Gianela Zapata

Independence means standing on your own two feet. You are strong enough to make a space of your own. On the other hand, freedom is the privilege to walk freely in the streets. To strut and click and flick your heels without the fear of being cat-called, ridiculed, or even to be reduced as a living mistake—or ”waste of genes” even. Independence and freedom are both reasonable goals for society. However, it is important to remember that while these two terms have been used interchangeably over the years, a subtle yet profound distinction must be made.

Independence is non-reliant. Freedom is non-restrictive. Although there are different definitions and interpretations, it is common among those descriptions that while independence is usually internal, freedom is more complicated because it comes from society.

Such a distinction is important. This is because while the Philippines is a country that has long gained its independence from foreign colonizers, it has still not attained freedom—not for its oppressed, not for its minorities, and certainly not for its LGBTQIA+ community. 

June is not only the month Independence Day on the 12th falls under, but it is also Pride Month. This celebration is a commemoration of the decades-long battle for queer liberation and the attainment of civil rights and equal justice. While the country has seen progress in terms of acceptance of homosexuality, it is still at a point where we perceive such individuals belonging to this spectrum as wrong and immoral. Such beliefs perpetuate the cycle of oppression that while may have originated from the Spaniards, is still carried on today in many forms. 

This cycle, if gone uncontested, could reverse the independence our country prides itself on every year. This is why it is so crucial to talk about pride when we talk about independence. Not just because there has been so much progress already, but also because there is still much work here left to do.

Religion should not justify oppression

Religion is often the most debated upon when it comes to issues surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community. Our culture of faith is part of the backbone of our country, and there is no denying that it informs and contributes to our beliefs. But make no mistake, while we are a catholic country, there have become more tangible efforts and discussions on how religious faith should not justify imposing one’s beliefs on others.  

In 2018, a Christian group attended a Pride event in Marikina to apologize for anti-LGBTQ+ protests taking place at the same event. Religious leaders such as Sr. Mary John Mananzan have also supported the SOGIE Equality Bill, saying that the bill does not give any special rights to the group and only ensures that right of everybody are also applied to them. 

Even the Pope himself has time and time again spoken of how the Church's approach to the LGBTQIA+ community has to be “more welcoming and tender.”  

Still, for every advocate of equal rights, there are still many more of those that seek to limit queer expression. While the Church under Pope Francis believes that homosexuality should not be criminalized, as it is considered a sin according to the scripture, the implications still remain clear. When something is considered a sin in a highly traditional and religious country, it perpetuates prejudice against those who do not follow doctrine. 

Such prejudice is what took place on the first day of Pride Month when a Joyride Philippines driver preached religion to a queer passenger.

Religion undeniably plays a crucial role in moral and societal issues, but the principles of empathy become skewed when culture is the only deciding factor in the distribution of civil liberties instead of moral and social justice. 

Queer people are not mere caricatures

Prejudice is not birthed by stereotypes, but they are major factors as to why we form certain perceptions towards others. In the Philippines, the most popular image of the LGBTQIA+ community comes in the form of “flamboyant, screaming, and seemingly carefree males who often dress like females.” This is what Filipina sociologist Ash Presto says is the image of the bakla. Other local terms include tibo and tomboy, which describe lesbian women. 

However, more often than not, the use of these terms has been in ways that are ill-informed and derogatory. Such labels have become more closeting than liberating, being a way for moral degradation and inequality to be enabled. 

Such images have often been used to reduce queer people to loud people with extravagant lifestyles when in reality, queerness exists even in the most mundane areas and the quietest of faces. Anyone can be queer. They cannot be singled out and condemned with a few traits. People are complex and multifaceted beings. We cannot slap labels on them for the sake of “convenience.” 

The problems aren’t the labels themselves, but how they are used and perceived by people. If we truly are at a point where the LGBTQIA+ community has already been accepted enough in society, then why do we still reduce them to lesser human beings? If we actually tried to meet people at more than just the surface level, that is when we can actually understand their lives and experiences. Sometimes, we can even realize that maybe aside from the way we choose to identify ourselves, we are not so different after all. 

Why pride is so central to Philippine independence

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, the Philippines is the most gay-friendly country in Asia. Still, there is a lack of legislation and any protection from the state. Although we do not criminalize homosexuality like China, even the simple act of existing and wearing drag makeup or holding hands with your significant other in public gets you disapproving glares and dehumanizing slurs. 

We may have long freed ourselves from the clutches of our colonizers, but our deeply entrenched conservative beliefs have shackled us much more than the Spaniards, Americans, and even Japanese did. We cannot call ourselves contributors to Philippine independence if we leave even one group of Filipinos behind to be victims of oppression and violence. 
Our ancestors did not shed their blood for freedom to only be in the grasp of the privileged few. As a Filipino, the greatest sin is not being queer, but gatekeeping the freedom our ancestors so bravely died for. Thus, the real fight for freedom happens only when we accept that it has to be fought together. Lesbians, bisexuals, gays, transmen, transwomen, and everyone in between included. 

If you still ask why pride is so central to Philippine independence, just think that one closeted kid out there probably thinks they are better off not being a Filipino, or worse, better off not even alive just because they are queer.

It is not wishful thinking to hope that the progress we have gotten so far can further grow. That maybe one day, that closeted kid, whether they choose to come out or stay in the closet, can live their life embracing who they truly are without fearing for it at the same time. That the gentle yet liberating hand of pride reaches and teaches acceptance to not only him, but to society as well. At the end of the day, we are all just Fiipinos wanting a better and safer future – a future that can only be achieved if we strive for acceptance more than tolerance, and freedom more than independence.