“Combat discrimination with empathy, respect and compassion”
Gigi Esguerra’s tweet went viral days after Pride 2019. In the video, she appears to be giving out yellow Malaysian Mums to strangers on the street. She hugs two children, begets a photo and ends shouting “Happy pride!” in a jovial manner. In another tweet by user @LorenzoThinks, he writes, “She wanted to offer flowers as peace offerings but ended up being insulted. If that’s the message that “God” has for the LGBT community, y’all can keep it.” Mahatma Gandhi’s quote rang true that day, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Gigi is a proud transgender woman who purposefully shares about her plight to enlighten Filipinos everywhere. (She also happens to be a talented YouTube content creator and makeup artist.) She was part of the panel of notable speakers for SPARK Philippines’ three-part mental health series in collaboration with Vanguard Assessments.
With recent talk about the passing of the SOGIE Bill, amid societal and institutional discrimination, how does one offer support to the LGBTQIA+ community? To place a human face on the topic, Gigi was joined by Beatriz Torre, Niq Maravillas and Riyan Portuguez last Friday, September 27, at Commune Makati.
In a 2017 data published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are more susceptible to mental health problems due to an increased level of stigma and discrimination. The youth, most especially, are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Research has shown that transgender men and women are also four times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than their non-transgender peers. There are more reports of hate crime against the community. Just a month ago, a transgender woman was brutally murdered in Pangasinan. Jessa Ramiendo was found dead in a beach in Bolinao.
The simple act of going to the bathroom aggravates Gigi, especially after the recent controversy, which involved another transgender woman Gretchen Diez. She shares, “I feel sensationalized. I get glares [in the bathroom.] I feel constantly aggravated. Ayoko tignan nila ako bilang mababang-uri. [I don’t want them to look at me as if I were an inferior being.]” Yet, she still considers herself privileged. How to be an ally? She notes, “Combat discrimination with empathy, respect and compassion [and] wrap it with kindness.”
“Being an ally transcends being vocal on social media”
According to Beatriz Torre, a professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman (Department of Psychology focusing on gender and sexuality classes), being an ally transcends being vocal on social media. Being aware of the struggle of the community is one but there are simple, concrete ways to show your support:
Continue learning about the LGBTQIA+ issues—through experience, training and research—to address the stigma. Even terms change since there’s been a shift in language. Beatriz says, “When we stick with outdated terms, the community feels marginalized.”
Don’t make it about you.
Make sure that you’re not making it about yourself. When straight allies start out, one has the tendency to feel “progressive” though it may come from a good place. Offer support but don’t steal the spotlight. When a friend comes out, she illustrates, don’t “feel betrayed.”
It’s okay to be wrong.
A difficult part of enlightenment means being comfortable in the possibility of being wrong. Although it’s not an easy feeling, be open to correction.
Riyan Portuguez, a member of the community and a registered psychologist—also known as Your Millennial Psychologist—also had a few things to add. She believes that we can do something to increase safe spaces like adding more gender-neutral bathrooms. Worth should also not be conditional; simply put, stop with the buts. Additionally, ally or not, we should all take part in shifting our thinking. Continue with more LGBTQIA+ affirmative practices to help promote the community’s overall well-being.
Art Alexandra Lara