A few days ago, I decided to subject myself to the indulgent torture and emotional rollercoaster of diving into the abyss I have come to know as the comment sections of local news coverage on last week’s Pride March. #FightForLove: Iba-iba, Sama-sama was the 21st celebration of Pride in Metro Manila, headed by Task Force Pride (TFP) and attended by over 1,500 individuals last June 27.
A vast majority of the comments were of the negative kind, something that, despite the Philippines ranking 10th out of 39 countries surveyed by Pew Research Center in 2013 in terms of “gay-friendliness,” comes as no surprise. The study, The Global Divide on Homosexuality, found that 73 percent of adult Filipinos agreed with the statement, “Homosexuality should be accepted by society.”
The study had met a lot of raised eyebrows among the LGBT community, and the statement itself is really just wishful thinking. “Should be accepted” is a world away from “is accepted,” and the distance between that 73 percent and the 70 percent of Filipinos found last week to strongly disagree with same-sex marriage is daunting for those fighting for equality in the country.
But of course, equality means more than the right to marry. Equality means freedom from violence, harassment, discrimination, stigmatization, and prejudice arising from sexual orientation and gender identity, problems that our country still has a long way to go before solving, problems that became all the more real and more intense the longer I kept scrolling through the comment sections and shared posts.
Comments against the LGBT movement ranged from the philosophical to the downright hateful, while a great many also claim to respect gays but do not believe in fighting for their rights, in a similar rhetoric as those who claim to “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” As expected, there were the usual bible quotes being cited, words like “bigot” and “homophobe” and the classic “infidel” thrown around between netizens. Our own coverage of Pride Month this year has gotten its own share of disapproval on social media also, with everything from laments over The LaSallian‘s apparent lack of Animo to the blaming of homosexuality as the root of our country’s misfortunes.
And then there are others who find themselves exhausted over all the talk on gay rights and LGBT Pride, and to be honest, I am, too. But the thing is, I look forward to the day we’ll no longer be debating over equal rights because we are already experiencing it in society, and until then I’ll continue doing what I can.
There comes a point, after reading enough of these online comments, that it becomes tiring to continue reading. It’s an activity I guarantee would ruin an afternoon, drain your time and energy and overpriced data plan. But the comments are a reflection of the pervasively horrible attitude our society still has against the LGBT community, and if I wanted demonstrations of the continuing discrimination I would just need to look around and talk to people, pay attention to mainstream media, read the news, and listen to Sunday homilies. Our “gay-friendly” country has seen 141 cases of gender-related abuse against LGBTs in 2013 alone, a number that is expected to be drastically lower than reality, given the low report rates. Our predominantly Catholic nation, whose faith centers on an all-loving God, has seen hate crimes that lead to transgender women being stabbed 51 times or strangled to death and being blamed for it afterwards by Filipino netizens.
So much has already been said for and against the LGBT community, homosexuality, and, because of the recent US Supreme Court’s decision in support of marriage equality, same-sex marriage. It is difficult to reply to every single one (although some do try). But I remember standing among the 1,500-strong crowd in last week’s Pride March and wondering why such a celebration of identity and love can draw so much hate, why two men holding hands draw more flak than pride or avarice, and why persons of non-binary gender can be looked down upon by people whose God instructed them to love their neighbor as much as they love themselves. I wonder why an invisible entity’s doctrine, written in drastically different circumstances and context from today and imperfectly translated since then, can hold more weight than the lives of living, breathing humans.
The marriage equality that US achieved last week is something we will not be able to achieve in the Philippines anytime soon, realistically speaking. What’s more important for now, at least, is to work on the foundation of anti-discrimination laws, which have yet to be passed in Congress. Baby steps have been taken to pass ordinances protecting the LGBT community in several cities, and more government agencies have taken up pro-LGBT policies and causes.
As a society we have to dismantle the social constructs that perpetuate stigma against LGBT persons in the home and in the workplace, to create safe spaces for them to be themselves and love who they want to. We need to continue educating Filipinos about the different forms of sexual orientation and gender identity expressions to build a culture of acceptance that goes beyond the tolerance of the funny gay comedian stereotype. We have to recognize the very real dangers faced by the LGBT community arising from homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, which can range from LGBT youth scalded or being kicked out of their homes for coming out of the closet, to LGBT persons suffering very brutal deaths.
There is no gay agenda to obliterate the Catholic Church, convert other people into homosexuality, or add to the Philippines’ ever-rising bad karma — which are all actual concerns from netizens I’ve encountered several times in my foray into the internet’s comment sections. What exists though is a movement to fight for equal rights and advocate for acceptance of non-heterosexual identities and relationships, and only when love finally wins, I guess, will this end.