Gayer than laughter, am I
By MELO ESGUERRA
June 22, 2011,Manila Bulletin
MANILA, Philippines -- I usually decline invitations to events that coincide with my birthday. But I decided to move my celebration to a later time to attend a reception hosted by the US Embassy in Manila at the Ambassador’s Residence to celebrate the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.
When US President Barack Obama proclaimed the month of June as the LGBT Pride Month, the US Embassy in the Philippines, which incidentally has a very strong gay group (under the leadership of my good friend Michael Pignatello), initiated this empowering activity which paid tribute to members of the LGBT community. Present at the party were LADLAD Party List founder Danton Remoto, Boy Abunda (the senior party adviser for LADLAD), and other LGBT supporters from the business community, NGOs, and politics.
US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. presented a very strong message that night and I would like to share with my loyal readers the entire copy of his speech, which inspired me to strengthen my support for the community:
Magandang gabi sa inyong lahat!
I am gay.
I am gay.
I am gay.
Three little words.
It is not a phrase that trips the tongue. It is not a phrase that should take lifetimes to utter.
But my friends, these are some of the hardest words in the English language—in any language—for many of our friends, colleagues, and family members.
And this should not stand.
Our loved ones, our friends and our colleagues fear expressing their sexuality, condemned instead to a lifetime of anxiety and repression.
This should not be.
They are our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. Aunts and uncles. Sons. Daughters.
These are not nameless, faceless members of a foreign or forgotten race. They are our families and our friends. And they are scared to be who they are.
They fear expressing their sexuality. They cannot tell their own loved ones who they really are. And I regret that there are those even in our Embassy community who fear coming out and expressing their true selves.
Why? Because instead of expressing our love for all human beings, we choose instead to ostracize and exclude.
This will not continue.
Tonight, coming here together in this house for the first time, we are breaking new ground. It should give us pause to reflect how LGBT persons across the world, in every country, from every culture, are breaking new ground every day, and breaking courageously through the barriers that hold them back. As Saint Teresa of Avila once said, “To have courage for whatever comes in life -- everything lies in that.”
Yet even with courage, many of us still struggle to overcome prejudices driven by factors no human can control: the color of our skin, the expression of our gender, and the nature of our sexuality. While these prejudices are very real to us, many in the world can never understand.
And the reaction by that world to those struggling with such prejudice is both disappointing and disheartening: “You are imagining things,” they say. “It’s not as bad as you say it is, and if it is, it’s not my fault.”
That one’s core being can be such an affront to others is one of the greatest tragedies of humankind.
It is a tragedy not only because of the pain and suffering it causes, but because it prevents people from doing, being, and becoming their best. Sa diskriminasyon, maraming likas na galing at talino ang nasasayang.
Discrimination based on difference, whether it’s age, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion, is wrong. It deprives society of some of its most creative and productive members; it demoralizes communities. It shatters families.
It is not acceptable, and it should not be tolerated. The ambitious spirit of the Philippines’ LGBT community will no doubt carry it over these and other challenges. Americans know from centuries of experience that the march against discrimination and prejudice is long and difficult, and sometimes it feels never-ending.
But we also know that every step forward makes life a little better here and now -- and most certainly for future generations who will look back and marvel at the sacrifices and advances you all made, wondering at how you managed to accomplish so much.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am not tonight asking you to leave shouting that you are gay; I am not asking you to endanger yourselves in the face of other peoples’ hatred and blindness. But I am asking you leave this place on this night with one thought and one goal: to protect and love someone. Love is what matters; gender is not important.
In his Gay Pride Month proclamation, President Obama called upon Americans to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate our great diversity. Those are goals worthy of all people, everywhere, and I hope all of you here tonight will join me in their pursuit.
We are all different, but we must embrace and respect our differences. We must come together through the very emotion that makes us human: love.
Pero lahat tayo ay tao.
Maraming salamat po.
And immediately after his speech the ambassador himself, to my biggest surprise, asked me to join him onstage and lead everyone to sing a happy birthday song for me. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for not only for making my birthday unforgettable, but importantly for inspiring other leaders to show their love and support for the LGBT community.