IT IS NOT easy to be different, especially in a competitive and strict environment like the Ateneo Law School (ALS). But its small but lively lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community shows us that being different is what makes life more colorful. Kenjie, Angelo, Ben, Paolo, Pau, and Armand open up on their untold stories of courage, strength, and perseverance, and on what sets them apart.
On being “different”
When asked about what it is like to be gay in Law School, all of them agreed that it was hard and how “it always feels like you have to prove yourself.”
Atty. Takahiro Kenjie C. Aman, or Kenjie (J.D., 2012), shares that when he was in his first year, he was the only one “out of the closet” in his batch because it was still taboo. Although there were openly gay students in school at that time, the only ones who had the courage to do so were the likes of then Student Council President Jess Lopez, or Angelo Atadero, who was at the top of his batch. “In order to be respected, you had to be extraordinary.”
Atty. Raoul Angelo D. Atadero, or Angelo (J.D., 2011), has been out since grade school so he doesn’t really remember being treated differently. “In a way, I can say this was my best experience—thriving and doing well because my sexual orientation was never an issue.”
John Benedict C. Ty, or Ben (J.D., 2014), agrees that being out puts a target on your back. He shares that he often felt intimidated by the insensitive comments some people would make. “Medyo may hostility. [Some people] can make you feel uncomfortable,” he says.
Lito Paolo T. Martin II, or Paolo (4B), adds that it is these insensitive remarks that make him uncomfortable. It makes him feel like he’s “unwelcome.” It was twice as hard for him when he was a freshman because he also came from the province and was struggling to find his footing in school. He had to think hard about whether he should come out.
Paula Anne Marie D. Vasquez, or Pau (3D), still thinks that there is a long way to go. She still gets snide remarks from male students who think they can change her sexual orientation. She is much more confident in being openly gay though, as she confronted her parents about her sexual orientation at the age of fourteen.
Pau stresses that a large part of her confidence in school is due to the fact that she “found the right people.” Kenjie shares that he knew someone who was bullied so much in class that it affected his grades and he eventually got kicked out of law school. That is why they have small intimate dinners every once in a while, and invite fellow LGBTs who they find willing to join their little group. They all agree that it is crucial that members of the community have a good support group.
However, outgoing Student Council President Armand Louis T. Dulay, or Armand (4A), thinks that there has been some improvement in the way the LGBT community is treated. “People are starting to realize that it [referring to the use of “bakla” as a pejorative term] is offensive, and that’s a good thing.” He says this is only possible because of greater education and awareness.
Ben says more people need to learn that “Being gay isn’t wrong. It’s not a sin. It’s just who we are.”
Message to the LGBT community
Most of them agree that the key to enjoying and excelling in law school is acceptance. Ben says you just need to be yourself. He quotes Sam Smith, who said in one of his interviews that it was only when he started becoming himself that people started to listen to him.
Armand adds, “It really starts with being comfortable with yourself… once you get there, it gets better.” Kenjie also agrees, saying that having the opportunity to be a lawyer, it will be more meaningful if “you can advocate who you are.”
Paolo shares “You’ll need to battle it out, whether they’ll accept you. Just accept yourself and do well.” Angelo agrees, saying “Do your work and do it well. In law school, at least, labels won’t matter if you’re the best law student you can be.” Pau was quick to point out though that “You make sure that you do well for yourself and not because you’re LGBT or you [feel the need to] prove yourself.”
In the end, Ben says, “It’s a personal journey.”
Armand also wants to encourage LGBTs to “stand up for themselves.” He says that to be able to help, not only themselves, but others in the LGBT community, they have to stand up and correct people when they make insensitive remarks. He reflects that this is one of the ways he was able to correct the misconceptions of the people about LGBTs. Kenjie also thinks this will help them later on as a lawyer. “You [as a lawyer] need to know when to stand firm. How will they respect you if you don’t respect [and stand up] for yourself?”
However, Ben and Paolo also cautions that this is not always the way to go. Ben quips that he also stood up to insensitive remarks, but that sometimes they would just laugh at you. Standing up is not always a guarantee that you will get respect. Paolo concurs, “You can come off as touchy. It still depends on the situation.”
Spreading their legacy
Paolo thinks his legacy is to leave a good impression and be a good example. He wants to encourage others in the LGBT community to think of being gay “not as something that will pull you down… but something that will help you push through.”
Armand says that the legacy he leaves to ALS is to show that an LGBT can lead the law school community, and do it well. “Yung hope and dream ko kasi is to see someone who is openly gay be elected in public office in the Philippines… I just want people to take us seriously.”
Kenjie shares what he views as his legacy and contribution, both to the legal profession and the LGBT community in the country, is the LGBT Bar Association that they are currently establishing. They are in the process of registering it with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Our vision is to encourage law students that you can be a lawyer and not hide… their concerns are usually ‘would I be able to get a job without compromising my identity?’ And by [organizing the LGBT Bar Association], we have an opportunity to give back. We are in a position to help and be the voice of other LGBT members. [We] might as well use that advantage to raise special awareness.”
Despite their early stuggles in coping with the “machismo” mentality prevalent in the Law School, these members of the pink community have definitely risen above the labels and stereotypes that others try to box them into. Definitely, there is more to members of the ALS LGBT community than what meets the eye. It is by being different that they manage to create a difference.
How the ALS LGBT “Support Group” Started
Atty. Kenjie Aman shares some tidbits about their support-group.
This started out even before his time. He was invited by Bar Topnotcher and 2012 Class Valedictorian Atty. Angelo Atadeo, then only a third year student. “I feel that since there aren’t usually many LGBT folks who are “out” at the ALS, the few that are around may sometimes feel isolated. Forming a formal student group that will provide community and support has been one of my goals since I was in my second year at the ALS,” Angelo shares.
Kenjie says they didn’t make it a formal affiliation because they are not after the title, they just want to be there to help and listen. When asked why they don’t openly recruit for the group, Atty. Kenjie says that it is hard to be the one who approach especially if he or she is not openly gay. They do not want to preempt or make the student uncomfortable. “In the end, it’s your choice whether you want to be out.” P