Philippine Drag Queen Faces Arrest Over Controversial Jesus Christ Performance


A Filipino drag queen has been apprehended following a performance where they portrayed Jesus Christ reciting the Lord's Prayer, igniting a wave of criminal complaints from Christian groups.

Pura Luka Vega, whose legal name is Amadeus Fernando Pagente, was taken into custody on Wednesday, potentially facing a sentence of up to 12 years in prison under the Philippines' obscenity laws, a country predominantly Roman Catholic with nearly 80% of the population identifying as such.

The charges leveled against Pagente cite "immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows," as detailed in a copy of the arrest warrant released by Manila police.

In the video, Pagente, adorned in a bearded Jesus Christ costume, delivers a rock rendition of the Lord's Prayer in Tagalog. The video has since been removed.

The Philippines for Jesus Movement, comprised of Protestant church leaders, initially filed a criminal complaint with the Manila Prosecutor's Office in late July. Subsequently, a second complaint was submitted in August by the Nazarene Brotherhood, a Catholic organization.

Pagente has also been declared "persona non grata" in several Philippine cities, including the capital, Manila, a term derived from Latin signifying an "unwelcome person."

While drag queens in the Philippines have long been celebrated entertainers, impersonating singers and actresses while delivering comedic punchlines, Pagente represents a newer generation that employs their performances to advocate for causes and push the boundaries of free speech.

Speaking with AFP, Pagente expressed that the arrest is indicative of "the level of homophobia" prevalent in the Philippines. They added, "I acknowledge that some find my performance blasphemous, offensive, or regrettable. However, they shouldn't dictate how I practice my faith or approach my drag."

Supporters are rallying behind Pagente's release, employing the #FreePuraLukaVega hashtag, contending that "drag is not a crime." Some have drawn comparisons between Pagente's situation and alleged murderers and sex offenders who, they argue, remain at large without facing due justice.

Ryan Thoreson, an expert at the Human Rights Watch's LGBT+ rights program, has also called for the charges against Pagente to be dismissed, asserting that "freedom of expression encompasses artistic expression that challenges, satirizes, or offends religious beliefs."