Filipino ‘Jesus’ Drag Queen Arrested for Breaking ‘Obscenity Laws’
Southeast Asia & Pacific Team
Global Human Rights Defence
Despite its rise in rankings on tolerance of LGBTQ+ people, the Philippines has become increasingly infamous for its mistreatment of queer individuals. In fact, same-sex relationships are not recognized by law, and sexual orientation-based discrimination is scarcely provided for in legislation. A UN SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics) anti-discrimination bill has been stuck in Congress for two decades now, rejected on an annual basis. LGBTQ persons therefore severely lack legal resources in the majority Catholic state.
The overwhelming presence of religious institutions in law-making plays a major role in the struggles faced by the queer community in the Philippines, exerting their power through electoral endorsements. This gives leeway for Catholic-centered lawmaking, making the passing of progressive bills on the matter impossible. Additionally, false correlations are established by these stakeholders between the SOGIESC bill and the legalization of bestiality, or even with the intention of imposing communism. This has notably cost the lives of several hundreds of activists and journalists since the passing of a 2020 Anti-terrorism Act which loosely equates activism to terrorism.
Arrest of Drag Queen Pura Luka Vega
Pura Luka Vega, Amadeus Fernando Pagente’s drag stage-name, was arrested on October 4, 2023 by Manila police. The 33-year-old was charged with “immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions and indecent shows” following the publishing of a drag performance in which Pagente dressed up as Jesus Christ and recited a prayer. The video generated great discontent among Christian groups, and two criminal complaints were filed by the ‘Philippines for Jesus Movement’ and ‘Nazarene Brotherhood’.
Multiple cities, including the capital Manila, have even declared that Pagente is no longer welcome to visit.
Despite activists’ efforts to push the government to drop the charges, illustrated by the hashtag #FreePuraLukaVega or by Human Rights Watch’s advocacy, Pagente is still facing up to 12 years in prison. This is incredibly alarming, and depicts the vulnerability of Philippine LGBTQ people in regards to judicial unfairness and their exemption from freedom of expression.
Sources and further readings:
Ng, B. K. (2023, October 6). Philippines “Jesus” drag queen arrested for obscenity. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-67025750
Stonewall Global Workplace Briefings 2018. (2018). In Stonewall UK. Retrieved October 25, 2023, from https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/philippines_global_workplace_briefing_2018.pdf
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. (2022, October 28). Social acceptance of LGBTI people in 175 countries and locations - Williams Institute. Williams Institute. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/global-acceptance-index-lgbt/
Thongyoojaroen, T. (2023, April 10). Red-Tagging in the Philippines: A License to Kill. Human Rights Foundation. Retrieved October 25, 2023, from https://hrf.org/red-tagging-in-the-philippines-a-license-to-kill/