LGBTQ+ community

[OPINION] LGBT, mental health, and why Pride March is there

Mark Anthony Quintos

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[OPINION] LGBT, mental health, and why Pride March is there
'Philippine society accommodates LGBTs by obscuring them in niche roles. Pride March is there for our fellows who feel isolated and alone.'

(Trigger warning: This article makes references to suicide.)

Some critics often question whether or not Pride March is still necessary. They say that LGBTs are now more accepted in Philippine social life. They point to personalities like Vice Ganda to make an argument that LGBTs are not only accepted but are even quite empowered in our society. They tend to neglect the vital piece of observation that while there is a greater number of known LGBT members today in Philippine society, the treatment they receive is largely that of tolerance by obscurity.

What does this mean?

Sociologists have a long history of studying how a society reacts to groups that it considers as “different” in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. Society tends to adopt one of the following strategies:

  • Hope that the “different” will somehow be gone from society as time goes by.
  • Accommodate the “different” in a way that obscures it.
  • Regard the “different” as a special case of what is normal
  • Accept that the “different” will always be there, and society will just have to live with it.

In the case of the LGBTs, it can be argued that Philippine society accommodates them by obscuring them. This is done by putting or giving members of the LGBT “niche roles,” where they are allowed to be part of society but are limited to these roles. Common examples of these niche roles are being parloristas, participants and supporters during pageants, santeros during the Lenten season, or comedians in television, in films, or in bars. Members of the LGBT are tolerated, or even encouraged, to prosper in these niche roles and remain in these niche roles.

Attempts by the LGBTs to venture outside of these niche roles – such as when they wish to become religious leaders, members of the military, or engage in the care of the young as teachers or as parents – are met with resistance from society. Given these circumstances, many LGBTs have settled for these niche roles and made them their “safe spaces” – a niche space where LGBTs are tolerated. In many other spaces of Philippine society, however, they are unlikely to find similar accommodations.

These niche spaces, therefore, can prove to be both limiting and isolating. In relation to this plight of the LGBTs, it might be important to discuss a lesser known, but perhaps equally important, thing to note during the month of June: the anniversary of the signing of Republic Act 11036 or what is more easily known as the Mental Health Act.

The Mental Health Act allows people suffering from mental illnesses and issues greater access to help. One example of this is the access to counselors for those suffering from suicide ideation or thoughts of killing oneself. The need for this kind of law became especially pronounced in recent years as the number of deaths by suicide in the country increased.

Beyond the statistics reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority, a number of empirical research conducted by sociologists and psychologists on suicide in the Philippines reported that members of the LGBT community have higher rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts than non-LGBTs.

How can we resolve this problem?

While the Mental Health Act guarantees that there are institutionalized facilities and hotlines designed to cater to those with mental health issues, these are often impeded by technical and manpower limitations. As a response to the mental help limitations that beset the country during the pandemic, the government sought the help of the Church to counsel Filipinos and help in their mental health. This implies that the perceived solution to the growing mental health and suicide problem is religious counseling.

Perhaps in affirmation of the bayanihan culture of Filipinos, even ordinary Filipinos express a willingness to talk and lend an ear to those contemplating suicide. These Filipino volunteers, bereft of formal training on suicide prevention, are also likely to rely on a largely Christian rhetoric when they engage in these pseudo-counseling conversations with suicide ideators.

Normally, the expectation is that counseling serves as a deterrent to suicide. However, reality is not as tidy. Empirical studies show that while this is the normal causal relationship, the results change when the suicide ideators are LGBT and the counseling provided is intentionally or unintentionally clothed in religious dogma (something that, sadly, even some mental health practitioners are unknowingly guilty of).

To be specific, a religious form of counseling has been found to significantly increase the risk of suicide attempts among LGBT suicide ideators. This is especially likely to be the case among LGBT suicide ideators who, upon seeking the help of counselors who use religious teachings as part of their response, are told that their “abnormal” identity is a sin and religious morality is the solution to their problems.

For example: a young lesbian who is suffering from suicide ideation seeks your help, saying, “Nalulungkot po ako kasi pakiramdam ko ay hindi po ako tanggap ng pamilya ko.” (I am lonely because I feel that my family doesn’t accept me.) The underlying problem, therefore, is a feeling of rejection. What could be the proper response? What she reportedly got as a form of counsel was, “Alam mo kasi, malaking kasalanan sa Diyos iyang ginagawa mo.” (Well, it’s because, you know, what you are doing is a grave sin against God.) Ultimately, the suicide ideator’s problem was not resolved and her sense of isolation and hopelessness was compounded.

One of the main challenges of living as an LGBT is the isolating treatment by society. It cannot be resolved by strategies that, intentionally or unintentionally, result to a form of victim-blaming that further deepens the sense of isolation. Going forward, let us take to heart that the Pride March is there for our fellows who feel isolated and alone, and, as we live our own lives, let us be more mindful of our words and actions to make sure that we are part of the solution rather than the problem. –

Mark Anthony M. Quintos teaches at the University of the Philippines Diliman, De La Salle University Manila, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and the Don Honorio Ventura State University. As a sociologist, he studies different aspects of social life, such as gender, deviance, and suicide.

The Department of Health, through the National Center for Mental Health, has a national crisis hotline to assist people with mental health concerns. The hotline can be reached at 1553, which is a Luzon-wide, toll-freelandline number, 0917-899-8727 and 0966-351-4518 for Globe and TM subscribers, and 0908-639-2672 for Smart and Sun subscribers.

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