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R-Rights: Rights to Rights

In 2005, after negotiating the release of some 60 men herded from a gay bar in a dawn raid, some of the gay and lesbian activists who were present and who are graduates from the UP College of Law decided to form an NGO that would provide a legal and policy think tank for the LGBT community. And so R-Rights was formed.

A closer look at Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights) Inc.

In 2005, some 60 men were herded from a gay bar in a dawn raid and were kept in custody for a whole day without provisions – yet another of the widely accepted (yet largely ignored) occurrences of unscrupulous elements exploiting the fear of law enforcers by taking advantage of the lack of knowledge of members of the LGBT community on their legal rights.  After successfully negotiating their release with no one being charged, some of the gay and lesbian activists who were present and who are graduates from the UP College of Law, decided to form an NGO that would provide a legal and policy think tank for the LGBT community.

And so Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights) Inc. was formed – spearheaded by Germaine T. P. Leonin as founding president – as a one-of-a-kind LGBT legal NGO in the Philippines.

“Since there was no alternative legal organization composed of the LGBTs, and rendering services for the LGBTs, the founding members decided to organize with the goal of making sure the LGBTs will know their rights under the law, be empowered to fight for their rights, and have access to legal assistance and advice at their time of need,” notes R-Rights’ Angie Umbac. “R-Rights is an innovation to LGBT advocacy work in the Philippines. It seeks to create a legal and policy ‘think tank’ and resource center dedicated to LGBT issues. It is geared towards knowledge production, separate from the political base of advocacy groups, and is focused at developing ideas that will create major changes in the long run. It aims to contribute in the effort to eliminate discrimination and violence against LGBTs by producing strategic policy research papers and proposed legal reform measures, and by fostering an informed, rational, and objective discourse on LGBT issues.”


R-Rights has immediately gained good ground with its unorthodox method of imparting legal information free of charge to the LGBT community, students, and alternative law groups. R-Rights has, since its launching, expanded to include like-minded individuals from various disciplines like creative arts, education, media, psychology, reflective that “this is a community, and everyone can make a valuable contribution.

R-Rights’ activities and achievements include: Production of IEC and legal rights materials (i.e. Pink Card, which seeks to educate LGBTs about their basic human rights under Philippine criminal law; Blue Card, which is a primer for the legal protection of lesbians in intimate relationships; and Lilac Card, a legal guide that outlines the rights of lesbians in the work place); forums (Rainbow Exchanges/Dyke Dialogues) on specialized LGBT topics, best practices in LGBT rights advocacy, the need for sustained activism, and national and international updates, including special interest topics like lesbian literature, lesbian parenting, transgender rights under Philippine law, suicide risk of Filipino LGB youth, and election and party-list representation law. The forums were conducted in Quezon City, Baguio City, Metro Cebu and Cagayan de Oro., and were made possible with funding support from Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; and free legal counseling, assistance, emergency hotline services including the preparation of legal instruments for the protection of rights of LGBT.

Still other efforts include: Preparing legal papers and resource materials on sexual orientation and gender identity law; serving as resource speakers/lecturers on gender and sexuality issues; and offering of LGBT-focused paralegal trainings for LGBTs.

“R-Rights wants to make sure that everyone knows his/her rights under Philippine law. But law is not exactly a hot topic for discussion. How can you get people interested enough to listen? In addition, there is a dearth of legal practitioners who are available or who have the heart to take on LGBT advocacy work,” Umbac says.

To address these, R-Rights tapped young activists from diverse fields, who understand the needs and language of the ever-changing LGBT community. “With them, legal discussions are packaged with current popular issues and conducted in fun activities. We are proud to say that these activists are already undergoing paralegal training so they can communicate the law better.”

R-Rights, of course, also taps into popular non-traditional media, using the tools of this generation to reach younger LGBTs – just as “we also work closely with other LGBT organizations and human rights groups, (since) having allies make the work easier and more fun.”

Most recently, R-Rights started a weekly LGBT community radio program: Rainbow Radio Pilipinas (launched last November 21, 2009), aiming to discuss LGBT issues, and feature personalities and talents from within the community. This was made possible with funding from the Global Fund for Women. Rainbow Radio Pilipinas airs at DWBL 1242 kHz, every Saturday at 2:30-3:30 in the afternoon.

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A key issue for LGBTs, says Umbac, is “ignorance – we can spread the blame all around. For example, some members of the LGBT community do not believe we have rights, and do not think there is a need to assert our rights. On the other end of the spectrum is another form of ignorance, that there is no need to call for respect for LGBT rights because the oppression is not real, or even that the oppression is justified,” she says.

Umbac adds: “Ignorance is most dangerous in policy makers, people who make the rules. Where do we fit in this? We have the duty of making rationale and convincing arguments for LGBT rights. For example, if policy makers and legislators are unaware of discrimination committed against us, we need to make them aware, and give them the tools to adequately address our needs. If they do not listen, that is a different matter. But it is best we consider them allies first; we may be pleasantly surprised.”

R-Rights, thus, “works very hard at spreading information on LGBT rights through forums and now through the radio. In the grand scheme of things, every effort may appear to be a drop in the ocean. Such is the need for sustained activism. Yet, if in the crowd there is one student who will grow up to be a Supreme Court justice or senator, or a radio listener may be a teacher who help shape minds, and he/she makes decisions or teaches with compassion and understanding of the plight of LGBT, then our work will not have been in vain.”

In the long run, R-Rights hopes to be actively involved in an ambitious Asia-wide human rights documentation project on violence committed against non-heteronormative women, to be spearheaded by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. For this project, R-Rights /will be partnering with several LGBT organizations and activists for research in areas in Northern Luzon, Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

The community, in itself, still has a lot to work on, of course. “There have been petty infighting. We can expect that; after all, we are a family of diverse and strong-willed individuals. But the best thing is, when confronted by a common enemy, we come together and put aside our differences, just like in a family,” Umbac says, adding, nonetheless, that the LGBT community continues to be inspiring – e.g. “How lavish we can be with our thank-yous and I-love-yous within the community; meeting young activists, and knowing their eagerness and vibrance can sustain the movement, even after we are gone; and how the community always, always finds the silver lining – how positive we are about things, how we love to laugh, how our parties and celebrations are never dulled by the negative vibes and homophobia around us.”

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