LGBT Filipinos have always lived precarious lives, so we have had to devise means to survive. There is a certain form of cunning that many of us have mastered: the art of fading into the background so as not to get into trouble. We grow up learning to keep our true selves from being seen by the people who are supposed to know and love us. We learned to protect ourselves. To shut the door against people whom we feel will hurt us, at the cost of letting love in. To deflect stares that weigh up our value as human beings. We know what it feels to be isolated, to be seen and yet not known, to be known and still be made to feel ashamed.
Pride presented us with a different way of being. It transformed our landscape. Against a backdrop that is heavy with hate and hostility, we saw images that are shaped like us. People like us who go through the same everyday pains and aggression, but they are not hiding in isolation. They are out there, courageous and insistent— and they are many. They showed us that it is okay for us to be ourselves. They told us that it is safe to bare our truths, that there is after all a place where we belong.
Pride taught us the essence of building a community. It taught us there can be no freedom in being alone; that the beginning of freedom is the moment we step out of being one and alone to link arms with each other. It taught us the value of looking out for each other, protecting each other and ensuring that nobody gets left behind. We learned the necessity of standing together against a system that permits freedom for a few at the expense of others. And with the power that we have as a collective, we have begun to carve out a space for people like us who are afraid to come out.
We have barely recovered from the shock and grief caused by the Orlando shooting which cut short lives of LGBT people of color. 50 died that day. But they only foreshadow the millions of other LGBT lives that have been extinguished due to hate and violence. Lives lived in constant struggle for survival and finally punctuated by gunshots, or drowned in a toilet bowl, or slashed and stuffed in a luggage. In the process of building a community, we saw that there are people like us whose lives are deemed more dispensable than others and are treated as such.
And then there are people like us who are dying even as they live. Dying amidst policies that make a mockery of making a living, amidst borders and barbed wires tearing families apart. Dying amidst the deadly pursuit for profit and wars made in the name of democracy but reduces democracy to houses levelled down by drone bombs and mothers crying over their children’s corpses. Dying amidst woodlands charred, hills flattened, well-loved trees felled because greed knows no limits.
There are people like us who are dying even as they live. Dying amidst policies that make a mockery of making a living, amidst borders and barbed wires tearing families apart.
People like us who die silently because one’s right to preserve their life is being sold off. All because the same system that forces us to live our lives hidden and isolated is the same system that values profit over people, that emphasizes that survival— and the right to be— is only for the fittest.
Despite this, we are often told that we live in a society that is already tolerant of us, as if we should be satisfied with what spare of respect and dignity is afforded to some of us. We are told that there is nothing left to fight for. We are already free, they say.
Yes, it is true that we have won a bit of our freedom. But we constantly see these freedoms being snatched before us. These freedoms can never be constant and real for as long as we live under a system that easily takes away freedoms when the interest of the few is threatened. Or when we pose as a threat to the insatiable profit-machine that runs this world.
We can choose to create a movement that uses all its creativity and passion and love into forging a world wherein all of us, not just a few, can be safe. A world that allows for everyone to be.
We are now faced with a choice: we can be complacent with what little freedom we have while we see others suffer, with creating and re-creating safe spaces for our community and see them destroyed again and again because we cannot always keep out the world that is rife with wars and antagonisms and dispossessions. In a world where safe spaces of indigenous people, farmers, women and children are being seized, what chance have we got to maintain ours?
Or we can tell each other, tell those of us who suffer the most: “you are a part of us and we are with you”. We can choose to create a movement that uses all its creativity and passion and love into forging a world wherein all of us, not just a few, can be safe. A world that allows for everyone to be.
This is the challenge that Pride poses to us today: to stand up with those of us who suffer the most because our liberation—the freedom that is real, and safety that is secure—is linked with theirs. Let us rise up to the challenge.
Ivanka Custodio is the National Chairperson of Bahaghari, an organization of LGBT Filipinos who seek to link and raise the issues of LGBT people with the liberation of all Filipinos from the oppressive social, political and economic conditions.
This Pride season, Bahaghari will march with the rest of the LGBT community in Manila under the slogan, “LGBTindig! Kabugin ang Diskriminasyon at Karahasan!”
Bahaghari, together with the Metropolitan Community Church- QC and the Metro Manila Pride, would like to invite you to attend “Fists Up: A Community Cultural Night of LGBTs and Allies,” an event that aims to retrace the path paved by the Stonewall Riots to rekindle the fight for safe spaces and genuine equality. The event will feature performances from various artists, an exhibit of photos that provide a glimpse on the radical history of Pride, and an open mic portion where one and all can perform. It will be held on June 25, 2016, 9:00 PM, at Catch 272 in Kamuning corner T. Gener Streets, Quezon City.
For more information about Bahaghari, visit: www.facebook.com/officialbahaghari.