After weeks of consultations and a series of activities, I still ask: “Where are they?”
Social Health of Inter-Ethnic LGBT Networks for Empowerment in SOCCSKSARGEN (SHINE SOCCSKSARGEN) has been conducting efforts to address the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City. To jump this off, it acted to surface the major issues and concerns confronted by LGBTs in General Santos City.
With its executive director, Cris Lopera, I played a role in the organized community consultation. With this, we hoped to map out the sectors and communities where LGBT community of General Santos may be found. We pinpointed organizations, groups, and the clans to be invited to the consultation. We personally delivered the letters of invitation to them and explained why their attendance is necessary. Mainly, we wanted for the LGBT groups to surface the major issues they confront in their communities in order for these to be addressed. After all, we have to raise our voices to be heard and to be recognized.
In partnership with the General Santos City Council Committee on Gender, headed by Councilor Shandee Llido-Pestaño, and the City’s Gender and Development Office, headed by Erline Grafilo, SHINE SOCCSKSARGEN invited members of the LGBT community from General Santos City (with representatives from the workplace, schools and barangays) for a consultative meeting. Noticeably, however, during the consultation on August 7, the lesbians failed to respond to our invitation and were thus not represented. On the other hand, the gays, bisexuals and transgender people from the workplace, schools and local barangays attended, and so were able to raise their issues.
Discrimination is the common experience raised by the participants, although in different levels. For instance, verbal and physical violence exist in the local barangays, particularly directed against transgender minors who expressed their gender identity at a very young age. Another issue divulged was that a state university barred gay and transgender students from wearing the clothing of their preference. Another academic institution even refused to hire a transgender as a teacher for “fear of influencing immorality”. A gay group called Sanlahi similarly raised that, unlike them, other gay and transgender groups are not recognized in other barangays; and that these groups are not given chance to participate in capacity building and livelihood trainings in their own community.
And these issues and concerns were those raised by the GBT community only.
The Missing “L”
The lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, although grouped into one, are separate and distinct sexual orientations. They have separate and distinct needs. Thus, issues confronted by them are varied. The levels of discrimination against them are not the same.
It is sad to note that after the personal invites to their groups, no lesbian responded to raise their voice. There may be several reasons behind their absence, but it is still disheartening to consider that not even one lesbian dared, or seem to be interested, to raise their issues in behalf of the others.
The LGBT community is one community. We are bonded by a common denominator, i.e. discrimination and unequal treatment based on our sexual orientation. I dare say that it is high time to change the status quo. We have to be heard. We have to be recognized. But we do that as one community. And we do this by being willing to voice out our issues.
The Missing IEC Materials
One of the things that struck the most the officers of SHINE is that, for the young gays and transgenders (aged between 17 to 27) who were present during the consultation, many were not even aware of the existence of the Social Hygiene Clinic (SHC), a branch of the City Health Office that offers free HIV testing and counseling. A clan of young gays, bisexuals and transgender people called Gays and Boys Club (G&BC), which has roughly 150 members, for instance, reported that their members have no knowledge of the said clinic. It was concluded by the participating sectors, including by the City Health Population Management Office, that there is a huge gap in the information dissemination about the SHC, moreso about HIV and AIDS.
If the city is serious in addressing the furiously rising incidences of HIV infection, why is there a gap between the young GBT people on one side and the HIV and AIDS information on the other? Do they know who their target audience is? Is the current information drive on HIV and AIDS still effective considering there is a rise of incidences in the city?
Filling the Gaps
The efforts did not stop there.
In order to initiate a dialogue between the gay and transgender community and the city’s lead offices, SHINE SOCCSKSARGEN invited both parties to a roundtable discussion on the major issues and concerns of the GBT community on August 19. The discussion was well attended, with representations from: the Office of the City Mayor, Office of the City Vice Mayor, City Council Committee on Health, City Council Committee on Gender, City Council Committee on Peace and Order, City Population Management Office, Commission on Human Rights Region XII Office, Department of Local and Interior Government Region XII Office, and Department of Labor and Employment Region XII Office.
It was agreed then for the offices to take part in the mainstreaming of the human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity and expressions (SOGIE). The Honorable Councilors Jeng Gacal, Rosalita Nuñez and Shandee Llido-Pestaño who were present during the discussion gave their words to sponsor the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of the City. Hon. Nuñez, who is the Chairperson on the Committee on Health, said that she will take part in the revival of the Local AIDS Council to address the HIV and AIDS concern.
The issue on why the young gay and transgender people of General Santos City did not know of the existence of the SHC and free HIV testing was, unfortunately, not addressed then. Largely, this was because the City Health Office and the SHC were invited to join the discussion, but no representatives attended.
SHINE is still determined for the lesbians of General Santos City to be represented in future activities for them share their stance pertaining their interest and welfare.