The Pain and Pleasure of Gay Pride

Photography by CZAR KRISTOFF
Grooming by SLO LOPEZ
Clothing by BENCH

Seven out and proud members of the LGBTQ community remind us how far the pride movement has come, and how much further it needs to go.

At first glance, it seems the gay pride movement has won. It’s easy to point towards any number of the victories that are being earned by members of the community and its valuable allies. From the election of a trans politician, to the erection of a gay-inclusive billboard, even our local scene shows that the gay agenda is going strong.

Pride month is a time for celebration, and we brought a few friends to the party.

In time for the festivities, we rounded up seven individuals who are themselves cause for celebration. These are the figureheads who are raising the public consciousness about what it means to be gay. They’re the performers, writers, lawyers, and various professionals who show us just how far we’ve come in the fight for equality.

For all their victories from the court of law to the recording studio, they’ve learned that pride still has a long way to go. More than just an act of celebration, this pride month is an acknowledgement of how much is yet to be done. There’s more we need to do to keep our gay lawyers in court, to make sure that our brothers and sisters can be called by their real names. Consider this our way of keeping the pride torch lit. We’re taking queues from these unique catalysts for change. Let’s get to work.

Petersen Vargas, Filmmaker, on gratitude and finding drama in the mundane

Petersen cites Xavier Dolan as a continuous inspiration to pour himself into his work. “The openly gay Quebecois filmmaker’s youth informs both his work and his influence,” says Petersen. “It’s a lot of what I aspire to be.” Xavier Dolan image by Clara Palardy.

The things I’m making aren’t so radical. They’re not overtly political. They don’t raise issues right in your face. Which might be a good criticism, but the reason why I make very simple stories featuring very human and real gay characters is because, in my eyes, there’s a lack of those kinds of stories.

I can only speak about my own experiences. I can only talk about what I know, what my life has made me realize so far. The effort here is to tell it as sincerely as possible.

There’s always drama, even in the mundane. What matters is the manner of telling. Even in film, honest is the best policy.

Between photo shoots, film shoots, magazine shoots, ang laki ng voice ng LGBT dito. I really love the setting in which I work. I have no specific work place; it’s always from one set to another. But it always feels like home. You can truly be yourself.

Shahani Gania, Drag Queen, on being an aunt and an activist

Growing up watching Home Along Da Riles, Shahani is inspired by actor Bernardo Bernardo’s resistance to stereotypes. “He insisted that his roles shouldn’t be the type na baklang gagawing slapstick,” explains Shahani. Bernardo Bernardo image by unknown photographer.

Everybody has a gay side. Even if you’re straight, you do queer things.

The gayest thing that I’ve ever done is being Super Starlet. She’s a fashion icon, she’s a wealthy socialite, and she’s a fictional character. She’s the unapologetic bitch.

My family is very strict about our religion. Super Starlet is my outlet. Doon siya lahat nalalagay, lahat ng kabaklaan ko. It’s so much fun.

Last year, Kidapawan issue broke out, Super Starlet threw an event at Today x Future to raise money for the farmers. It’s important for them to be able to speak up.

I have a niece. We adopted her when she was four. She’s now thirteen. She watches Ru Paul’s Drag Race with me. She’s accepting and open minded, and I think it comes with her generation.

I’m happy that Super Starlet is an activist, and she’s more empathetic than I am.

Ross Tugade, Writer and Human Rights Lawyer, on reading the law and comic books

Ross cites the gay iteration of Batwoman as a large inspiration for her own battle for justice. Batwoman image from DC Comics.

I work for the public sector, in the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. That’s what I do. Unlike my other batch mates who obviously went to law firms, I decided to go an alternate route, the government.

Writing is really my release, my outlet for a lot of these emotions. I got diagnosed as bipolar when I was in law school. It’s fairly new to me, how to deal with these emotions. Also, coming out. I only came out three years ago.

The reason why I came out at such a late age was because I was so fearful that my dad would get frustrated. In the end he was very accepting. My parents were both very accepting, very loving. I’m very blessed and thankful for that.

I started writing at a young age, around 12 years old.

When I write for publications, I tend to incorporate a lot of personal experiences. In my article for Scout, there was a bit there about my childhood, growing up closeted. The one I did for CNN was about my mental illness.

I’m so privileged to have a voice in the community, to help people understand more, and to help lift the stigma a bit. This is what I needed a few years back. Someone to tell me that it’s okay.

Niccolo Cosme, Founder of HIV advocacy organization Red Whistle, on being an artist and an advocate

Niccolo is so fascinated by the strength of Mary Magdalene that he has an MM insignia tattoo in her name. Mary Magdalene image by Andrea Solario and Bernardino Luini.

I’m juggling two lives. One is the artist and one is the advocate. I realized that you can put them together. I’m having a hard time keeping them apart, actually.

I was at an event in 2008, and I remember it very clearly. I was surprised to see my friend, Wanggo Gallaga there. I said, “Hey, you’re out of the hospital!” And he said, “Yes, I’m okay now. But they found out that I have HIV.” It was a big revelation to me.

Growing up, HIV was so far from my reality. I never thought that I would be in this reality, where it’s so near, so real.

I didn’t think I needed to set up an organization like Red Whistle until 2011. Some friends and I met up, and I said, “let’s do something bigger.” We needed something more regular.

In 2011, it was six new cases everyday. Now, can you believe the count is at 30?

Starting November of last year, we went to a lot of different cities. Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Taguig, Cebu, Davao, Boracay. We were able to provide an approximate of 8000 free HIV screenings in just November to April.

I think it’s our duty to know and to tell others as well. Sino pa bang magtutulungan, kung hindi tayo?

Kristine Fonacier, Editor-in-Chief of Esquire Philippines, on being a woman at her best

Kristine lists Susan Sontag, Annie Leibovitz, Michael Cunningham, and many more as the LGBTQ personalities that she looks up to. “To be honest, their sexual identities haven’t mattered to me as much as their work does,” Kristine explains. She aims to pursue excellence, while remaining a visible member of the queer community. Susan Sontag image by Chester Higgins Jr.

I am the first woman in Esquire’s 80-year history to edit the magazine. Worldwide. We try not to make a big deal out of it.

Even if you’re taking care of a brand, you can’t help but bring your own contributions to it. You might as well embrace the fact that you’re bringing the things that you care about, the things that you are, into the product. It’s going to happen anyway, so you might as well do it honorably. You might as well do it honestly. You might as well do it with excellence.

I’m sure that I’ve brought my perspective as a woman, and to some extent, also my identity as a member of the LGBT community to the magazine. I don’t think it’s outright. I haven’t championed it outright, and I don’t think it has to be.

Both women’s rights and LGBT rights are human rights. Now more than ever, we have to understand the value of human rights.

Writing isn’t just a process, it’s a way to sit down and piece things together. All the best writers are like that. It’s not just a job, not just a craft. Something you do to survive.

Kio Priest, Musician, on the urgency of gay representation in music

Kio says Lady Gaga made it so much easier for him to accept himself. “Watching her interviews and listening to her songs moved me so much,” he says. Lady Gaga image by Inez and Vinoodh.

I used to write jingles and song for other artists, but I’ve stopped doing that. I’ve decided to focus on my own music. I do gigs and festivals. Sometimes clubs.

I’m working on an album now. It’s called Episodes, and it’s about my anxiety. Each track is about a past love affair, how it ended. Mostly, it’s about heartbreak. It’s my real experience.

In social media, I’ve been blunt about my dating life. I’ve talked about guys. People never absorb it. They’re in denial. I have a friend named Bea. We sing together all the time. They always think that she’s my girlfriend. She’s my sister. I just want to clear the air.

I remember growing up to pop music, and there were all of these artists. I looked up to Britney Spears, N’Sync. Walang like me. No one talking about liking another guy. We never really had a gay person to look up to.

I don’t want to hide anything. It’s a hindrance to your music if you hide anything. To be honest, I just want to be myself.

You don’t have to gay or straight to be successful. It’s not the end of the world if you’re gay. There can be other perspectives in music.

Jesus Falcis, Professor and Attorney, on teaching and telling the truth

The song Somebody to Love by Queen keeps Jes afloat during particularly tiring days. He says he admires Freddie Mercury for being true to his queerness, and fighting for LGBT rights. Freddie Mercury image by unknown photographer.

I’m a full-time teacher at Far Eastern University. I teach law subjects to undergrad students.

I also have my advocacy cases. I’m a practicing lawyer not in the sense that I’m with a law firm. I’m a solo practitioner handling a few cases, which are fall under public interest litigation. It’s an area of court litigation where the public interest is at stake.

When I was fifteen, I came out. I don’t like lying. Even if you use things against me, because I’m honest, okay lang. For me, lying is harder because you need to plot out what you lied about, how to manage it. When you’re honest, you have nothing to fear.

From just observation, I think mas mataas yung standard for LGBT lawyers to behave and conduct themselves beyond scrutiny. In the age of Duterte, for example, gay, anti-Duterte lawyers are prone to attack. Kapag pro naman, cinecelebrate. It’s a paradox.

My students have seen me talk about gay things. Some of my lessons are about it, and sometimes it comes out naturally.

Bench Meets: Michelle Dee
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