To give voice to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from the Philippines, representatives from various Philippine LGBT organizations participated in a regional dialogue convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Supported by the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other partners, the Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights and Health in Asia-Pacific aimed to provide a platform for advancing the human rights of LGBTI people.
Various issues were discussed during the gathering, including the role of advocacy in advancing LGBTI rights and inclusion, addressing the health and employment needs of the LGBTI community, tackling exclusion in education settings and how to create supportive family environments and safe spaces for LGBTI youth. The sessions were jointly organized with UNESCO, UNICEF, UNAIDS and Out Leadership.
Speaking about the need to re-focus the struggle for equal rights to ensure inclusion of minorities in the already minority LGBT community, John Ryan N. Mendoza, managing editor of Outrage Magazine, said that better representation is needed. This is because LGBTI and sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (SOGIE) activism and advocacy are “predominantly shaped by urban, middle class perspectives and sometimes tend to just over-concentrate on identities.”
“It is my call for action that as LGBTI advocates and activists, we should go out from our middle class comfort zones and find out how life is for a lesbian worker in a textile factory, a gay man in the countryside farmlands, a bisexual person with living with HIV in an urban informal settlement, a transperson who is also indigenous. Bring the LGBT and SOGIE discourse to the ground,” Mendoza said.
Personal – and often painful – experiences highlighted the discussions of the issues.
Addressing the health needs and reducing HIV vulnerabilities brought about by LGBTI marginalization, AR Arcon – founder of Pinoy FTM – highlighted the cultural biases of some health care providers towards LGBTI people.
“We are not carriers of diseases or products of immorality. We are not specimens or unethical individuals. We are people, and we need a full range of health information, service, and commodities. More than for our sexual and reproductive health, but also access to mental health service and hormone therapies. More often than not, whenever we go to consult a doctor for hormone replacement therapy, either they do not know how to treat us or they put their religious beliefs before our health,” Arcon said.
Tackling personhood and legal gender recognition, Ysang Bacasmas, founder of Ladlad Caraga Inc., shared her experiences of physical abuse from family members while growing up as a gender non-conforming child.
“Nagsugod to sa dihang 5 years old ko. Dili jud nako makalimtan nga gebutang ko sa sulod sa tangkalan sa manok mga 8:00 PM. Kay dili lage mosugot akoa amahan nga bayot ko (It started when I was five years old. I would never forget when I was placed inside a chicken coop at 8 pm. My father did not agree that I am gay),” Bacasmas said.
Krizia Consolacion of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines shared a similar experiences not only as a transpinay but also as an indigenous person.
“I was 14 by then – I went outside my comfort zone at such a young age with only my dreams coupled by my parents teachings. Little did I know that what’s waiting for me there is not what I expected at all. I experienced being discriminated just because I am part of a cultural minority group and at the same for being myself – it is a double whammy for me! Some students wouldn’t want to be with me and a couple of teachers would favor students from the lowlands over me,” Consolacion said.
Meanwhile, Bibo Perey, founder of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, shared his experiences being discriminated not only for being gender non-conforming, but also for being differently abled.
“I’ve been experiencing discrimination due to my identity since birth. It is double discrimination for being Deaf and gay. When I grew up I’ve been hiding my gender identity and did not show my true feelings. I was not fully aware what my identity is. I was very happy to be what I wanted to be,” Perey said.
Strategies were identified and discussed to deal with hostile and challenging circumstances that LGBTI people often find themselves in.
For Ruffa Torregoza of Gayon Albay, learning to accept oneself is a good start. “If you want to be loved by your family, you need to love yourself first,” Torregoza said.
On LGBTI exclusion in education, Eva Callueng of Babaylanes and Philippine Online Chronicles shared her experience and call for action. “I’m a teacher and a lesbian. My department head did not give me work after I came out on documentary shown in national TV. Let us push for SOGIE inclusive education. It will all start from there,” Callueng said.
Government experts, people from the academe and the private sector also provided inputs to compliment the community perspectives.
“It is important to work with policy makers. Civil society organizations in the Philippines are making the arguments for national human rights institutions,” said Atty. Twyla Rubin of the Commission on Human Rights.
The dialogue was supported by the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV programme and the ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ initiative.
The participants from the Philippines, chosen through a voluntary submission and review process, were part of the 200 participants from over 30 countries. The other participants from the Philippines were Elyon Divina of Pinoy FTM, Magdalena Robinson of Cebu United Rainbow LGBT Sector, and Daren Paul Katigbak of Woodwater Center for Healing.