The DLSU Industrial Management Engineering Society (IMES) celebrated gender identity and self-expression in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in their first-ever online celebration of Pride Month, titled IEdentity: Pride Month, held last June 11.
With the theme of “Proud and Professional”, National Institute of Physics Junior Faculty Instructor III Rene Principe Jr., University of the Philippines Juris Doctor student and Queer Safe Spaces Philippines Co-Founder Kristina Boado, and University of the Philippines Los Baños Veterinary Medicine student Gerald Chu spoke about their journeys and experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community and how they broke through barriers in their respective professions.
The event started with an opening message from LGBTQ+ advocate and principal author of the SOGIESC-based Anti-Discrimination Bill, Sen. Risa Hontiveros. She shared that though she was always invited to numerous Pride events, it was infrequent for her to be requested to speak on a STEM-focused webinar. “Thank you for making it a point to show that members of the LGBTQIA+ community have a rightful place in your field, too,” she expressed.
After a brief intermission, the hosts acquainted the audience with Principe, the event’s first speaker. At the beginning of his presentation, Principe recalled the extreme poverty his family endured and how—in spite of many hardships—he was able to excel in his academics. While he wanted others to be inspired by his story, he strongly cautioned against glorifying the extreme poverty that he endured, “I just had a lucky break; I believe my fellows should stand beside me in this victory, not behind me.”
But from this, Principe segued into his experiences as a queer, femme scientist and how his queerness intersected with his poverty. “It’s really hard to confront the nuances of your identity when you have nothing in your stomach,” he noted. He also shared that while the lack of diversity in science once made him think that being queer and being a scientist were incompatible, he reminded that nothing is impossible. “We, the LGBTQ+ community, have always had something to contribute to the scientific community,” the junior faculty instructor prompted.
Afterward, he commented on heteronormativity by comparing it to the quantum mechanical phenomenon of wave-particle duality. In the same way that an electron passing through a double slit seems to “choose” which slit to go through when viewed through the lens of classical mechanics, he ventured that heteronormativity makes it seem like one can only choose between male and female. In quantum mechanics, however, the electron goes through both slits—just as queer people can embody and at times go beyond the binary gender spectrum.
From cowed to confident
Succeeding Principe was Boado, who began her story by describing her highly conservative Born Again Christian family. As an only daughter and a middle child, she didn’t like how her mother pushed her to become feminine growing up. “I hated wearing dresses; I hated wearing skirts so much; I also hated playing with dolls,” she shared. Although she noted these aren’t determinants of her SOGIE, Boado was certain that even at a young age, she already knew she wasn’t into what society deems as “girly” things.
Her primary and secondary education in a Catholic school made it more difficult for her to find and to acknowledge her true self. Fortunately, studying at the University of the Philippines for college made her feel more open and free. However, Boado admitted she still felt held back despite her newfound safe space, “Nandoon pa rin ‘yung constant fear ko na baka hindi ako tanggapin ng parents ko.”
(I had this constant fear that my parents would still not accept me for who I am.)
But like all secrets, her truth found its way out. Boado was confronted by her parents regarding her sexuality—as well as her relationship with her girlfriend, Roanne Carreon—when she posted a photo of her in a bikini proudly holding the pride flag on Facebook. Her parents, especially her father, were disappointed. But she stayed faithful to her identity and defended herself, “For the first time in my life, I stood up for myself.” Today, Carreon and Boado are still going strong—so much so that they were featured in the Maalaala Mo Kaya episode, Lie Detector. Along the way, the two co-founded Queer Safe Spaces Philippines and started their two businesses.
With all these experiences in mind, Boado emphasized the importance of embracing one’s true identity and being kind to oneself in the process, “The violence I realized was unforgivable is the violence that we do to ourselves when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.” Thus, the most vital acceptance and acknowledgment one really needs is that from themselves.
Breaking the mold
The event’s final speaker was Chu, who fashioned his presentation in the likes of a research paper—complete with an introduction, related literature, methodology, and recommendations. Chu’s presentation centered on his lived experience as a bisexual boy growing up in a supportive household and how that shaped him into who he is now.
“I never felt na obliged ako to come out in the family,” Chu remarked as he talked about how it was like being different growing up. He added that he had only recently come out to his family in any official sense and that this deeply personal decision was inspired by his nephew. Since he knew how isolating it was to not know many other LGBTQ+ people growing up, he shared that he “wanted to come out so the children in the family—if ever they decide to come out in the future—they know how the family will react.”
Chu further shared that his coming out spurred a positive change in his family. He said that they are now more thoughtful with the language they use and have let go of the rigid, gendered boxes that—for example—associate blue with boys and pink with girls. He furthered that his nephew was also allowed to experiment with makeup and wear dresses—an opportunity not many young boys have. Now, however, he only wishes that such unconditional support becomes the norm. “I am lucky that I get to be myself,” he conceded, articulating that he only had the chance to bloom because of love—and love goes a long way.
While the event’s denouement was shrouded with audience questions like how to deal with homophobic family members to the best way to get into makeup as a beginner, the very essence of IEdentity: Pride Month is recognizing that queerness is a celebration. In response, the three speakers happily shared their diverse perspectives and, at the end, invited the members of the audience to explore who they were. For what is there to celebrate during Pride Month if not people’s diverse identities?
To close, IMES Vice President for Human Resources & Development Gian Carlo Torres thanked everyone for participating in the event and shared a salient quote from ballroom icon and Pose actress Dominique Jackson. “We do not ask for acceptance. We do not ask for respect. We demand it,” Torres imparted, and called everyone to action: “Let us continue demanding—fighting for our position in this society, our identity, our orientation, our experiences, and most importantly our love.”