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Lesbian couple Ymi and Cha, on getting punched for standing up for their rights

Bars and brawls are, sadly, two things that will inevitably collide. It only takes one person to ruin an otherwise pleasant night—and on June 3, punches were thrown because of one simple word: "No."

A lesbian couple, Cha Roque and Ymi Castel, said they were assaulted at a bar earlier this month by a man who wouldn't leave them alone.

Roque, filmmaker and Communications Director of Dakila, detailed the incident on Facebook:

Castel, guitarist for bands Flying Ipis and Squid 9, first obliged when the man asked for a selfie. Roque noted in her account of the night that he was already being handsy by then, but they brushed it off.

According to Roque, instead of leaving them to enjoy the night, the man went back and offered Castel a beer. She did not accept and the beer remained untouched on the table, but he kept hovering around and wouldn't leave.

Roque, dropping politeness at that point, asked the man to leave. But he wouldn't take no for an answer. Roque writes:

He stayed beside Ymi even after countless times of telling him to transfer somewhere else. I took a photo of him. His friend, who seemed sober, asked why I was taking a photo when the guy is not doing anything. I told sober friend to just take guy away but he did not respond. I called Kuya Pete’s attention and asked him to tell the guys to leave which he did but guy persisted on staying just to finish his beer

Minutes after, he got into a heated discussion with Ymi when she confronted him directly and asked him to go. It was when Ymi threw a tissue at him that he snapped and threw two punches at her (during this time they were outside Saguijo’s gate). I ran to them and tried to pull Ymi away, he punched me on my left cheek before giving Ymi another punch. This was when roadies and other Saguijo people ran to us.

The long night ended with the couple and the man before authorities at a barangay hall.

Castel and Roque are determined to file appropriate charges and, more importantly, follow due process. Through Facebook updates, Roque shared that they've encountered more bumps along the way.

For example, a police officer refused to use the term "girlfriend" to refer to Roque in the sworn statement. His reason? "'Di naman kayo kasal."

GMA News Online spoke to the couple about the incident and the larger struggle for gender equality and LGBT rights.

GNO: Clearly, the guy who insisted on invading your space and his friends felt like their behavior is acceptable. What, to you, does this say about how some men view women—perhaps, specifically, women of a certain sexual orientation?

Roque: I feel that most men do not take same-sex relationships, especially lesbian relationships, seriously.

If I were a guy, I don't think some other guy would insist on getting too close to my girlfriend, or call me a bitch for asking him to leave our table. If I were a guy, I don't think he would even approach our table just to hit on my girlfriend.

When we got to the police station with the guy who hit us, he was even referring to me as Ymi's best friend. That clearly shows that either he can't wrap his head around the idea that two women can be in a relationship with each other or that he just doesn't respect us.

Aside from our country being too patriarchal and misogynistic, there is also the culture of male gaze, and of men merely seeing lesbian couples as sex objects and entertainment.

Castel: I think it must be how they grew up in a culture where they are used to seeing women as lower beings, entertainment, or objects of their desire and fantasies.

Especially if they see you're in a lesbian relationship, I can't even imagine where they find the guts to present themselves and try to hit on [you]. Sometimes I think it's become a challenge for them to infiltrate a lesbian relationship just to prove their masculinity or that they're man enough to break off a non-straight relationship.

Like what Cha said, they don't take these relationships as serious as theirs. Some would even tell me "sus babalik ka rin sa lalake" or "nagkaron ka pala ng boyfriend dati e, phase lang yan gurl!"

Cha Roque and Ymi Sy. Photo: Emil Tapnio

GNO: This probably isn't the first time that this happened—not the punching, but the entitlement. The punching made it tangible, but could you share with more subtle/insidious forms of harassment that you encountered before?

Roque: I worked with my ex in a production house before where our guy colleagues would jokingly ask us to kiss in front of them to prove that we really are in a relationship, as if we owe it to them to prove that or even ask for their approval.

There was another time with the same ex where a guy kissed her hand in front of me and even told me, "Type ko talaga yang girlfriend mo." One last recent incident was when Ymi told a guy that she is in a lesbian relationship and the guy responded with, "Pwede ba akong maki-syota sa inyo?"

Castel: Men probably think it's subtle but it's not. My previous manager and two team leaders from a well-known telecoms company used to harass almost all the women in our division.

They would tell me to sit on their laps just because there's not much seats. And over lunch they would joke about "Nak****t ka na ba ng lalake? Baka pag nakatikim ka ng lalake eh hindi ka magiging tomboy," and my female colleagues would just laugh. And one day I just stopped showing up at work.

They have THAT kind of culture and it's very disgusting to work with these people. No matter how you tell them of your principles and that you're in a solid relationship with a woman, they just dismiss it.

GNO: Some women would have moved to a different table to avoid conflict—and felt defeated afterwards. Why did you decide to make him leave?

Castel: Because it's my spot. Because it's not comfortable to have some man beside me, leaning over me, listening to our conversations, hitting on me, giving me a beer I don't want, stealing my cigarette from my frigging hand. Because I know I don't like him there and because I know I can make him leave.

Roque: Ymi is a musician. We would always be in similar places like Saguijo and there will always be douchebags like this guy. Aside from both me and Ymi being very strong and vocal about our principles, we believe it's time to show these guys that not all women would shut up and walk away, some women fight back.

If we transferred to a different table, we would walk away defeated and the guy would do it again. It's time to teach these guys a lesson.

GNO: Those familiar with the history know that the Pride Parade was part of a revolution and not the peaceful kind. It's a reaction to the insistence that members of the LGBTQ+ community should conform and stay in their place. It's been decades since the first parade and we've come a long way—but why is it still important? What are we still marching for?

Castel: Situations like what Cha and I encountered [are] why it's important to still remind people that LGBTs are people and we have the same rights as them.

Roque: As much as I recognize that there has been a lot of changes in terms of how people treat LGBTQ+s, there are still no laws that would recognize and protect the rights of same-sex couples and LGBTQ+ individuals.

We march for a future where children from LGBTQ+ families will not be judged for having two dads or two moms. We march for a future where I can decide for my partner's health or have rights to our property if something happens to one of us. We march for a future where human rights violations and discrimination against LGBTQ+s will be penalized.

We march for a future where everywhere is a safe space and no more LGBTQ+ should have to stay in the closet. We march for a future where love is acknowledged as love, and everyone's rights are respected regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

GNO: How can allies help, especially offline? Sharing the story goes a long way, but it surely takes more than social media support to make real changes. How can people counter small, subtle sexism in their own small, subtle ways?

Castel: Speaking up and calling out people is a good first step, especially the ones close to them. It's how you teach a smaller group of people of how to respect and love other people, and then it eventually resonates to the whole society.

Roque: Call out people who practice sexism, or harassment in any way, even if they are your friends. Respect other people's relationships and personal spaces. Speak out and make your experience heard to educate people. Be aware of micro-aggressions and be respectful of everyone regardless of sexual orientation, religion, or race. Love! — BM, GMA News