Gay Manila

LODESTAR By Danton Remoto
The Philippine STAR 10/13/2003

I lived for a year in a Southeast Asian country where being gay meant confining gestures and acts inside the closet. But since it was a scholarship that allowed me to write a book, then so be it.

And so I was immensely glad when I came back to Manila on Friday, the 13th of June. Immediately the next day we had a reading of gay and lesbian works at Powerbooks in Megamall. We read to a full house, and I was happy to know that there is now a new generation of gay poets who went to Powerbooks in full force. They read their poems, knowing that to do so is to come out, to declare one’s sexual orientation, and the world can go hang! University of the Philippines professor J. Neil C. Garcia, my co-editor in the landmark Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Writing and Ladlad 2 was there, as well as Ladlad contributor and De La Salle University professor Ronald Baytan. Ralph Galan also read his poems, as well as a gaggle of new writers that included Gilbert Francia and Mark Cayanan.

On June 28, the Task Force Pride held a White Party on Maria Orosa St. in Malate as a first salvo in the six-month celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride celebrations. I met with my friends and we sat in the courtyard in front of Komiks. I drank my usual beverage – hot jasmine tea – while all around me swirled the faces and bodies of great, good, glorious, gay Manila. At first it was unnerving to see so many good-looking – and out! – gay men on the streets. In the country where I lived for a year, you could only see them in so-called men’s clubs, which are few in number.

But in Malate that night they were there. Not all wore white – trust gay men always to buck tradition and rules and all that hoo-haa. I went to Bed, or I mean the new dance club called Bed. I liked it because there was a rousing impersonation act and because I saw again cute, hunky guys embracing and kissing without a care in the world. The place is small, though, and packed. I wished they would do what is done in the States – allow only the maximum number of people in and please, no smoking in small, hot places.

Two weeks later, one of my friends had a falling out with a lover and asked me to go with him to Fahrenheit. "Ha?" I asked, "another new place?" It is on E. Rodriguez Ave. – a small club with gym facilities, a small sauna, a short labyrinth and four tiny, dark cubicles. Maybe for changing clothes? When I went there, a sexy show was going on. Almost like the shows in Patpong, in Bangkok, but not quite. In Patpong the boys just dance on stage and don’t touch the customers, unlike here. Not to be prissy, but I think privacy and space, even in such a small, intimate club, is still important. Some gay men just want to watch a show without the dancer’s ding-dong landing on their cheeks. Trust me.

The Task Force Pride is still organizing the annual Pride March, which has been moved to Dec. 13, Human Rights Day. We’re going to meet again to iron out the final schedule and place for the march. There are suggestions that the march be held in Quezon City, at either Tomas Morato Ave. or the Quezon City Memorial Circle. When I heard of it I thought, if on Morato what will Manoling Morato say? If on Circle, oh boy, that would mean walking more than two kilometers, a killer for those wearing stilettos during the march. One suggestion is that it be held at the University of the Philippines, and the program done in front of the Oblation – that grand, naked man in stone – and turn it into one great party. We will see.

A few Sundays ago, I also attended Absolutely Androgyny, the annual show of the UP Babaylan, the State University’s gay and lesbian organization. Now on its 12th year, UP Babaylan has changed the way gayness is viewed not only in UP but the rest of the country as well. Here you will find the brightest young minds in the country today, and hey, they are out and proud about it. The show could have been edited, but there were memorable moments: The dance vignette about three people who were left behind by their lovers (something that has happened to everybody, aminin), the monologue of the Christian hypocrite manang who calls the body "a temple of the Holy Spirit" in one breath, and in the other, "the body is a wonderland." UP Babaylan’s current president is Dennis Uy, and we wish him all the luck in the world in steering this organization that has served the LGBT cause wisely and well.

And finally, a self-referential event. We are forming Lunduyan, the first national political party in the Philippines that focuses on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cause. Lunduyan also carries the causes of other marginalized groups in society. They include professionals, students and youth, women, writers and artists, peasants, fisherfolk, laborers, urban poor, veterans and elderly, indigenous peoples, small entrepreneurs and overseas Filipino workers. Along with the LGBT cause, these are the groups that have long languished on the margins of our society. Their voices need to be heard. Their thoughts and sentiments must be brought to the center, where they belong.

Lunduyan wants to create a society that is gender-sensitive and free from all forms of sexual discrimination. We want lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender to come to their classes without being sneered at or to work without being harassed. We want them to have access to all forms of public service and be given fair treatment everywhere they go – in hospitals, government centers, even places of entertainment. We want them to have equal rights, not special rights. They are citizens of this country, and perhaps even taxpayers. We want them to feel that the Bill of Rights is alive even if one is lesbian, or gay, or bisexual, or transgender.

Lunduyan will run for seats in the party-list system of Philippine Congress in May 2004. The Constitution gave space to the party-list system so that small political parties can be represented in a Congress traditionally run by big parties and fueled by patronage politics. Lunduyan will organize around the country, have an all-leaders’ LGBT Congress, register with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), and give Comelec a list of three candidates for the party-list system. The Supreme Court has ruled that a party-list candidate needs to get two percent of the votes cast for the party-list system in order to win a seat in Congress.

Lunduyan’s plan of action is composed of four phases. The first involves organizing and recruiting of members. The second is a national congress to be held on the last week of November. The third is the filing of candidacy with the Comelec on the first week of December. The fourth is campaigning and raising the consciousness of the people about the social, political, and economic issues at hand, from December 2003 to May 2004.

Lunduyan wants to re-file House Bill 2784, "An Act Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Discrimination," which was drafted by our group Lagablab and filed by Representative Loretta Ann Rosales in the 12th Philippine Congress. The bill was passed unanimously by the Committee on Human Rights and had undergone revisions in the Technical Working Group Committee when the 12th Philippine Congress ended its session this year.

Lunduyan also wants to file a bill to reduce the 20-30 percent withholding tax on the salaries of professionals and other working groups. The withholding tax is a final and fixed tax that we find too high and unfair. We also want to file a bill repealing the Anti-Vagrancy Law that some authorities use to extort bribes from the poor and marginalized people walking the streets at night. We hope you will help us in filing these bills and other relevant bills that will make the Filipino live a kinder and gentler life.

The country is beset with many problems, and our traditional politicians seem more callous and corrupt by the day. But we should not choose the option of paralysis. The best way to deal with history is to make it.

13/10/2003

Bron : The Philippine STAR

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