A drag performer known as Pura Luka Vega, whose real name is Amadeus Fernando Pagente, faced legal repercussions after dressing as Jesus Christ and performing a rock rendition of The Lord’s Prayer. The performance birthed a heated debate on free speech and LGBTQ+ rights. The Philippines is a deeply Christian country where the Catholic Church holds vast influence.
Pagente, using they/them pronouns, was accused of blasphemy and violating obscenity laws by offending the religious sentiments of the Catholic Church. Their performance involved singing the Tagalog version of The Lord’s Prayer in a bar while dressed in robes resembling Catholic attire. Consequently, it drew widespread criticism and condemnation from religious organizations and politicians.
In response to the backlash, Pagente defended the performance as a form of artistic expression. They addressed their feeling of exclusion experienced as a queer individual in a devoutly Catholic nation. The drag queen acknowledged the discomfort the performance may have caused. However, they emphasized the importance of the act as a personal expression of their rights and experience.
“I understand that people call my performance blasphemous, offensive or regrettable. However, they shouldn’t tell me how I practice my faith or how I do my drag. That performance was not for you to begin with. It is my experience and my expression, of having been denied my rights.”Amadeus Fernando Pagente
The arrest of Pagente followed a criminal complaint filed by the Hijos Del Nazareno Central. The group represents devotees of the Black Nazarene, a significant religious icon in the Philippines. The Black Nazarene is a dark wood sculpture of Jesus, brought into the Philippines in 1606 and is considered miraculous. Hijos Del Nazareno Central, known for organizing an annual religious parade, expressed its concern about the defamation of their faith.
Additionally, Father Jerome Secilliano, the spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines expressed his views. He termed the performance as an offense against the church and a mockery of the Catholic faith. The Philippines still remains one of two countries in the world where divorce is still prohibited by law. 80% of Filipinos subscribe to the Catholic faith and are held by its laws which also prohibit same-sex marriage and abortion.
Critics argue that the arrest is an overreaction and an infringement on LGBTQ+ rights. Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Carlos Conde, asserts that this case reflects the weaponization of existing laws against the LGBTQ+ community by a few offended individuals.
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Also in support of Pagente is Rod Singh, a transgender Filipino and the director of “Drag Den.” The reality pageantry show, which first aired on Amazon Prime in December 2022 featured Pagente as a contestant. Singh, Pagente’s friend took her sentiments on the matter to X, formerly known as Twitter.
“This issue is no longer about a drag performance, your supposed god, or your thin faith. Whether you admit it or not, your prejudice against our community and the rights we demand is at the center of it. With your eyes wide open, you believe and worship a God you can’t see, but close your eyes to the matters of life and human rights that are at stake. You learned to pray but you didn’t learn to understand. Don’t ask us for something you can’t give.”Rod Singh