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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, January 29, 2011
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Joe: A liberating force

A couturier and multi-talented artist, who lived life to the fullest and was not afraid to be himself, was laid to rest at the Bacolod Memorial Park yesterday afternoon.

Joe Leonardia, 76, who simply did not wake up on Tuesday and gracefully passed away as he had always wanted, got a send-off that could only be described as “so Joe”.

His cremated remains, encased in an urn draped with his signature shawls, and black beret were buried after a solemn mass and homily officiated by his childhood friend, Msgr. Guillermo “GG” Gaston, at the Lupit Church in Bacolod City.

But the reception that followed was something else. Those present were greeted by his favorite pieces “La Vie en Rose” and “I enjoy being a girl”, and family and friends sang the songs Joe had entertained them with on many occasions in his lifetime.

In his eulogy, his good friend, Edouard Garcia, recalled that during the days when “gay” was a word none dared to utter, Joe Leonardia pioneered the movement in Bacolod City which  included legendary artist Jess Ayco and leading educator Baby Gonzaga, to come out of the closet and say “We’re gay and we’re proud!”

“Joe Leonardia was the most visible of their lot, flaunting his gayness, taunting the restricted confines of society, to accept his individuality and loving it. He will be remembered as such,” Garcia said.

“A liberating force to so many marginal people in Bacolod, Joe Leonardia went from queer to social icon,” Garcia added.

But Garcia said there was a side to Joe Leonardia that few knew, and it was about his godliness.

“When the AIDS epidemic was rampant in San Francisco, he reached out to the sick and forlorn – washing their soiled bodies and giving consolation to their battered spirits. Joe showed them that they were children of God,” Garcia said.

He also recalled that on his annual trips to California Joe would bring him and his mother to church everyday. He said Joe taught him the Leonardia family’s devotion to St. Jude.

“Joe Leonardia is in heaven. I can feel him looking down on us. He is in beige. From his beige-colored hair to his beige patent leather shoes. ‘So Chanel,’ as Madame Coco herself would say,” he said.

Garcia closed his eulogy by quoting W. H. Auden’s poem that starts “Stop all the clocks,” and indeed time stopped for Joe Leonardia on Jan. 25 at 8:40 p.m.

In his homily during the funeral mass, Msgr. Gaston said Joe Leonardia was honest to himself, he was happy accepting what he was, and he did not mind what other people had to say.

“A person cannot be happy unless he is honest with himself,” Gaston said.

Gaston also noted Leonardia’s devotion to God and goodness to others.

“Joe knew how to love God in his own way…He was a child of God,” Gaston said.

Leonardia’s niece Lourdes Batac, and his brother, Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia, also lauded him for his kindness, generosity and religiosity.

The mayor said his brother was generous to a fault, deeply religious, and had the guts to dare to be different.

“He was one amazing brother, friend and person, and we are going to miss him,” the mayor said.*CPG

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