In celebration of Pride Month, we're publishing a speech from Hezekiah Marquez Diaz, a transgender woman whose story recently made the headline of Cebu Daily News because she was the first transwoman in Cebu Doctors' University to march as her true self on her graduation.
You see, many schools in the Philippines are still pretty strict with the graduation dress code: guys have to march wearing "guys' clothing" and girls are expected to do so in dresses. Hezekiah's school was no exception until she fought for her rights and was able to present herself as a woman.
Because of this, she was invited to promote gender equality and speak at University of San Carlos' 6th Carolinian Summit, a leadership summit attended by influential leaders of Cebu and "people who went somewhat viral, like myself," she said. Read her speech below.
"Before I begin my speech, I would like to thank the University of San Carlos for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share, with all of you, my feelings as someone who is born different.
"Dear Carolinians and everyone out there who is listening—I am Hezekiah M. Diaz, from the small town of Isabel, Leyte, a transwoman and an LGBT rights advocate.
"On behalf of my community, I would like to say first and foremost that we are sorry.
"We are sorry because we know that society dictates us to comply with the stereotyped behavior of gender, that if you're assigned male at birth then you should grow up and fulfill the presumed role of a man. Trust me, we tried our best to conform with the stereotypes, but our brains are mismatched to our sexes that even physical harm as a form of discipline scarred even more our already broken hearts.
"My teacher once told me, 'obey first before you complain.' The advice, I think, is questionable because we all possess freewill. Hence, today I want to declare that 'it is okay to be different.' People like me exist. Indeed, we, the members of the transgender community, are born in the wrong body. Furthermore, we are just trying to express how we truly feel and in my case, a woman.
Today I want to declare that 'it is okay to be different.' People like me exist.
"Please do not cross your eyebrows or frown and insist that people like me are men because while it is true that 'being male is a privilege,' we do not feel this way. Also, please do not laugh at us. I have been receiving insults not only from strangers but also from people who are close to me and it hurts me deeply.
"I am not the kind of person who seeks pity to get my way. In fact, I like to pretend that everything is okay. Ask my sister or anyone from my family. I never let anyone see me cry because that is how I have dealt with life up to this day. Maybe it is pride, embarrassment, or I am just not really used to showing how I truly feel. Truth is, I am so scared to share to anyone because I know that most of the people I know are not yet accepting my true self. But today, I will swallow all of it. While some people are so proud of how happy they were in their younger years, I, on the other, have had my heart broken since childhood. Due to my effeminate tendency, I have experienced being humiliated in front friends, in my school and even in my neighborhood. It reached the extent where I had to cry all my feelings out at night before I can face them the next day.
"But our struggles did not end there.
We also have been told so many times that God did not make us, that there is only Adam and Eve, and not Adam and Steve nor Megan and Eve. If that is the case, then who created us? Did you think that the struggle to seek light from a dark life of despair is our choice?
Some churches do not accept people like me but they are never to blame because they are just following their beliefs. I have nothing against these churches but I want them to realize that the Bible does not tell us to persecute anyone. Perhaps, one lesson from the Bible that people should focus on is to love one another without any discrimination at all. I know this for a fact because I am born to a Christian family.
"Going back to my story, it is not because I haven't forgiven, it's just because those memories are what tore me so I remember clearly. Yes, all those traumas. At the age of 5, I was slapped in the face, I was also beaten up with slippers just for playing with the girls and wearing girls' clothing.
"There was also that time around puberty where me and my friends went to a public pool, I flaunted my ugly body along with my girl friends whose bodies at that time were perceived as sexy. I know that for a fact that mine was incomparable but guess what? I was just being happy. I did not mind being the ugliest. The sad story is I was literally dragged away from my little world, slammed to the ground head first and I was choked. I could have died that day if my assailant had not come to his senses.
"By the time I was in 4th year high school and having had one of the highest grades for valedictorian, I was recommended by my teacher adviser to run as president of our student government organization. I was the crowd's favorite until an influential teacher campaigned against me because according to him, people like me who are feminine cannot lead. Yes, I ended up losing with a vote less than half compared to the winner. Things happened so fast and suddenly I was moved to a new high school.
If someone truly needed a hero, that person was me but I never had one, so just like my favorite Disney princess Mulan with a life song 'Reflections' and 'Honor to Us All' I became a heroine to myself.
"So much for my life experiences, I now move on to my advocacy which is to fight for the recognition of the rights of the LGBT community which is very innovative, with this I hope that my life's journey becomes one of the portals for equality.
"Now the question given is, as a millennial, how can you champion innovation?
"But I will give this question more relevance to my topic. "How can people from the LGBT community champion innovation?"
"I think the answer is very obvious.
"To me people from the LGBT community has always been a champion of innovation since we had to come up with creative ways to thrive in this heteronormative society that limits gender as binary.
"LGBT people from older generations championed innovation by bringing more color to this world most significantly in the lucrative field of entertainment—from being directors, coaches, make up artists, hairstylists and photographers of beauty pageants to dancing, acting, and modeling.
"LGBT millennials continuously innovate by starting to become the stars themselves as being beauty queens, dancers, models and actresses. We should become one of the main ambassadors of brands that market the tagline such as 'be yourself,' 'diversity,' and 'dare to be different.'
"LGBT people also push forward to be recognized as part of the corporate world and with proper protection from the government. The world will see more of us graduating as doctors, lawyers, or even soldiers.
"I also want to extend to our churches that instead of using the Bible to condemn, they should focus more on using it to stop so much hatred and to bridge our salvation to our Lord and savior.
"Hopefully in the coming future, the LGBT community and the rest of the communities can live together in harmony.
"Before I end my speech I have to give this part an emphasis.
"To our younger LGBT people so that they will lead much normal and better lives, I want them to realize that unlike in the past, we are gaining much more visibility. We can look up to so many people that are just like us. There is our mother Geraldine Roman in the senate, our international models and beauty queens, Geena Rocero, Kevin Balot and Trixie Maristela, Stacy Biano and Sabel Gonzales, and of course our very own Queens of Cebu, Maki Gingoyon and Bee Urgello and so much more advocates like myself. Let us all together as one community make people understand that our fights are not really fights in the strictest sense of the word but of acceptance and love in its purest form.
"To the world, or the universe rather, please accept and give hope to people like me with arms wide open and smiling faces, please build with us a loving home like never before."
Want to share your or a friend's story from the LGBTQ community? Let us know in the comments below!