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Mherz Jamad: Empowering Bangsamoro lesbians in Sulu

Meet Merilyn “Mherz” Jamad, who, as a Tausug lesbian in the town of Jolo, Sulu island in Muslim Mindanao, noted even early on the urgency to address the issues of rape among women, corruption among local government officials, and the abuse of gays and lesbians. This eventually led her to help establish Tumba Lata, which fights for lesbian rights in parts of Muslim Mindanao.

Merilyn “Mherz” Jamad was 18 years old when she was beaten up by her father.

Hindi ba karapat-dapat sa mga magulang namin ang kagaya naming mga lesbian (Are we lesbians not worthy of our parents)?” Mherz asked herself after this violent experience, which compelled her to gather her friends for them to discuss this issue.

Mherz and her friends noted that, when discussing family acceptance of lesbians, “’yung iba, ok; ‘yung iba hindi naman talaga. ‘Yung ibang kaibigan ko, pinapalayas sa bahay nila (for others we’re okay; while for others we’re totally not. Some of my friends were even asked to leave their houses),” Mherz said.

From this discussion of common experiences, Mherz asked her lesbian friends of the need to form a group. “Hindi ‘yung organization, kundi pang barkada lang (It was not a formal organization, but a gathering of friends),” she said.

This led to the formation of an informal group, which eventually further exposed Mherz to the realities of lesbian life in Muslim communities.  “Doon na ako namulat at naka-encounter na ng gulo. May nakabangga na rin ako at nakipagbugbugan (My eyes were opened and I have encountered troubles. I have crossed someone and was even part of a street brawl),” Mherz said.

As a Tausug lesbian in the town of Jolo, Sulu island in Muslim Mindanao, Mherz knows the urgency to address the issues of rape among women, corruption among their local government officials, and the abuse of gays and lesbians.

‘Yung ibang bakla at tomboy, inuutusan para magnakaw ng mga pulis. Pagdating sa mga pulis, takot ang mga bakla. Yung ibang mga pulis, nambubugbog (There are gays and lesbians who are ordered by local police to steal. Gays are afraid of the police because some beat them up),” Mherz reported.

May naabutan kami sa town na batang lesbian, binugbog siya ng mga mama dahil nagnakaw daw ng computer. Tinanong kung sino ang mastermind, itinuro niya ‘yung istasyon ng pulis. Naalis temporary ‘yung pulis. Nabalik lang din. Marami din sila magkakapatid na inuutsan ng mga pulis na magnakaw. ‘Yung mga pulis sa town ang pinapabantay ng mga tindahan pero sila din mismo ang kumukuha (We have encountered a young lesbian at one town center who was beaten up by men after getting caught stealing a computer. We asked her who told her to steal, and she pointed to the police station. The police officer was just temporarily suspended),” Mherz said.

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Aside from the abuse of local police among gays and lesbians, Mherz mentions the oppression even within the LGBT community.

Basta mahirap ka at walang maibubuga na bakla o lesbian, tinatapakan ka. ‘Yung mayayaman na bakla minsan inaalila ang mga mahirap na bakla. ‘Yun ang pinaka-ayaw ko. Pareho kayong tao, dapat walang mayaman at walang mahirap. Dapat pareho ang pakikitungo (If you are poor and if you have nothing to prove as a gay or lesbian, you are stepped upon. There are rich gays who treat poor gays like slaves. I really dislike this. We are the same humans, there shouldn’t be anyone who is rich or poor. Treatment should be the same),” Mherz said.

Yet, even with this class struggle within the local LGBT community, Mherz sees triumphs worth highlighting.

‘Yung pagbubuo at pagsamasama, ‘yan ang gusto ko. Tagumpay ko sa sarili ko ang pagpasok ko sa Tumba Lata at na-prove ko sa mga magulang ko na ganito na talaga ako at hindi na ako mababago. Natanggap na rin nila ako (getting together and getting organized – those are the ones I like. My involvement with Tumba Lata is one of my personal successes. I have proven to my parents that this is really who I am and I will not change. The eventually accepted me),” Mherz said.

Mherz ran away from home after she was beaten up by her father in 2010.

Matagal akong hindi nakauwi sa amin; three years. Tumira lang ako sa mga kaibigan ko at nagbenta ako ng isda sa palengke. Hinanap ako ng mga magulang ko sa mga kaibigan ko (I wasn’t able to go home for three years. I lived with my friends and sold fish in the market. My parents searched for me through my friends),” Mherz recalled.

She still remembers clearly the day when she finally reunited with her parents. “Isang araw, mga 6:25 PM, nakita nila ako sa palengke at pauwi na ako. Sinabi ng tatay ko na tanggap na nila ako kahit anong uri pa ako (One day, at around 6:25 PM, they saw me at market while I was on my way home. My father told me that they already accepted me for whatever I am),” Mherz said.

After all her struggles, Mherz still has dreams. “Gusto ko mag-aral uli, pero parang imposible na. Gusto ko rin magtrabaho sa ibang bansa, pero parang hindi na, mag-fo-focus na lang ako dito sa organisasyon. Ito nalang ang itinuturing ko na tagumpay ng buhay ko ( I want to go back to school, but it already seems impossible. I also want to work abroad, but I don’t think that is going to happen. I will just focus on our organization. This is what I consider as the victory in my life),” Mherz ended.

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