A girl covers anti-LGBT messages in rainbow handprints during a Pride rally in Manila on June 27, 2015.

© 2015 Bullit Marquez/AP Photo

 

Patrick’s knees were shaking as he marched with his university in the Pride Parade in the Philippine capital, Manila. “It’s a big step for me,” he said. “To accept my sexuality and to come out of the closet.”

In the parade, Patrick (not his real name), 19, carried the banner for Parada, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student group he had joined three weeks earlier at De La Salle University. Although he had recently come out to his family, he said, he had never felt so publicly “out” and exposed.

He has come a long way. Patrick said he knew, even as a young boy in elementary school, that he was “different.” For years, he was bullied in school for being feminine – by students and at times even by teachers.

A new Human Rights Watch report, “Just Let Us Be,” examines how many LGBT students in the Philippines are excluded or marginalized in schools, where they are often bullied, discriminated against, and, in some cases, physically or sexually assaulted. Many lawmakers and school administrators have recognized that bullying of LGBT youth is a serious problem and have designed policies to address the problem. But their policies,  such as outlined under the national Anti-Bullying Law, have not been adequately enforced.

Parada provided a support system that Patrick was anxious to use. The organization’s president reminded him that coming to grips with his sexual orientation would be a process: “It’s not just like with a snap of a finger, you’ll shout that you’re gay.” After the parade, Patrick decided to apply for a leadership position within the organization, and enthusiastically embraced his new role.

Uniform guidelines for students hang on a wall at a university in Manila, November 2016. 

© 2016 Ryan Thoreson/Human Rights Watch

“[It] is really challenging, because I just came out,” he told Human Rights Watch. “I’m new.”

The harassment Patrick suffered in secondary school was difficult for him. “They would call me bakla,” he said, referring to the Tagalog word often used pejoratively for a person believed to be gay. Other students called him malamia, or feminine. The bullying began in elementary school. “I developed this concept for how a man should walk, how a man should talk. I became the person that I’m not, just for them to stop teasing me.”

Eventually, Patrick said, he became a bully himself: “I bullied the students who bullied me back, and then I became friends with them, because I was one of them.”

The most common form of bullying that LGBT students in the Philippines described was verbal harassment. Some students also said they were punched, slapped, and shoved.  And several gay or bisexual boys and transgender girls said they had been subjected to simulated sexual activity or mock rape.

His high school counselor would quote Bible passages and say things like, “God created Adam and Eve, and not Adam and Steve.”

Patrick said that at his high school, “sometimes teachers would join in with ‘bakla,’ ‘bakla’” Their disapproval in this predominantly Roman Catholic country was often expressed in overtly religious terms.  His high school counselor would quote Bible passages and say things like, “God created Adam and Eve, and not Adam and Steve.” Other teachers would simply ignore anti-gay bullying.

Patrick spent much of high school in denial about his sexuality, but during his first year in college,  he started working up the courage to come out to his family and friends.

“I am one of the lucky ones in our community,” he said. “The people that surround me are accepting, or at least, tolerating. When his grandfather found out, he sent a message to Patrick that said, “It’s okay, it’s normal, I accept you.”

Around this time, Patrick also decided to take a leave of absence from college to deal with his depression and anxiety. “I [couldn’t] focus on my academics, so I decided to take a break and have some soul searching,” he said. “That started my journey on accepting myself.” Patrick spent the next year taking “baby steps.” He convinced his parents to let him see a psychiatrist, which has helped, he said.

One year later, he returned to De La Salle and joined Parada, making friends in the LGBT community for the first time.  LGBT student groups like Parada are extremely rare at the secondary school level, despite the intense bullying and harassment that many LGBT youth face there.  But LGBT groups  have become increasingly common at the university level.

Patrick is one of the lucky ones. In being part of Parada, he has found a support system and friends who can relate to his experiences.

“And now I’m out, out to everybody,” he said. Moreover, he’s an instrumental part of a community he wishes he’d found earlier in life, and a source of support for other LGBT youth.