A good friend of mine, who happens to be a gay Filipino man, recently approached me about putting something online in order to display his disgust at what Manny Pacquiao said in regard to homosexual relationships. We had a lengthy talk about the issues with Pacquiao's arguments and how Nike's decision to terminate his contract was completely justified. I kept replaying the conversation in my head with one particular aspect of my friend's feelings in mind, encapsulated in his online post in the following:
"Further, he is thinking about running for political office so I think it's important to take a look at his arguments and point out exactly where he is wrong and exactly how incongruous these sentiments are with how a modern society ought to function." (Miguel Domingo, my friend)
I am not a boxing fan, I know of Manny Pacquiao and of his influence in the Philippines probably more than I am aware of his boxing attributes. What bothers me about what he has said is that he can convincingly reach a large audience. I'm fairly young and probably about as liberal as you'd expect, but I feel like I've deluded myself over recent years with satisfying ideals of equality and the eradication of prejudice towards certain peoples for their gender, race, or whatever other poor excuse humans find to exclude and discriminate.
My point here is that although what Manny Pacquiao has said is hurtful and factually incorrect (homosexual relationships do exist elsewhere in the animal kingdom), what we need to tackle is the reality of the influence he has and where exactly it stems from. Leading back to what my friend said, Pacquiao's beliefs on homosexuality are not compatible with, 'how a modern society ought to function'. In this sense, Pacquiao is in direct conflict with what I consider to be a society which functions and which strives for progression, moving away from discriminatory and outmoded ideas of what love and marriage mean.
I think it's also quite easy to write Pacquiao off as stupid or not worth listening to, which is, on some level, not far from what a lot of people will do. However, what I think is important in terms of public response is that we take Pacquiao seriously. He is incredibly influential, intends to run for political office and so should not be brushed aside. Equally, it is not entirely justified to say that his beliefs are somehow narrow, though they are offensive. As my friend has explained to me, the opinions which Pacquiao is promoting about homosexuality and homosexual relationships aren't unusual for someone who grew up in the Philippines; this is the kind of collective way of thinking of many, but by no means all, people. This isn't an attack on religion but a simple recognition of what kind of mentality an upbringing in a traditionally and religiously inclined society can produce. It seems to me that what we ought to do in response is challenge tradition in a way that opens people's minds, rather than deliberately ridiculing their beliefs.
What seems evident to me is that we are presented with a difficult task, namely that we ought to take Pacquiao seriously; there is no room for one-sidedness and at the same rate, no room for prejudice. Pacquiao should be confronted with the reality of what love and marriage now mean to a lot of people, i.e. not just the traditional picture of perfection between man and a woman. I'd like to see a more open and public discussion of this stuff. The media coverage of the issue (taking place a few weeks ago now) was to my mind rather marginal; I didn't hear as much about it as I would consider is appropriate for such a matter.
In some sense, Pacquiao is only a product of his upbringing in the same way that we all are. Nonetheless we can consciously change the environment of any upbringing. In doing so, we make wider and more forceful efforts in society at large to collectively foster considerate and mindful approaches to homosexuality, something which is to me necessarily progressive.