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Gay themes win applause in Philippines

Besides movies and soaps, gay pageants have also become part and parcel of the cultural scene today

Years before Hollywood director Ang Lee’s gay cowboy romance “Brokeback Mountain” took Asia by storm, gay films have been considered a key part of the Philippines’ diverse culture.

A landmark was set in 2000, five years before “Brokeback Mountain”, by “Markova: Comfort Gay”, the uniquely Asian story narrated by director Gil Portes of a “comfort gay”, one of the many homosexuals raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Since then there has been a gamut of memorable, moving and daring gay films on themes as various as male sex workers, transgenders taking part in beauty contests, and the memorable “In My Life”, the 2009 story of a mother coming to New York to live with her gay son.

"In My Life" also saw the genre become mainstream with a cast that included two popular stars.

Now gay films are gaining greater ground, entering heterosexual lives and winning acceptance.

In June, “Dance of the Steel Bars”, directors Cesar Apolinario and Marnie Manicad’s jailhouse movie with a transsexual interest, was screened in Cebu provincial jail for the benefit of nearly 1,600 inmates.

The saga of a convicted murderer who becomes part of an effort to oppose the corruption in prison, the film has a transsexual prisoner who too becomes part of the reform campaign, trying to teach the rugged inmates how to dance.

From prison, the gay theme has moved into drawing rooms with the new soap, “My Husband’s Lover”, which has gained a wide viewership and praise from critics despite caution from the clergy and a strong parental guidance rating.

The triangular love story has the husband, a married man with two children, drawn irresistibly to his former boyfriend.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has lauded the series, calling it “painfully reflective of many real closeted gay men’s problematic lives … despite some eye roll-worthy and cheesy moments”.

Tom Rodriguez, who plays the unfaithful husband, has seen the role bring him new film offers.

“It has done wonders to his career that was neither here nor there before,” Malaya Business News Online reported. “Now, he himself has realized how popular he is. When he goes out in public, people now ask to have their picture taken with him because of the huge success of his character as Vincent in ‘My Husband’s Lover’.”

This Sunday, Erimar Sayo Ortigas, a 29-year-old business administration graduate, is taking part in the Mr Gay World 2013 pageant in Antwerp.

A spokesperson for HIV/AIDS awareness, Ortigas is also said to be helping patients in their regular check-ups and medications.

Two years ago, the pageant had been held in Manila.

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