Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Come June of each year, just as a heavy downpour signals the start of the rainy season, a sea of rainbows on social media marks the beginning of Pride Month. In recent years, we’ve seen rainbow filters for profile photos and hashtags like #LoveWins dominate our feeds — small gestures people can make to show their support for the LGBTQ community. But are these enough to help the queer community in its continuing fight for equality?
In the Philippines, life for LGBTQs seems relatively easy. We have celebrities like Vice Ganda and Boy Abunda who openly talk about their sexuality on television. We’ve also seen a wave of queer films shown in cinemas. Yet for the average Filipino, the story is different. A report by Human Rights Watch states that many LGBTQ students still face bullying and harassment at school. And much has been said about the prevailing attitude of most Filipinos on the queer community: tolerant but not wholly accepting.
Though there is no law that bans LGBTQs from self-expression, there is also no national law that protects them against discrimination. The Anti-Discrimination Bill, or the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill was passed in the lower house some time last year, but it has made no progress in the Senate, where several legislators, including Senate President Vicente Sotto III, have expressed their opposition to it.
Thus the importance of Pride month in the Philippines, with festivities culminating in the annual Metro Manila Pride March, which, since 1994, has been a platform for the Filipino queer community to protest against the injustices made against its members, and to call on leaders and legislators to work towards protecting LGBTQs and providing them with equal rights.
And thus, the importance of allies — straight folk who can use their privilege and power to aid the queer community by showing solidarity, spreading awareness, and best of all, fighting alongside them. But how does one become an ally?
Recognize your privilege
The first step towards becoming a good ally is to recognize one’s privilege, which can be used to amplify the voices of the queer community and to create safe spaces for its members.
“[Straight allies are] in a position where their presence or their voices are welcomed and listened to in more spaces,” says Nicky Castillo, co-coordinator of Metro Manila Pride, the organization that mounts the yearly Pride March and Festival. “When they use this privilege and power to uplift the voices of the silenced, that's using their privilege in a productive way.”
Castillo also notes that this privilege can be used to create safe spaces for LGBTQs: “When allies vocally advocate for us in the workplace, in schools, or even in social gatherings, it not only marks them as a safe space for LGBTQ folks — which can be a literal lifeline for closeted folks in these settings — it also starts a conversation on LGBTQ issues that don’t normally get heard in cis-het (cisgender-heterosexual) circles.”
But Mikhail Quijano, co-head of Metro Manila Pride's communications and campaign committee, warns allies to be aware of the tendency to overstep and speak for the community. “Of course it’s great that [allies] help in the fight for our rights, but one thing they can use their straight privilege for is to help create opportunities for the community to tell our story.”
Question and challenge stereotypes
Atty. Jazz Tamayo of Rainbow Rights Philippines, an NGO focused on legal literacy and empowerment regarding SOGIE-based laws and policies, stresses the importance of challenging stereotypes, which she says, have caused so much pain and suffering for LGBTQs as “[the presence of stereotypes about members of the community] informs the lack of legal protections or the presence of [discriminatory] policies.”
For example, in the U.S., there are proposed bathroom bills that aim to penalize anyone who uses a restroom that does not correspond to their sex at birth. This poses a problem for transgender individuals who no longer identify with and present as their assigned sex at birth. Proponents of these bills often stress the need to protect the public from sexual predators, insisting upon the stereotype of the sexually promiscuous and predatory gay man and transwoman.
A common and dangerous stereotype about lesbians is that they simply need the “right man” in order to turn straight. In extreme cases, parents resort to corrective rape, ordering friends or even relatives to rape their child in order to “correct” their behavior.
While in the workplace, the usual assumption about queer workers is that they have no families or spouses to take care of. This often robs them of the opportunity to get promotions or raises because employers opt to prioritize their straight colleagues who are assumed likelier to be married and have kids.
These stereotypes are “meant to be shattered,” says Tamayo.
Be proactive and call out friends, relatives, or even strangers who reinforce harmful and discriminatory stereotypes.
Spend time with the community
As powerful as straight privilege can be when put into good use, for many people, it acts like a pair of blinders, keeping them from seeing and experiencing more subtle forms of discrimination — “microaggressions” as they are often called.
For example, when someone tries to compliment a queer person by telling them “Buti ka pa, hindi ka halata.” Though it may have been said with the best intentions, it implies that candid displays of queerness are meant to be hidden.
Another example is the saying “Sayang naman, ang pogi/ganda mo pa naman” — a phrase meant as a compliment on one’s appearances that also puts down the person’s identity.
That is why it is important to get to know LGBTQs personally and to spend time with the community.
“Our culture has homophobia ingrained in our system, and it takes a lot of (sometimes painful) effort to unpack that,” says Quijano. “Spending time with the community and listening to us while consciously being aware of their own possibly-misinformed beliefs would be great.”
Spending time with queer people also helps dispel the myth that allyship is reserved for the closeted, destroying one more harmful stereotype about the community.
“There’s this misconception that the only reason you would advocate for LGBTQ rights is because you are LGBTQ yourself,” says Castillo. “The great thing about cisgender and heterosexual allies advocating vocally for LGBTQ people is that it shatters this misconception.”
Set aside your ego
Prejudices and stereotypes about queer people are often difficult to unlearn and unpack, and even the most well-meaning ally can say or do something harmful. Take for example Pia Wurtzbach’s gaffe last year.
Members of the community, for everything they have been through, can sometimes be quick to react and call out mistakes. Patience and humility are important traits to remember during these times.
“Learning can often be embarrassing, especially when you realize you’ve been wrong for so long,” says Quijano. “When you mess up, apologize genuinely, for hurting people because of your mistake, and be ready to consciously change for the better. Approach people from a point of learning, whether it’s you who’s learning, or you’re imparting it yourself.”
“What really helps me improve on my allyship and activism is listening to seasoned activists, reading widely, and asking questions when there is something I don't understand,” says Castillo. “You also need to put aside your ego and be open to being corrected and informed better. Ego has no place in activism. The only way we become better allies and activists is to keep educating ourselves by listening, reading, and asking.”
Attend Pride celebrations
Pride Month is the perfect time for anyone to start learning how to become a straight ally, as various organizations put together talks, film screenings, and parties to celebrate queer culture throughout the month.
But Castillo reminds allies and allies-to-be that Pride is, first and foremost, a rally, and should not be treated as another “Instagrammable” moment. Have fun and join in on the celebrations, but know that you are there to fight alongside LGBTQs for their rights.
“Inasmuch as Pride is a celebration (because at Pride you can live your truth freely and without fear of getting persecuted — a freedom not available to so many LGBTQ+ people), it is also a protest because this is one of the few large platforms for us to raise awareness about our rights,” she says.
Continue the fight beyond Pride Month
Joining in on the fight is exciting at the height of Pride celebrations, but support is even more crucial after the Pride Month celebrations have died down, for discrimination and violence against LGBTQs continue to persist every single day.
“Pride doesn’t end at the march or the month. It doesn’t even end at the passing of policy,” says Quijano. “Being a true straight ally means continuously standing up for the rights of the marginalized: not just your LGBTQ+ family or friends, but all who experience oppression and injustice.”