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In the Philippines, a survey shows growing support for gays and lesbians

Filipino same-sex couples tie the knot in a mass wedding ceremony on June 25, 2023, in Quezon City in metro Manila, Philippines. In a symbolic act against the lack of comprehensive legislation for gender minorities in the Philippines, 29 same-sex couples tied the knot in a mass wedding ceremony organized by the LGBTS (Let God Be Thy Savior) Christian Church Inc.
Ezra Acayan
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Filipino same-sex couples tie the knot in a mass wedding ceremony on June 25, 2023, in Quezon City in metro Manila, Philippines. In a symbolic act against the lack of comprehensive legislation for gender minorities in the Philippines, 29 same-sex couples tied the knot in a mass wedding ceremony organized by the LGBTS (Let God Be Thy Savior) Christian Church Inc.

MANILA, Philippines – A sharp majority of Filipinos say they agree that gays and lesbians are trustworthy and contribute to the progress of society, according to a national survey.

The survey, conducted in March by the nonprofit social research group Social Weather Stations and released in June — Pride Month in many nations — shows a substantial rise in supportive views of gays and lesbians in the socially conservative country in the past decade.

In the survey conducted among 1,200 adult Filipinos nationwide, 79% agreed that "gays or lesbians are just as trustworthy as any other Filipino." Meanwhile, the percentage who agree that "gays or lesbians have contributed a lot to the progress of our society" was only a bit lower at 73%.

These findings mark a "very strong" increase in sympathetic attitudes toward gays and lesbians over the years. The last time the same question about trustworthiness was asked was 2013, when 67% of respondents agreed with the statement, reported Rappler.com. At the time, only 54% of Filipino adults agreed that gays and lesbians contributed to society.

"We welcome [the results] as a positive development. ... It's quite a big stride, compared to how it was in the 1990s, for example, when the word 'gay' was considered taboo," said Reyna Valmores, the 26-year-old chairperson of the Philippines-based LGBTQ+ organization Bahaghari (or "rainbow" in Tagalog).

However, there is still much public awareness education to be done, noted Valmores. In the same survey, 43% of respondents believe that AIDS is a sickness of gays and lesbians, and 40% of respondents agreed that if there was a gay or lesbian member of their family, they would like them to change and become straight.

Valmores' own story reflects the Philippines' lingering pray-the-gay-away culture. Valmores is a transgender woman who grew up with a conservative father in Tacloban, a city located about 360 miles southeast of the capital, Manila, that she describes as conservative. Valmores says she has been a victim of domestic abuse at home and was not able to transition until college.

"Because I was away from home and had more of an opportunity to explore myself," she says. "Unfortunately, many other trans kids and LGBT kids in general don't have that kind of privilege."

The Philippines is a staunchly Christian country. More than 86% of the population identifies as Catholic, while another 8% claims to follow some other form of Christianity. Additionally, many of the laws in the Philippines reflect how socially conservative the country is, including the banning of abortion, divorce and same-sex marriage.

Faith has long been seen as a hurdle for the country's LGBTQ+ communities to flourish and be accepted with rights, such as national anti-discrimination legislation and civil unions, having been argued over for decades. However, there has been some evidence that Filipinos' Catholic faith can also serve to boost the resilience of queer individuals. According to a 2023 article in the journalPsychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, some LGBTQ+ adolescents reported that their connection to the divine empowers "them to see the values of their identities" and that they "utilize their faith to their advantage as [a] fount of resilience."

Still, LGBTQ+ advocates in the country say the Philippines has a ways to go in accepting LGBTQ+ individuals for who they are.

"So it's one thing to say out in the open that we consider LGBTQ+ persons to be just as trustworthy as others," Valmores says. "But it's another to have concrete policies and measures in place to ensure that discrimination does not happen across the country — and unfortunately, in that regard, there's still much to be done.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.