On April 11, 2008, Angie Umbac delivered a speech for a group of Accenture employees, at its FLAG Diversity Conference on Gender and Sexuality. “My name is Angie Umbac,” she said then, “and I have several facets, among them are being a government worker, a rights activist, a lesbian.” Then she added: “Being a lesbian is one part of who I am; but nonetheless, it is a very important part. It cannot be separated from the rest of me. No matter what role I play, what hat I wear, I am a lesbian.”
And the pride in the self – in her case, as a lesbian (and part of the GLBTQI community) – is what Angie believes should be pushed/advocated.
“I have two questions for you: Are you afraid that people would find out you are lesbian or gay? Do you think that when they do, it will get in the way of your promotion; that it would be better for you career-wise to stay in the closet? If you answer ‘yes’ to these questions, I understand. After all, the world can be very cruel, and your fears have basis,” Angie says. But she added, “if you ask me, I say ‘no,’ I am not afraid they would find out; in fact, I make it a point to tell them before they hear it from others. If career-wise it would be better in the closet, then it is the wrong career for me.”
TRUE SELF, REAL WORTH
Up to August 2009, Angie used to work at the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the central personnel agency of the government, which she likens to “your human resources office, but for over a million government workers.” Her work afforded opportunity to interact with the Senate and the House of Representatives. Since she also served as chair of the External Gender Concerns of the Commission, she did her best to ensure that on her watch, there are no discriminatory provisions in the laws that are passed by the Philippine Legislature, as well as in the policies concerning employees in the government service.
In Angie’s case, “when I was being considered for promotion, I was sure people would start poking around, checking my background to determine my fitness to serve. If I stayed away from the spotlight, there was no risk,” she recalls. But she asked herself: “’What is more important to me, acknowledging my true worth or just staying safe?’ I decided to take the plunge: I came out at the office and told them I am a lesbian. That way there will be no surprises, they will understand why I would feel strongly on certain sensitive issues and legislative measures.”
It was also, for Angie, a test of societal acceptance, as “I also wanted to know if they will trust me. Yes, I too had my fears.” Nonetheless, “I got my promotion; being a lesbian was not an issue among the people who mattered in the Commission.”
FOCUS ON ADVOCACY
Angie – a Bachelor of Laws graduate of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City (1998), and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (cum laude) of Silliman University, Dumaguete City (1992) – has been making the GLBTQIA advocacy rounds (so to speak) for quite some time now. She served in various capacities in government and non-government organizations. She admits to having a knack for legal and legislative advocacy, which is her primary passion. Preferring to work in the background, she likens it to being a specialist quietly finding cures in labs, and leaving the glam to high-profile surgeons and ER doctors.
She has worked as a deputy chief of staff of a senator, as a team member on paralegal involvement in a study of the Supreme Court, The Asia Foundation and LIBERTAS – Lawyer’s League for Liberty on addressing “Affordability Constraints on Access to Justice” and as co-Secretary General of the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network or LAGABLAB.
Angie believes that hiding who you are or talking about it is a personal choice. “Although admittedly there are those who had negative experiences on this, I try to remember that when some people ask us about our sexual orientation or gender identity, sometimes they simply want to know, and not necessarily because they want to harm us,” she says.
For Angie, allies and supporters can be found everywhere. She found allies in the top brass of her government office when in July 2006, she travelled to Montreal, Canada to present a paper at the LGBTQI International Human Rights Conference.
“I did so not only as a rights activist, but also as a government representative. Travel tax by the Philippine government and visa payments at the Canadian embassy were waived; small courtesies afforded to one traveling with an official passport. So there I was speaking on discrimination against lesbians in the Philippines with the full backing of my government agency. From that time on, I never assume that people or institutions are against our cause; there are pleasant surprises out there if we have the patience and courage to seek out good and supportive people,” she recalls.
Angie is actually not as confrontational as some in pushing for acceptance. “Coming out can be very formal, or structured, or casual. It all depends on you and what the situation calls for. I have often been asked by family, friends, colleagues, ‘Did you really appear on TV or where you featured in a magazine, discussing lesbianism?’ There is the risk of being ridiculed and a general denial is admittedly tempting. But my answer is consistently in the affirmative. Oftentimes, their response would be to look uncomfortable and so I would ask them back, ‘How did I look? Was my make-up ok?’ And you could see the tension lift; they would be relieved and would say I looked fine. They would even suggest a more colorful shirt, a better shade of lipstick, and that is the end of yet another stressful coming-out episode,” she says.
Angie has been repeatedly recognized for her efforts. Among others, she was given the Gawad Kawayan para sa Katangi-tanging Kasapi ng Gender and Advocacy Networking Group (Bamboo Award for Outstanding Member of the Gender and Advocacy Networking Group) for championing the issues of gender and development in both her personal and professional lives; and the Gawad Kawayan para sa Katapatan (Bamboo Award for Loyal Service) to the Gender and Advocacy Networking Group, both given by the Civil Service Commission on March 28, 2008.
“The citation for the awards credited me for practicing gender fairness in my professional and personal life. In short, they gave me awards for being true to myself, and for standing up for what I believe in,” Angie says.
For Angie, “No matter what happens, do not be afraid to take risks. Keep pushing the limits. Know that you are not alone, there are people who will support you, and many of them are even straight. We make choices every day and in the end, it is up to you to choose what is best for you. Remember, your orientation, your identity, are not barriers. You have the power to be everything you want to be,” she says. “Live with no regrets and follow your heart.”