Call to fight a common cause.
The presence – and even the surfacing – of LGBT people in this year’s MANILAKBAYAN NG MINDANAO 2015 (Manilakbayan 2015) is definitely deserving of being highlighted.
This is because it gives attention to:
- The neglect of non-“mainstream” issues – EVEN in the LGBT community; and
- How the leaders (and so the people following these leaders) continue to not heed many of the issues of those at the fringes.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Let’s start with explaining the concept behind Manilakbayan 2015, which is actually a people’s caravan, with members of rural communities from all over Mindanao (the group of islands in southern Philippines) mobilized and taken to the heart of Manila as they seek immediate action on the violation of their human rights. This year, there are over 700 “lakbayanis” who traveled from Mindanao to Manila by land and by sea, consisting of lumad from different tribes, peasants, trade unionists and social activists.
As always, the caravan emphasizes the existence of “imperial Manila” – that is, the political power is centralized here, with leaders who are often based here deciding the fate of the people that they do not even know (or even care to know).
This year’s Manilakbayan is themed: “Stop the attacks on our schools, communities and people! Support the people’s resistance to militarization and plunder in MindaNOW!” To break down, the demands of the lakbayanis are: to seek justice for massive human rights violations (including lumad extrajudicial killings); defend lumad schools, communities, land and resources; and resist corporate plunder and the government’s war against the people of Mindanao in the guise of fighting insurgency.
At least for a day, LGBT lakbayanis were gathered to discuss their issues (an effort helmed by the Bahaghari LGBT Organization) with other LGBT people from other parts of the Philippines.
LOOKING AT INTERSECTIONALITY
As a concept – and in a gist – intersectionality is used (in critical theories) to describe the interconnectedness of the operations of oppressive institutions (e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, et cetera). That is, they are interconnected and so cannot be examined separately from one another.
And so being LGBT in Mindanao (as it would be elsewhere) is “affected”/connected with other variables – e.g. a gay Maguindanaon, who is part of Manilakbayan 2015, lamented the “lisod nga panginabuhi sa mga bayot sa amo-a (harsh life of gay men where I came from)”, supposedly because of the discrimination hauled their way in the name of Islam.
For the 2015 LGBT lakbayanis, though, the fact that their being LGBT people from (minority communities in) Mindanao tops the very long list of the “institutions” that oppress them (their “being” itself as a form of oppression). “Dili gani madunggan nga lumad, bayot pa kaha nga lumad (We’re not even heard as indigenous people, how much more as gay people in indigenous communities)?” said Dondon, a transwoman who works with fisherfolks in General Santos City.
BEYOND THE ‘MAINSTREAM’
As it is, their non-inclusion in “mainstream” discussions already affects their plight, said Dondon, but this is often “worsened by the decision to subjugate one identity for another identity to be highlighted.”
Dondon, for one, witnessed how military personnel “poked fun at LGBT people – ginapa-sayaw nila, tapos ginakataw-an (they made them dance, and then they laughed at them),” she said. “Tingin nila sa atin ay hayop na walang karapatang mabuhay (they see us like animals that do not have the right to live).”
But their being LGBT is not usually included in discussions concerning the difficulties experienced by Mindanaons – particularly now that the issues of the lumad (e.g. lumad extrajudicial killings) are getting mainstream media coverage.
With this approach, LGBT issues – because they aren’t part of “mainstream” issues – are not at all discussed. “Walay ka-dungog sa amo-a (No one hears us),” Dondon said. “Bisang ubang pareha nato [Even people like us (i.g. LGBT people)].”
Their issues include: the effect of militarization of lumad communities on LGBT people living there, issues of bakwit (colloquial term for “evacuees”) LGBT people (e.g. rape), and self-identity in indigenous communities.
YES, ‘IMPERIAL MANILA’ EXISTS
Mindanaons are wont to say that the “dominance” of Manila highlights the “neglect” of the people elsewhere – that is, with policy-makers/leaders/decision-makers/et cetera all coming (and continue to be based) in Metro Manila, the policies they make for those outside Metro Manila are not always sensitive to the REAL needs there.
There’s Noynoy Aquino’s insistence that the Bangsamoro Basic Law be passed (with the false belief that it will solve the issues of the whole Mindanao), even if his government mainly ONLY coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as if the latter represents the whole of Mindanao. The approach is ignorant, if not blind; and is in fact typical of the “imperial Manila” approach (i.e. “We in Manila know what’s best for you”).
The LGBT community in the Philippines is not exempted here, with the discourses often “dictated” by those in metropolitan areas (e.g. Metro Manila).
One activist once said that claiming that there’s “imperial Manila” is erroneous, and even does disservice to the LGBT community because – as this activist said – it insults/belittles by subjugating (even erasing) the efforts done in (small) communities.
This activist is, by the way, based in Metro Manila and receives salary from an international agency, easily belying the veracity of this position/stance/claim.
The truth is, we who are in the “mainstream” (that’s including many of the LGBT people and even leaders in many parts of Metro Manila) are privileged. We have the luxury of discussing (and even arguing over) the gown worn by the Philippines’ candidate in Miss Universe. We get to discuss (and even decide) on access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). We get to worry about buying that more than P50,000 ticket to watch a Western performer. We get to worry about joining (or not) the queue when the branch of a Western fashion outlet opens in a ginormous mall. We get to worry about accessing an exclusive club. We get to worry about what clothes to wear in the next circuit party (or how much money we’re willing to spend for alcohol or even drugs when we’re in these parties).
Don’t get me wrong: This is NOT to attack the privileged (for many, you earned it, thereby deserve it). Instead, this is a call to re-consider our privileges, and to – perhaps – see that everyone isn’t as “lucky” as us. AND – the best part is – we can actually do something about the inequality/gap.
Dondon can now laugh at being bashed by her father because of her SOGIE, even if still with sardonicism. As a child, she recalled being “deprived” of a needed pair of shoes “bisan nag-second honor ko sa school (even if I was awarded the second honor in school),” she said. “Kinahanglan unta nako to, pero dili niya paliton kay bayot man daw ko (I needed that pair, but he wouldn’t buy it because he said I’m gay).”
Because outside our “comfort zones”, the issues are more… basic.
Lack of access to services (e.g. education and health) not only because they belong to lumad communities but, on top of that, because they’re LGBT (e.g. hormone use among trans people in non-metropolitan areas remain uncommon). Lack of employment opportunities (as an effect of lack of education, or – even if they’re educated – because they’re lumad AND LGBT). Food security (because of the lack of employment). Land ownership (affected by rights to own properties related to their SOGIE). Access to anti-retroviral (ARVs) medicines for, say, fisherfolks or farmers who are HIV-positive. Et cetera, et cetera…
“Malisadan lagi mabuhi (We have a hard time surviving),” a gay community organizer from Northern Mindanao said.
GET OFF THE HIGH HORSES
The very presence of the lakbayanis poses two challenges.
On the one hand, it is for those at the fringes to (learn to) speak up. In the case of the LGBT lakbayanis, opening up about their plight is a (good) first step.
At Manilakbayan 2015, Dondon is first to lament how, “ni-adto mi sa mga tents sa mga naa diri aron kumbidahan ang mga parehas nato; pero dili tanan mu-apil. Wala silay labot [we went to the tents of the communities here to invite people like us; but not everyone wanted to join (the discussions). They just don’t care],” she said.
But the thing is, we cannot include in conversations what we do not know exists. Because if we do (after “pretending” to know about the issues we are not familiar/part of), we’d be bordering on misrepresentation (even cultural appropriation).
On the other hand, though, as the “voices” being heard, we (in the “mainstream”) need to ensure that we give these people avenues/spaces to share their stories.
I’ve heard of an international discussion about HIV-related issues concerning people from Asia and the Pacific (APAC) – WITHOUT a single representative from APAC. Then we have the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) that the LGBT community in the Philippines is advocating, which specifically mentions persons with disability (PWDs) – but there isn’t even a version of the bill in Filipino Sign Language (FSL) so that Deaf LGBT Filipinos understand it (since they’re supposed to benefit from it, too). And then, of course, there’s the continuing lack of LGBT voices from indigenous communities, Muslim communities, sex work industry, et cetera, et cetera…
One of Dondon’s issues is the “attack hurled our way of others just like us,” she said. “Kana gani mga professionals, mga alta sociedad nga LGBT, mu-look down sila sa pareha namo. Pareha ra man unta tag gi-agi pero mulahi jud sila. Kana among gikamingaw, among gikasuko (The professional LGBT people, those who belong to high society, they look down at people like us. We’re supposed to be going through the same things, but they segregate/differentiate themselves. That’s what saddens us, what angers us).”
And in the end, it’s this disconnection, this failure to find ways to work together that will keep our (LGBT) house divided…