03 May 2010

Why 89: The Benefit(s) of Recognition [1 of 7*]

I work as a professor in a university and our roster of instructors there are as diverse as the colors of the rainbow. I have gay colleagues, lesbian colleagues, bisexual colleagues and straight colleagues, some of whom are okay with our rainbow-ness while some I know are only "academically okay" with it. But that's fine. We don't really point out this sexual diversities among us so much; we laugh, we pig out at meetings, we like the same movies, and gossip about students and co-teachers alike. In short, we feel we are all the same, all on equal footing -- until one of us died. Which one? One of the gay ones. And that's when it hit me -- we are still different, after all. Death does its part in pointing that out, as clear as day.

Prof. Gay died in the middle of the semester, which of course devastated all of us, especially those who were close to him and held him in high regard. But after we have mourned, it was time to move on. Part of moving on is dealing
with the administrative issues of his loss. Since I was an administrator during that time, I oversaw some of these issues. Most were easy to fix, like having other instructors take over his classes, but there was one thing that proved difficult to process -- his salary.

I thought that it was only natural for Prof. Gay's back pay to be collected by his longtime life partner, his caring boyfriend Mr. Theater. It was him who was with
Prof. Gay for the longest time, who cared for him until his untimely death, his companion, his best friend, his colleague. It broke my heart to hear him after the mass when someone asked "Kamusta ka na?" to which he replied "Eto, nawalan ng asawa, ng nanay..." He said the last word, nanay--mother--with a chuckle, trying to balance the sadness he was trying to conceal when he said the first word asawa--spouse--and how he lost his. Indeed, to most of his colleagues and students, soft-spoken Prof. Gay was like a mother who nurtured talents and encouraged people to perform well and excel.

But when the time came to process his salary after a few weeks, I was frustrated to learn that the university couldn't allow Prof. Gay's partner to collect the money. I was hoping against hope that, s
eeing how precious Prof. Gay's contribution to the university was, and seeing that our university is known to be the most open-minded and liberal of schools in the country, they would allow this small thing to be processed easily, without difficulty. But it wasn't easy. On one hand, I understand the legality of it. But on the other hand, how I wished that this legality would be extended to all citizens of the country -- and that's when I felt it was unfair.

See, Philippine laws allow the facilitation of legal transactions only by blood relatives or those who are related by marriage to the deceased. I guess this law is as universal as it could get, which only points out one sad, glaring thing -- that laws do not recognize relationships like Prof. Gay's and Mr. Theater's. Laws do not recognize the existence of loving relationships, of real relationships, of lasting relationships like theirs -- like ours.

Yes, I know, Philippine society now "permits" LGBTs like us to live, to thrive, have careers, be a success in our chosen fields, excel in our craft. But without the proper laws and mechanisms in the government, we still remain outcasts. Everyday, we are reminded that the systems in place do not apply to us, that laws do not protect us. There was once a measure introduced in Philippine congress a decade ago to hopefully level this playing field called the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) which prohibits anyone from discriminating against someone who is or perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and encourages the equal transaction of things in our society. Sadly, the bill is still asleep, still a bill and not a law. Unless we find more allies that will champion this cause for us, we're doomed. And we will see the heartbreaking barrier we saw with Prof. Gay and Mr. Theater repeated over and over again, all over the country, for years to come.

So why 89? It's because that's the number of the partylist Ang Ladlad, which, if elected, will make measures to protect the rights of simple citizens like Mr. Theater, to allow him to collect the salary o
n behalf of his deceased loving partner Prof. Gay. Imagine, you already lost the love of your life and you are reminded after his death that your relationship is not recognized. What could be sadder than that?

Let's end this sadness. Think of your relatives, friends and colleagues who are in similar relationships, and think of what the straight world has that they--we--don't: legal protection.

Vote 89.


*Why 89: 1 of 7 is the first of a seven-part series of creative nonfiction narratives I will write as a countdown to the upcoming May 10 elections in support of my partylist, Ang Ladlad.

All photos by libay linsangan cantor: (1) UP Oblation centennial year 2008, (2) sunken garden Dec2008 (3) UP Babaylan, the first LGBT student organization, at the 2008 Lantern Parade; (4) Prof. Danton Remoto, Chair of Ang Ladlad at the 2008 LGBT Pride March.

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