Two men in love: Finding him via Facebook and God
MANILA, Philippines — Theirs is a love story like any other. It deserves to be shared.
They met unexpectedly, perhaps by fate and faith, from strangers to friends to lovers.
They belong to the same church, but never sat on the same pew. They were seas and continents apart, with over 7,000 miles in between. Geography sometimes sucks.
Like most modern love stories, theirs involved a 3rd party — the Internet. It all began when Don Mueller friended Yhel Briguela on Facebook. The two hit it off, talking about each other’s lives and advocacies. A bond grew between the American in Los Angeles and the Filipino in Manila.
For 5 months, the two men talked almost everyday. They would have never met, however, if not for a girl called Kakay.
Kakay Pamaran is a pastor in Quezon City’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), an ecumenical Christian church found across 40 countries. She visited MCC-LA where Don is a member. After the pastor’s visit, Don added MCC-QC members on Facebook. One of them was Yhel.
“I thought this was going to be a good friendship,” Don said. “What were the chances that this could be really it, meeting the right one?"
Advocates in love
The two seemed like a match made in heaven. But even heaven has different timezones, theirs were 15 hours apart.
Their conversations on FB and Skype stretched for hours, but not without hiccups like the Philippines’ bad Internet connection. “When there’s a typhoon, we cannot talk,” Yhel said laughing.
Unlike the Philippine Catholic Church, MCC stands against homophobia. It also addresses other forms of oppression like racism, sexism, and ageism. In the Philippines, MCC is located in QC, Makati, Marikina, Baguio, and Olongapo.
Aside from their shared faith, Don and Yhel both advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights.
Yhel is an accounting officer in an electronics company, but also volunteers as a school teacher for non-governmental organization (NGO) Hands On Manila. He also volunteers at Love Yourself Inc., an NGO providing HIV/AIDS counselling and treatment. To spread more awareness, he runs in marathons and helps organize the annual Metro Manila Pride March.
Meanwhile, Don is a lieutenant at the LA County Sheriff’s Department. He also conducts LGBT diversity training for police agencies. In 2014, he authored a policy protecting and supporting transgender police officers, the first of its kind in the US.
“I thought he was incredibly handsome,” Don smiled, describing how he met Yhel on Facebook. “When we started chatting, it just worked. He made me laugh. The more I learned about him, the more I admired him.”
“He was doing so much advocacy and those are the things I was also doing in the US,” Don continued. “That's the partner I’m looking for. We also share our spirituality, our love for God. In all these years, I’ve never met anybody like him.”
But they also had doubts. It was great online, how about offline?
To find out, Don flew to Manila in February 2014. They traveled and talked for 3 days. In the end, they found themselves crying at the airport, mixing joy and disbelief.
“I gave him a scrapbook,” said Yhel. “I kept everything like taxi receipts.” He documented their visits to Corregidor, Ocean Park, Manila bay, and even Don’s first MRT and jeepney rides.
“I thought that was the last time we’d see each other,” Yhel added.
But it wasn’t.
In August 2014, Don returned to Manila. For nearly two weeks, he traveled across Ilocos with Yhel’s family. Don was the first man Yhel introduced to his parents. “They were surprised but very supportive,” Yhel said.
“His father told me to take good care of his youngest son,” Don added.
The family trip came after their engagement.
While preparing for his visit, Don planned a surprise proposal with Pastor Kakay’s help. In the middle of a Sunday sermon, the pastor played Don’s proposal video.
He then stood in front of the congregation, pulled a ring out of his sock, and asked Yhel — in Filipino — to marry him: "Yhel, mahal na mahal kita. Gusto kitang makasama habang buhay. Tanggapin at pakasalan mo ako?" (Yhel, I love your very much. I want to be with you as long as I live. Accept and marry me?)
It left their audience in tears.
In November, they were in the final leg of their fiancé visa application. They were nervous but then, “Our interviewer is a lesbian, she was wonderful. Thank God,” Don quipped. “She told us not to worry.”
Before heading to the US, they had a garden wedding in Cavite in January 2015, through a Holy Union done by MCC-QC. While the ceremony has no legal effect, it gathered Yhel’s relatives and friends in celebration of love.
For most of the 140 guests, it was their first time to be in a same-sex wedding. “We were compared to Marian and Ding Dong’s royal wedding,” Yhel joked.
Then they flew to meet Don’s parents to plan their US wedding. Unlike the Philippines, the state of California legally recognizes same-sex marriage since 2008, hence provides equal benefits to same-sex couples.
Upon arriving, Yhel had asthma, causing Don to worry. He wanted to share his medical insurance benefits, so they went ahead and married in a government office. “We were in shorts and t-shirts,” Don fondly recalled.
A church wedding followed in March, attended by Don’s loved ones. “A lot of police officers came, gay and straight,” he added.
The happy couple now lives in their LA home, together with their baby dog. They continue their advocacy, emphasizing that LGBTs deserve the same recognition and protection from the government just like any citizen.
“It’s not special rights, just equal,” argued Don. “The more they get to know us, the more we break stereotypes. All these horror stories from the Catholic church are not true.”
In the Philippines, same-sex partners do not enjoy the same government services as heterosexuals, such as legal joint adoption, SSS, healthcare, property, tax, and insurance benefits for married couples. Although some local governments have their own policies, the Philippines lacks a national anti-discrimination law.
A lot of Filipinos also maintain negative and misinformed views on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some argue that same-sex relationships spoil the sanctity of marriage and family. “How does our marriage threaten their marriage? It doesn’t,” said Don.
“Problem is that in the Philippines, we’re not accepting but only tolerating,” Yhel added. (READ: Dear god, why the love ban?)
They advised LGBTs to remain visible. “If we can't be proud of ourselves, how can we expect others to be proud of us?” the coupled asked. “Know that God loves you just as you are. There’s nothing wrong with who you are." — Rappler.com
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