Architect, artist, and athlete Karl Bautista believes it’s possible for the traditionally macho Filipino sports culture to change
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Generations of older Filipinos think sports in general are masculine.
Growing up, the way to boost your stock as a Filipino male was to play them—the more physical, the better. If you were weak, you’d be fortunate to just be considered weak; the worst was that you would be deemed feminine. “Gay” and all its derivatives were thrown too often on the court, the park, the field, wherever a ball was thrown and sports were played.
This is why sports and athletics, not just in the Philippines but also around the world, have been relatively slow to accept homosexuality among athletes. Former NBA player Jason Collins famously came out back in 2014, causing huge waves as the first athlete from a major global sports league to do so.
But change comes the more time passes, and it’s only a matter of when for queerness to be further accepted. In the Philippines, the movement for more acceptance, inclusion, and diversity in sports continues to grow, led by athletes doing the work and laying a foundation.
One of these athletes is architect, artist, and athlete Karl Bautista. A traceur (or a parkour practitioner), yogi, boulderer, Ultimate Frisbee player, and obstacle course runner, he is a member of the diversity committee of the Pilipinas Obstacle Sports Federation, which is pushing to increase acceptance and inclusivity in their particular spaces.
Part of their role is to provide safe spaces for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to simply play and exercise as they are, without the aforementioned toxicity that can often dominate local sports spaces. Having grown up an athlete before coming out as gay at 20, Bautista is all too familiar with how cis men typically act, especially when the issue of masculinity and physical strength (and the perception thereof) is involved, which is why he’s so passionate about keeping the community safe.
Can you tell us your story?
Being part of the community in the Philippines isn’t easy, with the country still being conservative and religious. Not only are we made to feel uncomfortable being ourselves but we also need to defend ourselves from homophobia and also fight for our rights. I’ve known I was different from a very young age, but attending an all-boys school made me question whether being different is a good thing or a bad thing.
How did you start being active and getting into these sports? Were you already out when you started being active?
I have always been active since I was young. My dad made us play golf in the driving range, and I was also part of my school’s football varsity from grade school to a bit of high school—those days I was still in the closet. I came out in college but didn’t want to give up my athletic lifestyle, so I found my new passion in parkour and Ultimate Frisbee, and eventually obstacle sports and bouldering.
How is it to be a gay athlete in the Philippines now, especially in the sports and communities you play in? Do you feel safe?
I feel somewhat safe. That is, I feel safe until made otherwise. I play a number of different sports and fortunately they have all welcomed me into their community—although there are some remarks here and there that could be harmful to the safe environment.
Men and sports in the Philippines tend to be very macho. How did you navigate that culture?
Unfortunately, that is very correct. The only way to join them is to beat them in their own game. Well, it’s not really beating them but more proving that you’re not weak and that you can keep up with them.
I’ve seen that you push for inclusivity and acceptance in the spaces you play in. Was that easy to propose and suggest?
Fortunately, the teams I’ve joined have already been welcoming and immediately accepted me into the sport. And that’s why I push for awareness about inclusion in that sport—because it already exists, it just needs to be amplified for people who want to try something new.
How is our society doing now when it comes to inclusivity and acceptance? How much further do we need to go?
Right now, at face value, it seems like we’re getting there with companies supporting the community and the entertainment industry starting to accept queer characters. But where it counts, such as LGBTQ+ rights, the SOGIE bill, and the outlook of the Church towards the community, we have ways to go. But we’re definitely heading in the right direction albeit slowly.
What do you think we need to do more of, that people may not think of right away?
One thing can be to promote Pride outside of Pride month. When it comes to Pride month, you see corporations and businesses jumping at the rainbow bandwagon but as soon as the month is over, so are they. To fully support the community, it should be seen all year around.
What do organizations and well-known athletes need to do more of?
They need to assess whether or not they are creating a safe space for others. Are they fostering toxic competitiveness, do they call out harassment and bullying, are they actively encouraging other individuals to join the sport?
Lastly, in your opinion, what can the LGBTQIA+ community itself do more of?
Take up space! We definitely need to be seen in other areas in which we need more representation. The [LGBTQIA+] community has always been comfortable in the arts, naturally creating a safe space where the younger generation can find solace, but having representation in other areas such as sports, politics, etc. can further encourage not just the younger people to grow up with a better outlook of the community but even our peers to understand us more.