholic Church – actually lobby for unequal treatment of people based on their SOGI.
These, then, beg the question: Should Filipino LGBTs already be celebrating Pride, when its very existence is questionable?
At the very basic, Pride is a celebration of the LGBT culture through various events (think film festivals, poetry reading, dance parties, grand parades, et cetera). Generally speaking, these events fall into two broad categories used to observe Pride, i.e. through advocacies (such as the film festivals, LGBT-related shows, exhibits), and through partying (such as the dance parties). While the two should, ideally, touch on each other, the dichotomized approaches tend to be more common, however. And here lies the conflict that affects Pride.
For transgender rights activist Santy Layno of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) and Ladlad, the only political group for LGBT Filipinos, “yes, the LGBT community in the Philippines should already celebrate Pride, (even if it is only to celebrate) pride in being Filipino and LGBT.”
The optimism is shared by many others in the LGBT community in the Philippines.
For Rev. Ceejay Agbayani, who helms LGBT Community Church-Quezon City (LCCQC): “We have to celebrate the diversity of the LGBT community – iba’t ibang political affiliations, iba’t ibang paniniwala, iba’t ibang sexual orientation… pero iisa ng hangad. I think ‘yun ang magandang i-celebrate natin,” he said.
The same sentiment was shared by Rev. Myke Sotero, who helms the Metropolitan Community Church-Metro Baguio (MCCMB). “Yes, we should celebrate LGBT Pride not just a day in a year but making every day Pride day. Amid the prejudice and homophobia, celebrating Pride is an affirmation of who we are, and how God created us to be. Beyond the Pride parties and street dancing, Pride should be celebrated to remind us of those LGBT activists who fought for our rights before us.”
There are, noted Sotero, numerous things for the LGBT community to be proud of (or to celebrate). “LGBT talents and artistry; our beautiful Pinoy transgender women… There are many things that we all could be proud of. Our brave Ladlad Partylist for taking the struggle to congress, our LGBT religious leaders who face the Goliaths of the CBCP, our LGBT lawyers who render their selfless services to the community, our human rights defenders… all of them are reasons to celebrate proudly our identity.”
Amnesty International (Philippines)’s Ron de Vera said that “even though we have a long way to go, we can’t discount the fact that we’ve made a lot of gains in LGBT activism. The case that we won against Comelec (Ladlad vs Comelec, 2009) is very good jurisprudence, (as) it opens the door to participation in legislation (of course, actually winning seats in Congress is still a dream). We’ve also had openly gay and openly transgender people winning top positions in student councils. Institutions have also implemented non-discriminatory policies as a result of our hard work. All these things were unimaginable just a couple of decades ago.”
Also, “aside from the achievements above, we should be proud that we have established a voice in Philippine society. We stood our ground against the likes of Bienvenido Abante, Anthony Taberna, Manny Pacquiao, and Miriam Quiambao. The way we handled these incidents sends the message that in this day and age, people cannot make gender-insensitive statements without being challenged. We can’t be ignored now. We’ve become a force to reckon with.”
Task Force Pride (TFP)’s Ivanka Custodio, meanwhile, said that “for the past 17 years, people look forward to Pride marches not just because it is an opportunity for them to strut their stuff on the streets, but also because they love how great it feels to be part of the community. One only has to go to the Pride march to sense that. This in itself is reason enough to keep celebrating Pride.”
Already, noted Custodio, Pride celebrations have also been organized in Baguio, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Isabela, and Cebu, “an indication that LGBTs in other parts of the country share the same sentiment.”
She added: “I think that we have everything to be proud of and celebrate. We should celebrate our own individual stories — stories of how we find the courage to come out to their families and friends, how some of us fight back when we are bullied or ridiculed, how well we raise our own families, et cetera. We also have our collective history to be proud of. The LGBT human rights movement in the Philippines is probably the oldest in Asia, and we have grown in strength and number over the past 17 years. We have the first LGBT partylist in the world — Ladlad — which would represent our interests in the Congress.”
However, for Agbayani, for the LGBT community in the Philippines, the full blast celebration of Pride is not timely just yet “until we get the Anti-discrimination Bill (ADB) passed into law. (With ADB’s approval, I) think that will make us truly proud to have Pride in the Philippines.” This is because, for Agbayani, “until now, wala pang proteksyon ang LGBT sa Pilipinas.”
An ADB was first filed in Congress in 1998 (as drafted by the Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines or LAGABLAB-Pilipinas Inc., then the only lobby network of different LGBT organizations and activists in the country), eyeing the prohibiting of discrimination against LGBTs in areas including employment, education, health services, public service (including military service), commercial and medical establishments, as well as police and military harassment.
Agbayani, therefore, ties Pride with an assertive LGBT community. “Personally, I think ADB will never, never be passed (by both Houses of Congress) kung hindi tayo assertive sa stand natin sa equality in the Philippines,” he said, emphasizing “marriage equality as a burning issue (that is) part of that call.”
This was seconded by Layno, who said that while “we should be proud and celebrate the Filipino LGBT identity, that even though we experience religious bigotry and prejudice, we as Filipinos still find it in our hearts to forgive and stand proud”, there is a need to “support LGBT-friendly legislations (and legislators).”
As for Custodio, “I think the number one issue that we should seek to address is discrimination. We need to have an anti-discrimination law, which guarantees the protection of our basic human rights.” Still other issues, for her, include LGBT people’s access to health services and information, “especially because of the alarming increase in HIV/AIDS incidences among gays, MSM and transgenders.”
Custodio, nonetheless, believes that for the LGBT community to achieve its goals, “I think it is important to acknowledge the little ways by which LGBTs are pushing for equality. A lot of us think that the only vehicle for pushing for equality is rah rah rah! activism, i.e. rallying on the streets and lobbying for laws. That projection of LGBT advocacy can be alienating because a lot of people think that being an advocate/activist is ‘not for them’.”
And so there’s Pride as celebrated through partying (and often only for partying’s sake).
Pride was first held in the Philippines (and in Asia) by the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (ProGay Philippines) and Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Manila in June 1994, on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (considered a precursor of the gay liberation movement at least of the more modern times). In 2003, though, the Pride was moved to December, coinciding with the celebration of the Human Rights Week, World AIDS Day (December 1), and International Human Rights Day (December 10), among others.
This move to December was believed to be more reflective of the local context, not merely mimicking the Western (particularly American) type of celebrating Pride in June.
Every June, though, a party (dubbed White Party) is still held in Malate in the City of Manila, and largely only as a celebratory gathering. John Bryan Diamante, managing director of Mentorque Events Management/Mentorque Productions, the organizer of the annually held White Party, said that “with Pride (shifting) from becoming more of a celebration than a protest… and putting up such events costs money, (so that) ticketing and corporate sponsorship (become) a reality.”
He stressed, nonetheless, that “this doesn’t mean that the essence of Pride itself is gone.”
Diamante recalled that before 2010, the annually held White Party (then a free and open-to-all gathering in June) was “on a bridge to extinction” because “no one was (formally) organizing the event anymore.” In fact, there was a point in time when “it started to be totally out of the scene, and LGBT establishments only did their own versions.”
As part of TFP in 2010, the group pointed out what may be a necessity of imposing entrance fees to everyone who wants to join the White Party. And when this proved successful, an October version – the Black Party – was then also regularly held. This approach, of course, is criticized for immediately limiting the celebrating to the moneyed.
Diamante believes that even sans any anti-discrimination law, LGBTs should already celebrate Pride in the Philippines. “We think that Pinoy LGBTs should be happy that they’re in the Philippines compared to other countries, such as Uganda. We know the value of passing the ADB to be able to have solid evidence that this country accepts us; but that shouldn’t stop us from showing who we are and celebrating our difference.”
Asked if the events have beneficiaries from the earnings, Diamante is straightforward: “If we are talking about monetary (beneficiaries), no. But we have helped out a lot of organizations to be able to reach out and get connected to a huge number of patrons who are also part of LGBT Community.” The group has worked with Take the Test, The Love Yourself Project and TFP, among others; as well as “other individuals who believe in the LGBT advocacy.”
Pride has been noted (by author Alan Sears, among others) to have become an “anti-radical approach” to demanding changes for the LGBT community, ending up merely as parties for heterosexual-looking/acting gay men. But Diamante stressed: “Most of the members of the LGBT community are just happy party goers… We have to accept (this) fact since it is already happening.” He recommended, instead, that “instead of wasting efforts on criticizing (such happenings, we should) instead look for a way on how to make it our strength instead of a weakness.”
But that much still needs to be done goes without saying.
LCCQC’s Agbayani harped on the need to educate. “Equipping ALL LGBTs and our allies (with knowledge) is the best way to achieve our goal. Education ang una at pangunahing paraan upang makamit natin ang nais natin,” he said. “Let us agree that sometimes we have to disagree on certain things; but let us unite (to attain a common) goal. This is not about kung sino, but rather kung ano ang nagagawa na natin para sa ating community.”
De Vera is also big on education. “As a learning professional, education is something I will always harp on. We need to educate the public in every way we can, whether in academia or in non-formal settings. In addition, we also need education amongst our own ranks.”
Then there’s the 2013 national elections, which again gives Ladlad a chance to get seats in Congress. MCCMB’s Sotero said that “we are again being given this rare chance to elect (LGBTs) to be our voices in the halls of Congress in 2013. Ladlad in Congress would be the first step in making our LGBT voices heard.”
This belief is shared by Layno. “(We need to) support legislators who support the LGBT campaign for freedom from persecution,” she said. “Forget our differences and insecurities, and work instead for the common goal of equality and freedom.”
Another issue for De Vera “is something more internal. I think we need to rise above personal interests and really agree on what our goals are and how we want to achieve them.” De Vera said that “I’ve heard multiple times from different people that LGBT activists are elitists. This is not surprising because in its infancy, LGBT activism was a product of the efforts of people who mostly belonged to the middle and upper classes. But this should no longer be the case today. Thanks to the efforts of various LGBT groups, LGBT activism has reached the grassroots level. The challenge now is how to bring together all these different people with different personalities and interests to create and organized movement of activists who will call for the same change.”
For TFP’s Custodio, “what (many) are not aware of is that even the littlest things resonate, like standing up for a friend who’s being ridiculed for being gay, or organizing exclusive parties in order to provide safe spaces for lesbians. By thinking this way, LGBTs will find it easier to take a step further. It doesn’t take much to read up in order to be aware of our issues. It doesn’t take much to vote for politicians who will represent our interests. The members of the LGBT community need only to feel a sense of ownership towards the advocacy.” As such, “to all LGBTs and allies, there is no better time than now to stand together and make an impact on our society, and thus, on our lives.”
And Pride – as we continue to ascertain how to make it fully take off – starts there.