By: Jade, Tkaranto/Treaty 13 Territory

When I think about what Pride means to me, I think about my cousin Matthew. 

A young boy and 2 young girls stand with their arms spread out
Jade with her cousin Matthew in a photograph from their childhood.

In 2021, Matthew died of HIV. 

Matthew– Matt Matt to me– spent summer breaks with me and my sisters. There is one particular memory that I cherish most. One day he tells me that we’re going to play outside together, only he tells me to go first and promised that he’d follow. I do as I’m told, not because he is older, but because I loved to play outside and was able to entertain myself anyway. As time passed, I realized that I'd been outside alone for a while so I sneaked a peek into our bedroom window to figure what’s keeping him.

He was playing with my Barbie dolls.

Even as a child I remember finding this endearing. I didn’t fully comprehend why he was playing alone, but I could tell that he was happy. Then, I saw him hide my dolls under a pillow once he heard footsteps coming from the living room. I deduced that this was something I have to keep secret even if I didn’t understand the complexities as to why.

All my years growing up, I knew that he was gay although he had never formally come out to me. With the way I was raised and the worldviews my mother imparted in me, I didn’t grasp that society viewed it wrongly to be that way. I loved Matt Matt as he was. Unfortunately, he grew up differently. More conservative and heavily religious. To him (and his community), it is a sin to be gay. It is deemed wrong and immoral. Because of the stigma surrounding it, he experienced homophobia at a different level. When he got his HIV diagnosis, he kept it secret. He braved it alone.

As a Youth Advocate I was asked, “what motivates you about being an advocate?” and I answered simply: I want people to be able to live life to its fullest potential. Without discounting all the good in Matt Matt’s life, and all the parts of it he sincerely loved, his life could have turned out incredibly different. If only he had the help he needed, the support he was owed, a love that was not conditional, and acceptance from those he wanted it most. It hurts to think what could have been if he was able to ask for help without fear of being judged for who he was.

The Philippines is a country that is still fighting for the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression Equality Bill to be enacted– a basic human right. Philippine society’s norm doesn’t include individuals who are gay and especially not those living with HIV. Matt Matt was made to hide because he deviated outside of the norm. Imagine how much more life he could have experienced if he didn’t have to hide himself from the world?

A week before his passing, I sent him a message. I told him that I loved and missed him. I told him that he was not deserving of his illness, I wanted him to hear that HIV is not a punishment for being gay and it didn’t make him unworthy of love. I told him how much I would have loved to play Barbies with him! All I got in response was a “Liked Message” notification. My sister tells me that he wanted to reply, that he had a lot to say back, but was too weak to talk or type. The last weeks of his life, it was as if he was simply awaiting death. He had accepted it, in the worst sense possible. He had accepted that this was his fate. 

When I advocate for 2SLGBTQIA+ and equal rights, I am not only advocating for myself, but I am advocating for Matt Matt– for the people in his shoes, struggling to stay alive at the same time as staying true to themselves. Being the person that you are should not be a detriment to your health. Matthew’s death has been a devastating loss for my family, especially because it was preventable. Matthew died forcibly amputating significant parts of himself. So, I engage in advocacy for Matthew.