Suspension of Disbelief

Archive for June 2012

God loves LGBTs, says ex-seminarian author

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 15 June 2012

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Coming to terms with one’s self is not easy for homosexuals in a society where gender is limited to either male or female.

Raymond Alikpala, 46, a lawyer and formerly a seminarian, knows very well the anguish of living in the shadows having done so in the first 38 years of his life.

“I came out because I was tired of hiding who I really am. I wanted to be able to finally live my life honestly and proudly. I stopped caring about what others would think should they find out I  am bakla (gay),” says Alikpala.

He shares his story of growing up a devout Catholic and harboring the secret of his homosexuality in a book “Of God and Men” to be launched June 16, 2012 at  3  p.m. at  Bestsellers Bookstore,  4th Level, Robinson’s Galleria, Pasig City.

Alikpala said a number of his friends encouraged him to write his story “as catharsis for my years in the closet.” He felt however that “it was much more than that.”

Perhaps because of his years in the seminary, Alikpala’s objective in writing the book is more evangelical. “To spread the good news that God loves bakla, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders and transsexuals as much as She loves all Her other children.”

Alikpala narrates in the book his experiences growing up in a Catholic family and finishing his studies in a Catholic school. He recounts his struggles with living in the closet while practicing law and while engaged in humanitarian efforts with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cambodia.

He was a blue-blooded Atenean, an honor student from grade school to law school. He took up his Master of Laws in Singapore.

With his Master of laws, he came back to Manila and entered the seminary to train as a priest. He lasted only 16 months.

He began his law practice in Makati-based law firms, before he decided to go to Cambodia to join the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) working with asylum seekers and refugees. He also worked with a Cambodian law firm advising foreign investors.

He quoted in his book the advice of his Jesuit mentor: “Fr. Joel’s initial advice was to try to be at peace with myself, to learn to accept myself as I was. He told me to pray for the grace of peace and self-understanding. He said that I should learn to accept my homosexuality peacefully, and then learn to go beyond it, to transcend it, because it did not have to limit or define who I was.”

Alikpala believes, “Being gay is a special grace from God.”

He enjoins fellow gays who are still living in the shadows to “Embrace it, do not hide it.”

“God is happier if you recognize the gift that is homosexuality and live your life accordingly. This is the only truly lasting way to happiness and fulfilment,” he adds.

A milestone in Alikpala’s life was his getting “married.”

“Robert and I were married on 14 June 2008. It was not a legal ceremony; neither Philippine nor Vietnamese civil laws recognize same-sex marriages. It has been the fashion to call this a ‘commitment ceremony,’ but for Robert and me, ours is a real marriage, we have made our own vows before God,” he relates.

Describing himself as “an open-minded Christian,” Alikpala views US President Barrack Obama’s declaration of support for same-sex marriage as a monumental event for the entire Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.

“He said that his position on the issue has ”evolved” over the years, and this mirrors the experience of the majority of people,” says Alikpala.

The Philippine Catholic Church and conservative Filipinos have criticized Obama’s support for same-sex marriage. Alikpala asks people to have an open mind about it.

“Many of us grew up being told that being gay is something evil, but we have since come to realize that there is nothing wrong with being gay. Obama’s courage and leadership, I hope, will inspire others to open their minds and hearts toward greater compassion, tolerance and acceptance in our society,” he says.

Alikpala has joined Ladlad, the political party of Filipino LGBTs upon the invitation of Malu Marin, executive director of Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE) and Danton Remoto, chairman of Ladlad Party List.

“I saw Ladlad as the natural progression of LGBT advocacy from the streets and into a more formal legislative struggle to win rights for all LGBT persons. Ladlad is a critically important platform and its legislative strategy appeals directly to me as a lawyer,” Alikpala explains.

In the 2013 elections, he will be the third congressional nominee of Ladlad partylist.

 

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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LGB acceptance in US military: a war worth fighting for

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 08 June 2012

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WASHINGTON D.C.-Maria (not her real name) is an officer in the United States Navy.  She has been serving her country for more than 20 years. She comes from a family who has served the government for a number of generations. She’s a lesbian.

She has been in a different kind of conflict the past years. Should she “come out” and risk dismissal from a career she values?

She chose to remain in the service and broke off with her long time female partner.

To Maria, there was a higher consideration than her personal relationship. She was afraid that if the government found out that she’s a lesbian, she would be asked to leave the service. She would lose  her benefits and other opportunities in the military would be all taken away.

Joe (not his real name) is an Army officer in the United States Armed Forces. He has been in the service for almost 20 years. He is gay.He has a long time male partner.

He recalls that whenever he reported every morning to his commander, he imagined he would be asked to leave the service because they discovered his real sexual orientation. He felt like there was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode anytime. He considered each day on duty as his last. It was a fear he was afraid to conquer.

Everything changed on September 20, 2011, when the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy in the US military was repealed.

DADT became official policy on December 21, 1993. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.

The restrictions were mandated by United States federal law, which barred people who “demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the armed forces of the United States, because their presence “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

There were at least 14,000 military personnel fired under the law.

Sen. John McCain and other Republicans used homophobia as part of their argument in support of DADT.

Removing gay members of the service became rampant as heterosexual members generally did not approve homosexuality. Openly LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) soldiers were greatly disadvantaged by the practice.

With DADT running it’s full force, it significantly undermined the US military force. A report from Pentagon showed that 75 percent of young Americans were unqualified to serve in the military because of poor education, criminal records and weight problems.

But there were a great number of candidates who were smart, law-abiding and physically- fit but were refused and excluded because of their sexual orientation.

President Barrack Obama promised during his 2008 election campaign that he would work for the repeal of the laws that prohibit members of the LGB community from serving in the military.

In Obama’s first State of the Union Address in 2010, he said that his administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and the laws were strengthened to safeguard its citizens against crimes driven by hate.

McCain opposed Obama’s plan to repeal DADT, saying that the policy has been successful  for over 15 years and it is mostly supported by the military in all levels.

On May 27, 2010, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would lead to the repeal of DADT.

The Congress passed a stand-alone DADT bill on December 10, 2010. And the Senate passed the Congress’ bill on December 18, 2010, by 65-31.

Obama signed the bill allowing for repeal of DADT on December 22, 2010.

December 15, the House passed a stand-alone DADT bill. And on September 20, 2011 DADT was finally certified to have been repealed.

“As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. Our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian services members,” Obama said in a written statement.

It was a historic event not only for the Americans but for other countries that follow the same pattern of policy making.

Now, Maria and Joe are living their lives like any other heterosexual member of the military in the United States.

“Most people don’t hold your sexual orientation against you. DADT is an option, not a mandatory thing, so if you don’t want to out yourself, it’s up to you,” Maria said.

After DAD was repealed, some members of the military who were discharged have reapplied again and were reinstated.

“The feeling of putting your life at stake whenever you’re in a war protecting the country you are most proud of is unexplainable and very fulfilling,” Joe said.

In the Philippines, it’s still very much a macho world.

There are at least 14 gays and eight lesbians in the Philippine Armed Forces, according to a Philippine non-government organization. As long as their real identities are concealed, they are “one of the boys.” There’s no saying what will happen if they reveal the truth about themselves.

 

(Pascual was on a reporting tour in the United States sponsored by the State Department Foreign Press Cenyer entitled “A Developing Narrative:LGBT Rights and Issues in the United States.” VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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