By Roxanne Omega Doron
After the onslaught of any disaster (natural or man-made), various responders are quick to provide sector specific interventions. In Samar, for instance, after supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) damaged the area, donors started an egg-laying livelihood program for women survivors. In Tacloban, projects were started to help women grow home vegetable gardens so their families would have a source of fresh vegetables. And in almost all areas affected by Yolanda, psychosocial experts started supporting the mental rehabilitation of women and children.
But for a while, one glaring absence was notable among the responses – and that is the inclusion of the marginalized LGBT community.
This is, for me, unfortunate, particularly because it emphasized the double marginalization experienced by the LGBT community after the onslaught of disasters. For example, the risk of sexual violence may increase during social instability. We’ve come across anecdotes of refugee tents used to molest young boys. Sexual and reproductive health needs, which continue and increase during crisis, also remain unanswered. And since personal grooming and hygiene is not a priority of disaster survivors, the livelihood of many LGBT people are affected (e.g. parloristas), which is unfortunate considering that most of these LGBT people are the breadwinners of their families.
I believe that a truly inclusive society responds to disaster inclusively.
Already, last February 2014, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) funded a pioneering LGBT-specific disaster response in the Visayas – “The Haiyan Aftermath: Listening to and Understanding the Unheard LGBT Voices in Haiyan (Yolanda) Affected Communities in the Visayas.” This was historic because it was the first of its kind in the Philippines. But more importantly, it significantly contributed to understanding the unheard voices of LGBT communities affected by Yolanda and contributed to the realization of gender identity and expression specific interventions tailored within the context of disaster risk reduction and management.
With 120 participants from various regions in the Visayas (90% of them gay or trans, the rest are lesbians), the effort generated three great effects: 1) LGBT-specific views on the impact of typhoon Haiyan; 2) positioning of the LGBT communities and leaders in the Visayas on climate change adaption (CCA) and disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM); and 3) creation of local LGBT advocates.
UUSC eventually funded “Build Resilient LGBT Communities: Organizing, Strengthening and Networking” in three regions in the Visayas, with the intention of bringing together more than 100 members of the LGBT community in the Yolanda-affected areas to enhance their understanding on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression; human rights; and the importance of organizing, networking and advocacy. Building resilience, in this case, means providing opportunity for various LGBT organizations helm locally-led activities that will not only enhance their organizational capacity and human rights advocacy and commitment, but also help them become sustainable.
Already, at least three livelihood development plans are being initiated by LGBT groups; even as the LGBT communities in the Visayas also organized themselves into one network (aptly called “Hugyaw Ka!”, an expression common to LGBT communities in the Visayas, which loosely means “Rejoice! Wonderful! Excellent!”).
All efforts to help disaster-affected communities should be recognized. But these efforts also need to be made more inclusive to ensure that everyone affected – LGBT people included – are served. Because in the case of the LGBT community, we can help ourselves if we are, to start, given the tools to do so, including in increasing understanding of commitment and solidarity on LGBT issues, documenting of our experiences as affected by the likes of supertyphoon Yolanda, and establishing of LGBT groups and networks. We ought not to be forgotten anymore.