Three LGBTQ Advocates Share Their Coming Out Stories And How They Found A Supportive Community
There are some questions that have always been a little bit harder to answer—especially if you’re queer.
“What age were you when you found out you were gay?”
“How did you know what your SOGIE is?”
“Which one of you is the man in the relationship?”
For Perci Cendaña, Jap Paul Ignacio, and Claire de Leon, three U.P. Babaylan alumni and current executive members of Babaylanes, Inc., the alumni organization of Babaylan, it’s no different.
“That’s a question we’re often asked,” Perci, President of Babaylanes, says, “but it’s a question that’s quite tough to answer. It’s something natural. Maybe ‘when did you put a label on it?’ is better.”
“I like that,” Claire, Executive Director of the organization, interjects. “That’s the most accurate way of putting it.”
For all three of them, it happened in high school, with their time in college making things a lot clearer.
Jap’s coming out story is one of immediate acceptance. His high school boyfriend—let’s call him Noah—migrated to Canada when they were in college. One day, during a family lunch in Jap’s hometown of Cavite, his mom asked him when Noah left. “Last weekend,” Jap, Deputy Executive Director of Babaylanes, said. “So break na kayo?” his mom said in response, cool as a cucumber. Turns out, his mom has been talking to Noah’s parents this whole time, all of them knowing that the two boys were more than just best friends. “Out na pala kami sa kanila for a long time, ‘di lang namin alam,” he laughs.
For Perci, it’s a little different. “For me, coming out is not about telling other people who or what you are,” he says. “Coming out is embracing who you are.” He’s sure his parents have always had their suspicions about who he really is, but their acceptance is a whole different thing. “When I ran as student council president some time in the 90s, hindi pa uso ang kabaklaan,” Perci says in jest. “When I won, it was picked up by the media.”
Yes, Perci is the first openly gay student council president in the University of the Philippines. This was groundbreaking then—so much so that one of the leading broadsheets in the country ran his story. Here’s the catch, though: He forgot that the newspapers in his house were mostly of that same broadsheet, so you can pretty much guess what happens next. His coming out was a rather public affair. “Hindi ko na tinanong kung ano ‘yung reaksyon nila,” he says. “Mga dalawang buwan akong hindi umuwi sa probinsya nu’n.”
It’s not all sad, though. Perci tells us the story relayed to him by his sister. They were in the women’s section buying clothes, and suddenly Perci’s dad turns to his daughter and asks, “Ganyan kaya ang gusto ng kuya mo?” While his parents did eventually accept him, Perci admits that it did take some time because of the intergenerational gap. “Remember,” he says, “our parents grew up in a society na hindi pinag-uusapan ang mga ganito. They grew up in a society na very stigmatized ang perception of LGBT. For them to even cross that bridge is difficult.”
“[Sa high school] lang ako nagkaroon ng awareness na pwede palang maging hindi straight,” Claire shares. She had a friend who came out to her as bisexual, and for Claire, it was a pivotal moment. Shortly thereafter, she also began identifying as bisexual, and came out as a lesbian in college. She would attend Pride marches, but always with an excuse: “Kailangan lang sa school. Kailangan sa class,” she would tell her mom, whom she knew to not be accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. At some point, she would try to be nonchalant about it, especially after joining Babaylan in law school. “Alam ko talaga na hindi okay ‘yung mom ko d’un.”
Claire, who is non-confrontational, did not want to cause friction between her and her mom. One weekend, her mom greeted her with five words that she never wanted to hear her mom to say: “Presidente ka pala ng Babaylan.” Claire never responded to it—she’s non-confrontational, remember—but somehow, it got worse: Not knowing that messages on iCloud get synced, her mom found texts between Claire and a friend in which Claire rants about her girlfriend. Until now, she says, she knows that her mom still hasn’t accepted it. “Pero tanggap ko ‘yung sarili ko, eh,” she says. And sometimes, that’s all that matters.
Perci emphasizes the need for conversations about SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression). “Siguro wala pang 1% ng population ang nagkaroon ng ganoong conversation,” he says. He joined Babaylan, he admits, for self-serving reasons—at least in the beginning. “Sa U.P. in the '90s, ang support system lang ng mga tao ay sorority or fraternity. I needed a community. Even before I entered U.P., medyo sikat na ‘yung Babaylan sa media. I was looking forward to being part of Babaylan. And true enough, pagtambay ko sa Babaylan, I felt at home. This is my community.”
“Pero maraming LGBT who will go through the same experience na walang gan’ung support system,” he says. “For someone who grew up feeling othered, we really want to be part of a community.” But eventually, Perci tells us, his advocacy extended into serving other members of the community as well, particularly by fighting for equality and diversity—both in the U.P. campus and outside of it.
It’s the same thing for Claire and Jap. “Gusto ko lang magkaroon ng network,” Claire says. “Gusto kong magkaroon ng LGBT friends. Nahanap ko ‘yung sarili ko sa advocacy. Nagkaroon ako ng something to fight for.”
This need and desire to be part of a community is a universal experience felt by queer people of all ages, especially in an increasingly patriarchal and heteronormative world. That moment of recognition when one queer person finds another, wherever in the world it may be, is priceless. That’s why Babaylan exists; that’s why Babaylanes exists. “You find the true meaning of your advocacy when you’re part of a group,” Perci says. These individuals asserting their right to live without shame, without discrimination, without stigma, but more than that, they are creating a safe, accepting space for other queer Filipinos like themselves to be a part of.
Babaylanes, Inc., the alumni group of the U.P. Babaylan, the LGBT student organization of the University of the Philippines, can conduct SOGIE workshops for private institution. For more information, you may email [email protected]
Photos courtesy of Perci Cendaña, Jap Paul Ignacio, and Claire de Leon