The Facebook post was innocuous: Luke posted a photo of himself with a rainbow flag draped around him, with the caption: “Express yourself #pride”.
He posted at the last day of Pride Month, an annual global protest and celebration by the LGBT+ community that was ignited by the Stonewall riots in New York—a pushback against the oppressive, state-sanctioned anti-LGBT+ operations that happened in the United States in the ‘60s.
“It was a leap of faith,” Luke told me during a call a few days ago. Apparently, he had taken the photo even before the pandemic started, and he suddenly found the courage to post the photo publicly.
While he has been out for some time now to some people (he liked a guy a few years back and accidentally disclosed the gender identity of the person to his friends, which made him admit that he was indeed gay, to which they replied: “We were just waiting for you to tell us. We already know.”), it was only now that he officially came out to everyone.
He was aware of the possible political repercussions of posting that photo. As the legislative staff officer of a conservative and controversial politician actively roadblocking the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill, which has been languishing in Congress for more than two decades already, he understood that it might potentially offend some of the people in his workplace—politicians, parties, other staff.
“Collaboration is key. Kung magkakaroon ng strain [sa] collaboration, it will also [harm] our performance. I really treat it very carefully.”
But the post hasn’t raised any brows from his workmates, including his senator boss—at least, not yet.
“He knows,” referring to the senator he works for. “And we respect each other…it’s not an issue for the both of us.”
Despite this, he struggles with the fact that his boss is fundamentally against the rights of the community he’s part of.
“I believe in him. Siguro sa aspect na ‘yun, personally, I step away. Mahirap kasi if masyado akong involved, iba yung may personal feelings. I really focus on the other things, the other issues…because kasama ko siya dun sa advocacies nya ngayon, marami kaming magagawa, mas wider ang reach namin. Yung part na ‘yun, medyo umiiwas ako dun.
“Any move that I do, any word that I say is polarizing, one way or another. Sa dami ng issues na gusto kong ayusin [in the] Philippines, baka hindi ko na kayanin.
“Hindi naman affected ang employment [ko], because [the senator] knows my stand on the issues…I’m more concerned na parang, medyo meron kaming konting alignment on some operational issues of the bill, and if I verbalize it, marami akong magiging kaaway…hindi ko issue yung nature ng bill, nandun lang ako sa operationalization.”
When I pressed him about what specific operationalization issues he foresaw in the proposed legislation, he explained:
“Yung mga licenses, in general, wala naman yung concern…yung pag-o-operationalize lang ng, how do you define yung issue ng discrimination sa bill? [That] might also be a problem…If two rights are in conflict with each other—not necessarily religious, kasi pwede namang workplace, ethnicity—if sila yung mag-conflict with each other, sino yung papanigan, sino yung mas matimbang? Kasi malamang sa malamang, wala yang compromise. It’s either one way or another, merong madedehado dyan. Sa’n ka lulugar? Minsan ganun ang concern.
“Meron kasi akong fear of having conflicts. Siguro trauma na rin yun from the past. Ayoko rin naman din na maging apathetic, always at the middle or neutral. Sometimes I just have to pick my battles…Here kasi sa office, we can discuss everything, but [once we’ve made] a decision, we try as much as possible to rally behind that decision, whether we’re okay or not. But with [the SOGIE Equality Bill], ako na rin ang konting nag-step away. I choose to focus on other items because, sila na yun, and hindi na rin ako palaging conflicted every day.”
“Baka yun yung sacrifice na kailangan kong gawin para matulungan ko yung mas marami…may ganun akong feeling, at times.”
Before we ended our call, I asked if he thought his experience just proves that we’re just tolerated and not accepted in society—that expressing ourselves is okay only up to the point that we demand equal rights:
“Yes, totoo na tolerated lang tayo, hindi tayo fully accepted…hindi pa rin nawa-walk the talk yung acceptance here in the Philippines.
“One thing that I’ve learned in this is when you set aside emotions and you get to talk with cooler heads, more work gets done…I hope, for us to move forward, both sides must learn to communicate with each other.
“What’s the compromise? Kung meron man. Or kung wala man: how do we move forward?”