This semester, it is my privilege and pleasure to be taking up LGBT Psychology under the tutelage of Sir Eric Manalastas. The first of its kind in my university and country (le gasp), the course aims to situate LGBT issues and identities in the Philippine context and consciousness. Since the subject itself unabashedly (even proudly) deviates from the orthodox, our class activities are often anything else but. Take, for instance, our field trip to this year’s Pride March. Our task was to join the parade, mingle with other participants and write a reflection paper on our experiences. The latter is what you will find below.
They said it loud, and said it proud. Gray skies with threats of rain did little to dampen the festive spirits at “One Love: the LGBT Pride March and World AIDS Day Celebration” in Tomas Morato last December 4. Now in its 11th year in the Philippines, the Pride March organized by Task Force Pride drew an estimated 1,000 participants at its peak. Besides good cheer and merriment, the event provided a venue for individuals and organizations belonging to or championing the causes of the LGBT community to take their concerns from the closet to the streets.
Among the participants was Jason Masaganda, a film student in UP Diliman and currently an active member of the Metropolitan Community Church. The latter is a congregation of, by and for LGBTs in Quezon City, Baguio, and soon Marikina as well. A Pride Parade regular, Jason and his churchmates believe that “God loves all people regardless of gender.”He also cited the importance of professional counsel (a service offered by the Metropolitan Community Church) and support from family and friends. Jason himself has been out since adolescence, and he maintains a positive outlook about the state of acceptance for gay men in the Philippines.
Anne Lim, president of Galang Philippines, an organization championing the rights of urban poor lesbians, shares Jason’s proactive optimism for equal treatment in society. She explained that in addition to sexuality, economic class is also a basis for bias that must be dealt with at the grassroots level. Anne identified three key areas of difficulty faced by lesbians: employment, housing and insurance. According to her, government support is lacking not only in terms of the oft-delayed Anti-Discrimination Bill, but especially in the implementation of laws prohibiting the termination of employees on the basis of sexuality. In terms of subsidized housing and relocation, heterosexual couples, mainly those with children, are always given priority over same-sex couples. Lastly, SSS and PhilHealth do not recognize same-sex partners as beneficiaries of insurance holders. Through Galang Philippines, Anne works towards a just and progressive society as a model for other communities in the fight against all discrimination.
Meanwhile, parade participants Joseph David and Phil Tarinay are hard at work as employees of IBM and as LGBT rights advocates. Both are members of the Employee Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Empowerment (EAGLE), one of eight diversity groups in the call center company. Phil shared that despite the visibility of LGBTs in the work force, they are still subject to discrimination when their behavior is unaligned with heterosexist schema. One concrete example is the use of comfort rooms: transsexual women who used female restrooms and out gay men who used male restrooms were jeered in their office. To address this, EAGLE spearheaded gender sensitivity seminars at work starting last June. With the help of dialogues and open forums, the degrading taunts have since been minimized, if not eliminated. Such efforts and individuals prove that despite cases of spite and intolerance against them, LGBTs have the capacity and resolve to be productive members of society.
The Pride Parade was as much a feast for the consciousness as it was a feast for the senses. Tomas Morato turned into a catwalk that afternoon, as gowned and winged creatures strutted with gusto in various states of dress and undress. Leo of Boys’ Station Family was among the eye magnets of the parade. He sported black wings about 2 meters across, adorned with shards of mirrors. A streak of silver glitters added visual interest to his bare torso. When asked why he was wearing a costume, Leo beamed and cattily replied, “Because I can!”
Despite projecting the confidence and energy levels common among veteran marchers, it was actually Leo’s first time to join the parade. His organization is socio-civic in nature, regularly conducting outreach activities for children in charities and orphanages. Through his attendance, he intended to raise awareness not only for LGBTs but also for AIDS research. His ultimate vision is for the LGBT community to be recognized as a sect, a move that could bring about “legalization” to end public prejudice, and enhance networking among LGBTs. Leo admits that sexual discrimination may not be eradicated in his lifetime, but the impressive turnout of pride marchers proves that the LGBT community is a force to be reckoned with.
Last Sunday, LGBTs were not alone in their movement against unequal treatment and homophobia. The community found allies in heterosexual people, who came in groups or by themselves to express their solidarity. “Nandito kami para magbigay suporta para sa unti-unting pagtanggap ng lipunan sa mga LGBT,” said Jerry Matagsico, a member of Bayan Muna Partylist. He added that it is every person’s right to be himself or herself, and to be spared from discrimination. Jerry also called on the government not to accuse LGBTs of immorality, but instead to rally with them in their struggle for self- and social acceptance.
Irina and Rishita, foreigners affiliated with the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, were also one with Filipinos in the celebration of sexual diversity, of “nature as it is, not [as] according to some people, [it] should be.” Both women affirmed the vigor of the parade attendees and organizers, but lamented how discrimination, racism and homophobia were still felt, and remained unchallenged even in the larger global community. They acknowledged that progress has been made in recognizing the rights of LGBTs (among them the right to marry same-sex partners and to raise children) worldwide. However, in a world where political will and open-mindedness is not as strong as it should be, these “glimmers of hope” should not be enough for LGBTs to rest on their laurels. Rishita enthuses:”One small victory is not when you rest. It means you have to push harder, because there is a whole world out there that needs a change.”