Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appeared to joke that he once identified as gay, but “I cured myself” with his first marriage. After marrying ex-wife Elizabeth Zimmerman, he told a crowd of Philippine nationals in Japan, “I became a man again.”
Duterte made the remarks in a speech punctuated by what the Philippine Star called a “kissing spree” of women in the crowd in front of his partner, Honeylet Avanceña, who did not appear disturbed by the event. He also reportedly discussed his failed marriage to Zimmerman and living with, but not marrying, Avanceña.
Duterte has a mixed record of remarks on homosexuality and LGBT people, repeatedly stating he does not discriminate against gay people and, in one instance, urging the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry each other because “most” are gay. He has ruled out supporting the legalization of gay marriage in the Philippines, however, and urged citizens to “kill bishops” during remarks where he claimed they were all gay.
His latest remarks occurred at an event targeting the Philippine community in Japan, where he visited to attend a security summit and meet with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.
Duterte’s remarks on his sexual identity began with joking insults at Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a longtime critic of his, according to the Philippine outlet Rappler. He claimed someone told him that, “You ask any gay person who sees Trillanes move, they’ll say he’s gay.”
“Good thing Trillanes and I are similar. But I cured myself,” he continued. “When I began a relationship with Zimmerman, I said, this is it. I became a man again.”
Rappler notes that, before the joke at Trillanes’ expense, Duterte had “confessed” to being gay, but later said “Duterte is gay. So I am gay, I don’t care if I’m gay or not.”
At the same event, the Star reports that Duterte “kissed five women here in the presence of his longtime partner Honeylet Avanceña, whom he described as his ‘First Lady,'” although the two are not married. Duterte reportedly kissed the women on the cheek and narrowly avoided a kiss on the lips from one of the women. He asked the crowd for female volunteers to kiss him.
“Who wants to volunteer? I want to go home already … First, you should not be married. Second, you should not be a minor,” he asked.
Duterte then went into more serious personal territory, telling the audience that his ex-wife Zimmerman left him. Zimmerman is the mother of three of Duterte’s children, all of whom are involved in Philippine politics. Sara Duterte-Carpio is currently the mayor of Davao city, succeeding her father.
Of Avanceña, he said he asked her to move in with him after they had their first child together. “I told her ‘Come home. No guarantees on your title. I could not say it but it’s really a destiny to become First Lady of the Filipino nation,” he said.
He also joked about Avanceña’s figure. “She used to be thin,” he said. “Now, she’s still thin.”
Duterte has a history of bringing up his sexual history in public speeches, often specifically his claim that he was sexually abused as a minor by a local priest. Duterte has repeatedly stated that he “lost [his] innocence” to an older priest later accused of several violations against minors in the United States. He has handed out free copies of Altar of Secrets, a book about sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, to fans at public events, and promised to “crucify” himself if anyone proves that the book is not factual.
The Philippines maintains a tradition of crucifying individuals to observe the Catholic holiday of Good Friday.
Duterte has urged citizens in the Philippines, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, to abandon the church and pray privately. He has also suggested they should “kill all those bishops … they are useless.”
On the issue of gay rights specifically, Duterte has offered mixed remarks. He has opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, saying that same-sex marriage can happen in countries like the United States because “that’s their culture. That’s only for them. That can’t be applied to us, we’re Catholics.”
As a candidate for president, however, Duterte said that “the gays were created by God.”
“There is a slight error in the Bible. It should be Adam, Eve, and the gays,” he said in January 2016.