The right to live

The following is my column for today, August 23, 2006 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

WHEN I was offered to write this column, I asked for only two guarantees. First, that I can write about anything I wanted to write about provided I did not libel anyone or used my writing for personal business gain. And second, that I can disagree with anyone, including other columnists. I know that as a matter of professional courtesy, one should try not to pick fights with the people who share the same newsprint commune. I had no intentions of picking fights with fellow columnists, but I wanted to be sure that when push comes to shove, I could. Fortunately, that has not happened yet.

But over at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, two eminent columnists, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani Cruz and Manuel L. Quezon III are engaged in an acrimonious exchange. The whole furor began when Cruz penned a column entitled “Don we now our gay apparel,” which was a screed against gay people. Quezon, a historian and accomplished writer, more popularly referred to (revered, too) as MLQ among members of the blogging community, responded with an impassioned protest in his own column in the same paper.

Last Sunday, Cruz responded with more of the same belligerence. In essence, he said people can disagree with him, but have no right to call him a bigot. He insisted that his personal and selective intolerance of certain gay people (“those who disgrace their sex with their tasteless appearance”) is his right and that anyone who feels slighted can disagree with him, but should not indulge in the same hateful discourse.

He justified his screed by asserting that he does not interfere with romances of gay people and does not pry into their amorous affairs. He insisted that gay people have no right to demand that he agrees with their (gay people’s) pleasures, and that gay people have no right to forbid him from criticizing what offends the public interest.

Last Monday, MLQ shot back with a cleverly written piece entitled “Oblivious in Cloud Cuckoo-land.” The title of the column should give more than enough clue on what MLQ thought of Cruz’s defense of his (Cruz’s) homophobia.

In the interest of full disclosure, I declare that I have also castigated Cruz in my blog and also called him a bigot, among other things. Three readers of my blog put me to task for it, basically toeing Cruz’s defense—that he was simply exercising his freedom of speech and his condemnation of certain “types of homosexuals” was not a condemnation of all gay people.

This is exactly the kind of twisted reasoning that I find objectionable. Cruz continues to make the assertion that he is only condemning certain “types” of homosexuals, specifically, those that do not meet his personal standards of what is socially acceptable. This assertion of moral superiority, this notion that certain people cannot live honorably because they fit a certain stereotype such as being a “screaming faggot” or because they “flaunt” their homosexuality, is a throwback to the dark ages when people were burned at the stakes simply for being left-handed, or when millions of Jews were exterminated because someone thought they were inferior and therefore had no place in decent society. Because the condemnation is selective does not make it any less objectionable precisely because it is premised on a myth, a stereotype, and a fear that has no basis.

My advocacy work with nongovernment organizations working for HIV/AIDS prevention has shown that this kind of stereotyping inevitably leads to discrimination and further stigmatization (And yes, gay people are most often at the receiving end of such cruelty; for the longest time, many people associated HIV/AIDS with gay men and many still continue to do so today). Cruz is laboring under the false notion that his “criticism” is harmless because it is simply his personal opinion. And this is where he is mistaken; the so-called exercise of his freedom of speech, particularly because of his stature as a former justice of the Supreme Court, does a lot of harm because more than anything else, what is at stake here is the most basic of all human rights.

When someone says that it is not okay to express yourself because what you are is abominable, that becomes a license for other people to hate and display this hatred in far more destructive ways. And God knows what discrimination gay people already go through today. When someone says you have no place in society because of what you are, because your behavior does not fit someone’s standards of what is not disgraceful, that is tantamount to denying that person the right to live. So obviously, this is not anymore “merely” about freedom of speech.

Cruz says that gays “have no right to demand that I agree with your pleasures or to forbid me from criticizing your ‘emotional contentment’ if they offend the public interest. You cannot claim a preferred treatment because you are what you are even as you say you should be treated like the rest of the people despite what you are.”

“The public interest,” which is often used alternately with its rhetorical equivalent, “a moral society,” has been used many times to justify persecution. But how exactly is the “public interest” served when certain segments of the public are condemned to a life of ridicule, if not a death sentence, masked under “well-intended” criticisms from its supposedly more enlightened members? What kind of society can claim to be moral and healthy if it cannot and does not protect people—especially marginalized minorities—from prejudice and hatred borne out of their uniqueness?

And exactly what “preferred treatment” is Cruz talking about? As far as I know, gay people are asking for exactly the same rights that other citizens have—the same right his “macho” sons have. If it looks like gay people are asking for “preferential” treatment, it is simply because their basic rights—such as the right to be respected for what they are—are denied them to begin with.
MLQ and I do not see eye-to-eye on many issues, but on this one, I am in complete agreement with him and he has my full unequivocal support. There are those who think that his outburst is uncalled for and that his anger is misdirected. I do not agree. This is not just anger anymore. This is outrage.

This is a plaintive and primal outcry for the most basic and sacred of all rights —the right to be allowed to live.


Jules said…
dear mr. austero,

thank you thank you for that very eloquent and sober retort to isagani cruz's tirade. I agree with you completely and I have to say, you write well and clear.

Justice Cruz must have realized that the contention here is not freedom of speech but freedom of self-expression and respect for human rights. It's quite ironic how an SC judge has overlooked such basic tenet.

I just hope he won't find out one day that one of his so-called "macho" sons is actually a closet case! Or perhaps that epiphany of a gay son is what prompted him to write that article.
Anonymous said…
mr. austero, it seems to me that you over read the article. where did "the right to live" come into the picture? tsk...tsk...tsk... it's getting too personal with you mr. austero. i can understand why mlq3 was throwing a fit. i can understand why the gay community and the lesbian community are throwing a fit. but i really can't understand why it has become too personal with you.

for the record, i agree with isagani cruz. in fact, i am also annoyed by the presence of the gay people on tv. but did i say they shouldn't live? no. did he say that gay people have no right to live? no.

well, the only thing i like about this whole brouhaha is that for the most part, the mainstream population is not getting into the argument. well, i just got into it because i'm bored. and i agree with cruz.

question... why don't the pro-gay (or homosexuals in general) people not allow opinions like cruz to make it in print? is it because they are afraid to find out that majority of the population think the same way? is it because they are afraid that if one speaks, the others will follow? i guess the tolerance shown to gays and lesbians is walking on a thin line.

for the record, the responses to the article of cruz as published in the inquirer were wrong when they said that the us is accepting gays. san fransisco stopped conducting same sex marriages. and the truth is, except for a few places (mostly sf, the gay capital of the world), you can get killed here if you're gay.
vic said…
Actually, it is much better if both protagonists in this issue should debate like one of our paper here does. Writing their pieces side by side in the same paper and let the readers decide by feedback who is who.

By the way, we had already resolved this issue quite a while ago, by embedding the Anti-Hate Crime under the Criminal Code, which defines the limit in which an individual can exercise the freedom of speech when it comes to inciting and promoting hatred to all groups of people in regards to race, color, ethnicity, age, sex, and sexual orientations. I read Mr. Cruz article, and I have no doubt that it is tantamount to promoting and inciting hatred toward or even among the homosexual community. An attack on one member of the group is considered an attack to the whole group. In that case he is not only liable for the criminal charges, but also lawsuits for violation of the Group’s Constitutional Rights (class suit). Lucky the old man happens to be living somewhere else.
Anonymous said…
once upon a time, there was a movie called "and the band played on". it was about how aids was discovered. in the movie, phil collins portrayed the gay guy who (i believe) owned the sauna bath.

once the people from the us found out about aids, the representatives of certain sectors convened to find out how they can help prevent the spread of aids. the mother of a hemophiliac said that they should also do aids test on gays. the character of phil collins cried foul, and that was very discriminatory. the mother of the hemophiliac cried out to the gay guy saying shut up, and hemphiliacs have rights too.

if the mother of the hemophiliac got so scared about being labeled a "bigot" and was so conscious about being politically incorrect, then the life of the hemophiliacs would have been put in danger.

so what happens when the people who cry "bigots" become bigots themselves?
Anonymous said…
so what's new...people always claim to have rights and freedom (usually to express themselve) and fail to recognize that along with these rights and freedom are responsibilities. there is freedom of speech, but there is the responsibility to practice this without stepping on people's toes, without discriminating. Cruz, being a public figure should be more careful of practicing his freedom of speech because what he says is read by the public and may have great influence on the minds of his readers. if he says that that is his personal opinion then he probably should have just kept it to himself or among friends instead of proclaiming it in his column because by writing it down he is posing the risk of influencing society to discriminate against certain groups, in this case the gay community.
pinoy said…
The right to be allowed to live.... that is taking the issue too far. Nobody is taking that right against anyone. This is all about "taste". We "taste" things differently. If I use the word PUTANG INA here, some might be disgusted, while others its just ala lang. This is not about discrimination. This is about a way of life that others find offensive or distasteful.

Many gays do look and are respectable. I would count MLQ in that league. But others, they may just be abhorable. The problem with Cruz column is directed his shots on those "abhorable" gays or their behaviors. How about the loud mouth neigbbor who uses the word PUTANG INA in every sentence that comes out of her mouth. Or the tambay sa kanto who seems too comfortable in his smelly and unkempt condition. Obnoxious behaviors are not a monopoly of a certain subculture of gays. They exist in almost every subcultures. Unfortunately, Cruz picked on the gays. So it is but natural for gays and their supporters to "defend" their kind.

But who has raised their protest? It is but this group that Cruz noted to be the respectable ones. They are the ones whi made this issue become so big. But has any so called parlor gays come out to explain their position and explain why they behave the way they do? Or do they even care about this whole issue.

At the end of the day, we, the so called intellectuals will keep on debating about rights, morality, discrimination, etc. and the pther gays will keep on screaming in our streets to get some attention, they will dress up the way they want to catch attention, talk in public at the top of their voices to catch attention, and other behaviours that Cruz find disagreeable or offends public interest. Public interest in this case is relative. It's all about personal "taste", not about socially acceptable behavior or moral authority.

The problem with Cruz column is the tone. It is as if homosexuality is a disease that has spread by stating that during his younger days, there are just but a few gays around. And now they are everywhere. I really don't know what Cruz wants to convey by stating the obvious. And his column is never about the right to be allowed to live. That's pushing too far.
BongA said…

You are absolutely right - people elsewhere are being killed just because of their sexual orientation. And that is why, hate speech should be condemned.

unfortunately we don't have such laws here. they are trying to get an anti-discrimination bill to be passed.

bigotry is borne out of many things - stereotyping, ignorance,and misplaced sense of fear. we now know that the general population need not fear contacting HIV if people practice certain precautions. but to answer your question, i do not think that calling a bigot "bigot" is bigotry. but, i agree that bigotry exists in many forms - and there are bigots even in the gay community. bigotry is bigotry - and regardless of the sexual orientation or age or color, it will still be bigotry and there is no excuse for it.

mr cruz was not ranting against the kind of uncouth behavior you are citing as examples. if he was, I would not have joined the protest. bad behavior is bad behavior regardless of whether the person is gay or not, it will still be bad and therefore equally detestable.

yes, it is the right to live - the same right you have to walk the street without people judging your worth because the way you walk or the way you look does not fit someone's picture of what is moral or acceptable. if we are to subscribe to mr. cruz' point of view, certain people will have to live a life of self-denial so that they can fit in society. that is not living.

Bong Austero
Anonymous said…
I wasn't able to read ex-Justice Cruz's write-up. I think some reactions to it are way over-blown, no pun intended..hehe. Well anyway, no matter if he used to be an ex-Justice or a columnist or just a plain Joe Blow (that word keeps popping up..LOL!!) or whether it was said in a public forum or media, it is his basic right to be able to express his opinion. People will make up their mind if they agree with him or not. They can choose to boycott the newspaper as a result for all the wrong reasons and that is their prerogative. Big deal! I have no use, personally, for that newspaper anyway. I have long cut off my subscription to them. No big deal. I just prefer Manila Bulletin for a lot of reasons which I will not cover here.

But going back to the comments (I gathered from the discussion here) made by ex-Justice Cruz, I somewhat agree with him in small measures. I don't think that hate crimes will increase becoz of the comments he wrote or that some gay guys or women would be beaten becoz of that. This country is unique in that sense. People here are generally nice, unless they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Believe it or not, there are some really offensive, rude, and indecent gays out there and I've seen them in the streets. That is not to say that gay people have a monopoly on rudeness or indecency. I am only referring to the gay males, not the openly lesbian women who act very decently in public. I have yet to see a gay female who are very vulgar, or act like prima donnas. They are just in their own world, minding their own bees wax specially when they are with their lovers. Why can't gay guys be like them? There are those in the hetero world who are just as offensive or as indecent or rude. But since I am only talking about that particular segment of the gay "community" here, I won't make hay of any other issues affecting or referring to everyone in the gay community. No one here is painting with a broad brush that the local gay nation are all disagreeable. No siree, Bob! :) Who I am referring to are those gay guys who incessantly talk about other people's lives as if it is within their right to do so or as if they can't do no wrong. I am talking about those whose pastime or hobby is to criticize someone's looks, clothes, or style as if they are not hideous-looking enough or as if they can even be on the cover of GQ magazine. I am talking about those gay guys who when they see a guy walking with someone of the same sex, they assume right away that one or both of them are gays specially if the other dude is younger. I get this a lot when I walk with my compadre. Gay guys just stare (that is sooooo freakin' rude!) and then they smile or laugh and whisper to each other while looking at you. In several occassions I had to just let it rip and tell them off in public. Why they like to stick their noses on other people's business is beyond me. When they talk too loud and act like they are the center of the universe they are stepping on my right too not to be subjected to that noise and offensiveness, specially if we share the same public space. I am also talking about those gay guys who go to malls, specially in Ali Mall and Gateway in Cubao, to pick up "tricks," (or is it "trades" not too familiar with gay lingo) some of them even minors, for their perverted sexual pleasure. Those are the ones who I'm talking about. If you are one of those, just be decent human beings. Maybe you won't read about yourselves being written by the likes of an ex-Justice of the court. You like talking about other people, get a dose of your own medicine. It doesn't feel good, right? Sounds like the Golden Rule applies here. I don't care if you put on women's make-up or you walk the streets in drag, but if you are nice and act normally even with your attire, most people will respect you.
vic said…
bong, in the absence of specific law, I believe it is in one of the Provisions of the Constitution, which by itself is the fundamental Law of the land. specific law may deal with details and specific punishment, but the constitution can be used as the basis for the lawsuit for its violation. i don't know, bu i experinece here that lawyers always based their lawsuit on the provision of our Charter. thanks...
BongA said…
then, we do not have a disagreement. molestation, rape, crude behavior, etc., should be condemned regardless of who is the perpetrator - hetero, gay or lesbian. but these are not crimes that are specific to gay people, these can be committed by anyone.


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