Since I was this small, I have been taught that homosexuality is evil and that homosexuals are committing a grave sin and will go straight to hell. I don’t know where hell is, but for gays it probably starts in this society where they suffer discrimination and are looked down upon.

Last summer, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales rebuked gays staging their own Santacruzan, saying it’s an insult to the Blessed Mother and that it defeats the true meaning of the celebration.

Well, I don’t know if Mother Mary was pleased to hear the archbishop of Manila bashing her devotees. Unless, of course, she appeared to him and told him she didn’t like homosexuals to be her devotees. And even if it’s true that these people defeat the true meaning of the celebration, is it only they who are doing it? Many women who take part in the Santacruzan also forget the real meaning of the activity, and yet the archbishop didn’t see it fit to criticize them, too.

As a devout Catholic, I’ve always believed in the doctrines of the Church and what the Vatican says, with no questions asked. But in this instance, I cannot help but ask why there is this discrimination against gays. I really don’t know what the Church’s stand is on homosexuality. I don’t know if being a homosexual is a sin by itself or if it becomes a sin only when something sexual happens. Is there no room in heaven for gays and lesbians unless they become straight men and women?

I cannot fully comprehend why homosexuality is considered a grave sin. Some people who have tried to explain it to me say it’s because God only made sexes, not genders. There are only men and women, and no space for in-betweens. But didn’t God make all people equal?

I don’t know if God really bars homos and lesbians from entering His Kingdom. What I know is that He is all-loving and not discriminating. I know that He loves each and everyone of us because He made us all. We are all children of God—man, woman, gay or lesbian—and this is why I can’t understand why the Church condemns homosexuals. Can’t such people be part of the Christian community? What have they done to hurt us that we hurt them so badly?

I believe that homosexuals choose to be what they are. I know that statement will prompt some people to ask, “Then why can’t they just choose to be straight?”

Why? Because it doesn’t start and end with just deciding what they want to be. There is a reason behind every decision. They choose to be true to themselves instead of lying about who they are. It probably is a question of fighting against conformity, choosing between being who they are and feeling complete or pleasing society by being who they are not and feeling empty.

During my first semester in college, I enrolled in Humanities 1. In one of our discussions, our professor asked us what issues involved conflict with religion. One issue that was brought up was homosexuality. Religion says it’s immoral but it’s also not right to discriminate, she noted, adding: “Times have changed, but it’s not as if the Church’s teachings will do, too, through the changing times, although we wish it would.”

Another professor showed us how prejudiced society can be against homosexuals. He noted that even the terms we use to refer to them are not correct. He pointed out that if homosexuals make up the “third sex,” then there must be a “first sex” and a “second sex.” “So who gets to be the first sex, men?” he asked.

Clearly, no matter how much we say that we accept gays in our society and treat them as equals, our efforts are not enough. We fail miserably.

Sadly, religion often forces us to discriminate against those who are different from us. And I’m not just talking about homosexuality. Consider how we regard those who practice other religions. Society conforms to religion. So as a Catholic country, steeped in Christian values, we look down upon homosexuals. Can we not we see them as our equals?

It may be hard to accept, but sometimes our values keep us from living more harmoniously with each other. The world would be a better place if we can accept everyone for what they are.

I admire homosexuals because they have the strength to carry on despite the obstacles thrown their way by those who don’t like them. It is very inconvenient to live as a homosexual in a society that does not fully accept them, where they are seen as immoral, where they are bashed constantly and treated as caricatures or freaks. It is hard to live in a society where they are forbidden to stage a Santacruzan even if they are devotees of Mother Mary just because they’re gay.

Originally published in Inquirer