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Church to LGBT ‘sagala’: We respect you

He waves at the excited crowd, smiles when he sees a familiar face cheer for him, and poses for the blinking cameras. He walks with poise on his three-inch heels, unmindful of the uneven pathways.

Quite unsurprisingly, 58-year-old Bing Custodio has been taking part in this Mayflower tradition for the past 44 years, as he is among the pioneers of the annual Santacruzan for the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Barangay Sta. Elena in Marikina, dubbed “SaGAYlahan.”

SaGAYlahan sa Marikina. Photo courtesy of pictaram.com

SaGAYlahan sa Marikina. Photo courtesy of pictaram.com

“Residents here have always been so welcoming,” Custodio said. “We’ve never had any issue in terms of their acceptance and appreciation of gays like us.”

Second-timer Potch Sacramento, 27, agreed, saying that it’s the “good feedback” from the community that inspired him to join the tradition again this year.

“One of the good things here in my village is that people appreciate the third sex. Maybe that is what motivates everyone to join annually,” he said. “If the response of the masses had been otherwise, then I don’t think all of us would be here now.”

Make-up artist Sephie Dayag, 33, said the response of the people was overwhelming.

“They are always happy and graceful to us. Those are more than enough to serve as our trophy when we come home,” he said.

This year’s SaGAYlahan attracted some 80 participants, not only from Marikina, but from other places, as well.

One of them is 29-year-old Cesar Santos, who traveled for three hours from San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan. Santos was the first to arrive at the venue.

“I have been participating here since 2008. Then, I also won the ‘Early Bird’ award,” he said.

Sagala’s roots

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz explained that Santacruzan is held to commemorate Queen Helena and her son Emperor Constantine the Great’s search for the Holy Cross.

“The feast does not only remember the passion of Christ, but also celebrate the successful search for His crucifix,” he said.

But with the values of the First-World countries constantly invading Third-World countries like the Philippines, Cruz said that the morals of the former will conquer us.

“Just like any other battle, the bigger country will win over the smaller country, because the influence of the richer country will conquer the smaller country, and there is nothing supernatural about it,” he said.

Despite this, Cruz said the Church will never turn its back on the teachings that came from Christ Himself.

“If the people will accept the teachings, then thank you. If they won’t, still, thank you, but they cannot change the truth that these came from the Holy teachings,” he said 

Mutual respect

Cruz said he respects those who hold events like this, but said they should also respect themselves.

“People are free to do what they want, we are not stopping them [from holding their own sagala,] but they should not lose respect for themselves in the process,” he said. “When you belittle yourself, others will look at you that way, too, and those who are decent would be dragged, as well.”

He, however, stressed that the Church stands firm in its teachings and will never organize sagalahan for the third sex.

“I have watched events like that in the past, and I noticed that those were held to illicit laughter for something so sacred,” he said. “The sighting of Christ’s cross is not just some small discovery.”

Marikina Gay Association member and saGAYlahan organizer Tony Trinidad said he understands the sentiments of the Church, claiming that what they are putting together is “not a religious undertaking, but more of a gay parade.”

“We used to use crosses during the procession, but we no longer allow it now,” he said. “So, this is now more of a tradition, since it’s now held on the 44th year.”

Sacramento agrees, saying that the organizers never fail to remind them not to bring cross to the parade.

“There is still a line between what is sacred and what is secular. I think, for as long as we are not involving sacred items, there is nothing wrong with this,” he said.

Feeling accepted

Trinidad, who used to be one of the sagalas, said that among the reasons the event attracts a number of participants is that it makes the gays’ dream of being a queen even once in their lives come true.

Dayag, who shelled out P15,000 in preparation for the sagala, said he had no regrets.

“As an artist, this serves as an avenue to express ourselves,” he said. “I design my gown, and serve as my own model.”

Sacramento, who is a public high school teacher, believes that joining the annual sagala is a privilege.

“This is my way to express the other side of my human existence,” he said. “I told myself that as long as I have the guts and confidence, I will join. This is already like a devotion to me.”

Custodio, on the other hand, said this might be the last time he would join the parade as he would be a senior citizen in two years.

“I think this will be my last year here because the preparations are becoming tedious for me,” he said. “I hope that others like me would want to enjoy join the annual sagala here in Marikina.”

Love God, neighbor

Cruz, for his part, reiterated the importance of respect for the LGBT community.

“There are only Ten Commandments, but Christ himself even made it two—-love God and love your neighbor. He did not say that we should love our neighbor, except those belonging to the LGBT community,” he said. “Sorry if I am repeating myself, but I think we should respect them and at the same time, they should also respect themselves.”

(With reports from Ann-Gella Patricia F. Agnes and Carlo Angelo D. Suñga)