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Voices from the margins

REMOTE CONTROL | DANTON REMOTO
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Views and Analysis



Many thanks to the people who take time out to send me an e-mail. One of them is Jack, a 22-year-old gay man from Cagayan de Oro City. Now working in Manila, Jack seems to typify the twenty-something gay man—based in the city, with a slew of friends for company, and leisure to read the books dealing with the life he has chosen to lead. His letter was written in Tagalog. With his permission, I’ve translated some passages.

“Unlike your family, my family was not supportive of my sexuality. I come from a broken family and I wasn’t able to finish college because of financial difficulties. I left Cagayan de Oro City to strike out on my own. Life in the city is a combination of beauty and pain. I want to write about all of this, but being a writer is like something I cannot reach. So, I am now just contented with reading books, like the ones you write. But one day, I hope that the things I write can reach their intended readers. As of now, I’m saving money so I can go back to school. I also have a partner for the past five months. I hope this relationship continues. He is a tower of inspiration for me, a source of strength - something that I also feel when I read your books. . . .”

Another e-mail I received was from a reader who also came from the south. Now a student at University of the Philippines in Diliman, N.D. wrote to me about the Baha’i faith and its open-arms policy regarding homosexuality.

“I belong to the Baha’i faith, one of the fastest-growing religions in the world. I like this religion because it promotes unity and diversity. It teaches us to be understanding and prohibits discrimination and prejudice of all kinds - be they caused by differences in race, religion, gender, and ethnicity. One day, I sent to a copy of the Baha’i Faith’s stance on homosexuality to my parents in Mindanao. My parents read it and later became supportive of my sexual orientation. They even gave me some pieces of advice, especially my father. It wasn’t hard to come out to them, because they already know me well. I wanted my parents to know something that was deeply important to me, and they did. Many Baha’is around the world are coming out, too. Whenever I feel lost and depressed, their website and your books give me the inspiration and strength that I need.

These are the tweetums letters, and they fill the heart with joy. But we must remember that out there, in the wilderness, homophobia still exists. One such discrimination was reported to me by Potch, a college student in one of Manila’s exclusive colleges. The incident happened to one of her best friends.

Homophobia

“Let us call my friend John. He used to teach in a school run by a rich but conservative Catholic group. This is an exclusive school for boys in Quezon City, with an all-male faculty. My friend is gay and proud of it. He doesn’t hide his sexual orientation. When he applied to teach in the school, the principal immediately sensed he was effeminate so he asked my friend outright, ‘Are you gay?’

“My friend answered ‘yes.’ But he also assured the principal that his gayness would not affect his teaching. The school authorities must have been impressed with my friend because they hired him. My friend is a very good English teacher and he became an asset to the school. He was the moderator of the school paper, he led projects, and he trained students for contests. His being gay never interfered with his work. In fact, he was given a high performance rating for that school year.

“Unfortunately, the following school year, there was an incident involving another teacher who was in the closet. The closeted gay molested a student. Right there and then, the discrimination started. It’s like there was this witch hunt for gay teachers in that school. At the end of the school year, seven of them were terminated just because they acted in an effeminate manner. There was no investigation and due process was not observed. The authorities just suddenly felt like weeding out all the gays as if they were lepers or something.

“Even my friend - who was given a good performance rating for that school year - wasn’t spared. I think he was just given something like P30,000 so he would not complain. This seemed like the height of absurdity. As if a trigger had been pulled, suddenly all the administrators became homophobic. Hypocrisy also became the order of the day. I told my friend to complain or file a case against these people. But he said ‘no,’ because this conservative Catholic group is composed of rich and powerful people. He said he wouldn’t stand a chance against them. Right now, my friend is teaching at another school, a college this time, to be safe from intrigues and discrimination.

“I hope your advocacy against the discrimination of gays and lesbians would continue because I believe in giving equal rights to everybody. In fact, my closest friends are all lesbians and gays. I love them dearly and it pains me when unfortunate things happen to them.”

As with other cases like this, I tried to contact the aggrieved party, but he did not want to file a legal case against those who pushed him on the margins of the page. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement in the Philippines has made great strides, but more needs to be done.

On another tangent, the films Jay and Milk will begin showing this Thursday, February 4. These are brave and eloquent testimonies on why we will never be on the margins of the page.

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