In a university used to the familiar hues of yellow and orange exists a group of individuals proudly exuding all the colors of the rainbow. The Queer Archers Alliance (QAA), an enclave for the members of the LGBT community, is a non-accredited organization that serves as a support group for individuals who experience gender discrimination and pushes for LGBT awareness and acceptance in De La Salle University.
Despite its decreasing number of active members, the organization continues to persist and is slowly catching up to bring back the spark it once emitted.
The rise and fall of the queer
With the goal of providing a safe haven for the LGBT community in La Salle, the Queer Archers Alliance was brought into actuality through the initiative of former FAST2009 Batch President Krizia Cortez (AB DSM, 2013) and her fellow pioneering members.
“It started out as a simple get-together to get to know other members of the community inside campus and build a network, and soon those get-togethers led to something more structured and formal,” recalls Cortez.
Vani Altomonte (V, CAM), the current head of the QAA, shares, “It just started when I was a frosh, actually. They all gathered together and were like, ‘We’re a prime University. Why don’t we have an LGBT group?’ So they started it. It just happened, and I’m thankful it did.”
Compared to UP Babaylan and Ateneo Dollhouse, both of which have been active and existing for more than a decade, QAA is still a fledgling that needs a lot of nurturing.
Paz Laxamana (AB OSDM, 2013), one of the founders and the former head of the QAA, shares the importance of the widespread recognition of the organization in keeping up with their ultimate goal of “providing a safe haven for the LGBT.”
In order to achieve this goal, she shares, “We had activities and events that mostly involved tying up with other school organizations that are accredited. We had seminars, [and] film showings. Even more daring was the ‘coming out of the closet booth.’ Outside [the University], we attended larger events like pride marches.”
The organization, however, has slowed its operations significantly in the last year. Its social media accounts have been inactive in the last few months, and no activities have been held by the alliance recently.
“Walang proper transition, so wala na ring naghahandle,” explains Altomonte. Many of the organization’s founding members have graduated while some are currently doing their thesis without new members to take their place.
Krizia Cortez further discusses the internal dilemmas that the organization had to inevitably go through. “Finding people to pass on the torch was difficult given the sensitive nature of the organization. There were a lot of ‘closeted’ individuals who would like to continue it, but were not yet ready to be ‘out.’ We understood them because running such an organization will really put you on the spotlight,” she shares.
To Altomonte, the LGBT community in the University today is different from the one he had experienced as a freshman a few years ago, as more and more LGBT people choose to remain inside the closet. “I think that’s why we need QAA again, to be like, ‘Okay, if I come out, there’s a group that will have my back.’”
Out of the closet, in QAA
For its members, QAA is more than just an organization, as it has become an avenue for people of the LGBT community to learn from each other and gain each other’s support.
Take for example Paz, who regards QAA as her family. “When we’re all together, there’s always a deep unexplainable bond. We talk about everything. I mean everything! Maybe it’s because we’re all going through the same issues, maybe it’s because we’re only a few, but we always find a way to connect. That’s what I love most about QAA.”
Former QAA member Rainier Ting (AB PSM, 2012) thinks that the alliance changed the way he sees people. “[I joined because] I wanted to be around people who were like me.”
“When you learn about other people’s experiences and hear their own stories – coming out, accepting who you are, and owning it – it makes it easier on you to know [that] there are others you can talk to or be around,” he shares. “…especially when they try to be as brave and as supportive of the community as the people [I met in] QAA.”
Altomonte further states that QAA isn’t exclusive to the LGBT community. “If you’re straight and you’re an LGBT rights advocate, you can join. Everyone is welcome in QAA.”
Many people critical of the LGBT community are still unenlightened about the things that distinguish an LGBT person from another. While many would think that being an LGBT person would simply mean being a member of a the third sex, QAA members like Altomonte would argue that there is more to learn about them.
For instance, gender identity and gender preference are not necessarily the same. Altomonte expounds that gender identity pertains to a person’s sense of their own gender, while gender preference refers to the group of people you are generally attracted to. He explains, “My gender identity [is that] I identify as a male; I dress like a guy. For sexual preference, I like men also. So I’m gay.”
While the words that comprise the initials LGBT refer to sexual preference, Altomonte points out our lack of terms for people who do not subscribe to gender norms in many ways. You could be, as Altomonte illustrates, “Born male, but like to dress up as a girl, but like girls also. So what does that make you? You identify as a woman even if you were [born] a man. But then your sexual preference is straight. Ano yun?”
Even for people who identify as gays or lesbians, the labels do not always accurately reflect their lived realities. “When someone hears the word ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian,’” Altomonte explains, “[People] automatically think ‘parlorista’ or ‘nangmamanyak.’” Gay people are also automatically assumed to be flamboyant. “That’s usually the stereotype,” he says.
“We’re just people with rights that are worth fighting for,” maintains Altomonte. It must be understood that the LGBT community is also a part of the human community, and that “It’s basically about love all the way. [That’s the] bottom line.”
“Gay amused, but not gay-accepting”
One of the issues that remain controversial today is the issue on same-sex marriage. The Family Code in Philippine Law states that marriage is between a man and a woman, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development allows adoption by single LGBT persons, but not by two persons who identify as an LGBT couple.
Philippine lawmakers have tried to file bills that would define the terms “man and woman” in the Family Code as according to their assigned sex at birth, while many others have filed bills that would ban same-sex marriage. President Benigno Aquino III has also expressed his disapproval of adoption by same-sex couples, but remains neutral regarding same-sex relationships.
A factor in the state of LGBT rights to family and marriage is the gargantuan influence of the Church in political and social affairs. Altomonte believes that even though the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, the state should cater to everyone, including atheists and those who do not subscribe to Catholic teaching. “You don’t have to call it marriage. It can be something like marriage, and we can have the rights of a married couple. Just let us have our union. Let us be legal.”
Within the University, Altomonte admits that potential discrimination stemming from the school’s Catholic nature does not scare him. “It excites me more eh,” he says, laughing. “The fact that the University provides GENDERS class and the TRED invites transgenders like Pat Bringas means that our school is open-minded.”
“Yes, we have religious norms,” he maintains, “but I think the University recognizes that while we do have those, the LGBT community exists and that they should be treated in such a way that is Christian.”
Dean of Student Affairs Fritzie De Vera believes that the LGBT community is well-respected and recognized in DLSU, saying “I don’t think there is a major problem on discrimination in the University.”
A long way to go
Even with the countless potentials the organization holds, QAA still lacks validation from the University.
“[It’s] unrecognized,” explains De Vera. “That’s the stand of the University. I’m not even aware that such [an] organization exists.” According to De Vera, non-accredited organizations do not get the benefits of a recognized organization under the Council of Student Organizations (CSO), Student Media Office (SMO), or the Culture and Arts Office (CAO).
“I think accreditation was never a priority for us,” shares Cortez. “It was just a way to be provided with so much avenues for us to reach out [to] a wider audience.” She maintains, however, that QAA is still around without accreditation, and can do well without it as of the moment, and Altomonte agrees with her.
At first, Laxamana shared the same sentiment with Cortez and Altomonte, but when she assumed the head position, she eventually hoped for the accreditation of the org as she needed to consider the members and the recruitment processes. “Because one thing that people we invite would always ask is, ‘Are you accredited?’ And if we say no, it [becomes] pretty obvious that they lose interest.”
Current QAA Head Altomonte has set the goals for the QAA, one of which is to be a nationally recognized organization in order to help other LGBT groups start in other Lasallian schools. In addition, he aims to gear the organization towards political causes, by writing manifestos on the anti-discrimination bill and other University and national LGBT issues.
The main concern for QAA now is to regroup and get its members together, to discuss their objectives as an organization, and to figure out how to achieve them. “The goal here is to get QAA back on its feet,” Altomonte states. He hopes to organize a pride march in cooperation with the University Student Government (USG) within the academic year.