OG Advice: 2018 Bar topnotcher Sean Borja on self-acceptance and LGBTQ+ pride

OG Advice: 2018 Bar topnotcher Sean Borja on self-acceptance and LGBTQ+ pride

“Being gay — by that fact alone — should not be taken against me or against anybody.”

The name Sean Borja will ring a bell. For a lot of people, Sean’s the Atenean bar topnotcher who bested thousands in the November 2018 bar exams. But for the LGBTQ+ community, he’s more than a bar topnotcher — Sean Borja is representation.

In his valedictory speech during his Ateneo Law graduation, Sean spoke about how being openly gay gave him the drive to excel: talking about when he got to law school, he promised himself to push his limits to see how far someone like him could go. Fast forward to 2019, he’s still doing the exact same thing. An ANC interview right after the exam results shows Sean still determined to keep on pushing as proof that “people from my community can achieve so much if people would just listen.”

In this edition of OG Advice, we talked to the new lawyer about finding your calling, LGTBQ+ rights, and his definition of pride.


Did you always know that law would be the path you’d take? What made you consider the field?

Becoming a lawyer wasn’t exactly my dream when I was young. Owing to the TV shows I used to watch as a kid, I actually wanted to become a detective someday! But you know, growing up, I was bullied for acting “gay.” My classmates would yell bakla to my face and in those times, I found that I actually had no voice. I couldn’t speak up, and I couldn’t defend myself. I would totally clam up and just submit. But as I became more mature, I realized I didn’t want to live that kind of life, where I couldn’t speak my truth, couldn’t share my story, couldn’t defend myself. And, well, I guess that’s how I chose to become a lawyer. As a lawyer, I’ve been trained to speak up, to be confident, and to argue — and not in a way that my emotions or feelings get the best of me, but in a way that is logical, rational, and believable.


From human rights to acceptance, our country has a long way to go. Add the day to day inconveniences, it can make someone feel so helpless. When the going gets tough, how can you cope?

I do my best to focus on the love around me. Growing up, I used to list down my enemies — a la Arya Stark — and to actually take the time to imagine all the karma that’s going to hit them one day. And you know, when you live your life like that, it makes you hateful, negative, and malicious. And I didn’t want to be like the “villains,” if you will, of my story. Over time, I realized that life is just too short to bother with people who have nothing but prejudice in their hearts. I’ve since learned to look around me, to find love, embrace it, treasure it, and to bounce the love back to the world. Because that’s what being human and being a part of this world are supposed to be.


“Being gay was just a part of me. Being gay — by that fact alone — should not be taken against me or against anybody, and most importantly, I had so much more to show to the world.”


As a vocal advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, surely you’ve encountered people who think negatively towards them. What’s your advice to people who want to defend the community from those who don’t understand it? What can you do if those people are family or friends?

Take the time to sit down with the people who don’t understand, especially if they’re your family or friends. When I came out, it wasn’t like I just broke the news to my family and left it at that. My family is very conservative and traditional, and I knew that I had to take baby steps and guide them through what it really means to be LGBTQ+. When I came out to my parents and siblings, it took time before they fully accepted me. What I did was to talk to them, and to help that understand that being gay was just a part of me, that being gay — by that fact alone — should not be taken against me or against anybody, and most importantly, that I had so much more to show to the world and that I was going to make them proud no matter what. It’s a lot, I know, but I think there’s a lot of merit in taking the time to help the people we love to understand us on a deeper level.


The SOGIE Equality Bill is back to square one after a three year period in Congress. What can we do to help pass the bill in the next Congress?

Elect better leaders. Seriously, for the LGBT people and allies reading this, I want you to know that it’s our duty to the community to, first and foremost, educate ourselves. Take the time to learn about the leaders who are actually pro-LGBT rights so that your vote can be more informed. Also, more than educating ourselves, let’s actually get out of the house and vote.


We all have our own closets that are hard to get out of. How did you know it was time to come out? Any advice for those who want to come out of their own?

It took a lot of time before I came out. I came out to my friends during my fourth year of college, and then to my family when I was in law school. What made me decide to finally come out was when I realized I was just so done with pretending to be somebody I was not. I wanted to live by my identity, not fake it for the rest of my entire life because that just takes up so much energy that I could use for things that actually matter.


For those who want to come out, but are too afraid, here’s a piece of advice: it all begins with self-acceptance. When you accept and love yourself without condition, you will realize that coming out is the most natural thing to do. The thing is, self-acceptance doesn’t necessarily come instantly. There’s no one way to arrive at self-acceptance, but what I do know is that it only comes after a lot of introspection and reflection. So to those reading, I hope you take the time to really reflect on your life, and perhaps what you want out of it moving forward. Maybe then you can find the self-acceptance that you need to come out.


For you, what is Pride?

For some people, Pride is a single month of the year; then there are people who think that pride is just one of the seven deadlies. But for me, pride is freedom — freedom from hate, from discrimination, from divisive attitudes. 

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