When it was discovered that he is gay, Bagodatu Mabang Zacaria of Cotabato City was told by elders that he didn’t belong inside a mosque and in the madrasa (Arabic school). This is only one of the experiences that pushed Bhagz to eventually become an openly Muslim LGBT advocate by establishing the Initiative and Movement for Gender Liberation against Discrimination (IM GLAD) in 2008.
“Marami ang nagtulak sa akin. Isa na yung diskriminasyon sa barangay namin. Hindi kami binibigyan ng pansin bilang LGBT. Although may Gender and Development fund sa Cotabato, hindi binibigay sa amin ang karapatan na iyon (Many factors pushed me. One is the discrimination in my own village. We are not noticed as LGBT. Although there is a Gender and Development fund in Cotabato, this right is not even appropriated to us),” he said.
Bhagz cites the constant risks IM GLAD faces as an LGBT organization in Muslim Mindanao. “Na-o-oppress kami,” he said. And so, “nag-fo-focus ako ngayon sa organization at LGBT, especially sa mga issues na kinakaharap namin sa Islam (We are oppressed. I am now focusing with our organization and LGBT people, especially on the issues we face with Islam).”
Bhagz is first to acknowledge that “mahirap kalabanin ang mga religious. Mahirap kalabanin dahil naka-base sila sa Qur’an, Shariah (We know that it is difficult to oppose the religious. They are difficult to oppose because they base everything on the Qur’an, Shariah).” But for Bhagz, the Qur’an and the laws of the land are different. “We respect our religion, but we must also respect our rights.”
He recognizes the urgent need to address human right issues in the LGBT community, as well as other gaps in laws and in representation. “Dapat natin tugunan ‘yung issue ng gay killings. Dapat rin tayo magkaroon ng representative sa Congress at sa local level din. Dapat maipasa ang Anti- discrimination Bill (We need to address the issue of gay killings. We need to have a representative in Congress and also at the local level. The Anti-discrimination bill needs to be passed),” Bhagz said.
Bhagz is proud of IM GLAD’s initiatives in recent years, including conducting HIV and leadership trainings in Muslim villages. “Kung ano ang natutunan mo sa mga past trainings, dapat ito i-echo sa iba para ma-inspire din sila (What we learn in past trainings we must re-echo it to others to inspire them),” he said.
For now, he intends to pursue IM GLAD’s advocacy in Muslim Mindanao. “Ipagpapatuloy ko ang aming gawain. Kahit anong mangyari, walang atrasan (I will continue our work. No matter what happens, there is no turning back),” Bhagz said.
For more information on IM GLAD, email firstname.lastname@example.org.