Astrid was involved in an organization that had lesbian members even before she met Ziekent. “I was a member of UP Mindanao’s Happy People’s Club way back in college. I was not even in a lesbian relationship then, and I still identified as ‘straight’, but I had a lot of gay friends so I joined them,” she said. And while the club did not have advocacies, she felt happy as part of it since “it allowed us to get together and show how proudly gay we all were.”
Ziekent wasn’t as “lucky”. “Simula pa nung bata ako, matagal ko na pinangarap na may grupo na tutulong maipakita ang kakayanan naming mga lesbian. Pero kasi wala akong mahanap noon kaya naging active ako sa pagtulong sa charity works kasama ng mga missionary sisters kahit noong high school pa ako (Even when I was young, I longed to have a group that will help show the capabilities of lesbians. But because I wasn’t able to find one, I instead became active in doing charity works with missionary nuns even when I was still in high school).”
The two eventually crossed paths, becoming lovers. And at this junction of their lives together, they decided to establish the United Lesbians of Davao (ULD), a lesbian organization that wants to veer away from just holding parties (supposedly the “usual” activity of local lesbian organizations, and instead conduct civic-minded activities.
“I am a lesbian. In the past, I actively fought for the rights of students when I was a secretary general of Anakbayan in UP Mindanao; now, I should be able to do something to bring into light lesbian issues and that we can actually do more for the community,” Astrid said.
For Ziekent, becoming an advocate was a no-brainer. “Bata pa ako ramdam ko na yung iba yung tingin ng tao. Kahit sa work minsan, may mga work na di kami pwede or need namin magdamit babae para magka-work. Sa akin lang, sana pantay pantay (Even when I was young, I already sensed the different way people looked at us/treated us. Even at work, there are situations where they don’t hire us or they force us to dress according to our assigned sex at birth before they allow us to work. For me, equal treatment has to happen).”
While both Astrid and Ziekent recognize the many issues plaguing the lesbian community, as a couple, they are very vocal about the need for same-sex relationships to be given legal recognition.
“Nag-process kasi kami ng mga personal stuff namin like SSS, PhilHealth, et cetera. Ang hirap lang kasi isipin na di ko mailagay ang partner ko as beneficiary kasi hindi kami legally married. (We processed our personal stuff, such as SSS, PhilHealth, et cetera. It’s hard when I can’t even make my partner as my beneficiary because we’re not legally married),” Ziekent said.
“Simple things like that are irritating. I know marriage is just a piece of paper, but it is a paper that signifies equality,” Astrid said.
The two see many challenges besetting the LGBT community.
For Ziekent, “kapwa LGBT na mga pasaway. Kasi kahit anong gawin nating pagpapakita ng mabuting gawa, kung may mga LGBT naman na napapariwara, gumagawa ng kabulastugan yung nakakasira ng dangal ba… parang nakakapanghinayang lang kasi paano natin mabago tingin sa atin ng iba, di ba (our fellow LGBTs can be troublesome. And so no matter how well we show other people that LGBT people can also be good, there are still LGBT people who are troublesome and who give us bad rep… and so it’s sad to note the difficulty of changing how others perceive us, right)?”
Astrid added her disappointment in the “lack of interest from fellow LGBT people to participate actively even in something as simple as Pride March in Davao.”
But both continue to be inspired. As Ziekent said, “yung tipong parang susuko ka na dahil sobrang dami pang gagawin tapos iilan lang kayong kumikilos. Tapos may kasama kang magsasabi na kaya natin ito (there are times when you feel like giving up after seeing the work that needs to be done and only a few of you work. Then someone who works with you tells you that we can do this).”
“It makes you feel empowered. And refuels you to do more,” Astrid said.
And with ULD, doing more is what Astrid and Ziekent aim to do.
For more information on the United Lesbians of Davao, visit http://outragemag.com/united-lesbians-of-davao-uniting-for-a-cause/.