Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte claimed Thursday that he was once gay but “cured” himself after meeting his now-ex-wife.
“Who is gay here? I used to be gay,” he told a Filipino expatriate audience in Tokyo. “Gays can sense and identify fellow gays.”
While Duterte has a habit of making off-color jokes, his assertion appeared to be serious — though intentionally provocative. The audience, however, laughed and clapped loudly after his remarks.
Duterte’s apparent revelation came as he attempted to insult one of his vocal critics, Filipino senator Antonio Trillanes IV, by questioning the lawmaker’s sexuality.
“Now I ask you, what do you think of Trillanes?” he asked the crowd.
“Gay!” they shouted back.
“Trillanes and I are similar. But it’s a good thing I cured myself,” Duterte told the crowd.
In a statement shared with the media, Trillanes said, “By admitting his gay past, I am beginning to be suspicious of the true nature of Duterte’s seeming obsession towards me.”
UP Babaylan, the longest-existing LGBTQ student organization in the country, based in the University of the Philippines, slammed Duterte’s comments.
"We are offended by the notion that being gay can be cured. It creates the notion that being gay is an illness,” the organization said in a statement shared by GMA News in the Philippines. “We shouldn't normalize the idea of corrected therapy. Everyone has a certain level of attraction to other people. It shouldn't be used to discriminate against other people.”
Another Filipino LGBTQ group, Bahaghari, denounced Duterte's habit of calling his opponents "gay" as a slur.
"These statements, like his perverted and offensive comments on women, cannot be taken lightly or dismissed merely as jokes as they translate into inaction and further neglect of the LGBTQ+ community," the group wrote on Facebook.
In that same Tokyo speech, Duterte also said, “Long live the gay people of the Philippines,” to cheers from the crowd. His mix of comments about gay people left observers scratching their heads as to what he really meant.
The Filipino news site Rappler reported that Duterte has previously claimed that he was once gay, and during his campaign for president expressed an interest in opening the door to same-sex marriage in the Philippines, but backtracked in 2017.