By Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files
“Gay people are no different from straight people in terms of their needs.”
In making this statement celebrated advice columnist Dr. Margarita Go-Singco Holmes said she was not “purposely” advocating for gay rights. She was merely expressing her belief based on research and latest studies on homosexuality.
Such statement became a recurring message of her widely-read advice column “BodyMind,” published in the Manila Times in 1989. Gay men were among the first readers who wrote to seek her advice.
“Many letters were from adolescents who were seriously considering suicide because they believed that God would punish them for their ‘abnormality.’ I was furious and wanted to explain the difference between the opinion of some moralists and what current research said about homosexuality,” Holmes said.
Holmes, a psychologist, was one of the five winners of the first Bahaghari Awards launched by Outrage Magazine, the only LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) magazine in the country. The other winners as announced by the magazine on March 10 were: multi-awarded broadcast journalists Cheche Lazaro and Jessica Soho, University of the Philippines professor Solita “Winnie” Monsod, and singer-actress Lea Salonga.
The award is conferred on media personalities identified by Outrage Magazine, with the help of select LGBT organizations, as having made efforts to educate and inform the public about the struggle of LGBTs for equal rights.
Lazaro, another awardee, helped provide positive media exposure to LGBT Filipinos. It was in the 1990s when she made a special report on the first-ever solidarity march in the Philippines (and in Asia). Since then, Lazaro has continued to cover and report stories on the plight of the LGBT community.
“Like any other issues facing our society, our intention as media practitioners is to clarify, inform and give our audience information that is based on facts. Many times, our understanding of issues are based on wrong information or a lack of it as well as biased perceptions,” Lazaro said. “The challenge of telling a good story is to get all the facts right, to present both sides of the issue and be fair to all parties concerned.”
Today, Lazaro produces a monthly documentary that airs on ABS-CBN. It tackles pressing issues in the country like LGBT issues along with the pork barrel scam and election automation, among other things.
Monsod, more popularly known as “Mareng Winnie” has been an analyst in Philippine media for more than three decades. She focused on the problems the Philippine government has been facing throughout the years.
In 2012, Monsod tackled an important issue troubling many members of the LGBT community---HIV. She attempted to answer the question why HIV continues to be a problem in the Philippines, and stressed the importance of self-awareness of people’s behaviors to clearly grasp the risks of HIV.
“I did not actually see it as an LGBT issue,” she said. “I saw it as a human rights issue.” As such, “it was not my intention to advocate for LGBT rights.”
Salonga, who has been making waves in the international scene with her countless appearances in the world of theater continuously making Filipinos proud, has become vocal about her pro-LGBT stance.
In her column “Backstory,” published in Philippine Daily Inquirer in March 2013, she wrote: “I spend much of my time around gay people. Some of it is purely by circumstance, but a lot is by choice.” She added that “it’s time to think of gay people differently.”
Salonga also stressed, “That’s what gay people ultimately are—men and women on this adventure we call life, navigating it with much uncertainty, fear, anxiety and hope.”
She is also active in the social media, confronting issues that are LGBT-phobic.
For multi-awarded broadcast journalist Soho, LGBT issues are deemed a regular issue that deserves proper reportage and airtime.
In her investigative news magazine shows on GMA-7 like “Brigada Siete,” “i-Witness,” and “State of the Nation,” Soho highlighted and mainstreamed the issues of the LGBT community.
Soho also discussed intersecting issues on sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, thus, giving the viewers a closer glimpse of what it’s like to be an LGBT in a country where discrimination is still happening.
The five Bahaghari winners were chosen based on the following criteria: fairness, accuracy, inclusive representations, and most significantly, the impact of their efforts on the community.
“Saying that giving credit where it’s due may now be considered cliché, but the thought remains the same: best practices need to be emphasized as they could help influence other endeavors attempting to do good,” said Michael David C. Tan, editor in chief of Outrage Magazine.
Outrage Magazine, which Tan established in 2007, initially focused on coverage of LGBT issues and events in the Philippines. Through the years, the magazine also launched several LGBT-related projects, including photographic campaigns like the “I dare to care about equality” that coincided with the annual celebration of International Day Against Homophobia held on May 17 and “No different” which was part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20; and established an organization (Bahaghari Center) that focuses on LGBT research, education and advocacy, among other things.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)