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Mistaken identity

Grabbing opportunities to highlight the plight of LGBT Filipinos – one mistaken identity at a time.

UPDATE: On July 28, the author received an email from the US Department of State (after they were informed of the supposed identity confusion), informing him that the one who sent out the invite “invited the correct person to the discussion – namely, you” (i.e. Michael David Tan, editor of Outrage Magazine), with his name provided by Andreas Schwarz, executive assistant at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Meaning, no confusion should have happened, as no error happened – except for those who got confused because of their erroneous assumptions 😉

“You’re another Michael Tan?”

At the US Department of State, I had the chance to converse with Nirav S. Patel, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Daniel Baer, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and Michael Pignatello, economic affairs chief of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, among others.

Here’s what’s, err, funny: They were NOT expecting Michael David dela Cruz Tan; they were expecting esteemed (and former head of the Health Action Information Network) Michael L. Tan, a friend of the organizer, Julie Dorf, who is a senior advisor for the Council for Global Equality. This was noted by, yes, Ms Dorf, as well as another Filipino there who joked about “misrepresentation”.

And no, I did not misrepresent myself – I did not, and do not need to.

This wasn’t the first time this happened to me, actually; and this, certainly, wasn’t the worse. Thrice before, the Bureau of Immigration had to ask me to get some clearance to prove that I am NOT the same person they have on their list, whose name happens to be… Michael Tan. That the cases against the person in their list were filed when I was under seven years old (check the case numbers versus the D.O.B. in my passport) do not matter, supposedly; for as long as we have the same name (not necessarily the full name – just with similarities), then we bear the same burden. I actually had to get clearances from a trial court for this – and, here’s what’s weird: if the case filed against THAT Michael Tan was filed in Tawi-Tawi, I was supposed to fly there to get some clearance from the local court there. The burden of namesakes, indeed…

And then one time, in another gathering I attended, much younger participants expected to see another Michael (“Mike”) Tan, that local Filipino celebrity who can at least (attempt to) sing and dance, both admittedly NOT included in my set of talents. Try facing a horde of tweens not getting what they want, and you’d know what pressure is – all because of a mistaken identity.

But in instances like this, what do you do?

Well, you can feel, and act, slighted – as many do, actually, when some matronly woman approaches them at some boutique store, asking them if “you can get me this style at size 8?” The tendency is to say, FORCEFULLY: “I am NOT a salesperson, excuse me!”, then walk away before she could perhaps respond with: “But you look like one.” That we could feel slighted for being thought of as a salesperson (supposedly under our deemed pay grades) is an altogether different issue deserving of a separate discussion (political economy, anyone?).

Or, when mistaken for somebody else, you can make the most of the situation.

You can choose to stay.

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Introduce yourself as your own person.

And after doing so, highlight that you have as much right to be where you are.

Because your issues are as valid as the others’.

There’s my observation, for instance, that even if the US Department of State kept highlighting that it encourages its embassies in various countries to take a more proactive role to promote LGBT wherever they may be, in the Philippines, that support is focused in the once-a-year LGBT Pride mini-gathering at the domicile of the US Ambassador to the Philippines. It becomes, well, sad when a “show of support” becomes just that: a show. You cannot just host a party for members of the elite in the society – most of them happening to be lesbian, gay or transgender; or who happen to have people in their social circles who are – and then claim to have been supportive of the LGBT cause.

Malu Marin of Philippines’ ACHIEVE noted that having such a gathering is in itself NOT a bad move; as she highlighted, we need to get as many people as possible to be in the cause. And I completely agree.

What is needed, however, is a re-configuration of the indicators being considered if the “support” is actually “real” or plain tokenism, and if the “support” is actually really beneficial to the LGBT community. If many of the people in the once-a-year gathering are only seen at these gatherings, and – worst – are actually unwilling to be even identified with the non-elitist LGBT struggle, then the “support” is not helping to unite, even galvanize the LGBT movement, but is succeeding in creating hierarchies in the LGBT community that we don’t need and have no use of.

Re-contextualization is what’s needed. For “real” support to be felt, there needs to be a re-analysis of how that support is being given.

  1. Understand the contexts of LGBT communities. In the Philippines, for instance, this means knowing of “clans”, those smaller MSM groups that exist, to begin with, because they are largely neglected by most mainstream LGBT groups. In Japan and in South Korea, this means inclusion of LGBT rights in the umbrella of human rights. Et cetera. Basically, what is needed is the going out of the comfort zones of those tasked to deal with LGBTs to actually get to know them.
    Alys Spensley of the EAP/Office of Public Diplomacy mentioned what may be done re this, i.e. strengthening partnerships with the US Embassies to aid in the provision of information about the local LGBT communities. So, yes, we shall be doing that…
  2. Show the money. Vince Crisostomo of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Regional Network on HIV/AIDS summed up the sentiment re this, i.e. that the expression of support is always heard, but funding the same is a different story altogether.
    Fortunately, as it is, the US Department of State said it has mechanisms in place and are being considered to support and help to prosper “smaller efforts”.
  3. Provide links. Much continues to be said about many in the “supportive corporate America” as far as advancing LGBT rights is concerned. But how do we get in touch with “corporate America”? The support has to be tenable, and provision of the links, of connections will help make this so.
    Australian senator Louise Pratt similarly touched on this (i.e. linkages), as she noted that numerous studies – for instance – may have already been done about various LGBT issues, but these remain unknown to many in Asia and the Pacific. Again, providing links will be beneficial.
  4. Don’t forget the minorities in the already minoritized LGBT community, e.g. the IDUs, the SWs, et cetera. This was raised by Aram Hosie, the director of research and public affairs of Inspire Foundation in Australia, as he noted that these populations are just as in need.
    I’d feel bad NOT including the differently-abled, such as the Deaf LGBTs, who are – as noted – just as in need. In AIDS 2012, sessions were had for and by members of the Deaf community, which was recognized to be as (or even more so) affected by HIV. While they remain to be disadvantaged, that the Deaf community is actually represented is a (good) surprise for me. In the Philippines, as stressed by my dealings with Deaf Rainbow Philippines, they remain to be largely excluded from LGBT discussions (e.g. transgender TGs are NOT even invited as members of Hearing TG groups). We need to include them in our discussions because our issues are also their issues.
  5. Scale up the efforts. Let me stress that while good, parties just won’t suffice if they are the only efforts done.

These are of course only some of the key points raised during the conversations, stressing the need for more to be done.

Yes, gratitude needs to be given to those who have done (and continue doing) us good – in this case, the US Department of State for its attempts to help better the lives of LGBTs not just in Asia and the Pacific, but elsewhere in the world. Just listen to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s speech about LGBT rights as human rights, and you’d know we have a great ally. However, and again, more needs to be done. And – just as America itself taught the world – from those who can do more, more is also expected. This is why I, for one, believe that it can, and should do, more.

We will, of course, always back it up as it backs us in our efforts to promote equal rights for all.

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Now back to me NOT being me.

I chose to stay and make my mark. I will continue doing so.

Here is how I see it: Consider it a blessing in disguise – you are provided a chance to bring up your issues, and all you have to do is do so.

Because this is not about personal egos – this isn’t even (just) about personal issues.
This is about a cause, which is bigger than any one of us. Because, really, whether they get my name wrong or right becomes secondary to the fact that the issues that we have, that we want to raise remain unanswered. And so we MUST raise them whenever we can.

But please, please don’t get my name – and me – wrong next time (!).


The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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