Even when she migrated to the US in 1997, Michelle Jhoie Ferraris said she was already an advocate for LGBT rights “because I have seen the importance of having an organization that is fighting for equality,” she said.
However, she noted that while the community had “leaders and advocates, (I did) not see the real essence and passion of being a leader in them; that is why I challenged myself… to certainly make a difference.” Michelle Jhoie noted, for instance, how approximately over 50% of LGBTs do not even know that there are advocates existing to help them out, just as “there is no strong awareness about their human and legal rights”.
“Many are silent about their issues. (Many encounter) discriminations and harassments yet don’t even know that they should (actually) fight against (these); and there is also the crab mentality (in the Filipino) culture itself, where LGBTs envy other LGBT achievers and the same people are hindering and denying support (of those who do well) because of insecurities,” Michelle Jhoie said. “How I wish I can help change this mindset eventually.”
Michelle Jhoie decided to move back to the Philippines for good almost two years ago, which was when she was elected as the president of United Gay Power Movement (UGPM), a group that “has been existing for more than two decades already, yet has really not done anything for the LGBT community except for (beauty pageants),” she recalled.
When she became the group’s president (inducted by the Angeles City mayor), she spoke with the city’s main lesbian group to form a coalition – something she said was not easy, since in the Philippines, every sector has its own separate group. When the coalition was finally formed, though, “it was the first time in the history of our city that we became one,” said Michelle Jhoie, who was also eventually elected as the chairperson of the LGBT Committee in Angeles City.
The same committee has been doing various efforts, including: support of clean up drive campaigns, tree plantings, feeding programs, and skills and talents trainings, among others. But what may well be its biggest effort – and success for the LGBT community in the Philippines as a whole – was their pushing for an anti-discrimination ordinance in Angeles City. In a span of only 30 days, the same ordinance was passed, something “I am very proud of because it is the first such in Luzon, the biggest island of the Philippines; and we are the only third city in the whole Republic of the Philippines to pass such an ordinance,” Michelle Jhoie said.
With the strong presence of UGPM (with support from such groups as ProGay Philippines, among others), Angeles City has become LGBT-friendly in many ways. In fact, in an earlier Tempo.com report, the city mayor Edgardo Pamintuan even ordered the “creation of a ‘Gay Rights Desk’ in the city as he pushed for the enactment of a measure promoting the rights of LGBT Angelenos”.
For all that she has done, Michelle Jhoie is still eyeing to do more. Future plans include: creating strong awareness about health (including safer sex to curb HIV and AIDS), efforts to help and support people living with HIV in the city, and the development of future LGBT political leaders.
“I want to repeatedly reiterate in the minds of LGBTs that being LGBT advocates should carry a very strong awareness about their responsibilities, about being productive, and it is a must to develop and utilize their talents/skills and our God given potentialities,” Michelle Jhoie ended.