Filmmaker Berger Capati talks to Filipino LGBT Europe founder Chris Sta Brigida on coming out, being gay, and LGBT rights.
Married in Europe yet single in the Philippines. Married with kids in Europe yet still single in the Philippines. Captain Marvel in Europe but still Captain Barbell in the Philippines. Baklang kasal sa bakla. Though this may sound like a wonderful pretext to lead a Hollywood-style film about a double life for some, it poses a serious problem for our married homosexual kababayans like entrepreneur Chris Sta Brigida, founder of Filipino LGBT Europe.
Waiting for the word to become flesh
Filipino LGBT Europe ignited a spark somewhere at some time.
“The Equality Bill in The Philippines has already been submitted for almost twenty years now but has never materialized. It was passed in Congress but still, never materialized.” He tells me.
While most of these advances in society have been happening in the last twenty years in some EU countries, the union between two people of the same gender is still not recognized back home.
I roll my eyes and think, “Oh, grow up, Pilipinas. It is time to evolve.”
In March 2017, Chris heard the news of President Rodrigo Duterte uttering a compromising statement in *favor of same-sex marriage. Time in a very seriously religious Roman Catholic country like The Philippines froze. That was when it became personal for him. “It is the right time,” shares Chris.
Verbalizing such an idea from the President of the Philippines became a promise, a possibility. But the word is yet to become flesh. It is the right time to do something, something concrete. But in order to be taken seriously, Chris decided to pull in his LGBT contacts in Europe and form an organization, a legally recognized entity with a purpose.
Before I left for Spain, almost sixteen years ago, when someone mentions the word bakla, very, very few images would come to mind then: clown, hairdresser, sex-starved person or, a joke.
There was one bakla at that time that gave me hope and it was Boy Abunda. I tell Chris that Boy Abunda started breaking the image at that time of what a bakla was: not a clown, but a smart man, informed, eloquent and never a joke. He was a respected public television personality. Bakla can mean a lot more.
It feels sad that when having to declare one’s homosexuality, there is still a certain pre-requisite to pre-compensate the vilified truth about one’s sexual orientation. “I have made something of myself, now I can tell my parents that I am gay.” It softens the blow. “Mom, dad, I am now a CEO in the office. But I have to tell you that I am gay.” “Our son is bakla, oh, but that’s okay, he received a prestigious scholarship abroad and he is doing so well.” Bakla is a whole lot of things. Bakla is represented in the Filipino lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender (LGBT) Europe, the organization that Chris founded. And it is serious about the lgbt business.
Recognizing Filipino LGBT in Europe
Filipino LGBT Europe is erasing that feeling of having to soften that blow to our kababayans. Be seen. Be heard. Be looked at. Be recognized. Full stop. No follow up conditioning, no justifications. I see in Chris´ eyes “News flash! It’s 2022, yes, some people are still gay. Get over it!”
We are bakla but talking to you doesn’t mean that we want to get you in bed with us. We can like you, but not always in that context. We are bakla but please know that this is just ONE OF MANY descriptions of ourselves.
Filipino LGBT Europe is that: un abanico of what Pinoy baklas, tibos, trans, etc. are, doing more than just showmanship. They make noise that echoes back home: SOGIE Equality Bill, Marriage Equality, Pride in Manila, HIV awareness. The fight in the Philippines needs our support. Filipinos back home need to start seeing that there is a whole spectrum of what the LGBT community looks like. LGBT isn’t automatically transgender as it is commonly mistaken. Information is power and Filipino LGBT Europe is providing that kind of information.
Helping without discriminating
During the pandemic, Filipino LGBT Europe helped more than a thousand Filipinos. It was a medium of help from bigger organizations such as the Red Cross. It has received over six hundred thousand euros worth of aid to the Filipino community in Amsterdam where Chris currently resides.
This needs to be highlighted because there were cities back home who didn’t recognize LGBT families. Chris says, “When we help, we should not discriminate because of other people’s gender.”
He became particularly active with the distribution of these kinds of aid because he wanted to protect the identities of LBGT Filipinos. “I would automatically out these gays, lesbians and trans because they were on my list of people who needed assistance from Filipino LGBT Europe.” It was a clear hands-on task for Chris.
It is just the beginning
I am almost at the end of this article but I still feel that I am leaving a lot of important things out. Being a Filipino expat and leading a privileged life, I sometimes wonder if there is something else that I could do or should I just completely renounce life back home, after all my life is already here, not there. Being a gay Filipino expat and leading a doubly privileged life, I feel very lucky that I get to be who I am.
Then I have met Pinoys in Barcelona who want to do something for the LGBT kababayans in the community here. “Let’s do something for them…like help them come out.”, one of them told me. My initial response was, “Let’s not provide a solution where there wasn’t a problem in the first place.”
In the words of Chris, “The only coming out that one needs is having to come out of one’s self.”
Now I feel like I haven’t done squat for anyone. Having a conversation with someone like Chris, I realize that there are many ways to contribute to the evolution of the Filipino society despite the distance. In one of my afternoon lovely conversations over halo-halo with Macrina Alcedo, one of the Filipino pioneers in Barcelona, she told me, “Berjer, your way of contributing is through your art.” And I say to that, Chris’ way of contributing is an impressive network of Pinoy baklas, tibos and trans all over Europe. “They need us back home. We are (still) part of the development of this country,” says Chris.
This article was first published in TFEM Summer Issue 2022.
(*Duterte would recant this campaign promise and instead claimed that being gay is a disease and that he was able to cure himself of it. In 2020 his then press secretary Harry Roque said that Duterte supports gender equality but opposses same-sex marriage. – Editor).
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Berjer B. Capati is an audiovisual director, editor, screenwriter, illustrator and playwright. He has lived in Barcelona for four years and has a degree in Humanities with higher studies in Audiovisual Communication. Tagó: Filipinos in Barcelona is his first professional job in the world of theater. "A Violent Act of Love" is his fourth short film after "Famelicus" (2013), "Vulneris" (2015) and "Reunae" (2016).