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Nothing about us without us…

In all efforts done for minority groups, Michael David C. Tan is calling for the REAL BENEFICIARIES to be included not only as supposed beneficiaries of whatever effort is being made, but as key people in the decision-making processes. “Because in truth, having supposed ‘experts’ is NOT ENOUGH when these ‘experts’ do not really know what’s happening in the REAL WORLD,” he says.

Only a few days ago, an internationally recognized NGO in the Philippines sent out an invite to a transwoman friend of mine, asking her to become part of an activity that focused on transgender rights. That was, by itself, good. But here’s what is interesting: When it sent out its official invite, this NGO addressed the transwoman by using her legal (thus male) name, thereby opting to ignore the transwoman’s self-identity. My friend excused the NGO’s error, saying that this NGO is not really anti-trans, even if that letter was admittedly misguided. She is more… forgiving.

But this NGO is NOT the first to do something like this.

A few weeks ago, I knew of a gathering held to help in the drafting of local AIDS ordinances. I asked one of the participants if the PLHIV community was represented in the gathering, and the answer I got was: “I THINK they were invited but could not come.” And so non-PLHIVs had to speak on behalf of PLHIVs?

A few months ago, I knew of efforts that attempted to deal with the raids of venues frequented by men who have sex with men (MSM). Particularly, the efforts called for coordination to be done with the Philippine National Police (PNP) for them to be aware of the violations to the human rights of MSM whenever these raids are committed. Except that a non-MSM led the coordination with the PNP – someone who will NEVER, EVER experience the raids in these venues.

A few weeks ago, a friend (who works with communities) told me how he was reprimanded by his (former) boss (a woman) because, in order to serve members of clans, he went to the bars where they usually hang out. As this boss supposedly said: “Don’t waste time going where they are; make them go to you.” My friend asked, just before he quit the job: “Does this woman even know how these clans function?” My question is more basic; and so I asked (more emphatically): “Why is A WOMAN the one calling the shots for the efforts concerning MEN WHO HAVE SEX WITH MEN?”

And then a few months ago, another friend commented on how a panel in an international gathering discussed the HIV situation of Asia and the Pacific. Interestingly, NOT A SINGLE Asian was in the panel.

For me, all these encapsulate a very valid point.
That is, how many efforts (many of them “celebrated”) actually fail to take to heart DOING EFFORTS ABOUT US WITH US.
And this is, in the end, counter-productive.

NOTHING SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT US WITHOUT US.
That’s cliché, but that remains valid.
Particularly because it is STILL NOT often put in practice.

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And forgive me for sounding… annoyed.
Because, no, the intention is not to pick fights.
After all, as I always say, ALL EFFORTS that benefit the LGBT community (including HIV-focused efforts) should be welcomed wholeheartedly.
But I always believe that we need to be also more critical.

If an organization that gets funded (read: repeatedly gets funded) supposedly to serve us has failings, we should be raising ruckus.
Because if we don’t, then the errors go unchecked.
And when that happens, we’re left just as f-cked – only this time, money supposed to be spent to better our plight was wasted.

And no, I am not calling for the REAL BENEFICIARIES to be included ONLY as supposed beneficiaries of whatever effort is being made.
I suggest, instead, the inclusion of these people in the decision-making.

In fact, ALL DONOR AGENCIES (or whatever agency that provides funds) should make this a requirement: HAVE MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITIES BEING SERVICED IN THE DECISION-MAKING POSITIONS.
Because in truth, having supposed “experts” is NOT ENOUGH when these “experts” do not really know what’s happening in the REAL WORLD; and, for that matter, will often NOT EVER EXPERIENCE the issues of the members of the communities.

You intend to have sessions on trans issues? Then include trans people in the planning of the sessions.
You want the PNP to understand how their dealing with MSM is bad? Let MSM do the talking.
You want to service clans? Ask clan members what works for them.
You want to come up with decisions affecting PLHIVs? Include the positions of PLHIVs.
You want to include Deaf LGBTs among your target populations? Invite them in making of the programs (Heck, to start, at least translate whatever documents you are presenting to Filipino Sign Language so they are understood!).

Because – let’s face it – for people who do not belong to the communities that they are supposed to serve, we are only:

  1. stories
  2. numbers
  3. possible sources of funds

Sadly, and as we always say, lives are at stake here.

So PLEASE stop making decisions about us without us.

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