A Filipina drag performer stirred controversy after a viral performance at a local bar where she dressed up as Jesus Christ and danced to a remixed version of a Filipino-language Catholic Mass worship song, sparking a heated debate on where to draw the line between “expression” and “mockery”, especially in a country like the Philippines, where around 79% of the population identify as Catholic.
'IT IS MY EXPERIENCE AND MY EXPRESSION'
Drag queen Pura Luka Vega stands by "Ama Namin" performance in a viral video from her show held last July 10, 2023, which sparked debate online. pic.twitter.com/2cGxWlmTq3
— The Philippine Star (@PhilippineStar) July 13, 2023
A 39-second clip of Pura Luka Vega’s performance went viral on Filipino social media, where she was seen dressed as Jesus Christ while performing in front of a crowd holding their smartphones to capture the “event.” Her performance included a punk rock version of the Catholic Mass worship song “Ama Namin” (translates to Our Father in Filipino), which the crowd danced and partied to while watching her perform.
The video was uploaded on July 10th on Vega’s Twitter account, with the caption, “Thank you for coming to church! ” She uploaded the clip in response to a Tweet from a follower who praised her drag performance on that day with a photo of Jesus Christ’s sculpture seated in front of a mixing station. While the Tweet Vega replied to was deleted, her video amassed 1,144 retweets, and 9,010 likes as of July 13.
— Pura Luka Vega (@ama_survivah) July 9, 2023
Devout Catholics and Filipino netizens quickly condemned Vega’s drag performance, describing it as “blasphemous” and “disrespectful to the Catholic church.” They also said the act would reflect poorly on the country’s drag community and the LGBTQIA+ community, which continues to suffer discrimination in South East Asia’s largest Christian-majority country.
Lawmakers also criticized Vega’s act. In a retweet of the video, Filipino senator JV Ejercito described her drag performance as “blasphemy” that “went overboard” and disrespected his faith as a Catholic. Another senator, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, warned that "this is exactly what will destroy our society,” referring to the performance.
Don’t spread the video. Already reported that video last night because it disrepect not just us but God also.
— Carmela (@carmxxela) July 12, 2023
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri also criticized the act, saying it "offends the sensibilities,” demeans the country’s Catholic population, and "dangerously scales the boundaries of protected speech and expression." He also suggested that Vega’s drag performance could violate Article 201 of the country’s Revised Penal Code, which prohibits offending races or religions "in the performance of obscene or indecent plays, scenes, acts or shows” and carry a six-year prison sentence along with a fine ranging from 6,000 to 12,000 Philippine pesos (equivalent to 110 to 220 US dollars.)
Really disrespectful. Must be in prison
— Migz (@MigzRN) July 12, 2023
Members of the Filipino LGBTQIA+ community also lambasted Vega’s drag performance, including the country’s first transgender representative, Rep. Geraldine Roman. She said the performance offended her as a Catholic and reached out to other Catholics, urging them not to misjudge the entire community based on the event.
While the drag performance drew the ire of conservative politicians and religious Christians, progressive politicians, including LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights advocate and Senator Risa Hontiveros, found the event was "regrettable" as a woman of faith and warned against using the incident to deny the LGBTQIA+ community rights and protections, saying that they’ve been marginalized and excluded for a long time. She also wished compassion, healing, and self-reflection for both religious Filipinos and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Bein a non-believer doesnt authorize anyone to misrepresent Jesus, use His image in vain, and disrespect others’ belief. While you stand against the Church you label to be abusive for years, you cant just invoke your right to self-expression to blaspheme against our God.
— rayleighme (@thisismeLemana) July 12, 2023
There are also Filipinos who rallied for Pura Luka Vega, including LGBTQIA+ rights advocate and lawyer Atty. Jesus Falcis, who supported her and said that “There is no one way to pray. There is no one way to worship” in his Facebook post, adding that the drag act was not for those who didn’t like it but for the LGBTQIA+ community.
What’s wrong in disrespecting the faith that has disrespected the LGBT since time immemorial? This is nothing compared to inconceivable horrors inflicted by religion upon the LGBT community throughout history.
— (@aikonriche) July 12, 2023
While acknowledging that her act offended many religious Filipinos, Pura Luka Vega stood her ground as a drag performer.
“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.” Pura Luka Vega said in a Tweet. “That performance was not for you to begin with. It is my experience and my expression of having been denied my rights.”