Gay and Lesbian Activist Network for Gender Equality Inc.
When Plato said (in The Republic) that necessity is the mother of all inventions, he may as well have been predicting the establishment of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Network for Gender Equality Inc. (GALANG).
“In our first focus group discussions (FGDs) with low-income grassroots lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) in Quezon City, we discovered that, in spite of the availability and accessibility of information, resources, and support systems, many Filipino LGBTs are unable to protect themselves from victimization and abuse because they are unaware of their rights and opportunities, existing support systems for them, and avenues for their political participation,” says Anne Lim, GALANG president, adding that this observation was compounded by their discovery “that internalized homophobia, (as well as) fear of recrimination, ostracism or social stigma play a part in preventing many of those aware of their rights to exercise those rights.”
Lim believes that “efforts to pass policy measures that protect Filipino LGBTs from discrimination have been unsuccessful partly because legislators are wary of earning the ire of powerful religious blocs in the Philippines, but largely because the Filipino LGBT sector is perceived by policymakers as weak, fragmented, and discordant, if not non-existent,” she says. “This perception is somewhat validated by the experience of one political party that sought to run for a party-list seat in the House of Representatives on the platform of fighting discrimination against LGBTs. The party was denied accreditation by the government election body purportedly because it had no significant presence in most parts of the country.”
To respond to the need to empower Filipino LGBTs, GALANG came to be in June 2008 (registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission two months later), as “one of a number of organizations working to consolidate and strengthen the Filipino LGBT sector,” Lim says. “(But) unlike most organizations, our focus is on low-income grassroots LGBTs. A non-stock, non-profit organization, GALANG is dedicated to assisting vulnerable Filipino LGBTs become ‘conscienticized’ and empowered members of society. GALANG believes that it is only by empowering others can we truly empower ourselves as Filipino LGBTs.”
For Lim, “perhaps the foremost challenge that we have faced thus far is our lack of resources. We are an organization rich in promise but poor in resources,” she says, even if she recognizes that “although we are working on a very limited budget, we are, nevertheless, grateful for the support of organizations and individuals who bless us with their moral and financial support (e.g. Mama Cash, the oldest international women’s fund based in the Netherlands).”
Yet another challenge is “our lack of a full-time staff. We run mostly on volunteer power, (as) all of us — core members, volunteers, and advisers — have full-time engagements,” Lim adds. “Although we are able to balance our personal and professional lives with our respective commitments to the organization, we do look forward, however, to having sufficient resources soon to be able to hire full-time staff to complete our program and projects faster.”
GALANG is currently led by a board of trustees (core members) composed of five lesbian-identified women with various professional backgrounds and persuasions (namely Lim as president, Lala G. Ravacio as corporate secretary, Sharon Rose A. Masula as treasurer, Racquel S. Gacho as director for special projects, and Armina T. Velarde as creative director). The core members are supported by an advisory committee composed of LGBT professionals considered to be trailblazers in their respective fields, including feminist lawyer Eleanor C. Conda, pioneering lesbian rights activist Giney Villar, and Agrarian Reform Law expert Edgar dL. Bernal. The core members are also assisted by volunteers from the Filipino LGBT community (currently reaching 15 individuals, with several volunteer applications being processed).
“We could not have achieved as much in the past nine months since we started if we didn’t have the support of our friends and benefactors. The confidence that they have shown in GALANG’s work continues to inspire us to work hard on the goals that we have set for ourselves,” Lim says.
Aside from meeting with several LGBTs living in depressed communities in Quezon City “to understand the most pressing issues and concerns of vulnerable LGBTs in urban areas,” Lim says, GALANG also joined the celebration of the launch of the Yogyakarta Principles and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in December 2008; and “stood up against homophobia and discrimination as we marched alongside LGBTs from one of our pilot communities as well as a vast spectrum of LGBT groups in the Philippines during the annual LGBT Pride March in Manila (also in December 2008).”
STRENGTHENING THE COMMUNITY
“One of our main differences from other LGBT organizations is our focus. We believe that the first step in consolidating and strengthening the Filipino LGBT sector is by bringing help where it is needed the most — low-income grassroots LGBTs,” Lim says.
The back-to-basics approach isn’t the only one to differentiate GALANG from other LGBT groups. “Another facet that distinguishes us is our approach and methodology. We allow our stakeholders to take part in the process of identifying and implementing development projects that can assist them in achieving their individual and collective aspirations,” Lim adds.
Yet another differentiator for GALANG is “that our organization is composed of a healthy mix of individuals with diverse personalities, interests, and backgrounds. We have long-time activists, writers, media and advertising professionals, artists, public servants, lawyers, educators and entrepreneurs. Some are G&D (grim and determined) in our advocacy, while others prefer a non-traditional approach. GALANG and our pilot communities benefit from the different perspectives and experiences that each of us brings to the table. Despite our differences, we are bound by our common vision of a better society for Filipino LGBTs.”
Already, GALANG is looking forward to furthering its programs to further respond to LGBT needs.
“In the next five years or so, we will be busy with our community-based programs and projects. Our training program will be launched this (2009), and it will be supplemented with the publication of a quarterly newsletter for LGBTs in our pilot communities. We will be exploring other forms of interventions as we continue to listen to and learn from our stakeholders and respond to the demands of the times,” Lim says.
And so, while necessity has driven the establishment of GALANG – a group whose name plays with the Filipino word for respect – it has continued not just to attempt to satisfy needs, but represent the very community it services. All in the way to attaining equality for all.
“We envision a just society that respects all persons, treats everyone equally, and allows everyone the enjoyment of human rights regardless of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” Lim ends.
To volunteer for GALANG, or to simply get more information, email email@example.com or visit galangnetwork.org.