By: Hayden Navarro
[They use they-them pronouns]
Gilbert Gammad is the Youth Program Coordinator at the San Mateo Pride Center. They were born in Berkeley, but grew up in Japan and Italy for the majority of their childhood. They also graduated from UC Davis with a double major in gender studies and evolutionary ecology, and a minor in art history. They also are a part of Outlet, a LGBT youth program to help with mental health.
Q: How do you identify?
A:I identify as queer, as non-binary, specifically bakla… it’s a specific cultural Filipino gender and sexual identity. It’s used like the f-slur, but I am reclaiming it and accepting it as part of me. I also identify as middle class, as brown, able-bodied, college educated. Also as a military kid because my father grew up in the navy.
Q: How long have you known about your gender and sexuality?
A: How I knew was because I had very strange feelings when I looked at Goku from Dragon Ball Z. Somehow anime was how I learned when I was five. But it was also the reaction of my parents to certain things that I did. A lot of my childhood I really enjoyed wearing really large t-shirts and pretending I was wearing a dress, I would wear a towel after a shower or bath and cover all the way up to here [gestures to collar bone] because I thought I would develop breasts. I was used to doing that, because I grew up with my mom since my dad was deployed or out most of the time.
Q: How did your parents react when they found out?
A: A lot of the times I was doing these things my parents were abrasive. I was dancing around to Britney Spears and late 90’s girl pop bands, and singing at the top of my lungs, then my dad came in and took me to a more secluded part of the house and spanked me. He yelled at me and asked if I was a bakla [f-slur in Filipino culture]. This would happen a lot, where they would ask if I was gay and then yell and put me in a corner. It was really awkward at family parties, because I never wanted to go play tag with all the boys. I always ended up hanging with the girls and braiding Barbie dolls. Other parents gave me weird looks, and were mad at me. I grew up in a “Christian cult”, alongside a traditional Filipino household, which led to a lot of shunning. My parents found out because I was self-harming, and destroying a lot of stuff in my room that I used to love. They asked me what was going on, and I told them I was atheist, thinking it would be easier to handle than being gay. They were like “No, that’s not why you’re behaving this way. What else?” and so I told them I was gay, and they said “Yeah, we knew since you were like five.” Not sure if they were more accepting than I thought they would be because I was self-harming or because they already knew.
Q: What were your childhood and teenage years like?
A: I was bullied a lot, all the way up until I graduated from high school. I was ostracized by the boys, called gay. In elementary school I was chased around the yard by my crush. I got in trouble for sniffing him, in second grade. I liked him a lot and thought he smelled nice. So I stood next to him in line and sniffed him, and then the teachers saw and made sure we never sat together. That led to me being called “cootie boy” and being chased around. In middle school it got weirder, ‘cuz that’s when everyone is emo and angsty. I was severely depressed and self-harmed a lot. In high school I wrote a ton of angsty poetry. When I moved back to the United States from Italy and went to a new high school, people started rumors about me- that I asked out the openly gay boy on campus, who I had never met before in my life. Once a group of guys randomly shoved me and called me the f-slur, which is funny because one of them ended up being gay. There was one LGBT class in high school where I sat in the front and people behind me would poke me with a pvc pipe. I don’t know if it was they read me as gay, or as sad because people like to pick on sad people.
Q: Where was the turning point in your life?
A: College was definitely the turning point, I was out and free. Like flaming out, dropping as many hints as possible without saying it. I started getting involved with a lot of queer groups, and took gender studies classes. UC Davis was not my first choice, but it was close to home and I really needed that. I became more of an activist at the end of sophomore year in college. It was the year Black Lives Matter really took off because of Ferguson. I really felt like I was making a difference. In my last year, we organized a month long sit-in, or live-in, ‘cuz we didn’t want to call it an occupation, of the fourth floor administration building to protest our chancellor [basically the principle, but more power because they control the money]. She was getting a lot of extra money for sitting on for-profit university boards and shady book dealers and sellers. It didn’t make any sense, she was lining her pockets with money and we didn’t approve of that. She was also the chancellor who let the police get away with pepper spraying students during the occupy movement at UC Davis. We basically took the fourth floor to try and scare her, and even chased her around campus and yelled at her with signs. She got fired, or should I say she “resigned disgracefully”. People would donate food when we were there, weird food like cheese and such. People slept on the floor, and it was all really stinky because there weren’t any showers. Very musky. Hand soap did NOT count as showers.
Q: How did this all lead you to the Pride Center?
A: After college I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. College was how far I saw my life going. I worked with several LGBT groups at college, and I ran the only Filipino LGBT support group on campus. My major advisor recommended the Pride Center to me, and I was really close to them. They came up to me and said ‘Hey Gilbert, I think you would be really good at this”, and I thought I would check it out. I applied to several other things, like the Transgender Law Center and something about Asian art preservation. After the Pride Center opened, I met with Lisa the director and loved the energy. I still can’t believe I work here, because it’s so positive and such a great opportunity. I’ve been told by other people I should be a therapist or social worker, so that also led me to work here.