this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on August 16, 2015.
I grew up in a traditional and devout Catholic family, without a single first-degree homosexual relative, or even a seeming one, on my mother’s side or father’s side.
I only knew homosexuals from local barangay spectacles such as gay pageants held during fiestas, the gay Flores de Mayo, and what was then a staple Christmas show for every household along our tiny street: gay carolers who danced erotically to the tune of “Feliz Navidad.”
So, as a 4-year-old, I thought that all gays were drag queens who put on heavy makeup and liked to dress scantily in women’s clothes.
But when I started schooling and meeting other people, I met homosexuals who did not resemble any of the gays I knew from home, not even remotely, or had their characteristics, except maybe an incredible sense of humor.
My earliest memory of a homosexual, apart from our friendly barangay folks, was a classmate in grade school who always looked neat—too neat when juxtaposed with the other male members of the class who, even before the flag ceremony started, had either smeared their uniforms with dirt or were sweating like a pig.
I remember admiring him for his neatness and refined behavior but I don’t remember questioning his sexuality—until he told me that he was gay and that if only he were a boy, he would have had a crush on me. With the possibility of a young romantic relationship set aside, we became close and I was convinced that gay friends are the best friends.
So when I got into high school, I easily became friends with a gay classmate who cracked us up with his hilarious jokes and punch lines on the first day of class. Unlike the gay classmate from grade school who shared the information about his sexuality only with me, this one was unperturbed by mocking questions like “Are you gay?” To that question he always fiercely responded with “What do you think?”
Yet again, other than his great sense of humor, he was nothing like our barangay drag queens. He wore T-shirts, denim shorts and sandals bought off the rack in the teen boys’ section in the department store. He carried a boy’s backpack. He did not wear makeup or ribbons and headbands to accessorize the required two-by-three haircut for males in school. We would, however, squeal and gush over the same cute boys.
In one of my gender and sexuality courses in college, which was handled by a brilliant gay professor, I learned that in some cases, homosexuality is linked to biology and is often not a choice that gay people make. We watched a documentary that followed the lives of homosexuals who, even as kids, vehemently believed that they were women or men trapped in the body of the opposite sex.
After taking that course, I would often get into a heated debate with my parents every time they make discriminating comments against homosexuals. Most of the time, I would have to stop talking before the argument got out of hand.
So when the United States’ Supreme Court recently ruled to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, I was quick to share the news as well as rainbow-colored images celebrating the historic day across my social media accounts. But I was careful not to include a personal status that would offend my parents, who are my friends on Facebook.
My parents, who were born in the 1950s, are among the many devout Catholic Filipinos who would rather stick to tradition and status quo in a country that ironically abhors both the divorce of dysfunctional partners and the union in marriage of same-sex couples.
But the battle isn’t even there yet. Members of the LGBT community still have to fight for their right to wear the clothes they prefer, as highlighted by a recent incident in which transgender designer Veejay Floresca, who was cross-dressed at the time, was barred from entering a bar because of its cross-dressing policy.
Young gays and lesbians in conventional schools are yet to be given the choice to grow their hair or cut it short like the other male and female students do, or the liberty to choose whether they want to wear a dress or a tux to the prom.
In December, the LGBT community and its supporters will be celebrating 21 years of fighting for equal rights. Twenty-one years and we are still far from the victory that will illuminate the facade of Malacañang Palace with rainbow colors, like the North Portico of America’s White House.
Following the US Supreme Court’s ruling, the Aquino administration released a safe statement: that the decision to allow same-sex marriage is and has always been in the hands of lawmakers. “We leave to Congress that decision,” Malacañang spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, on the other hand, said it upholds that marriage “is an indissoluble bond of man and woman.” But the CBCP president, Archbishop Soc Villegas, added that they would study with assiduousness the decision made by the US Supreme Court “and revisit our concepts and presuppositions, always with an eye to being faithful to the Gospel and to the mission of the Church.”
While these statements by the Church and the state did not express concrete support for the LGBT community, they are fortunately open-ended and, so far, do not call for violent reactions from activists like former party-list representative Risa Hontiveros who, in 2009, said that the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was “gender-dead” and that Arroyo was “an enduring icon of machismo, bigotry and homophobia.”
Eighteen years after I met my first gay friend in grade school, and met a couple more gays and lesbians along the way, I am still convinced that they make not just the best friends but also the best professors, writers, researchers, artists, lawyers, doctors, among others, who give equal service to the country and therefore should also be given the equal rights that they deserve.