Same-sex marriage is not recognised in the Philippines, preventing many baklas from getting married. Legislation attempting to legalise same-sex marriage in the Philippines has been presented to Congress, but none have passed thus far.
The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic; the Church officially tolerates persons with such orientations but condemns homosexual activity as "intrinsically disordered". This condemnation of homosexuality presents a problem for the baklâ because of the potential for discrimination in a Catholic-dominated society. Baklâ belonging to Catholic families–especially devout ones–often struggle to reconcile their feelings and religious beliefs throughout their whole adolescent lives. While some baklâ are told to abandon their homosexuality because of religion, others are encouraged by either parents or friends to embrace it, considering the baklâ to nonetheless be an important part of society.
While a significant minority, baklâ who are Protestant face varying degrees of acceptance based on the denomination to which they belong. The Philippine Independent Church, which is in full communion with the worldwide Anglican Communion, is known for its progressive stance. Various Evangelical churches and the Iglesia Ni Cristo are more fundamentalist in doctrine, and thus strongly condemn homosexual acts and suppress such identities within their congregations.
Non-Christian Filipinos who profess Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faiths also present a wide range of doctrinal views. Islam–the largest non-Christian religion of some 11% of the population–has views like the other Abrahamic Faiths in that homosexual acts are held to be sinful. As with Christians, individual Filipino Muslims may be more tolerant than others. Hinduism and Buddhism on the other hand frown upon homosexuality but are tolerant as well.
In Cebuano the term means "homosexual". In modern Filipino, it can mean either “effeminate man” or “homosexual” but the word itself has been used for centuries albeit in different contexts. The Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word "bacla" in reference to "a temporary lack of resolve", as seen in his popular works Florante at Laura and Orosman at Zafira.
They are also called bayot in Cebuano and agi in Hiligaynon/Ilonggo.
In narrating the Agony in the Garden, the traditional religious epic Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (The History of the Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord that Surely Shall Ignite the Heart of Whosoever Readeth), which is often chanted during Holy Week, has a passage that reads Si Cristo'y nabacla ("Christ was confused"). During Balagtas' time, when the Philippines was a Spanish colony, homosexual men were called "binabae" or "bayogin" like Alejandro Penunuri. Pre-World War II Tagalog meanwhile used bakla to mean "fearful" or "weakened".
It has often been mistaken that baklas was derived from the ancient Baybayin script used to write Tagalog until the 16th century, where the characters "ba" and "la" are said to represent the words for "female" and "male" (babae and lalaki in modern orthography), respectively.
Bakla are sometimes considered a third sex. J. Neil C. García recalls a children's rhyme that begins by listing four distinct genders: "girl, boy, bakla, tomboy" (In the Philippines, tomboy explicitly refers to a lesbian).
Although Filipinos had managed to deconstruct the standards of the gender role that was forced upon by western influences during and after colonization, the stigma that was put upon people who belong to the third gender lasted'til modern times but now in a less strict way.
Nowadays, in almost every city and town across the culturally diverse islands of the Philippines there is at least one bakla (in general many baklas) living a normal life, accepted (at least by some) as a member of the third sex. This general acceptance of the baklâ sexuality does not, however, imply that they are considered equal to the other genders. García states that the ordering "girl, boy, baklâ, tomboy" implies “[The differing gender’s] hierarchal positioning relative to each other”. Although Filipino society is surprisingly tolerant of baklâ, there is an implied superiority of the “traditional” sexes over the other two.
Despite this supposed “hierarchy of the sexes”, baklâ have not only become recognised and accepted by most of society but they have become an integral part it. There are successful ones, such as some parlorista who own or work at beauty salons and are considered more meticulous and detail-oriented than female peers. A few prominent social icons are also baklâ, such as television personality Boy Abunda, hairdresser and entrepreneur Ricky Reyes, actor-comedian Vice Ganda, Filipino fashion designer Michael Cinco and the world's first LGBT political party called Ladlad which means to "coming out".
Miss Gay Philippines is a national beauty pageant for baklas. The participants model swimsuits and dresses, as in other beauty pageants worldwide. Many of the baklas that participate in this contest actually resemble female models that participate in non-gay beauty contests.
Baklas have created a special language that they use with each other, called swardspeak, and is used by both masculine and feminine baklas. Swardspeak incorporates elements from Filipino, Philippine English and Spanish, and is spoken with a hyper-feminised inflection. It was widespread and popular until the 1990s, but is now considered unfashionable in most parts of Manila.
- LeiLani Dowell (2005-02-17). "New Peoples Army recognizes same-sex marriage". Workers World Party. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- "Philippines". International Religious Freedom Report 2004. U.S. Department of State. 2004. Archived from the original on 13 July 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
Over 81 percent of citizens claim membership in the Roman Catholic Church, according to the official 2000 census data on religious preference.
- "Excerpt". Catechism of the Catholic Church.
- Wolff, John U. (1972). "baklà". A Dictionary of Cebuano Visayan. 1. p. 86.
- "bakla". Tagalog Dictionary. 2004. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
- Garcia, J. Neil C. (2008). Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM. Manila, Philippines: UP Press. ISBN 9715425771. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
"Also, another semantic space that bakla occupies refers to a state of mental confusion and undecidedness. This may be used to bear a linguistic affinity to the way Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word bakla in the context of a temporary lack of resolve, an emotional wavering in several scenes in at least two of his best known works, the romance Florante at Laura and the play Orosman at Zafira; later, prewar Tagalog writers used bakla to mean fearful and weakened.
- de Veyra, Lourd (24 October 2013). "HISTORY: MAY BAKLA NGA BA NA KASAPI SA KATIPUNAN?". News5 Everywhere. Archived from the original on 5 March 2014. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- Benedicto, Bobby (2008). "The Haunting of Gay Manila: Global Space-Time and the specter of Kabaklaan". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 14 (2-3): 317–338. doi:10.1215/10642684-2007-035.
- Aggleton, Peter (1999). Men who sell sex: international perspectives on male prostitution and HIV/AIDS. Temple University Press. p. 246. ISBN 1-56639-669-7. Retrieved 2010-06-05.