Recognizing the importance of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) held a forum on “Diversity and Human Rights: A Forum on the legal and social environments of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and civil society in the Philippines” in Cagayan de Oro City. The forum was conducted in partnership with Oro Youth Development Council (OYDC) of Cagayan de Oro City Local Government, and two local NGOs – Hulagway CDO and Tingug CDO.
Around 130 participants, mostly students from different schools and universities in Cagayan de Oro City, joined the forum together with representatives from the LGBT civil society from nearby cities. The forum highlighted the findings and recommendations from the “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippine Country Report.” The report provides an overview of LGBT human rights situation in the Philippines including the effects of laws, policies, culture, and social attitudes, and religion, based on research, consultation and community dialogue with LGBT community. The forum also included the screening of a series of short documentary films entitled “Stories of Being Me” which aim to raise awareness on the well-being of young LGBT people across Asia-Pacific.
“The United Nations promotes and upholds the rights of every human being. Without exception, human rights apply to everyone, including LGBT people. The forum gave us momentum to strengthen our work at the grassroots level towards the welfare of the youth, and to help civil society champion their quest for inclusiveness and equality and how it can be better understood and promoted,” said Maurice Dewulf, UNDP Philippines country director.
A number of local governments in the Philippines, including the cities of Angeles, Cebu, Bacolod, and Davao are leaders in promoting the rights of LGBT people. In Cagayan de Oro, non-profit LGBT-led organization Tingug CDO conducted strong lobbying and advocacy to enact an anti-discrimination legislative city ordinance in consultation with LGBT communities. Reynante Namocatcat, president of Tingug CDO, shared his appreciation of the forum, and expressed that “we are seeking this kind of avenue to let our voices be heard by the youth, so that they recognize their rights and obligations.”
Alongside Tingug CDO, the Hulagway CDO is doing educational campaigns to promote the rights of people living with HIV (PLHIV). Benjie Manuel, who represented the group said: “It is time for us to be educated of our (LGBT) rights and to be responsible too.”
The event resulted in concurrence of those present the need to institutionalize an anti-discrimination and gender development ordinance for the city. Ernesto B. Neri, chairperson, Oro Youth Development Council (OYDC) of Cagayan de Oro City local government, made a commitment to push for safe spaces for the youth in cultivating progressive thinking and support for policies to ensure inclusivity and equality for all.
US Embassy Manila’s USAID mission director Gloria D. Steele said: “The rights of LGBT people must be respected everywhere. This forum on human rights of LGBT is an opportunity to open safe spaces for dialogue that will serve as a guide for development partners and governments at all levels to improve their engagement in addressing the needs of LGBT communities more effectively.”
“Being LGBT in Asia”, is a ground breaking joint initiative of the UNDP and the USAID. It is being implemented in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ is working with LGBT communities, universities and human rights organizations to gain insights into the challenges and successes of LGBT communities in Asia. ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ Philippine Country Report is available at UNDP and USAID.