60 Minutes
June 28, 2009
Manila Bulletin

Will Danton Remoto be the Philippines’ answer to Harvey Milk?

Milk made history in 1977 when he became the first openly gay man elected into public office. Remoto is yet to do the same, but the impact he’s made on the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is certainly as impressive as Milk’s history-making feat.

Remoto, with fellow writer J. Neil Garcia, was behind the pioneering “Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Literature.” Its effect on Filipino culture has been immense. Ladlad has gone through several editions, has resulted in the teaching of gay literature classes at the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University, and is credited for Ang Ladlad, the partylist that Remoto formed in 2003.

“We started in September 2003 with only one mandate — to help Akbayan push the Anti-Discrimination Bill which was filed in 1999,” he says of Ang Ladlad’s beginnings. “Congress is not really against it but they just think it is not as important. So lagi, ang mga bading, lesbians, transgender, bisexual, laging, kung baga cameo role lagi.”

Fighting for one’s rights is certainly nothing new for Remoto. With his father in the military, Remoto grew up with the belief that nobody should take any abuse lying down.

“My father was a military officer and we were trained to be amazons. Isa lang ang turo niya: You study hard, you study well at ‘pag may umaway sa inyo at umuwi kayo ng luhaan, papaluin ko kayo, you should learn to be tough and fight back,” he recalls with a laugh. “So ang nangyari ngayon, may mga pumupunta sa bahay namin na mga magulang, ‘Naku sir, ‘yang anak ninyong bading binugbog ang anak ko.’ Sabi ng tatay ko ‘Eh di, mabuti!’”

Remoto does the same fighting for the LGBT community. Whether it’s freeing hundreds of gay men being detained illegally or arguing for lesbians and transgenders who have been discriminated against for their sexual orientation, Remoto and his allies are always ready with a legal challenge and a witty retort.

“You have to show them that you will not allow this. If you show them that you will fight back, they will move away. Bullies are really cowards,” he says.

Remoto’s fight for equal rights would have reached its peak in the 2007 elections had Ang Ladlad been allowed to run as partylist, but the COMELEC refused to accredit the group, citing its lack of constituents. It is Remoto, however, who has the last laugh, as he is now planning to run for the Senate on an education platform.

“I’m running on a platform of education because I’ve been teaching for 22 years. ‘Yun talaga ‘yung alam na alam kong issue, ‘yun gay rights, kasama na ‘yan sa education. Open-mindedness
is a function of education, kasi ang tao kapag pinaaral mo, luluwag ang isip. Education is what we really need in this country,” he says.

To close June as the Pride Month, Danton Remoto lets it all out: about being gay in the Philippines, his vision for the Philippine LGBT community, and the possibility of being the country’s first openly gay senator. (RONALD S. LIM)

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