In 2001, some gay men and transgender women in Aklan sought to partner with the provincial government to provide services related to sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM). It was – according to the group – an “effort to address an emerging issue while holding the Provincial Health Office accountable.”
The group – which was led at that time by Nono Bantigue (who eventually served as the first chairperson) and the provincial project coordinator of United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), Caca Carillo – held peer educators’ trainings, guided by its motto: “Safety first: Mine and Others”.
“The group… combined entertainment and information to communicate its message,” said Errol R. Ordines, vice chairperson for advocacy. This approach “has been considered as a best practice for reproductive health programs in the Philippines.”
This group was eventually named Butterfly Brigade of Aklan, with the name chosen because “the butterfly is a fitting representation of our journey and individuality. Like the butterfly, we went through a process of evolution before we became the colorful organization that we are now.”
Just like many other LGBT organizations, the Butterfly Brigade didn’t always have it easy, with challenges including fund generation and resource mobilization, and lack of concrete support or platform from the government. Also, as a voluntary organization, gathering the members remain challenging.
But because the members believe in the cause, Errol said that there are solutions found to the challenges. For instance, since funds are essential for the implementation of various activities, members who have jobs contribute in kind or in cash.
Because of this, the group prides itself for having successfully conducted various events, such as the first-ever Miss World AIDS Day pageant in 2013 (held 22 days after supertyphoon Haiyan). The group believes that this effort helped increase awareness on HIV not only among members of the LGBT community but also to the general population.
Ordines believes that the one thing that distinguishes the Butterfly Brigade from other organizations is “our unique way of translating messages to our audience – in the form of infotainment – from which our organization has been known. Through theatrical presentation, we relay our advocacy messages to our target audiences.”
In 2007, the group was nominated by UNFPA-Manila for the prestigious Felipa de Souza Award. It is now considered a prime mover for the “beneficiaries of implementers” concept of RH and has since replicated the concept for other provinces in the country.
And even as the efforts of the group broadened to now also include outreach and organizing activities, capacity building, development of IEC materials, advocacy, and mentoring and referral services, “above all else, the Butterfly Brigade envisions an inclusive, informed and representational society from which all communities can benefit,” Ordines ended.
For more information on the Butterfly Brigade, visit the group’s Facebook page.