Why Pia Wurtzbach’s statements hurt the queer community

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Pia Wurtzbach’s statements about having a gay child opens up the issue of conditional acceptance. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Amid the flurry of gift shopping, parties, Jose Mari Chan crooning in the mall speakers, and all the traffic, most Filipinos believe that the heart of the Yuletide holidays is still the family. While this time of the year conjures images of happy faces gathered around for Noche Buena, opening gifts, or counting down to the new year, for many LGBTQIA+ people, being with family during the holidays is the most mentally and emotionally taxing time of the year.

Whether they’re out or not, they need to brace themselves mentally for the LGBTQIA-phobic comments from drunk titos, the constant badgering of titas regarding their lack of a partner, or the passive-aggressive parinig of their parents’ desire for apos. While those who aren’t out live in a constant state of fear of being outed or outing themselves at these reunions, those who are out often don’t fare any better.

Ah, oo, tomboy nga ‘yang anak ko eh. Pero okay lang ‘yan. Para may mag-aalaga sa akin kapag matanda na ako.” “Okay lang na bakla siya para may nag-me-make-up lagi sa akin!” “Transgender daw? Ewan ko rin, pero hayaan mo na, honor student naman.” Statements like these exist mostly as chismis around the mahjong table, but Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach recently made headlines for echoing similar sentiments.

In an interview with Boy Abunda, Wurtzbach said that she wants to have a gay child who will “dress her up, do her make-up, and take care of her.” These comments have sparked outrage online, with people pointing out the potential harm these statements could cause. While she has since apologized and promised to do better, it’s important to discuss why these statements, lauded as signs of acceptance, are actually just veiled tolerance rooted in harmful stereotypes.

Conditional acceptance

On the surface, statements like these seem innocent. They are even applauded as signs of acceptance. But when acceptance comes with conditions, all of it really is just fragile tolerance. It sends a message to queer kids that in order to be accepted, they must be able to fulfill certain roles — the stylist, the makeup artist, the caregiver — and if they choose otherwise, they could very well be deemed useless or unworthy.

For a lot of queer individuals, there is a lingering fear of disappointing their relatives for not living up to certain standards. There is a need to work twice as hard as their straight counterparts to “earn” their worth. Reinforcing stereotypes and placing conditions don’t just add more pressure on the individual, it also sends the message that those who don’t satisfy these conditions could suffer consequences.

Research conducted by LGBTQIA+ rights civil society group Rainbow Rights shows that the discrimination and violence that LGBTIQA+ people experience starts and is most volatile in the home. In 2012, a gay 19-year-old suffered severe burns after his father poured boiling water on the teen upon learning about his sexuality.

Workplace discrimination

Outside of the home, stereotyping makes finding and keeping a job difficult for LGBTQIA+ individuals as well. Workplace discrimination is still rampant in the Philippines, and employers oftentimes deem applicants unfit for the job based solely on stereotypes — baklas are only adept at makeup, fashion, and gossip, and thus unfit for manual labor or office work; baklas as shallow, vapid, and irresponsible, and thus unreliable employees. For these individuals who belong to other marginalized groups (PLHIV, PWD, the poor, laborers, farmers, etc), this discrimination is compounded. Without an anti-discrimination law in place, employers can get away with firing or denying employees certain benefits on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Ironically, the same “positive” traits that queer individuals are associated with — good caregivers to aging parents — can also bar them from reaping benefits and promotions. Instead, these go to more “deserving” candidates who are legally married and have kids.

Impact over intent

Though Wurtzbach points out that her comments were not meant to be malicious, it’s important to remind people that despite our best intentions, there is a need to weigh our words and actions carefully, especially for allies like her who have the potential to reach millions and impact society.

Pia Wurtzbach has influence, and as an advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights, the community she fights for needs her to make more of an effort, not only to stay informed, but to help queer Filipinos to be seen and treated the right way. That involves making an active effort to advocate for laws that could protect them from further discrimination and violence. Because the moment queer people start advocating for equality, the conditional acceptance of queer people disappears. When they stop making people laugh, doing their make-up, or being their designated caregivers, suddenly they’re unnatural, shameful, less than human. It's times like these when their voices are being silenced that the LGBTQIA+ community counts on their allies to deepen their allyship and fight for them harder.