The “City of Love” and the home of the Dinagyang Festival is also the base of several LGBT groups. Similar to other major cities in the Philippines, members of the LGBT community here tend to congregate in search of safe havens where they can be themselves and interact with fellow LGBT people without fear of reprimand.
On a personal note, I have met and encountered several LGBT groups across the country – from Eastern Samar’s “Katlo San Julian”, Cebu City’s “Bisdak Pride Inc.” and “Men’s University Cebu”, and national LGBT orgaization “Bahaghari”. Each of these LGBT organization have similarities and differences, though more often than not, they focus on attaining genuine acceptance for the LGBT community, while also mobilizing the maintream society to start catering to the needs of the marginalized LGBT sector.
Specifically in Iloilo City, the formation of “clans” is what keeps the LGBT scene active. This may be the locals’ response to the desire to associate with people of the same orientation. As such, these groups allow the local LGBT people to have activities where they can bond while having bottles of beers or while partying.
There are, of course, efforts to be more socially relevant – for instance, there are LGBT groups that focus on increasing HIV awareness to effect prevention of infection. It is not rare for these groups to have “eyeballs” (i.e. get-togethers) to discuss relevant issues.
Considering this somewhat clannish culture the LGBT scene in Iloilo City and also of neighbouring provinces and municipalities in Panay Island, let’s look at one of such groups that – by simply existing – now help contribute to the continued fight for equal rights of the LGBT community.
Based in Iloilo City, GBT-Panay is an organization composed solely of gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from the island of Panay. Founded in August of 2014 by Rey John Dionio, the group focuses its efforts on promoting a gender sensitive community, while also trying to fight the spread of HIV.
In 2014, when the group started, it only had eight admins and 31 active members. But now, the group has established a more formalized organizational structure with eight board members, eight officers and over 100 active members.
Unfortunatley, for now, the group has no lesbian members “because wey believe that there may be conflict in terms of personal issue and overall interest of the group,” said Dionio, who thinks that at least for now, they are not equipped to deal with this. However, “we do not close our doors to them.”
GBT-Panay recently conducted several outreach programs, reaching such places as San Isidro, Molo; Janipa-an OST, Cabatuan; and Bagongbong, Barotac Nuevo.
“We do outreach programs to promote a gender sensitive community by giving school supplies and feeding the children to change the perception of the public that members of our community (LGBT community) also give back to society,” said Dionio.
GBT- Panay believes that “the programs we conduct also helps members of the community realize that being a member of this community is not only about fighting against discrimination, but also to serve and educate the people, because we believe that… we exist with a purpose.”
Now, as it eyes to further grow, GBT-Panay hopes to eventually have a physical space that would offer shelter and home to the LGBT people who have been neglected by the family.