“Back in 2007, I started taking up gender classes,” said Ivanka Custodio, member of the Board of Trustees of Ladlad Partylist, member of Lesbian Activism Project (LeAP), and program head of Task Force Pride (TFP). “Being familiarized with lesbian feminism facilitated my coming out to myself and to friends.”
In actuality, for Ivanka, “‘coming out’ is not so accurate — it felt more like easing in to the acknowledgement that I’m gay than coming out.” That easing in was, “I would say, the beginning of my advocacy. Whenever we were asked to write papers, I would always choose the subject of lesbian and gay identities and rights (I was yet unaware that there was a broader movement that encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues).”
Ivanka added: “Having always had the spirit of a rebel, I am easily angered whenever I see that people are being oppressed and denied of their rights. It didn’t really surprise me when, studying Gender in college, I was so disturbed by discrimination against lesbians and gays and the belief/social systems that cause it: heterosexism and patriarchy. But back then, despite seeing the injustice of it, I felt that my understanding of the issues was very limited.”
In 2009, Ivanka met the “awesome women” of LeAP; and the following year, she joined Ladlad Partylist, the only political LGBT group in the Philippines, and TFP, which organizes the Metro Manila-centric annual Pride march.
There are numerous issues that the LGBT community in the Philippines should focus on, said Ivanka. But “I think the number one issue that we should seek to address is discrimination. We need to have an anti-discrimination law, which guarantees the protection of our basic human rights,” she said.
There are also health concerns, i.e. HIV and AIDS. “We also need to focus on LGBT people’s access to health services and information, especially because of the alarming increase in HIV and AIDS incidences among gays, MSMs and transgenders,” she said.
With so much still needed to be done, “I’m most disappointed whenever I encounter LGBTs who fail to see the value in our advocacy. I have met people who tell me that discrimination is not real, so there is really no need for an LGBT human rights movement. Well, just because you’ve never experienced discrimination doesn’t mean that it can’t happen to you in the future and that you shouldn’t care that your fellow LGBTs do,” Ivanka said.
For Ivanka, too, “through the course of my involvement in LGBT human rights movement, I have grown close to many people who share the same dreams as I do. Working with these passionate people inspires me the most. Whenever I feel dispirited or burned out, I just look to them to be reminded of what I’m here in the movement for.”
Although she said she values her different roles in various LGBT organizations, “I would say that the work that is closest to my heart was organizing the National LGBT Conference with my organization LeAP. The conference was the first in the country to gather various LGBT human rights organizations from different parts of the Philippines. It took a lot of hard work, and I am proud of how it turned out,” Ivanka said.
Of course she’s “also proud of doing an LGBT human rights caravan which allowed me to go to various places all over the Philippines to hold film showings and discussions. Some of the people who attended an event in the caravan expressed how the concept of LGBT rights was new to them and how happy they are to learn them.”
Ivanka wants to continue doing the advocacy for as long as she can. “I would probably keep at the work that I’m doing. I can totally see myself as an 80-year old lola dyke in full rainbow regalia for Pride,” she beamed. “The LGBT community feels more like a family to me than anything, so I would like for LGBTs to feel the same way about me. I want people to feel comfortable enough to approach me if they need some help in LGBT issues.”