Text by Mary Margarette Crisostomo and Angel Dale Marie Yabut
Voices blast from the radio tucked in the corner shelf of the salon stall, droning on about traffic updates. In front of the salon’s only mirror, a tiny Sto. Niño statue rests next to a bottle of talc powder and a set of old hair brushes. Blue plyboards divide the two-by-two meters square floor space, just enough for one salon chair and a sofa.
Salon all-rounder Ronald Canlas, 39, stands by the chair, hair pulled tight into a low ponytail, bangs secured underneath a white headband glinting beneath the only fluorescent light in the small stall. He waits for a customer.
Ronald works at his own salon in a local market Bacolor, Pampanga, a jeepney ride away from his home.
At six years old, Ronald knew he was gay. “Beking-beki na ako,” he chuckled, insisting it would not take a genius to figure him out even in his early years.
(I was already gay.)
However, his father did not accept his sexual orientation well. Coming from a religious family, Ronald suffered his father’s rage through the razor-edge slurs thrown at him.
He had to learn to ignore all that; but the harshest one still snips the reminiscent smile away from his face – when his father said he does not set a good example for his three younger siblings just because he is gay.
“Sinasabi lagi ng tatay ko sa akin na ayaw niya ng anak na bakla, pero ganito na ako, ano pa magagawa niya?” he said.
(My dad would always say that he doesn’t want a gay child, but this is who I am, what can he do?)
In the past, Ronald used to freely express himself as a woman, but stopped due to public ridicule. “Kasi magdedress ka sa daan, lalo na yung mga hindi talaga alam yung pinagdadaanan mo, o kaya yung mga taong hindi nakapag-aral, [mga] hindi nakakaintindi. Tatawagin ka [nila ng] ‘bakla’,” he recalls. Since then, he never wore dresses again.
(Because you would be in a dress on the street, especially to those who don’t know what you’re going through, or those who have no education, those who don’t understand. They would call you ‘gay’.)
Amid being cast out, he deems himself lucky that his mother and siblings did not cut ties with him. They continued to help him and see him as family.
Ronald eventually wore down his father’s conservative and religious heart.
“Matatanggap ka rin nila, at the end of the day, kasi anak ka nila,” he remarks. “Basta pakita mo lang ano yung talent mo at yung kaya mong gawin. Yung hindi ka namemerwisyo, nang-aapak ng ibang tao. Basta bigay mo lang yung love [at] caring sa kanila, matatanggap ka naman nila.”
(They would accept you, at the end of the day, because you are their child. As long as you show your talent and what you can do. That you don’t engage in vices, step on other people. Just give your love and caring to them, they would accept you.)
Ronald’s experience with his father reflects society’s tendency to deprive the LGBTQIA+ community of their rights. It demands that they “prove” they are equal to heterosexuals first, thus painting them in a bad light; as if they are only social parasites, mooching off other people’s lives to gain leverage.
Moreover, the judgments show the internalized homophobia rampant in many Filipinos even today. It also disenchants some of the LGBTQIA+ members themselves, leading them to settle for tolerance rather than to fight for acceptance.
In fear of discrimination, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community are compelled to adhere to societal norms instead of freely expressing themselves. This fear is what the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, or the Anti-Discrimination Bill, seeks to address.
The SOGIE Equality Bill aims to protect people from different public and economic acts of discrimination anchored on one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. It safeguards individuals from insults and mistreatment from the public.
For the LGBTQIA+ community, the passage of the bill means a step closer towards full acceptance and protection from discrimination. The contested bill aroused many arguments and protests from the public, primarily from the conservative Christians, despite the established support of leading institutions for its passage.
Ronald, inspired by the support of influential societal figures, hopes for the passage of the bill, anticipating that with it comes the equality that he and his community yearns for. However, he realizes this will take some time.
“Pilipinas ‘to, nasa banal na country tayo. Marami talagang processing yung pagdadaanan ng SOGIE Bill,” he said.
(This is the Philippines, we are in a devout country. The SOGIE bill will really go through a lot of processing.)
Ronald perks up as a customer approaches the stall. He smiles and gestures to the salon chair, motioning for the customer to sit. He reaches for his scissors as the nearby radio chatter switches to the SOGIE Bill debacle.
The same radio waves fall upon another’s ears in a different place. While waiting for the materials he needs to deliver, he listens to the radio on his phone. Sweat travels down his skin, feet propped up on the steering wheel, as he listens to both the noise of people in Bayan and the commercial jingle from the radio. He patiently waits.
He is Roland Bautista, a 28-year-old Pangasinan native working as a stay-in timekeeper and truck driver for a builders corporation at a subdivision in Calumpit, Bulacan.
Roland had to come to Manila for a chance at a better life. He has nine siblings, and because of this, their parents cannot support them all.
Growing up, he never really realized he was gay. But when Roland was around 13 or 14, he felt that he never truly liked the things he used to do.
Unlike others from the LGBTQIA+ community, telling his family who he really was did not prove difficult. “Basta naman daw nag-aaral ako nang mabuti, okay na. Ta’s tulad ngayon, tinutustusan ko sarili ko, wala silang masasabi tungkol sa’kin,” he said.
(They said that as long as I’m studying well, it’s okay. And now, I support myself, they can’t say anything about me.)
Although his family was nothing but accepting, the situation became vastly different when he tried applying for jobs. Unfortunately, his options were limited because he only finished at the high school level; and with companies unaccepting of members of the LGBTQIA+, opportunities for people like him are few.
Roland vividly remembers one of his attempts to look for jobs, even if it happened years ago.
While he was on his way to buy groceries , he caught a glimpse of a tarpaulin that indicated an opening for construction workers. The moment he saw it, he immediately stopped and tried his luck.
Roland approached the foreman to apply, but was rejected right there and then without any hesitation. “‘Di pwede ang bakla eh. Baka kasi maging magulo lang habang nagtra-trabaho,” he recalled the foreman saying.
(‘Gay people aren’t allowed. It might become troublesome during work.’)
In the hopes of being accepted, both in society and in jobs, Roland thought he might be able to help his family. Yet, it seemed impossible.
“Gusto ko lang naman magtrabaho. Ano bang masama dun? Narinig lang nila na malambot ako magsalita, hindi na ako tinanggap. [Ang] unfair naman n’un,” he said. “‘Saka baka raw mahirapan mag-adjust yung ibang trabahador. Sa’kin naman, sa kanila[ng kasalanan] na y’un.”
(I just want to work. What’s wrong with that? They just heard I have a feminine way of talking, then I wasn’t accepted. That is unfair. Also, they said that the other workers might have a hard time adjusting. For me, that’s on them already.)
Everyday, the LGBTQIA+ community faces the awful familiarity of being discriminated, teased, and depicted as “salot sa lipunan.” On top of that, being “different” throws them off the game despite their skills and experience.
Although Roland’s current employer accepted him, a decent standard of living is difficult for him to achieve. He earns only P400 a day, including holidays.
“Kinailangan ko nga i-sangla ‘yung ATM card ko para lang magka-pera ‘ko. Kulang talaga,” he lamented.
(I had to pawn my ATM card just so I could get money. It was really inadequate.)
Just as they thought they could finally have a taste of acceptance, the country takes another step backwards from change, leaving the LGBTQIA+ with disappointment and pain.
“Hindi ka pupuwedeng mag-legislate for a particular class lang, [eh] nagdi-discriminate ka,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s voice drones from the stereo tuned in to Radio Pilipinas Uno, clarifying Duterte’s misunderstood September 10, 2019 statement of certifying a different Anti-Discrimination Act as urgent, and not the SOGIE Bill.
(You can’t legislate for only a particular class, you are discriminating.)
“He [President Duterte] is a lawyer so he will not certify a bill that will appear to be or is a class legislation,” Panelo explains further, casting the SOGIE Bill as beneficial only for the LGBTQIA+ Community and not for the entire nation.
Roland wishes that the SOGIE Bill be implemented so that instances like this can be prevented from happening. The LGBTQIA+ has been suffering for too long, and Roland, as part of the community, is waiting to put an end to discrimination.
“Si President Duterte, sana ‘wag na n’ya pagsalitaan nang masama ang LGBT dahil dapat hayaan na lang na maging malaya dahil may nagagawa namang tama. ‘Di naman talaga pabigat,” he pointed out.
(President Duterte, I hope he doesn’t speak bad about the LGBT anymore because he should just allow them to be free because they do good things. They aren’t burdens.)
As the legislation for the SOGIE Equality Bill prolongs, the entire LGBTQIA+ community stands still.
Still, the pride flags float gracefully under the sun as hollers for acceptance and equality emanate, then echo. Pride marches may come to an end, but the fight still has a long way to go.
Ronald Canlas refused to have his picture taken and published for this article.