'We won't be forced back into the closet'
LGBTQ replaces burned Pride flag
Despite remarkable progress in the movement toward equality, the LGBTQ community continues to fight prejudice and intolerance, Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio said Monday, smarting from the burning of the Pride flag in Hagatna over the weekend.
"This incident reminds us that not everybody's on the same thinking," said the LGBTQ lieutenant governor. "We have to constantly fight just to make sure that the majority sentiment and the moral compass of our community are with us."
Members of Guam's LGBTQ community held a hasty gathering in front of the Congress building in Hagatna to quickly replace the burned Pride flag.
"We do consider that, definitely, an act of violence," Tenorio said of the flag burning. "We want to show the community, especially the LGBTQ youth, that there is a support system here and that no matter what happens, we're going to win. They can burn it again, we'll bring it right back the next day."
Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes called for an investigation into the Pride flag burning, which took place as Guam joins the rest of the world in celebrating Pride Month.
"The burning of the Pride flag is not acceptable. This is not what we stand for as island people," Muna Barnes said. "This can't be happening. I'm appalled by this."
Activist Lasia Casil denounced the flag-burning as "a violent act of hatred against the local LGBTQ community by a bunch of cowards."
The incident, she added, was a reminder that the LGBTQ community still has more battles to fight.
"It's very very upsetting, especially during this month when we are taking this time to remember all the pioneers in the LGBTQ community who came before us and made sacrifices so that we can be where we are right now, celebrating Pride month," she said.
"But we are resilient and we will not be pushed back into the closet. We're fighters and love shall overcome everything. This isn't going to discourage us from moving forward," Lasia added.
On the policy side, Tenorio said the local government has made its own accomplishments even prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's June 15, 2015 landmark ruling that recognized same-sex marriages in the United States.
Guam was one week ahead. It became the first U.S. territory to recognize same-sex marriage after a federal judge struck down the prohibition on June 9, 2015.
Federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood's decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero, who sued the government for denying their application for a marriage license.
On Aug. 27, 2015, the Guam Legislature passed the Guam Marriage Equality Act of 2015 came into effect, officially incorporating the federal court ruling into statutory law.
"So there has been some progress. We have a local statute that guarantees marriage equality despite any potential situation of that being reconsidered in the U.S. Supreme Court," Tenorio said. "There are challenges."
Also in 2015, the Guam Legislature passed the Guam Employment Non-Discrimination Act— authored by then-senator Benjamin Cruz—
which protects the LGBTQ against discrimination in the workplace.
"When Lasia was a private citizen, she advocated for and helped pass BJ Cruz's legislation," Tenorio said.
But work is not done, the lieutenant governor added.
"I think housing protections and access to health care are some of the issues that we have to try to help with," Tenorio said. "Also, we try to make sure that we provide safe places everywhere for everybody in our community."
The flag-burning incident, Tenorio also said, indicated that there is still an element of homophobia that the LGBTQ must overcome.
"This is a reminder for us that there's still a lot of fight to face and a lot of work to get people educated and make them realize that we're just all individual human beings just like everybody else. What we're all looking at is the belief to love whoever we want and to live our lives independently without any retribution or violence."