As you’re reading this, homosexuality remains a crime in 77 countries. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that we have the privilege to blend into a society that is tolerant of the LGBT. But tolerance isn’t the same thing as acceptance, and being able to walk down the streets of Manila without being persecuted doesn’t mean that you can walk those same streets holding your significant other’s hand without fearing for your safety.
The rules have always been simple: stay inconspicuous and you’ll be fine. But once you ask for more, it becomes problematic. Having spent my identity-questioning, formative years in a Catholic school, the lesson that “homosexuality is not a sin, it only becomes a sin when you act on it” was something I lived by until my early adulthood. The view that homosexuality is something outside of the norm in our country is as old as the presence of the Catholic Church. Back then, religion was a way for the Spaniards to pacify the locals, and in the process everything that existed outside of the church’s teachings was considered problematic. While the 1987 Philippine Constitution protects the freedom of religion and establishes the separation of Church and State, that is hardly ever the case. A lot of legislative decisions are still heavily reliant on the approval of the Catholic Church especially when it comes to passing bills that will benefit the LGBT community. When Ang Ladlad sought COMELEC accreditation to run as a partylist in 2009, the COMELEC denied their request on the grounds that Ang Ladlad “tolerated immorality which offends religious beliefs.” Because of instances like these, the representation of LGBT issues is often left to the mercy of our heterosexual allies. The election of Geraldine Roman, the first transgender congresswoman, has sparked a lot of hope within the community. For the first time, there will actually be someone who has lived through the same thing, present in congress, to fight for our rights.
Revolutions are never without their leaders. The Philippine revolution had Andres Bonifacio, the Civil Rights movement had Martin Luther King Jr., the digital revolution had Steve Jobs and the gay rights movement in the United States had Harvey Milk. Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States and is credited to be the leader of the gay rights movement. Chance the Rapper raps that “the people’s champ must be everything the people can’t be” and in the 1970s Harvey Milk was everything people were afraid to be. He was the outspoken — and out — leader who unified everyone under one voice, one message and one mission.
It’s a bit early to see if Geraldine Roman is the Harvey Milk we’ve been waiting for, and even if she is, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of LGBT organizations already fighting this battle in the Philippines and therein lies the problem. There are a lot of them with no united front. They work independently of each other with different priorities, different agendas, and different plans of action. Within the community itself, subcultures are divided by gender preferences, age, class and geography. This divide can be isolating, especially for young people who are only at the beginning of their journey. It’s hard to fight for your rights, for acceptance, when you think you’re fighting on your own.
There’s a scene in that ‘80s flick St. Elmo’s Fire where the two leads are talking about the sexual revolution. One of them asks the other if he’s ever heard of the sexual revolution and the other one replies by saying, “Who won, huh? Nobody.” That’s the thing with revolutions: no one really wins. So maybe this time things should be different — instead of attacking with clenched fits and hurtful words, we hit them with the one thing we know how to do well: by loving the people we aren’t supposed to love.
The revolution now is in the way we live our lives, so live proud. Harvey Milk said it best: “Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all.”