I just received another short message on Facebook this week from someone who had just read my book. He said that he was moved to tears by the end of the book, and that he found it inspiring. I quickly replied, thanking him for reaching out to me. It is still gratifying for a first-time author to receive readers’ letters many years after my book’s initial release.
Maverick House Publishers released my book, OF GOD AND MEN: A LIFE IN THE CLOSET, three years ago, in March 2012. Its previous iteration was as a self-published novel, God Loves Bakla, published two years earlier in Cambodia. It was briefly on the bestseller list of National Book Store in Manila, but sales have slowed down, as might be expected. But there remains a market for the book out there, and the recent Facebook message I received proves this.
The world has changed a lot since I first self-published my memoirs about my life in the closet. We are three months away from a possible United States Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage a fundamental human right in every state of the country. The implications of such decision will be enormous, and the United States will become the biggest country in the world where same-sex marriage is recognized. In my home country, the Philippines, which catches a cold every time Uncle Sam sneezes, I am sure that the US Supreme Court decision will lead to more discussions on LGBT rights, and perhaps my traditional, conservative, devoutly Catholic country will finally begin taking steps to recognize the rights of LGBT Filipinos as a minority group justly deserving state protection.
But then again, the Philippines has never followed the US on the issue of divorce, so perhaps the US Supreme Court decision would not be as consequential as I would like to think.
Beyond the legal arena, much has changed in the Philppines when it comes to LGBT rights. I had been one of the Partylist candidates of Ang Ladlad LGBT Party in the 2013 midterm Congressional Elections. I volunteered to be one because there was almost no one who was both willing and qualified to speak out for our community. In next year’s elections, that would no longer be the case. Between 2013 and now, I have seen so many of my LGBT sisters and brothers step up to the plate to speak out for our community. Some of them, to my mind, would make excellent candidates. Moreover, there would no longer be just one LGBT partylist; there would be several, and this is certainly a case where we should let a thousand flowers bloom. We saw how Ang Ladlad failed to unify the LGBT community in 2013. Maybe the solution is to have more sector-specific partylists, which could then mobilize more effectively and campaign more successfully.
I would still like to be able to do LGBT advocacy in the Philippines, in one form or another. But the urgency for my personal participation is no longer there, as we have many young people who are bravely speaking out, and who could communicate our ideas and principles more effectively to their generation. And if my voice is somehow sought after again, OF GOD AND MEN will always be available.
I am currently based in Vientiane, Laos, where I have lived for close to two years with my partner, John. I moved here in July 2013, right after the elections, and began the work of setting up an international law firm to cater to foreign companies investing in Laos. This was the same work I was doing in Cambodia before I came home to the Philippines to campaign for Ang Ladlad. This is my livelihood at the moment. It pays my bills and allows John and me to build a comfortable home and a happy life together. Laos is a wonderful place to live and work in, and I am slowly improving my Lao language skills in order to be more integrated into the local community. How long John and I will stay here we cannot say. But we do not mind staying in Laos for another two to three years.
Later this month, the directors of Out Run are coming to Laos to interview me to check on me two years after the failed Ladlad campaign. Out Run is a feature-length documentary currently in production by American filmmakers Johnny Symons and S. Leo Chiang about the world’s only LGBT political party to run for office. I am one of the film’s subjects, and the filmmakers are preparing the epilogue. When I stand before their cameras again, I will be speaking about LGBT rights once more. I am looking forward to the completed film, which should be released later this year. In the meantime, you can check out a trailer at http://www.outrunmovie.org/.
The world has indeed changed a lot in the last several years. But in the larger picture, probably not by much. Many parts of the world remain homophobic, and young people in towns and villages all over the world remain cowering in the closet, fearful that their family and friends would find out they were homosexual, which would destroy their lives forever. I hope that my book, as well as other similar works, reach these young people to let them know that there’s nothing wrong with them. I hope that Maverick House continues to sell and market OF GOD AND MEN to be able to help these people in the closet. Like the recent reader who wrote me on Facebook, perhaps they may also be inspired by my book.
I may no longer be as active as I used to be, but I will always be an advocate for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. And I am profoundly thankful that OF GOD AND MEN and, hopefully soon, Out Run allow my advocacy to outrun my meager efforts in order to reach so many, many more.
Reflections after five LGBT sexuality training sessions with officers of the Philippine National Police
We have had five “Gender and Sexuality Training” days so far—the first one in Caloocan on April 10, followed by one in Pasay April 26, then Pasay again May 20, Quezon City May 21, and just today, May 23, Makati. In every instance, the training starts off with blue-uniformed police officers sitting ramrod straight, stoically listening to their superior officers opening the session, not quite knowing what to expect from the rest of the day. Then Ging Cristobal comes in with her first workshop activity, a lesbian lecturer entering the lions’ den, as it were. Within a few minutes, she has the room shouting “Darna!” in cheerful unison, and the ice is broken.
That the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office is providing LGBT sensitivity training to police officers on the district and precinct level is nothing short of historic. While no doubt the police have always been aware of the habits, behavior, and proclivities of LGBT Filipinos, this is the first time that actual LGBT persons themselves are going around directly addressing police officers, speaking as resource persons explaining themselves and their sector to the predominantly heterosexual police force. A “macho” culture still pervades the PNP, just like the country in which it operates, and it is very likely that many, if not most, of the police officers attending must have suspected that the training would be a waste of their time.
After five such trainings, I can most definitely say that their time has not been wasted. The training introduces the officers to the concept of gender identity, as distinguished from sexual orientation, and this is completely new to most of them. They are unfamiliar with the word “transgender.” Ging and I have to say repeatedly that “a transgender person is not necessarily bakla” before these new ideas actually sink in. The police are very curious about transgender persons. They ask many questions, some of them bordering on rude and insensitive.
But the sessions are “no holds barred,” and every question is entertained and answered. The police enjoy our candor and honesty, and they reciprocate accordingly. They pepper us with questions. Why are there gay people? Where do they come from? How can bisexuals be truly happy? Is it true lesbians will kill for love? What do transgender women have down there? You get the idea.
It helps that Ging and I are unperturbed by these questions. Lots of laughter punctuate the discussions, much of them naughty and mildly offensive. But we do not shush them; in fact, we encourage the jokes, because it helps that the police remain completely candid about their views and ideas about LGBT persons, allowing misconceptions and prejudices to rise to the surface, the better to dispel or correct them immediately. The police appreciate our openness, and the exchange of ideas is more robust and healthy as a result. They are more receptive because they must sense that Ging and I are speaking from a position of expertise and experience, while remaining relaxed and non-threatening.
After the LGBT 101 lectures, invited LGBT speakers come and share their personal struggles growing up in the Philippines. For the first five sessions, we have invited four different transgender women, while Ging has spoken as a lesbian, and I as a gay man. These talks have been deeply personal, and tears have intruded every now and then. Many LGBT persons have gone through painful, difficult experiences growing up, and it is not easy baring one’s soul to the roomful of policemen. But the room remains quiet and attentive mostly, respectful of the stories being shared. Perhaps many in the audience are feeling the pain and anguish of being LGBT for the first time.
After the talks, the police officers are given the opportunity to share their reactions. This is my favorite part of the day, because I always end up being surprised by one or two piquant or poignant comments. A female police officer murmured, “I belong to L,” which left us bewildered for a while, until we realized later that she was actually coming out to the group. A father confessed that because of the talks he now understood his gay son’s anguish and resolved to love him unconditionally. A macho-looking policeman declared that in addition to treating LGBT persons with respect he would like to add that they be treated “with love.” A policewoman’s eyes turned red with repressed tears as she thought of her effeminate teenage son and listened as we told her that there was nothing wrong if her son turned out to be gay and that her duty as mother was to love her child regardless.
It still stings a bit when I remember Ladlad’s sad fate in the recent elections. I really would have liked to have been the voice for LGBT Filipinos in Congress, to fight for them and be their champion. But this was not to be. My consolation is that, through this series of trainings, I am reaching out, together with my incredible partner-in-crime Ging, to persons who are in power now, police officers dealing with LGBT Filipinos on a daily basis, and somehow we are bringing positive change to the relations between these two groups. We have had more than 200 participants so far, and I have been told by an American friend that he was surprised to meet a police officer in a poor, remote corner of Caloocan recite to him what “LGBT” stood for, saying that he learned that from a recent seminar and displaying more sensitivity to my friend’s LGBT companion. It’s working, yes! The trainings are not a waste of time.
Ladlad may have lost, but the struggle for LGBT equality goes on, as long as we believe in our individual capacity to change the world, one person at a time.
(A personal post mortem originally written and posted on Facebook on May 14, 2013)
It’s only May 14, 2013, just a day after the midterm elections, and the counting is not yet officially completed. But the unofficial, partial results are decisive as far as the chances of Ladlad Partylist’s third nominee are concerned. And at the rate the results are coming in, we will be lucky to get one seat. Hope springs eternal, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that Bemz Benedito will still become the first transgender member of the Philippine Congress next month. But my own hopes of making history as an LGBT congressman must be set aside for now.
What happened to Ladlad Partylist? We had such high hopes of clinching three seats, and many of us were so convinced it would happen, that to go through a post-mortem exercise at this time would be a painful ordeal. Some might want me to wait until all the results are in before doing this, but I believe I owe it to the thousands who cast their precious vote for the #28 partylist to explain what went wrong, why the partylist expected to blaze new trails in Congress is now trailing in the election results.
Before anything else, I would like to thank everyone who voted for Ladlad Partylist. I know how seriously we Filipinos take our elections, and every vote for #28 was a sincere, fervent wish for equality. We wait for elections every three years, and every time we hope that the change we dreamed of will finally happen, and it is hard to hide our disappointment and sadness when the results come in, when we realize that it is not yet time, and we cup the flickering flame of hope with our tired hands to keep the winds of despair from extinguishing it. Thank you to all who believed in the dream of Ladlad Partylist, and I am very truly sorry for letting you down.
It was clear to me from the beginning that Ladlad would have a difficult time getting three seats, because we did not have the financial resources needed to launch a nationwide campaign (estimated at ten million pesos, at the very least). We thus decided to embark on a grassroots campaign, selecting key areas where Ladlad received the most votes in the 2010 elections. We would go to local gay associations and beauty parlors to campaign, and make strategic alliances with local politicians to get them to support Ladlad and carry us in their respective campaigns.
Campaign strategist Darwin Mariano advised us early on that this was insufficient, because we could not possibly shake enough hands in the three-month campaign period, and he maintained that the only way to reach enough voters was via television ad placements. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano echoed his advice, telling me personally, “If you have the minimum budget of ten million pesos, eight million pesos should go to TV commercials.” Darwin opined that the challenge facing Ladlad was simply to let people know we were on the ballot. If all LGBT persons and our sympathizers knew about Ladlad’s candidacy, they would automatically vote for Ladlad. Therefore, the fact that we got so few votes simply means that we did not reach our target constituency.
During the campaign period, as I traveled to different provinces, I was overwhelmed by the size of our population. Our country is so big, and we are so few! Right there and then I realized that it would be next to impossible to get three seats, seeing as we were competing with more than a hundred other partylists with more resources and better connections than we had. It was a challenge for me not to get discouraged, and I constantly drew inspiration from the love and support of devoted Ladlad supporters we met on the campaign trail, even as I knew that their numbers would likely not be enough.
There is no doubt in my mind that the biggest failure of our campaign was our inability to raise the needed funds to wage a nationwide campaign. We had the unfortunate tendency to rely on a few benefactors (of whom the most generous and well-known was Mr. Boy Abunda). When the money coming in wasn’t enough, we should have tried harder, rather than resigning ourselves to the fact that a limited grassroots campaign was all we could manage. We convinced ourselves into believing that a grassroots campaign would be enough, because that was all our limited resources could afford, and we proceeded to wage our campaign with this stubborn mindset, filling in the gaping lacunas of our efforts with passionate wish-fulfillment, hopes and prayers, and aphorisms like, “If you build it, they will come.”
People did come, but they simply weren’t enough. The SWS partylist survey which came out in April said as much, but we refused to heed its warning. After all, the margin of error of the survey was plus or minus 3%, and all one needed was 2%, which was squarely within the margin. My skeptical reaction to the survey typified for me the personal struggle of the whole campaign—just keep on going, despite every indication that all our efforts just won’t be enough. My heart rode on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the campaign, zigzagging between exhilarating highs and depressing lows, and the most important thing was to hang on and just keep going.
The lowest point for me was seeing that Ladlad failed to unite the community of committed LGBT activists behind its candidacy. Everybody assumed that all LGBT Filipinos would vote for Ladlad, but we ourselves were divided by in-fighting, with key LGBT leaders refusing to campaign for Ladlad. Differences of opinion, ideological conflicts and personality clashes must be expected within any advocacy, but the failure to get everyone to come together and unite behind Ladlad doomed us from the beginning, in my view.
There are many other factors to be discussed, and we will spend the next few weeks discussing this among ourselves. Ladlad’s leaders need to be brutally honest with ourselves in order that we can truly learn the lessons of this campaign, and eventually launch a successful one in 2016. We owe it to our thousands of supporters and sympathizers all over the country to do a much better job next time, because the fight for LGBT equality and LGBT representation is not just a passing fad, but a fundamental principle whose time has come. Martin Luther King had said that the arc of the moral universe may be long—and right now we feel acutely how very long it is—but it still bends toward justice.
Let me end with another quote, this time from Theodore Roosevelt, admittedly a cliché, but only if you have never been the man in the arena. For now, these words should provide comfort to all of us Ladlad warriors, especially our beloved founder and leader Danton Remoto, to whose tireless dedication all of us owe so much, and may we keep the flames of hope burning until the next election comes around:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
(originally written and posted on Facebook on May 6, 2013)
Election Day, May 13, 2013, is now just one week away. As the third nominee of Ang Ladlad Partylist, I have campaigned in the networks of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations throughout the country, with my fellow nominees Bemz Benedito and Danton Remoto. Together we have done enough, I believe, to secure the votes needed for one or two seats in Congress. But we need an estimated one million votes to get three seats, and that means I personally won’t get into Congress unless we hit that magic number.
This is where YOU come in.
I have not enlisted my own personal network of family and friends until now. Since every voter can vote for only one partylist, we maintained that it would be mostly the LGBT Filipinos who would vote for Ladlad. But Ladlad needs the help of the straight majority to be able to reach a million votes. Will you please help me get elected?
You and I have been friends for a long time, during my many years in the closet. Because you know me personally, you can vouch for my competence and integrity. Your personal endorsement will go a long way to convince undecided voters to cast their one precious partylist vote for Ladlad.
The most important issue in this year’s elections, I submit, is REPRESENTATION—specifically, the representation of the LGBT minority in our political system. The partylist vote aims to give a voice to the under-represented and marginalized groups in our society. The LGBT sector, more than any other, exemplifies this.
Perhaps some of you are still concerned about the moral implications of supporting an LGBT group. Don’t be. I will refer you to two things. First, the April 8, 2010 decision Ang Ladlad vs. Comelec, where the Supreme Court held that “moral disapproval, without more, is not a sufficient governmental interest to justify exclusion of homosexuals from participation in the party-list system.”
Second is to my own book, which you may have already read: God Loves Bakla (international title: Of God and Men), in which I declare my belief that there is no inconsistency between homosexual behavior and my Christian faith.
I am sure you know other gays and lesbians, and you will agree that all of us are, first and foremost, human beings deserving of equal protection of our laws. Please help Ladlad win three seats so that LGBT voices will be better heard.
In this last week of campaigning, I am asking you as a friend to GO OUT AND GET THE VOTE for #28 ANG LADLAD PARTYLIST. What do I mean by this? I want you to PERSONALLY CONTACT ALL your friends and relatives who are registered voters and directly ask them to vote for Ladlad because their vote will help bring Atty. Alikpala into Congress. Straight voters won’t vote for Ladlad if they do not personally know anyone who is “ladlad,” but they could vote for Ladlad if you tell them that their vote is a vote for your friend, someone you know and trust, someone whom you believe will be a good Congressman and will serve the people well.
I started this journey to be a Ladlad representative with little hope of getting into Congress. I was originally only a fourth nominee, but have since been “upgraded” by events, and with the campaign season drawing to a close, I have now come to believe that winning that third seat is actually within striking distance. I am ready to accept whatever happens after the elections, but until then, I would like to ask you to join me in this last-ditch campaign to win THREE SEATS FOR LADLAD PARTYLIST.
Please talk to your husband/wife/lover/paramour/significant other and ask that person to vote for Ladlad #28.
Please ask your children who are registered voters to vote for Ladlad #28.
Please talk to your parents, your brothers and sisters, your cousins, uncles and aunts and ask them to vote for Ladlad #28.
Please ask your officemates and work colleagues to vote for Ladlad #28.
Please reach out to your grade school classmates, your high school batch, and your college batchmates and ask them to vote for Ladlad #28.
Please reach out to your neighbors, your household help, your doctor, your barber, your car mechanic, your co-parents at your children’s schools, anyone you know who is a registered voter, and ask them to vote for Ladlad #28.
And when you ask them to vote for Ladlad #28, please explain this by telling them that their vote will give a voice to the marginalized LGBT sector, and that LGBT voice belongs someone you know, Bong Alikpala, your old friend, someone who you trust will be a good, honest, and competent Congressman. And then please give me the most vigorous endorsement that you can give!
Please pardon that this appeal comes in the form of a Facebook wall post. I will try to reach each of you more personally in the days ahead, but please know that this generic appeal comes with as much urgent sincerity and loving pagmamakaawa as I can manage.
Will you be calling me “Cong Bong” soon? I don’t know. It’s up to you to make it happen.
Thanks in advance for all your help.
The first-ever LGBT Gender Sensitivity Training for Philippine police was held at Caloocan City today, April 10, 2013. While that was significant and historic in itself, my memory of the event will be a personal one—becoming God’s instrument by which a father discovers and understands how to love his gay son.
The multi-purpose hall where the training was held displayed tarpaulins featuring photos and quotations from the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Kofi Annan. The chief of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office, General Nestor Fajura, is an inspirational leader in his own right, and through his determined efforts, with the help of Ging Cristobal (IGLHRC) and Ladlad Partylist, it is hoped that this kind of LGBT training will be replicated and soon become commonplace all across the country.
During the afternoon session, three LGBT speakers—Ging, UP Diliman Student Council Vice-Chair Pat Bringas, and myself—shared our personal experiences growing up as LGBT Filipinos. The participants were most attentive. When my turn came, I deviated from the prepared notes and talked about how difficult it was for me as a four-year-old boy to be afraid of the word “bakla” without knowing what it actually meant. I rambled on a bit, sharing how that ineffable fear confused me, consumed me, and led to what I now recall as an unhappy childhood.
One middle-aged police officer raised his hand and asked a question, “Sir, when did this fear disappear?” I replied that it disappeared only after I came out of the closet at age 38, when I completely and publicly embraced my homosexuality. Before that, even as an otherwise successful lawyer at age 30-something, the fear still held me by the neck, I told the police officer.
“What do you think that fear was?” the officer asked again.
It was the fear of rejection, I said, the fear of a young boy that his parents would reject him if they found out the truth about their son. For a young boy, I told the officer, the fear of rejection by his parents is equivalent to death.
The last part of the day invited all the participants to share their insights and ideas as a result of the training. When the police officer who had asked me a question stood up to speak, he told his fellow officers about his six children, and that his fifth child was gay. He thanked me for sharing my own experience of growing up gay because now, he said, he has a better understanding of what his son was going through. He said he as a father could feel his son’s fears. He has been repeatedly asking God why his son was gay, but he now realized that to expect an answer from God would be to put himself on the same level as God. The correct response of a good father, he said, was to accept his gay son as a blessing, and to love him just the same.
The audience applauded. I smiled and held back tears, as I humbly realized that God has used my extemporaneous ramblings as a bridge between a father and his gay son. We often talk of LGBT issues as a matter of social concern, but we must not forget that for most LGBT persons the struggle begins at home. I hope that through Ladlad Partylist I will be able to reach more parents and let them realize that the first duty of parents toward their children is not to judge them, or mold them, or raise them properly, but simply to love them.
(originally written and posted on Facebook on April 10, 2013)
I have been very busy with the recent failed campaign of Ladlad Partylist and have not been able to post anything on this blog for a long time. I want to make up for that, if possible, by belatedly posting some pieces I have written in the course of the campaign, and one that I just completed last night. This blog is a public record of stuff I have written, so I really should take advantage of this. Hope you enjoy reading the following pieces.
Two days ago I received a long text message that hijacked my whole day and left me shaken and unable to do anything. It was from an old college classmate, one of my best friends. He had just finished reading my book, Of God and Men. We lost touch over the years, and he expressed surprise when he learned that I had come out of the closet. It turned out that he was hiding under a rock, in a manner of speaking, and he was not on Facebook either, so what was big news for our Ateneo College Batch 1988 had never reached him, until this past weekend.
In his text message, he admired my writing and praised my sincerity, but added, “You are sincerely wrong.” He said that my views on God were inconsistent with the Bible. He chastised me, pointing out that I should not say who God was based on my personal views, but that I should know God through His revealed Word in the Bible. He cited the usual passages—Romans 1:24-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:19-26—to prove that God abhors homosexuality. The God that I talk about in my book, he said, does not resemble in any way the God that St. Paul speaks of in his Epistles.
I have read those passages before, but the loving concern of an old friend had me picking up the Bible and reading them again. And once more, I felt hurt, because here again, it seemed, that the Bible was clearly condemning all “practicing” homosexuals to eternal damnation. I could hear my friend pleading, in tears, please, Bong, please save yourself, repent and change your ways.
The chastisement was coming not from some arrogant self-righteous fundamentalist, but from someone who genuinely loves me as a friend, and I could sense the Holy Spirit reaching out to me. So in humility I allowed my friend’s words to rest in my heart, as I quietly placed my trust in God’s grace.
Since the release of my book, originally called God Loves Bakla, I thought that the argument was over—for me, at least. I even declared so in my title, which rebuffs the placard slogan in many fundamentalist rallies in the United States (“God hates fags”). Thus it came as a shock to me how much my conviction was shaken by a tearful appeal from an old friend. It reminded me that God was on both sides of the debate on homosexuality.
Many scholars have attempted to explain away the Bible passages condemning homosexuality. I am not a Bible scholar, and I can speak only from the perspective of this wounded sinner. Saint Paul seems very clear when he said that homosexuals would not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). For many people, that’s it, end of story. This is what my college friend apparently believes. However, we have since learned that these Biblical passages must be read within their original socio-historical contexts, in order to properly interpret them.
One particularly relevant theory is that of Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who speculated (though he was not the first) that Saint Paul was a repressed gay man, and that his private struggles with this “thorn in the flesh” informed his apparent homophobia. Excerpts from his book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, can be read here.
As someone who struggled with repressed homosexual desires for decades, I understand where Paul is coming from. During his time, living openly as a homosexual man was out of the question, and Paul’s struggles against his own “sinful” desires colored his statements on homosexuality, the very same statements now being invoked by fundamentalists. Yet times have changed, and we know more about human nature now than Paul ever did. We know now that homosexuality is not a disease or mental illness, that it is not a sinful state to be abhorred, but that it is actually a special grace to be accepted and embraced.
To that last phrase, my friend would probably say: No way! Surely many Catholics will rush to agree with him.
One Muslim friend in Egypt, when I told him the title of my book, echoed what my college friend said. “It is simply wrong,” he said, “to say that God loves gays.” According to his understanding of his religion, God never created the sinful state of homosexuality, which, he says, is purely the product of man’s sinfulness.
Given all that, where do I get off saying that God loves bakla?
My answer is this: “God loves bakla” is my thesis statement, and the book is my thesis. I have come to believe, through the events of my own life, as illumined by the Holy Spirit, that God loves me as a gay man and desires only my happiness in this life that He has given me. This deep conviction came after decades of inner struggle and prayerful reflection. The rightness of my cause has been confirmed for me many times over, through countless encounters with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons who in their own struggles for dignity and equality reflect the face of our crucified Savior.
But for many Christians, this is not enough. The only authority that they will accept is sacred scripture as interpreted by the leadership of the church. There are many persuasive articles arguing the Bible actually does NOT condemn committed loving relationships between two persons of the same sex. But if someone is convinced that the Bible condemns homosexuals, then no amount of Biblical exegesis will change his mind.
In our country, it is the consensus of the Catholic majority that homosexuality is a sin. This has resulted in many LGBT Filipinos leaving the Catholic Church. Nothing in the developments of the last two decades in Western countries, where gay rights have been recognized as human rights and same-sex relationships have been granted legal recognition, has significantly impacted the view among Filipinos that when it comes to moral issues, the Catholic Church remains the sole arbiter of what is moral and what is immoral.
As a result, I no longer call myself a Catholic. I no longer recognize the authority of the Church Magisterium dictating to me that as a homosexual the only path to sanctity is chastity. I am a “practicing” homosexual, and I believe that Saint Paul is wrong to say that homosexuals would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
If I do not believe that the Bible is infallible, then what do I believe in?
I believe in my own conscience and the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit. I believe that my twenty years of Jesuit education and the many years of living that followed have sufficiently taught me the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral, legal and illegal, and through God’s grace and spirit I am mature enough to make moral decisions for myself and take personal responsibility for my actions and my life, including the salvation of my soul. I believe that I do not need a bunch of old men telling me who God is and isn’t. Nor do I need experts telling me that God’s Word is this and that, or that I should conform my life to what they claim is God’s will.
I am an adult. My life here and beyond is strictly my own business and no one else’s. And I believe that God agrees.
I have lived and worked in four countries—the Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia and Egypt—each country having its own unique religious culture and traditions. I have met men and women of different faiths—Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh. I have met atheists and agnostics. I have friends who do not know what they believe in. I have worked for the United Nations alongside colleagues from dozens of countries representing various cultures and traditions. If I were to ask each person who God is, there would be so many different responses, even from those belonging to the same religious tradition. There will always be the vanguards in every religion who will try to control and monopolize understanding of and access to the divine, and it is these people that we should be wary of. I recall being told in school that “the Catholic Church is not a democracy,” and I have always found this disturbing. But questioning authority was disrespectful, even heretical. And I found that the situation was not much different in other religions, which also need to preserve their orthodoxies for their continued growth and survival.
In most religious traditions, homosexuality falls outside of the norm. Thus, LGBT persons seeking to nurture their spiritual life have little choice but to chart their own course toward God, guided only by their conscience and the Holy Spirit. Happily, new churches sympathetic to LGBT persons have sprung up; in the Philippines we have the Metropolitan Community Church.
But charting one’s own path toward God is not moral relativism. There are still, and will always be, guiding principles. The Bible remains the principal guide for me, but without the textual rigidity that has calcified over the centuries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is another guide. More recently, there is the trailblazing document on LGBT rights known as the Yogyakarta Principles. As a Filipino lawyer, I am guided by my own country’s laws and legal traditions. Most important, I am guided by what I learned from my parents, who raised me in a God-fearing family, where my moral education began and where I learned the most important lessons of living and loving.
At the end of the day, only God will be the judge of whether as a practicing homosexual I will or will not be saved. I believe that when the time comes God will not focus on just my sexuality but will look at my entire life. I believe, like Saint John of the Cross, that love is the measure by which we shall be judged.
Where does that leave my college friend, who believes that homosexuals will not be saved? I believe that this will be irrelevant to God, who will see only the love that my friend has for me. I fear, however, that it might not be the same for those persons who have acted with hatred and disgust toward homosexuals, but I will leave their judgment to God.
The last chapter of my book is entitled “The Primacy of Love” and contains my feeble attempts to explain my understanding of what love is. I turn to Saint Paul once again, my kindred spirit, in 1 Cor 13, the “Love Chapter,” the one that tells us that love is patient, kind, and without envy. I have tried in my daily life to embody this ideal kind of love, and this is the love that I share with my partner, and he shares with me. Love is the greatest force in the universe, and I know that in the end, by the grace of God, all shall be well.