USA: In the forefront of gay-lesbian pride

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By Dionesio C. Grava
Photos courtesy of Barangay Los Angeles

In time for Valentine’s Day, Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage. Washington, D.C. has now joined New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont as states that allow gay marriage.

Gregoire’s official act came on the heels of other developments that had gay right advocates celebrating. Nearly a week earlier the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Proposition 8 — California’s ban on gay marriage — unconstitutional. A violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples, it said.

On July 15, last year, California became the first state to require that school textbooks and history lessons include the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Also in 2011 the California Senate approved Seth’s Law (AB 9), which aims to fight harassment of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning) students in the state’s schools.

With these historic developments, PWD sought for knowledgeable views from the local gay rights movement. Barangay Los Angeles is a 22 year-old non-profit organization serving the cause of LGBTQ Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in this city. Statewide, Equality California (EQCA) claims in its web site that over the past 13 years, it has “strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation.”

Jeremiah Abraham, Barangay LA director of PR and Marketing, was kind enough to oblige with answers to some questions on very short notice. He said that although the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is encouraging, the fight is still not over. Indeed news reports said that despite the defeat of Proposition 8, same gender marriage can’t be held just yet. The judges have allowed opponents of the law to appeal the 2-1 decision. And even if the decision is affirmed, it will only apply to California even though the court has jurisdiction in nine Western states.

According to Abraham, there could potentially be fights similar to Prop 8 in other states. “Barangay Los Angeles,” he said, “is working with other organizations to raise more awareness of the issue. While there is cause to celebrate, we are all still hoping for equal rights for all people across all states.”

It may be noted also that in the case of the Washington state law, it would have taken effect this coming June 7 were it not for opponents making attempts to reverse its course. The law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote, reports said.

Of the so-called Seth’s Law (AB 9) — named after Seth Walsh, a Tehachapi, California, gay teen who was pushed into committing suicide allegedly because of peer bullying — Abraham said the law ensures that each school in the state incorporates policies and programs that fight against harassment and discrimination in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity. This, however, still does not fully ensure the safety of our youth, he said. Parents, teachers, and school officials must keep a proactive effort to enforce these policies.

“It’s great that California is willing and proactively trying to protect children against the proven negative effect of bullying in schools. Education is a good step toward fighting ignorance. The factual contribution of the LGBTQ community in textbooks can only contribute to fighting stereotypes and ignorance against children. It helps teach our youth that the LGBTQ community is confident and capable — and even better, to be accepting of people that may be different from them,” said Abraham adding that he came out of school possessed with greater respect for other cultures because their accomplishments and struggles were discussed in the classroom.

Jeremiah, entrepreneur-founder of the online community and content provider BakitWhy.com, wrote about the difficulty of growing up as a minority in the Barangay LA site: “We face discrimination every single day, our veterans are denied their deserved benefits, and our empowered women are marginalized across the nation. And to add to all of this, our LGBTQ communities are bullied, denied inalienable rights, and pushed to the point where they take their own lives. This is the unfortunate truth that many LGBTQ youth face and we sadly lose the lives of our loved ones because of this ignorance. The truth is, these youth are four times as likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.”

Barangay LA joins other community organizations that have declared their increasing support against these injustices, he said. In May 2011, Barangay LA held TULAY: A Bridge to Help Fight Youth Suicide, a 3-day gallery intended to open a dialogue between families through visual art, spoken word and live performances. It included a public symposium and talks ranged from youth suicide issues, acceptance, communication barriers and action items aimed to address issues in the Filipino LGBTQ community.

Do the initials LGBTQ (for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning) embrace all the genders that exist today and yet to come, if any? The question was not framed in that manner but from Abraham’s words we get the idea. He said: “Books can be written about this question alone. There is a major difference between gender identity, biological sex, and sexuality. Biological sex, as we know, is the sex you are born with — either male or female. Gender identity is what an individual most identifies with. Transgender individuals identify with a gender that differs from their biological sex — so you can have a biological male that identifies as female, and vice versa. Barangay Los Angeles welcomes all people – Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Straight Allies, and all colors of the rainbow.”

He continued that while these are the more generally known terms, he considers gender identity very unique to each person. There are so many gray areas of the spectrum that we cannot fully describe, he said, because they either aren’t known yet in our society or even can’t be described in our existing vocabulary.

The other officers of Barangay Los Angeles are: Robert Julius Maullon, president; Adrian Songcuan, vice president; Nico Nava, director of Signature Events; Allison Santos, director of Advocacy; and Tetet Quirino, director of Membership.

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