If you lurk on Pinoy internet long enough, you’ll likely find your boomer tito commenting on a Facebook post on anything LGBT+ with, “Ano pa ba ang gusto nyo e tanggap na naman kayong mga LGTV!” (That same tito will probably also comment on a photo of Nadine Lustre in a bikini with, “Kandong ka na dito baby”.)
This tito likely represents a significant number of cisgender-heterosexual Filipinos and also a subset of queer people who wonder: what does inclusion mean, really?
Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe how we advocate diversity and inclusion in boardrooms and courtrooms is just too inaccessible to the ordinary Filipino. For the purpose of conversation, let’s call this Pinoy everyman Jimboy.
Jimboy, who didn’t make it past high school, now lives with his family in Barangay Pritil, where he has lived most of his life. If you ask him, queer people are tolerated, which means that while Jimboy will not beat up Alfie, the gay hairdresser who hangs out at the basketball court every evening to watch the games. But he doesn’t have an issue calling Alfie names, or harass him for cash to buy beer. Jimboy doesn’t have an issue with gay jokes, much like he doesn’t have issues with priest jokes, police jokes, or cuckold jokes.
For Jimboy, jokes are jokes — not evidence of a systemic problem (I mean, what is that, anyway?) He doesn’t get arguments about SOGIE equality. There’s nothing wrong with being bakla or tomboy for Jimboy, except they should stay in their lane much like everybody else does, follow the rules (and probably repent before they die because they’re going to hell, not that he really cares.)
For Jimboy, all is well in Barangay Pritil, despite its rampant criminality, lack of economic opportunities, and unchecked local government corruption. It is just the way things are. He has bigger things to worry about, like how the new mall being built near their house will probably kill his family’s sari-sari store business.
This caricature, as caricatures go, might be too simplistic. But the layman’s ability to see the bigger picture might not be too far off. (We could perhaps blame our educators for our dismal performance on anything science and mathematics.) Jimboy, incapable of grasping research on SOGIE inclusion in the workplace or fully digesting the gap of rights between queer people and cisgender straight people, only believes that what Alfie experiences isn’t different from the experience of the many poor, precariously employed residents of Barangay Pritil. Everyone’s waiting for their big break –– stand in line.
Frankly, I get how some cishet people feel that queer people are demanding special rights, particularly when we say we want protection from workplace harassment and discrimination. How can a salesperson who’s on a contractual basis or a food delivery rider who can’t even go on a sick leave empathize with our concerns, when they feel like they themselves don’t have opportunities for socioeconomic mobility?
I’m not saying that queer people must take on the grand task of solving every social ill in this country. Minorities do not have to play messiah for the majority to have their issues addressed. But it does make it harder to demand empathy when two out of five Filipinos are poor: talking about removing glass ceilings that stop queer people from corporate domination makes no sense to someone struggling to land a job or afford the rising costs of goods.
There’s an interesting insight from “How We Learn Fairness”, a New Yorker piece by Maria Konnikova: “Our ideas about fairness are relativistic, rather than absolute. In many ways, we approach fairness as a form of social signaling. People tend not to care about equality as an abstract principle; instead, they use fairness to negotiate their place in a social hierarchy. And, for that reason, we’re especially willing to give up our unfair advantages when there’s the possibility of strengthening a future relationship.”
Some might say this is a bleak way of looking at human relationships. (Whatever happened to selflessness and altruism, right?) I say it might be a sobering perspective. Do we want people to care? Then it’s worth reinforcing the message that SOGIE equality is a rising tide that will lift all boats (yes, cishet people included.) It’s crucial to highlight how we stand with ordinary people with Jimboy to fight for more social protections and better public services and infrastructures: real universal healthcare, fair wages, and accessible and affordable public transportation, to begin with.
We could learn a thing from what Black writer and critic Gloria Alamrew tweeted about Prince Harry’s recent damning revelations about the royal family: “I think the sooner we all understand that Harry and his wife are not taking a stance against his colonialist family, but are just upset about not being able to participate in it the way they thought they would be able to…the freer we’ll be.”
Let’s change “Harry and his wife” to “queer folks”, and “colonialist family” with an “exploitative society”, then pause to think: when we talk about inclusion, do we just want a seat at the table with tyrants, instead of standing in solidarity with those who experience other oppressions?
Message Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org