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Help desk painted with the rainbow

On August 16, Cebu’s local government established an LGBT help desk that now symbolizes the city’s being “a more inclusive place and a safe place for all,” said tourism officer Punky Oliverio. It now helps LGBT people like Punky “protect other LGBT people”, signifying that “kita ra mag-tinabangay (Only we can help one another).”

On August 16, in an effort to “facilitate the concerns of the LGBT members of the community”, Cebu City’s local government – through the efforts of former Cebu City councilor Alvin Dizon and the current Cebu City tourism officer Punky Oliverio; with the backing of Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña – established an LGBT help desk.

According to Punky, who is a transwoman herself (and who championed the anti-discrimination ordinance of Cebu City, backed Dizon), the actual message of the help desk was to “make Cebu City (symbolize being) a more inclusive place and a safe place for all”.

Punky – who started “my journey as a transwoman (only in) 2015 – admitted that she is no stranger to the struggles experienced by other trans people. Because of this, Punky believes that other LGBT people should lend a helping hand to their fellow LGBT people. “No one else is fit to protect LGBTs but their fellow LGBTs,” she said. “Kita ra mag-tinabangay (Only we can help one another).

And so now that her life is better, “I felt the need to go out there and share what I know (and have).” Thus ensuring the creation of the LGBT help desk was a priority for her.

The help desk is now helping profile the LGBT communities in the various barangays of Cebu City. And when it reaches out to these local LGBT communities, projects include information dissemination on LGBT-related issues (and how the help desk is a one-stop shop to access these information), as well as organizing the very first LGBT job fair in the whole country last November 2016.

The LGBT help desk also serves as the secretariat of the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Cebu City, which is now drafting the ADO’s Implementing Rules and Regulations.

“I can only do what I can do. I can’t do everything but with what I can do, I will try to do the best I could with it,” Punky said.

Now, while Punky advocated for the creation of the LGBT help desk, the woman sitting behind is is Judy Ann Urdaneta.

Judy said she knows the LGBT struggle all too well, as she was assigned male at birth, and only had “the courage to be true to my identity”.

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When she was still a student at the University of the Visayas, she remembered struggling to conform with school policies. “Hadlok man ko kay inig OJT dapat short hair (Going on OJT scared me because then I was forced to present myself as a man with short hair),” Judy said.

Things did not get better when she entered the workforce. Even while working as a government employee, “I was called a him before.”

Judy added: “I have (been) discriminated in the community.” And she even had issues to do with “acceptance within the trans community.”

These experiences did not deter Judy, even strengthening her zeal to help her trans sisters.

“I don’t see any person’s gender or preferences as a barrier. I see them as fellow human beings,” Judy said.

Judy is cognizant that those in the advocacy may be classified to fall under either those do “advocacy for love” versus those who do “advocacy for personal interests”. “Some organizations focus their efforts on personal gain instead of helping the community and addressing LGBT issues,” Judy said, claiming to want to be considered as among those doing advocacy for their love to be of service.

Both Judy and Punky recently participated in the Transgender Day of Visibility Awareness video, an initiative of the Transman Equality and Awareness Movement (TEAM) Cebu. The video deals with the stereotypes encountered by trans people – e.g. in the video, Judy proclaims: “I’m trans but I am not a faggot”; while Punky says: “I’m trans, and I’m not a crossdresser”.

Judy’s advise to everyone is “to be true to ourselves. Defend your identity ‘til the end. Just avoid other people’s unsolicited comments. As long as you are good to the people, the people will be good to you.”

As for Punky, “this is about freedom and equality. We are all born free and equal. We deserve all the rights that every human being have, including the right to be protected against discrimination and marginalization. We are not asking to be treated in a special way, just be recognized, respected and treated equally,” she ended.

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Visiting the Queen City of the South? Drop by the LGBT help desk, located at 2/F Rizal Memorial Library & Museum Building, Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City. Reach Cebu City’s LGBT help desk through; or +639436181499 or (+63 32) 4124355.

Justin is a proud Ilonggo, as much as he is a proud LGBT advocate for the youth. A political science student from West Visayas State University, he is the founder of The Student Advocates for Gender Equality (SAGE) Network. At 19 years old, Justin has already given SOGIE, HIV and AIDS, and human rights talks and lectures. He is also a Department of Health HIV and AIDS VCT counselor; and a volunteer and member of Youth Voices Count - Asia, a youth initiative led by young MSM and transgender women. As an advocate, he believes that "only when a brave few will raise the rainbow flag can the LGBT movement really reach its pinnacle."


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