In the Philippines, openly LGBTQ+ Catholics are challenging the notion that one cannot be both queer and faithfully Catholic. In this island nation where 85% of the population is Catholic, the issue is gaining increasing visibility, including in a recent Time profile.
The article highlighted the story of Gabb’z Gabriel, a gay Catholic Filipino man who is determined to remain part of the church without hiding his sexual identity. Gabriel’s story sheds light on the balancing act that many LGBTQ+ Catholics in the Philippines maintain on a daily basis. He stated:
“‘I think the acknowledgement that a person has multiple dimensions made it easier for me to live this life. I am not living separate lives — I’m not living as an LGBT person outside the Church and then a Catholic inside the Church.'”
The experience of being LGBTQ+ and Catholic in the Philippines is unique—while the country is considered to have “relatively relaxed social norms on LGBT issues,” the deeply-Catholic culture brings its own set of challenges.
The Time article explains that in pre-colonial history, Filipino culture embraced what today might be described as gender non-conformity and queer sexuality. It was permissible for two men to marry and for men’s gender expression to be feminine. Only with colonization and Catholic missionaries were such expressions of gender and sexuality vilified.
Catholicism has been deeply embedded in daily Filipino life since, including its teachings about and attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people. In the Philippines, as elsewhere, Catholic leaders in government have mixed opinions about LGBTQ+ rights. Some Catholic senators, for instance, see anti-discrimination laws as consonant with their faith, while others are putting up staunch opposition.
Nevertheless, LGBTQ+ Catholics like Gabriel remain determined to strike a balance, and they believe that younger generations are unwilling to tolerate discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.
In the meantime, Gabriel is committed to continuing to be both visibly gay and visibly Catholic. He told the story of an encounter he had with a woman in his parish who “took offense at his feminine attire while he was singing with the choir during Mass.”
“I just told her, ‘I understand. You may not be comfortable seeing someone like me in the church,’” Gabriel said. “‘But the people that you said were looking at me, approached me after the service and they even congratulated me because our choir performed really well. They do not see me as how I dress, but how I serve.”
In this story, Gabriel captures a desire that many LGBTQ+ Catholics share — the wish that their ministry is seen as just as valuable as that of straight and cisgender Catholics. His witness in the Philippines helps the church to become a place where the gifts of all ministers, regardless of gender or sexuality, are welcome and valued.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, June 29, 2022