When Ladlad was founded as a Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) political party on September 21, 2003 by Danton Remoto, associate professor of English at Ateneo de Manila University, its thrust was said to be to fight for equal rights for all Filipinos. For being LGBT-linked, though, a birth-pain Ladlad had to experience was to be denied recognition by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) – TWICE. When it applied for party-list accreditation in 2007, it was denied accreditation supposedly because it lacked regional membership in the Philippines. And when it applied again for party-list accreditation in 2010, it was again denied accreditation, this time on the grounds of immorality. In a ruling released on November 11 that year, the COMELEC acknowledged that the party presented proper documents and evidence for their accreditation, but its petition is “dismissable on moral grounds.” Particularly, page 5 of the ruling stated Ladlad’s definition of the LGBT sector as a marginalized sector disadvantaged because of their sexual orientation “makes it crystal clear that the petitioner tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs.”
At that time, Ladlad filed a petition with the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse the COMELEC decision denying the group accreditation for the party-list elections, noting that the very denial of accreditation is an “example of society’s marginalization of LGBT” Filipinos, with the resolution demonizing the LBGT community by “accusing us of indulging in imaginary acts of immorality that the poll body deems ‘a threat to the youth’. More importantly, the resolution violates rights guaranteed under the Constitution and laws of universal application.”
On January 12, 2010, the SC granted a temporary restraining order to allow Ladlad to participate in the elections. On April 8, 2010, the SC allowed it to join the elections. Unfortunately, the party only received 113,187 votes (0.37%), which was below the optional 2% threshold, and so was unable to win a seat in Congress.
As the group turned nine years old, and with the next national elections slated in 2013, Ladlad is said to have “blossomed” from a struggling organization into a seasoned political organization.
As Bemz Benedito, Ladlad’s first Congressional nominee, put it, “in the last nine years, we’ve blossomed from a struggling organization to a complete and seasoned political organization for LGBT Filipinos (which is different from other LGBT organizations) that strives to unify all LGBT individuals and groups to advance LGBT friendly policies and laws, and empower LGBTs who are in the closet, discriminated, poor and handicapped,” she said.
It helps that “from our reputation before to be mobilized by LGBT advocates in ‘Imperial Manila’, we’ve maneuvered our movement to the grassroots by creating local chapters in the provinces. In 2007, when we were denied accreditation based on the lack of national constituency because we didn’t have chapters in majority of the regions of the country, now I am proud to say that between 2008 to present, we’ve covered 15 regions out of 17, and 70 provinces out of 80.”
Benedito explained that “the paradigm of Ladlad is different compared to other partylist (groups since) we started in the middle class (i.e. the founding members are middle class) going to the grassroots. And we are proving it that we can do this movement distinctively. We’ve increased our membership tremendously in the past nine years from a thousand to more than 60,000 members now.”
Ladlad’s platform remains the same, i.e. re-filing of the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) to give LGBT Filipinos equal opportunities in employment and equal treatment in schools, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, entertainment centers, and government offices; setting up of micro-finance and livelihood projects for poor and handicapped LGBT Filipinos; and the setting up of centers for old and abandoned LGBTs, as well as young ones driven out of their homes (the same centers will also offer legal aid and counseling, as well as information about LGBT issues, HIV and AIDS, and reproductive health).
Even sans a seat in Congress, Ladlad has been making progress.
In the past nine years, among the biggest achievements are: the recognition of Ladlad as a focal point of the media for LGBT issues and concerns “so that is creating a high visibility not just for Ladlad but for the advocacy,” Benedito said; recognition of the group as a political organization that directly and indirectly defends the human rights of LGBT Filipinos; and its recognition as a political organization that partners and supports other LGBT organizations and their specific concerns, such as the Pink Watch, CDO PLUs, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, LakanBini of Baseco Port Area Manila, Gay Achievers or GAYAC of Sta. Ana Manila, LGBTs of Bustos Bulacan, and others.
The group has even gone global through the efforts of its members abroad, like Ladlad Europa, Ladlad Middle East, Ladlad Japan, Ladlad USA and partnering with Fil Mo (a lesbian group in London for community outreach programs). It is also one of the few LGBT organizations regularly invited by universities and colleges to speak on LGBT rights and LGBT politics.
Since the group now has a staffed and equipped national headquarters, thanks to the support of TV personality Boy Abunda, Ladlad senior adviser, the group has been able to focus on “continuously developing (members of the) younger generation to lead Ladlad in different capacities. Hindi namin ipinagdadamot ang partido at hindi ekslusibo sa mga matagal na sa adbokasiya lamang kundi para sa lahat na gustong tumulong, may dedikasyon at handang maglabas sa sariling bulsa,” Benedito said.
Benedito added: “Generally, we focus more in empowering and organizing LGBT individuals and groups here in the country, and we don’t claim to represent all LGBT Filipinos because we acknowledge the fact that not all LGBT Filipinos subscribe to the mission, vision and platform of Ladlad. Masaya na kami na ang mas nakararami lalo sa mga probinsiya ay nagtitiwala at nakasuporta sa laban ng Ladlad. That is enough achievement.”
Benedito believes that Ladlad is making headway in effecting changes for the LGBT Filipinos. “By empowering many LGBT lives that we should not be relegated as third class citizens; by letting them understand that we have human rights like anybody else; by inculcating in them that it is not depressing, gloomy or deplorable to be LGBT so suicide is not the answer; by informing them that we need to fight for a representation in Congress because there are no policies or laws that protect them and there are laws existing that can be used against them. We continue to give a positive, pleasant, feisty but respectful face to LGBT Filipinos when we get interviewed. All of these are initial changes that making headway to the community and when we get to Congress, we can give them more in terms of laws and programs to champion them,” she said.
There remain challenges, Benedito admitted.
For one, a “continuing problem is that some personalities do not believe or trust the leadership of Ladlad,” she said, “but this is inevitable and you can never please everybody. I just hope that our advocacy is greater than our personal differences.”
It doesn’t help, too, that as Ladlad’s popularity grows, there are actually members of the LGBT community that attempt to use if for personal interests. There have been reported cases, for instance, when members of the LGBT community attempt to ask for money from various offices, claiming that the same will be used by Ladlad. Such moves “ruin the good name of Ladlad,” Benedito said.
Then there are “those LGBTs belonging to the upper class and middle class who cannot relate to the advocacy because they are doing very well in life and have never experienced discrimination. So we have to explain to them that they have to help this community especially for those who are not as fortunate as them in life and we are going to strengthen our platform so that it caters to all sectors and all social classes in the LGBT community. In any development work, the focus must be to all that we seek to represent.”
Also, “we encounter LGBT individuals who think that Ladlad is all about dole-out. We help as much as we can even if we don’t have resources, but we have to instill in them that Ladlad is towards legislative work, where the voice of LGBT Filipinos are heard and consulted when a law or policy is crafted.”
All eyes are now in the 2013 elections.
“The immediate plan is to mobilize resources so that we can competitively campaign for our party in the 2013 elections. We need to win because this is very crucial moment for us,” Benedito said. The focus is to “win, win and win in the midterm elections. It’s about time to represent LGBTs in Congress and fulfill the realization of our platform.”
For more information on Ladlad, visit Unit 3-C 4K Plaza, 677 Shaw Blvd., Brgy. Kapitolyo, 1603 Pasig City; call telefax (+63 2) 584 8029; call/send SMS to (+63) 917 8LADLAD (+63 0917 8523523); or visit http://www.ladladpartylist.blogspot.com/.