I'm surprised by the number of people who, while not defending Manny, are wondering aloud why everyone is (still) so offended. He said sorry, didn't he? Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions (no matter how misguided), right? Or—overheard as I was packing up to leave the office last night—bakit mo pa kasi papatulan, si Manny Pacquiao ‘yan eh!
I mean, it’s really embarrassing for the most prominent Filipino sports hero of all time to open his big, clumsy, ineloquent mouth and have those words come out: “Common sense lang. Makakita ka ba ng any animals na lalaki sa lalaki o babae sa babae? Mas mabuti pa yung hayop,” he chuckled.
He waved his finger in the air as if he was revealing an original thought. “Ngayon, kung lalaki sa lalaki o babae sa babae, mas masahol pa sa hayop ang tao.” Manny is, as the Filipino-American writer for GQ.com wrote, “my dumb, happy, homophobic uncle with good intentions.”
To be honest, I didn't let what Manny said hurt me. I've been too lucky with the people who surround me, and so bigoted remarks like that just kind of roll off my back. I’ve heard worse, and I’ve had enough experience to know, for one thing, to resist the temptation to browse through comments sections whenever the topic of LGBT rights comes up. (Don’t go there! It will make you question your faith in humanity.)
When it comes to Manny Pacquiao’s pronunciations on life, love, and religion—let’s just say I’ve got more credible sources that help me think about the complexities of the universe. On a scale of 1 to Adele, I was hurt by his words approximately 2, maybe 2.5.
So here’s the thing. I’ve still decided to get mad, and to be mad publicly. I’m not mad for me.
Somewhere out there, there's a gay little boy (or girl) who's still grappling with his or her sexuality, and has just been told—by a sports hero, a folk hero, a congressman—that he's "worse than an animal" for being who he is. And that kid is wondering if sports hero Manny could be right.
So I'm mad for that kid, not for me.
You have to remember how it was when you first started coming to terms with your sexuality. It was a confusing time, even when you’re straight and like nothing more than straight-up vanilla, missionary-style sex. You had Cosmo to tell you that you were doing just fine! You had Sex and the City to help you figure out whether you were a Carrie, a Samantha, or that mousy brunette, or that redhead. (Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda, eventually came out as lesbian and married a woman. But all that happened off-camera, and way after the series ended.) And in any case, there was Popoy and Basha, or Mace and Anthony, or whoever, to measure your loves and your desires up against.
For kids who identify as LGBT, or are even just wondering if they might be anything but “normal,” there are few heroes and few role models. And if you have neither access nor taste for Western media, you’re reduced to even fewer LGBT role models, and you’re always growing up with that voice in your ear telling you that you might be broken. To actually hear a real-life, flesh-and-blood sports hero (and, let’s not forget, a congressman and wannabe senator) say that you’re lower than an animal—that’s simply devastating.
Here are some hard facts. According to studies done by the Centers for Disease Control, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers (even those who are just “questioning” are three times more likely). For transgender youth, the numbers are even more heartbreaking: half have seriously thought about suicide, and one-quarter have made an attempt to kill themselves. And these numbers come from the USA, where marriage equality is a thing and they have actual laws to protect against discrimination.
Can you imagine what the numbers might be like in the Philippines, where it’s still considered kind of normal to beat up your kid because he or she might be gay?
Where people still think, apparently, that it’s not hurtful to say that people are worse off than animals for not knowing the right way to love? We don’t have the numbers for LGBT kids here, but I’m willing to bet all of Pacquiao’s winnings that the stats are going to be depressing.
You don’t have to believe in marriage equality or gay rights or even in the morality of homosexuality to get mad at Manny. Can we agree that none of us want kids to feel so uncomfortable in their own skins that they’d rather kill themselves?
And so, for what it’s worth, I’ve decided to get mad in case that kid is listening. Manny Pacquiao is wrong, kiddo. He's wrong and he's being a bigot, and his words are ugly and hateful. And I hope you see that there are a lot of people in the world who think that he's wrong, too, and that you're absolutely in the right for asking more of your would-be senators and your sports heroes. And that there are more and more people out there who believe that you should be exactly who you are.
Kristine Fonacier is Esquire Philippines' editor-in-chief. Follow her on Instagram.