Strength and sensibility: A lesbian mom speaks out

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What do you do when your child is bullied because of your sexual orientation? Cha Roque, the woman who sent out an open letter about discrimination on noontime TV, talks about being a lesbian mother in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of CHA ROQUE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In a scene from an episode of the Disney Channel sitcom “Good Luck Charlie,” Amy and Bob Duncan, the parents of the title character, are waiting for the parents of Charlie’s friend Taylor to bring her over for a playdate. There’s some initial confusion as they both claim to have met Taylor’s mom. The doorbell rings, and Taylor comes running in — with her moms, Susan and Cheryl, trailing behind. The usual punch lines are noticeably missing as they are welcomed inside; the only clarification comes from Bob, who says, “Oh, Taylor has two moms.” The whole situation is presented as normal, as it should be, and nothing else has to be discussed.

In a country like the Philippines, where many people feel that tolerance for homosexuality is high but acceptance is still quite low, it can be daunting to speak out and make your voice heard. Local mainstream media is taking little steps to ensure the proper representation of LGBTQ issues, but there are times that little bits of traditional thinking still manage to slip through the cracks.

When the hosts of the long-running noontime show “Eat Bulaga” told a gay dad to go back in the closet during their “Problem Solving” segment last year, Cha Roque, a lesbian mother, decided that she wouldn’t take it. Realizing that she had to do something to show how inappropriate their responses were, Roque, who is a creative director at a video production company, wrote an open letter to the hosts that called them out for their offensive remarks. The letter went viral, eventually getting picked up by news sites and effectively furthering the discourse on LGBTQ issues.

In an exchange over email with CNN Philippines Life, Roque discusses the effect of her letter, growing up in an accepting family, and what it’s like raising her teenage daughter. She also has some words of advice for members of the LGBTQ community who also want to be parents. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

cha roque lead Roque's daughter, Kelsey, was bullied at school for posting a Facebook cover photo featuring herself, her mother, and Roque's partner at a Pride march. Roque responded by suggesting SOGIE training. "I guess you can’t really blame people who are not educated yet on issues concerning LGBTQs," she says. Photos courtesy of CHA ROQUE  

It’s been a year since you posted your open letter. Some people agreed with your stand, while others backed “Eat Bulaga,” saying that it was done all in good fun. Did “Eat Bulaga” respond? Do you think people still remember that?

There was no formal response from “Eat Bulaga” and they did not comment on the issue at all. The only “response” was a defensive Instagram post by Paolo Ballesteros saying that “Eat Bulaga” has been promoting gender equality since 1995 (I forgot the year). He was referring to “Eat Bulaga’s” segment “Super Sireyna.”

Sometimes, people who have read the letter still approach me, so I guess people still remember that. After the letter came out last year, there was someone who posted a petition on Change.org to require media practitioners to undergo SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) training. It has been more than a year and the petition still needs signatures. I hope the petition becomes successful. The open letter is not just a rant or an opinion piece. The letter was a call to action.

You said that one of the reasons for your initial non-involvement in LGBTQ issues was because it wasn’t hard growing up for you, since you had an accepting family. What was it like growing up in an accepting household?

Establish an environment at home where your kids feel free to ask questions, and when they do, be patient in explaining the answers to them. Parenting is hard. Parenting as an LGBTQ parent is even harder. You have to be strong to raise kids and have a family.

 

I had a lot of fun growing up. Having an accepting family meant I got to wear what I wanted to wear, have tattoos, blast music in the house — and there would be no negative comments. My friends spent a lot of time in our house and I guess it’s because even they felt how accepting my family was. My partner could visit me anytime without having to fear being judged or reprimanded for it. My mother would go with me to gigs, talk to me about my relationships. It was a nurturing environment. I believe growing up in this environment is also what shaped me in terms of being outspoken about my opinion.

Your daughter, Kelsey, is very supportive of you. In a previous interview, you mentioned that that it was her father who outed you, and that she came home and told you, “Sabi ni daddy sabihin ko sa ’yo obit ka.” How old was she then? What was your response when she asked you about it? When did you plan to tell her prior to that instance?

During that time, Kelsey was only 3 years old. I had no plans yet of how or when I would come out to her. Even I was confused. I was still figuring things out in terms of my sexual orientation. Honestly, I did not know what to say. I was silent for a few minutes and then I realized that I had to say something. I wasn’t able to explain what “obit” meant right away, but I told her that no matter what happens, she should remember that I love her very much. The explanation happened little by little as she was growing up.

cha roque 1 Roque was outed to her daughter, Kelsey, by the child's father. Despite the initial confusion, however, she was able to open up that side of her life to Kelsey through open communication. Photos courtesy of CHA ROQUE  

How would you say Kelsey understands equality and LGBTQ issues? Did you ever sit down with her to explain what equality is or what issues there are for the LGBTQ community?

I am very vocal about telling Kelsey that our home is a safe space and she is always encouraged to ask questions about things that bother her or that she does not understand — this is not limited to LGBTQ issues. My daughter and I communicate openly, even when she was younger. I even talk to her about social issues and she would listen and ask questions. She’s also fond of watching the news, so when there is anything she hears that she wants to know more about, she asks me right away. It’s not always easy because I don’t have answers to all of her questions. But I always try to answer them, or we try to find answers together.

What was it like raising Kelsey as a lesbian mom? Did people treat you differently at parenting activities like parent-teacher conferences or birthday parties?

There were times when I felt that the parents of Kelsey’s classmates were not too friendly with me, but I couldn’t say that it’s because of my sexual orientation. I’m way younger than they are. Some are even older than my mom. They also don’t see me often as well. Maybe that’s why they have second thoughts about approaching me, but they’re OK. The few times that I had the chance to talk to some of the parents went smoothly. It’s not like they’re being mean to me.

One of Kelsey’s teachers (whom I confronted because of a bullying incident that she did not handle well) told my partner and me that they were accepting to LGBTQs, but she couldn’t even say the word lesbian without stuttering. I guess you can’t really blame people who are not educated yet on issues concerning LGBTQs. Part of our struggle for acceptance is our responsibility to educate them.

Did the bullying incident have something to do with your being a lesbian?

It happened just last year. Kelsey heard that her classmates were talking behind her back about her having two moms. Apparently, some of her classmates found out only because of Kelsey’s Facebook cover photo, which was of me, my partner, and Kelsey at last year’s Pride march. Kelsey told her classmate that she was mad at her for that. The teacher asked Kelsey to apologize for what happened and told her that she should think first before posting anything online.

Don’t adjust to society’s definition of family. Don’t hate judgmental people; educate them. Remember that the fight for acceptance also comes with a responsibility to educate people and potential allies.

 

I was furious. Kelsey is a strong kid, and this was the only time that I saw her crying for days because of the remark. She said she felt betrayed by the teacher. I was thinking of going to the school and confronting the teacher the very next day. But I tried to keep my cool. I consulted other lesbian moms and even a lawyer who specialized in LGBTQ cases. They asked me to talk to the teacher properly and when I had calmed down. I suggested to the teacher that they should have a SOGIE training and they were open for that, but I wasn’t able to follow up on it.

Did parents ever approach you to ask how to explain your situation to their children? Were there ever parents who took offense at your sexuality? How would you respond to them?

This hasn’t happened yet, but if it does then I’d simply tell them that this is who I am and that I don’t understand why they would take offense at my sexuality if this does not directly concern them. I’d tell them that I would understand if they are against homosexuality, but I really hope they leave Kelsey out of their judgments.

Your daughter is entering adolescence. Has she started asking you advice regarding relationships, love, or sexuality? If so, what advice do you give her?

Kelsey is in high school now. There are questions, yes. But actually she started asking me questions on relationships, love, and sexuality way back. It’s just a little different now that her questions are directly about her. I often remind her that she can tell me anything and that I hope she tells me if she ever decides to be in a relationship with someone. I’m Kelsey’s mom, but I do not own her. At the end of the day, there are decisions that she will do by herself and I trust her with that. I just remind her to always think things through before diving into something, and not to hesitate to ask for my guidance for anything.

Do you know other gay parents? If yes, do you discuss your experiences or swap parenting tips?

Yes. I have friends who are also lesbian moms. I haven’t met gay dads, though. Sometimes, we casually exchange stories of our kids over meetings or get-togethers. I run to them when I need advice as well, like on how to handle a bullying incident at school. It’s good to have a support group like that because these are people who can understand what you are going through, not only as a mother but also as a lesbian.

cha roque 3 "I wish I could tell you that your kids will not be bullied or discriminated, but I can’t," Roque says of being a queer parent. "This is why you have to be strong. Being judged or discriminated for who you are is hard, but it is nothing compared to having your children discriminated for your gender." Photo courtesy of CHA ROQUE  

What would you tell LGBTQ parents who want to have children of their own?

Establish an environment at home where your kids feel free to ask questions, and when they do, be patient in explaining the answers to them. Parenting is hard. Parenting as an LGBTQ parent is even harder. You have to be strong to raise kids and have a family. Although there is already a shift in terms of the acceptance of Filipinos toward LGBTQs, there is still a stigma. I wish I could tell you that your kids will not be bullied or discriminated, but I can’t. This is why you have to be strong. Being judged or discriminated for who you are is hard, but it is nothing compared to having your children discriminated for your gender. Don’t adjust to society’s definition of family. Don’t hate judgmental people; educate them. Remember that the fight for acceptance also comes with a responsibility to educate people and potential allies. Be proud. Hold your head up when walking with your family. Hold hands in public with your partner. Don’t stutter when you tell people that this is your family. Celebrate your colorful life together. Be proud. Love.