SUPREME ON ASSIGNMENT: Love has not won yet
Stefan Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - June 18, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - This Pride Month, the rainbow flag flies at half-mast. As we honor the fallen of Orlando, we mourn how “thoughts and prayers” have come to make amends for abysmal gun control measures, homophobia, and widespread islamophobia.  What happened at the Pulse Nightclub was definitely a far cry from the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, whose promises of freedom and equality are in danger of being broken.

If there is one thing to take away from the Pulse Nightclub carnage, it is the humble truth that we all bleed, regardless of gender, race, or creed. That the blood spilled on the dance floor was only a ruddier shade of pink makes but an iota of difference.

Nevertheless, we need not look far for stories of hate and division. There were 141 documented local cases of LGBT abuses in 2013 alone, according to the Commission on Human Rights. In 2014, the bloodied parts of 26-year old Jennifer Laude — slaughtered by 19-year-old Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton — reached our desks and dinner tables during TV primetime. Despite our Vice Gandas, Boy Abundas, Aiza Seguerras, and Charices, our country still has a long way to go.

It only stands to reason that, albeit reluctantly, we pull the trigger against all forms of abuse and discrimination. Below are personal accounts of bigotry dealt with by our LGBT brothers and sisters. There are scars, and then there are wounds which refuse to be scars.  Everything is as real as the hate we are made to accept as consequence of our day-to-day existence.

Maginhawa, the oxymoron

“A friend and I were walking along Maginhawa street in Quezon City just after midnight after a very late dinner. We just came from an event, tired and ready to sleep.  We were deep in conversation when I noticed a big black SUV slow down. I pointed at it as it eventually pulled up to our side. We both thought they were going to ask for directions. So, of course, we moved nearer to the window, expecting it to roll down.  It did but instead of asking, the guy in the front seat threw an egg almost directly at my friend’s face.  It hit his collarbone instead and the resulting impact hurled the rest of the egg — yolk, shell and all onto my face as well.  Before we could even react, they sped away screaming, “Happy Easter, mga bakla!”  We were in shock. It happened so fast, and we didn’t even get the car’s plate number. At that moment, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but being the strong Krus na Ligas girls that we were, we wiped our faces and walked home, pride shaken but still intact.”

Thysz Estrada, 29, media manager, trans woman.

No girlfriends allowed

“I had been working for more than a year in this BPO. Then, they picked out a couple of managers and a group of top selling agents for training in a new account. After undergoing training, the client decided they needed two more team managers which they will pick from the current pool of agents. So in the meeting, it was the client, plus two managers, plus the HR, plus operations director, plus the owner. When my friend, the manager asked what the requirements were for the new managers, ang sagot ni client yung Elise without the girlfriend thing. He knew about the girlfriend kasi I wasn’t one to hide it naman so napagkwentuhan during lunch break sa trainings and elsewhere.”

Elise (not her real name), 28, writer, lesbian

“Don’t spread the virus!”

“I remember my first month in my new office filled with brogrammers (you know those types: sexist fuccbois who code), and since day 1, I never shied away from being blunt about my sexual orientation. It was fine for the most part. There was one dumb joke, however, when one of my colleagues was changing his shirt at his desk and someone tried to egg me on. “Uy, o si …” Sure, they were only kidding but it really didn’t sit well that just because I was a gay guy in a group of mostly straight and cisgender men. It’s insulting when guys automatically assume I have a crush on them.

“I also recall my fourth grader days. I did not understand what being gay was beyond what the drag queens did in the parlor. I went to an exclusively male school where masculinity was measured by how much one played sports.  It goes without saying that a love for the arts was seen as prissy by most. I remember being called names and being teased as ‘gay’ by fellow children who barely understood what being gay was. They gave me the moniker The Virus as they were afraid I would infect them with my gayness.

“In a weird and sadistic sense of irony, 16 years later, I found myself living and fighting an actual virus. I was at a team- building event in the office and I never had a problem with my HIV status. Anonymity was never really a concern for me and I found that I was better protected when people knew.  I only heard about it from my supervisor the week after that people were talking about me during lunch, whether it was safe for me to eat from the same buffet table as everyone else. I had to facilitate an HIV 101 talk to better equip the supervisor with what to reply when he gets cornered again by that kind of gossip.”

Mark Lacsamana, 27, product designer, gay

“Many people want to punish you for being yourself.”

“I spent most of the morning of June 13 weeping. First, in the bathroom. It was a little past 4 a.m., sitting on the toilet bowl so as not to wake my sleeping boyfriend with my sobs. But it mostly happened at the breakfast table, as details of the horrendous massacre in Florida exploded in my Facebook newsfeed.

“Every single time an act of violence against a gay person occurs, my heart breaks. Or I get so livid that I could bite through wood. It doesn’t help that many dismiss these threats as ‘comeuppance’ for sinning, for being an abomination. As a member and co-founder of two LGBT-oriented groups in Manila, I’m no stranger to gender-based hatred and bigotry served up on a regular basis. Our groups, the Pink Rockers and Watchbiatches advocate and uphold gender rights and equality among musicians and artists. The Watchbiatches, in particular, became a direct response in shutting down hateful Facebook pages and posts — the kind that encourage people to ‘kill the gays’ for daring to move in the same spaces they move in.

“I have experienced verbal, psychological, and physical abuse within an intimate relationship years ago. I know the terror of realizing this might be your last minute of being alive. Even while dodging blows and flinching at a raised voice, your mind asks ‘Why? Why me? I’m just being myself.’ As I’ve come to discover, many people want to punish you for being yourself, because you are not their idea of what ‘normal’ should be. In my case, I was apparently not being a normal girlfriend — I was too outspoken, with a dating history that was unpalatable to my abuser.

“A few days ago, fifty people were murdered and dozens more are in critical condition because their lifestyle was deemed unpalatable by a single person. This person could not live and let live. He had to let hatred motivate him into feeling better about his own shortcomings.

“Most of the people I love, respect, and admire are members of the LGBT community here and all over the world. They are some of the bravest, kindest, most intelligent people I know, and I am in awe of how they dare to live their truth every single day. I know that we live in dangerous times, but even as my heart is breaking, it still beats with the hope that love and acceptance will outweigh all the hate and bigotry someday.”

Tin F. Garcia, 40, visual artist, bisexual

“Tinira niya ako habang umiiyak ako.”

Ang naiisip ko kapag bullying talaga, andami kong na-experience na ganyan. There was a time na bigla na lang ako babatukan for no reason kasi sasabihan nilang I’m gay. I’ve experienced also noong tumira ako sa Bicol na maltratuhin ako because of my gender. I’ve been abused physically and sexually. Noong nalasing yung tito ko, ginising na lang ako bigla at sinabing isubo ko raw yung ari niya and tinira niya rin ako habang umiiyak ako. Walang tumulong sa’kin kasi walang naniwala sa’kin. Pinausukan din ako sa manukan para raw maging lalaki. Grade 5 or 6 ako noon. Sa sobrang takot ko, hindi na ako umuuwi sa probinsiya.

Ayaw ko nang maalala yung mga ganyan at nag-move on na ko, pero sobrang palaban na ako ngayon and I don’t care about my gender as long as nasa tama ako.”

Mark (not his real name), 28, finance officer, gay

“I have scars all over my body.”

“I was an abused child. I first met my father when I was seven. After that, my parents had four more children, one right after the other. None of my other siblings ever experienced my father’s violence. And I know why.

“He called me a ‘screaming faggot’ a couple of times. He would hit me all over my body with his belt or with a hanger, or whatever was available. He would sit me in a corner. If I cried, he would hit me harder. I would bleed. No, really. As I grew older, the violence worsened. He once threw a plate at my foot. I recall it was still laden with food, and that it was a Sunday. I know because we were watching ASAP. I have a scar on my foot to prove it. I have scars all over my body.

“At such a young age, I learned to shut the f*** up, or else things would get worse.  My mother, who at that point was my closest friend, was in denial.  She would see it, hear it. I would tell her about it. But no one lifted a finger to stop it. But at the same time, she would talk to me about how badly my father was treating her. What an evil man he was. She would call him ‘ugly’ in front of me, but wouldn’t say a thing when relatives and friends told us we looked exactly alike. Can you just imagine what that does to a child? I became anorexic. I didn’t want to be him. I didn’t want to look like him. I wanted to be someone else. I was so lost. I would literally have fainting spells because I was so hungry, and all this time he would call me ‘ugly’!  The physical abuse wasn’t the worst. The emotional and verbal abuse were what turned me into the person I am today. He knew I wanted to be a performer. I did theater and I won every singing contest. But at the end of the day, when I came home, he would tell me to stop singing so loudly, because I was embarrassing him. He told me the neighbours were laughing at me. He would tell me I wasn’t good enough. And so I believed him. I stopped singing.

“It got worse before it got better. I decided that enough was enough, and I fought back. The reason why you can’t come for me, the reason I’m physically a fighter, is because I learned how to fight as a child. When I decided to fight back, I literally fought back. He would leave the house, skull cracked, bloodied, angry. I did it. I hurt him. Those days I felt I had won battles. But as an adult, I’ve realized I lost so much more. To this day, I am still that insecure, defensive little boy. And every day is a battle to un-f*** myself up. The difference is, I stand for other children. There was this one time, I caught a father hurting his son in a mall bathroom. I will not and have not hesitated to stop violence against children first hand, and I will continue to do so even if it kills me. If there are any LGBTQ kids reading this and are going through the same thing, stay strong; it gets better.  And what’s even better than getting better? Making the world better for others.”

Paulo Castro, 32, singer/videographer/DJ, gay

* * *

For these stories and that of so many other nameless LGBT brothers and sisters, The Philippine STAR Supreme remains a safe working space and marches at the vanguard of the struggle for freedom and gender equality.

Tweet the author @Watdahel_Marcel.

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