In the Philippines, You Can Be Both Openly LGBT and Proudly Catholic. But It’s Not Easy.


Gabb’z Gabriel is the very definition of a devout Roman Catholic. He even aspired to be a priest. At 12, he became part of his church’s youth ministry in Quezon City, about 10 km from the Philippine capital of Manila. He has attended religious processions of Holy Week flagellants, walking barefoot on sweltering asphalt. Now 35, he’s a regular choir member, and sometimes reads scripture to parishioners. In his free time, he maintains religious statuary and icons used on religious holidays. Gabriel is just one of the more than 80 million people in the Philippines, about 85% of the population, who profess the Catholic faith. But in a crowd of churchgoers on Black Saturday, he stands out with his shoulder-length black hair, his sleeveless kimono haltered by a pink belt, singing the Lord’s praises in a falsetto voice. “I am a gay man,” he tells TIME. “My gender expression is feminine.” The Philippines is known to be one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in Asia, despite its deeply entrenched Catholic culture. LGBT people have carved out their own space in the country’s churches, even taking up key roles in spreading the faith. As Catholicism worldwide seeks to reconcile its difficult relationship with sexual orientation and gender expression, this devoutly Catholic Southeast Asian country is an embodiment of both conflict and harmony between doctrinaire teachings on identity and modernity.

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