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Magdalena Robinson: Not your ordinary beauty queen

Meet Magdalena Robinson, a beauty queen turned LGBTQI activist, who highlights the difficulties encountered by members of the LGBTQI community in central Philippines. “Please don’t ignore our reports, complaints and even our visits in your offices. We are never a nuisance but your proactive partner in your move to uphold and promote basic human rights for all people,” says the founder of Cebu United Rainbow LGBT Sector.

By Magdalena Robinson

PHOTO BY TROY ESPIRITU, COURTESY OF MAGDALENA ROBINSON

PHOTO BY TROY ESPIRITU, COURTESY OF MAGDALENA ROBINSON

The lady speaking before all of you is a proud transgender woman and a beauty queen. I am Magdalena Robinson, coming all the way from the queenly city of the south, Cebu, in central Philippines.

It’s not all just beauty and glamour that you see in me. Each day of my life has been subjected to difficult, traumatic and some terrible experiences from my past, present – though hopefully not in my future.

One unforgettable incident happened sometime in 2013. After a pageant, I was waiting for a bus to go back home and a man passed by behind me and suddenly hit me with a very strong punch at my back for no reason. That moment caused a commotion in the neighborhood, though the people advised me to just go home since that guy was known to be violent in their community. So I went home with a pain at my back, traumatized and with a heavy heart for not getting any justice, and in fear for my life.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF MAGDALENA ROBINSON

PHOTOS COURTESY OF MAGDALENA ROBINSON

But I’m not here for beauty and drama. I’m here to share with you a positive story that happened in our locality. Way before my organization started its actions back 2010, there were already negative incidents that made big news in our island.

In 2001, the human rights commission dismissed a complaint by a transwoman who was refused entry due to a club’s dress code/policy for its patrons. In 2008, Janjan, a gay man, filed a case against members of a hospital staff for illegally publishing a video during the operation that saw the removal of a perfume canister in his rectum; that video showed the medical team giggling and laughing at the operating room. Sometime from the 7th to 13th of October in 2011, 13 transgender women reported being targeted by an unidentified vehicle whose passengers shot them using pellets. And then there are the brutal killings of our trans sisters – Francis Lariosa was stabbed and her throat slit in 2003; Bernadette was killed with her face crushed in 2005; Sima, a trans youth, was stabbed to her death on her way to watch a pageant in 2007; Pinpin was stabbed to death with an icepick in 2010; Danica was stabbed 14 times in 2010; and Luningning was hit with a bat until she died, with that same bat reportedly inserted in her anus, and right before the Pride March revival in 2011.

With those pressing concerns, we realized that stage could serve to increase awareness about our issues; but we also realized that lofty answers to the Q&A portions of the pageants we joined never really went beyond the stage.  We wanted to translate our pageant answers to actions.

That was when we were invited to a stakeholders’ consultation and luckily met Councilor Alvin Dizon of the Cebu City Council. He agreed and committed to sponsor a local law to address LGBT issues, especially discrimination.

From then on, the community became active, speaking with the local government and other stakeholders. The lobbying lasted for 11 months, when a number of consultations were conducted, Pride March was revived, a Cebu LGBT congress convened, and localized efforts of international LGBT events (such World Civil Rights March and IDAHOT) were held along with other campaigns in barangays and schools. We also formed alliances in the city council, with a total of six authors agreeing to be co-authors of the local legislation. I sat as one of the members of the technical working group and pushed for the inclusion of other vulnerable sectors since discrimination is multi-dimensional. It wasn’t easy as we went through the process.

There were two legislators who posed their reservations, and the church was vocal in its opposition to the law in the media. But on October 17, 2012, the final reading came and the council unanimously approved the first comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinance in the Philippines.

The ordinance provided the Cebuano LGBTI people the redress we need during instances of discrimination, and a legal language that recognizes experiences of discrimination of diverse people of sexual orientations and gender identities. It mandated the city to develop and implement counter-discrimination programs.

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An Anti-Discrimination Commission ordinance was also passed in 2014 and have already been appropriated a budget for its 2015 implementation. It is still a challenge to make it a working ordinance. There are still reports of discrimination incidences but no one wants to come out and file a formal complaint. There’s continuing community partnership and constant collaboration with the city legislature in government activities.

Another progress is cooking up the neighboring city’s anti-discrimination legislation. The Mandaue City Council unanimously approved on its first reading the proposed Diversity Code/LGBTIQ Code of Mandaue last February 11, 2015. This ordinance reaffirms the principles of human rights of LGBTI people and recognition as a sector. Also included are provisions on anti-discrimination, integration and inclusivity of LGBTI in city programs and implementation. A Diversity Affairs Office is mandated to implement programs for the empowerment of the sector.

As of the moment, we are optimistic for the ordinance to get adopted. So now, I am calling the help of national human rights institutions and State agencies to issue official directives supporting local policies on equality and non discrimination in the government. This is a way to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and trans advocates like me in my work in lobbying for LGBTI-affirmative policies in the ground. The government should also be the bridge in engaging the private sector.

Please don’t ignore our reports, complaints and even our visits in your offices. We are never a nuisance but your proactive partner in your move to uphold and promote basic human rights for all people.

This is the speech delivered by Magdalena Robinson at the regional dialogue on LGBTI rights and health in Asia and the Pacific, held in Bangkok, Thailand. Robinson is the founder of Cebu United Rainbow LGBT Sector (CURLS).

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