Commentary: Blatant intolerance

Pura Luka Vega’s case, albeit centered on religion, uncovers the homophobia and hypocritical standards that remain deeply ingrained in society.

The infamous drag performance of Pura Luka Vega, which involved dressing up as Jesus Christ while lip syncing to a remixed version of the prayer Ama Namin at a local bar, has never left online discussions since it began trending on social media. 

Since the story’s entrance in the limelight, Pura Luka Vega was declared persona non grata in many parts of the country, culminating in an arrest last October 4 for a case filed against them by Catholic group Hijos del Nazareno-Central. The drag artist supposedly violated Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes “immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions and indecent shows.” 

I am here not to decide whether the act is offensive or not. I’ll leave that for the people to debate over. What I do want to point out, however, is the blatant intolerance Filipinos have toward the LGBTQ+ community, especially when the LGBTQ+ community supposedly “oversteps” the four corners of the box they have been collectively enclosed in. 

A June 2023 Social Weather Stations survey found that there is an increase in sympathetic attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community over the years in the Philippines. But, is this really apparent or merely numbers on a piece of paper?

Admittedly, we have “accepted” the community up to a certain extent. We are at a point where we let the LGBTQ+ community express themselves more freely, albeit some harassment is still present day-to-day on the streets. 

But it is high time we admit to ourselves that this “acceptance” is a simple, fragile lie we like to believe just to say we are progressing as a society. What we practice, in reality, is tolerance, as the community remains bound to a supposed status quo. The LGBTQ+ community is constrained to be entertainers—comic reliefs, really—only to the extent that amuses. One wrong move, one step over the line, and you’re out.

What Pura did may be viewed as an appropriation of a Christian prayer in an inappropriate place. However, this is not its first-ever occurrence in society. It’s not new that Christian prayers, Catholic saints, priests, pastors, and religious traditions have been the subject of “offensive” and “blasphemous” public content. 

I can bet that once in your life, you have come across a video or a picture of people impersonating Jesus Christ and other religious figures. I can also ascertain that some have already listened and maybe laughed at the remix of Papuri sa Diyos, the Filipino version of the prayer Gloria, which trended on social media platforms. Heck, there was even a parody of the Filipino version of the Hail Mary. We are definitely no stranger to the “minus ligtas points” humor.

There are way worse instances of blasphemous acts that go beyond gadget screens. One social media personality would go around the streets, dressed up like Jesus Christ, while raising the middle finger. Some even straight-up claim that they are the reincarnation of Christ for their own dubious agenda, such as the FBI-wanted Pastor Apollo Quiboloy and the recently trending leader of Socorro Bayanihan Services group Jay Rence “Senior Agila” Quilario. Both are suspected of having committed crimes more egregious than what Pura did, but why can’t we file the same criminal case against these so-called “reincarnations of Christ”? After all, playing God is a form of disrespect as well.

We seem to focus too much on Pura when we have similar, or even worse and more immoral acts that violate religious teachings that deserve to be looked into with the same fervor. This proves just how unfair society is when passing judgment. When a homosexual makes the same joke a straight person makes—which society often turns a blind eye on or laughs at—the act suddenly becomes offensive and criminal. Let us not forget that art also challenges societal norms. The act is but a queer individual’s social commentary and expression of their faith, albeit peculiar to some. Pura has the right to express their narrative and their faith through whatever mediums of expression and protest they employ, and theirs just happened to be drag. 

I recognize that art is open to interpretation—that it is also valid for those who were offended to feel offended, especially since Pura’s performance is an unconventional take on their faith. 

But, does the performance really amount to a criminal offense? In contemporary times where society should be able to express themselves freely, the criminal case filed against Pura is ambiguous and outdated. 

In fact, the offense filed against Pura in its current form is a policy that was used by the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. to censor content during Martial Law. The outdated law also treads the very thin line separating Church and State. Its provision on preventing the spread of hate against any race, which is also one of the things we should not offend according to the law, is understandable, even in the current millenia. However, the subjectivity of what “offending religion” may cover poses a dangerous ambiguity that serves religious institutions more than people professing their faith. It also leaves windows for selective hate, as is shown in Pura’s arrest.

For Philippine society to be one that genuinely accepts everyone, it is imperative for us to accept that we are, in fact, not an accepting nor a truly tolerant society. From then on, we should stop putting the LGBTQ+ community in a different set of standards that we cannot apply to everyone else. In an accepting and fair community, there should be no room for hypocrisy.

JJ Mercado

By JJ Mercado

One reply on “Commentary: Blatant intolerance”

A great artist once said:
“Di bale ng magnakaw, kaysa mamakla”

True, art can have multiple interpretation but where do we draw the line and consider it as offensive?

Dressing up as “Gay” Jesus and dancing to remixes of gospel song is equally offensive as tado’s art piece on his shirt. This is not an issue of LGBT, this is an issue of disrespect towards the belief of other people.

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