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.”
GRAINING GOOD GROUND
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.
FACING LGBT CONCERNS
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.”
Diwata ng Muntinlupa: Celebrating LGBTQIA Pride in the Emerald City of the Philippines
Introducing one of the oldest LGBTQIA organizations in the Philippines, Diwata ng Muntinlupa, which was established in 1977 to advocate for LGBTQIA human rights while offering the members companionship and peer support.
ARTICLE FILED WITH ZOE DENYS GULLON
In 1998, a member of the LGBTQIA community in Muntinlupa City was murdered inside his salon two days before a show he was part of was to take place. The murder made the news (particularly locally), but what may not have been widely circulated was that the murdered person was (then) the sitting president of Diwata ng Muntinlupa, one of the oldest LGBTQIA organizations in the Philippines, having been established in 1977.
“It was rough for us,” recalled Glenn Ricaroz, the current president of Diwata ng Muntinlupa. And yet, the organization’s members went on with holding the already-scheduled show “and brought happiness to the people even when happiness was nowhere near our hearts because of what happened.”
That macabre occurrence highlighted for the members of Diwata ng Muntinlupa why the organization exists in the first place – i.e. advocating for LGBTQIA human rights so that nothing like that could ever happen to LGBTQIA people ever again, but (while doing the advocating) also offering each other companionship and peer support.
As the first LGBTQIA organization in Muntinlupa City, Diwata ng Muntinlupa’s formation was backed by former city mayor Atty. Maximino A. Argana. And in 42 years, it has been “steadfast in its intention to connect, support and represent (the LGBTQIA people) in the eight barangays (villages) in Muntinlupa City.”
Annually, the members support each other in highlighting their “connection” through an already regularized performance for the feast of the Sto. Niño (Child Jesus); a way of showcasing LGBTQIA representation through a religious event. During this event, Diwata ng Muntinlupa becomes “a showcase of talents,” said Ricaroz.
Muntinlupa City (or at least as reported to the leadership of Diwata ng Muntinlupa) is “largely LGBTQIA-friendly,” Ricaroz said. But this does not weaken “our support for the passage of an anti-discrimination law.”
Obviously, as in any law, the implementation could become an issue, but Ricaroz said that the very act of having an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people will validate their very being.
For example, “sa pulis (in the police station), when you report (there), ang treatment naman sa iyo is not bading or tomboy (you are not recognized as gay or lesbian/based on your SOGIE). You are just considered as man or a woman. So what will appear in the records/blotter is ‘pinatay ng lalaki yung kapwa niya lalaki (a man killed another man),” Ricaroz said. This erases not just the identity of LGBTQIA people, but could also inadvertently affect reporting on crimes committed against people because of their SOGIE.
After 42 years, the longevity of the group may be attributed to its ‘survivalist’ attitude. “Kahit sino naupo, nandyan kami (It doesn’t matter who is in power in the local government, we’re still here),” Ricaroz said. This is also a source of pride considering how local organizations are almost always formed and then dismantled only to serve the political dreams/intentions of politicians; they are – therefore – often at the whim of these same politicians. But “(for us), no matter who sits in the local government, Diwata is and will always be there.”
But – perhaps surprising considering the organization’s age; though perhaps unsurprising due to its very nature as a community-based organization – Diwata ng Muntinlupa also continues to face financial issues.
For instance, there are times, said Ricaroz, when “we struggle to keep (the annual show for the Sto. Niño going).” But benefactors almost always step up – e.g. founding member Mama Blanca, the local government, and community members. And “we are always overwhelmed with the support we get. This is why we still keep going.”
Diwata ng Muntinlupa continues to eye growth – e.g. the founding members total less than 20, but regular members now number over 120 people, not including allied LGBTQIA organizations/groups in Muntinlupa City. Meanwhile, there is broadening of efforts being made. After 42 years, it is finally getting itself registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And aside from the annual show for the Sto. Niño, it is looking into organizing sports events for the LGBTQIA people in their communities, start HIV advocacy efforts HIV; and develop a livelihood and entrepreneurial project for the LGBTQIA community through educational scholarships and TESDA.
“We want to keep the legacy of Diwata ng Muntinlupa going,” Ricaroz said, hoping that – in the end – the organization becomes like the very people its members hold in esteem, inspiring others to be moved into action for LGBTQIA advocacy.
For LGBTQIA Filipinos in Muntinlupa City who may want to join Diwata ng Muntinlupa, visit and coordinate with the officers via the organization’s Facebook account.
Courage Pilipinas: PLHIVs looking out after each other
The unanswered needs of those in the HIV community, and how social networking sites – in this case, Twitter in particular – can help deal with these needs that triggered the formation of Courage Pilipinas in June 2018.
In 2017, Rommel (not his real name; for privacy) created a Twitter account. As an HIV advocate, he noted that there are a lot of HIV-positive people there. “They ask: Ano ang gagawin namin (What do we do) after we test HIV-positive?” Rommel said. And so “I reached out to them.”
Initial “successes” included “getting some people tested for HIV, giving counseling to those who tested positive (but didn’t know who to turn to; specifically those with ‘alter’ accounts), and linking HIV-positive people to treatment, care and support.”
“Sadly,” Rommel said, “there were (also) a lot who were lost to follow up.”
It is this – the unanswered needs of those in the HIV community – and how social networking sites – in this case, Twitter in particular – can help deal with these needs that triggered Rommel to form Courage Pilipinas in June 2018.
For those not in the know, Twitter is a free service that allows users to post messages of 280 (or fewer) characters. These posts can contain text, photos and videos.
It is reported that one out of three adolescents aged 13-17 use Twitter, making it one of the most popular in the world; closely following the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Twitter is also used by professionals (including politicians like US Pres. Donald Trump, whose “official” positions are incoherently posted on the site).
Twitter, of course, is now also recognized as relevant in advocacy efforts, including in the promotion of HIV-related advocacy. Various studies have – in fact – been done about this.
In 2015, for instance, Tamara Taggart, Mary Elisabeth Grewe, Donaldson F. Conserve, PhD, Catherine Gliwa, and Malika Roman Isler, PhD conducted a comprehensive systematic review of the current published literature on the design, users, benefits, and limitations of using social media to communicate about HIV prevention and treatment.
In “Social Media and HIV: A Systematic Review of Uses of Social Media in HIV Communication”, the authors recognized that “social media, including mobile technologies and social networking sites, are being used increasingly as part of HIV prevention and treatment efforts. As an important avenue for communication about HIV, social media use may continue to increase and become more widespread.”
The researchers used a systematic approach to survey all literature published before February 2014 using seven electronic databases and a manual search. The inclusion criteria were: (1) primary focus on communication/interaction about HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), (2) discusses the use of social media to facilitate communication, (3) communication on the social media platform is between individuals or a group of individuals rather than the use of preset, automated responses from a platform, (4) published before February 19, 2014, and (5) all study designs.
The search identified 35 original research studies. Thirty studies had low or unclear risk of at least one of the bias items in the methodological quality assessment. Among the eight social media platform types described, short message service text messaging was most commonly used. These platforms served multiple purposes, including disseminating health information, conducting health promotion, sharing experiences, providing social support, and promoting medication adherence.
Social media users were also diverse in geographic location and race/ethnicity, with the studies commonly reported users aged 18-40 years and users with lower income.
An interesting research finding: Although most studies did not specify whether use was anonymous, studies reported the importance of anonymity in social media use to communicate about HIV largely due to the stigma associated with HIV.”
WIDE-REACHING ANONYMITY IN FOCUS
According to Ron* (not his real name; for privacy), who is helping out in running Courage Pilipinas, and particularly basing on his personal experience, “a lot of HIV-positive Filipinos seem to be using Twitter,” he said. “This may be because “it’s easier to express yourself there without exposing yourself.”
Ron’s HIV-related advocacy also started in Twitter. After testing HIV-positive, his alter account became – largely – anti-government, particularly “after I saw the government’s failure to deal with PLHIV issues.” This led to him meeting other PLHIVs’ at first “just eight of us, which grew to 12, and then to 35. Eventually, (we became an informal group) of 150 members.”
In his observation, it is in Twitter where a lot of PLHIVs get courage to reach out to others; “they find a voice there somehow,” Ron said. “It has become some sort of safe space.”
JUST A START
Both Rommel and Ron admit that tapping PLHIVs in Twitter (and other social networking sites) is just a start. “Napapanahon lang (It’s just timely, that’s all),” Ron said.
They recognize the numerous issues plaguing the HIV community in the Philippines – e.g. wrong priorities of the Department of Health (and the government, in general, when it comes to health); shortage of no supplies of antiretroviral medicines; profiteering of non-government organizations; et cetera.
“So we eventually want to (be relevant as a pro-active organization that’s not only available in the virtual world),” Rommel said.
All the same, particularly since PLHIV-led efforts particularly count in dealing with issues that PLHIVs themselves face, “every effort – no matter how small – counts,” Rommel said.
“More than just talk, we act,” Ron said. “And that’s always a good first step.”
To Join Courage Pilipinas or for more information, contact 0917 315 5863; or connect via Twitter account Courage.Pilipinas (@CouragePilipin1).
Balangaw: Gathering the LGBTQI people of Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Like other LGBTQI organizations, Balangaw shares the same vision and mission to spread equality and be united. But, this time around, “we want for those in Palawan to do it for themselves,” said Evo Joel Contrivida.
In June 2018, local LGBTQI people from Puerto Princesa in Palawan saw the need to “formally organize to be able to speak with one voice on many issues affecting us, including discrimination that LGBTQI people experience locally,” said Evo Joel Contrivida.
And so – with the help of the city government of Puerto Princesa, Pilipinas Shell Foundation and NGO Project H4 – the Balangaw LGBTQ+ Association of Puerto Princesa was established.
Balangaw is a Cuyonon word for rainbow, the universal sign of the LGBTQI community in the world.
From the get-go, Contrivida said, they knew it was going to be challenging. Surprisingly, the initial challenge came from the LGBTQI community itself – i.e. “It was, at first, difficult getting the approval/support of the members of the LGBTQI community,” he said, adding that “particularly the local lesbians, which are not as open as their gay counterparts, had to be convinced to join the group, and be part of this history-making in Palawan.”
Contrivida is now a member of the Board Of Directors of the association, overseeing its corporate affairs.
Other officers include: Geofred Gabo (Nay Favz), president; Rodelo Coneles, VP for internal affairs; Rica Belleza, VP for external affairs; Roland Joseph Palanca, secretary; Marlon San Juan, treasurer; and Jester Roque, auditor.
As of the last general assembly, Balangaw has 207 registered members.
When he took the top post of the association, Gabo noted that there actually already exists an organization for senior LGBTQI people in Palawan, and that its members are known for being united. It is this that he wants for Balangaw to replicate; even while building on this by providing more opportunities to the LGBTQI people of the city.
Contrivida said that, like other LGBTQI organizations, “we share the same vision and mission to spread equality and be united.” But, he stressed, this time around, “we want for those in Palawan to do it for themselves.”
And this, in the end, is what Contrivida wants LGBTQI people in Palawan to recognize: That there’s a group composed of and for them to help them dictate their community’s future.
For those interested to know more about Balangaw, contact Evo Joel Contrivida at +63 917 554 6533 or email@example.com.
Revisiting the ‘alternative family with a cause’, Cavite Smart Guys Global
When Cavite Smart Guys Global was established as a “clan” in 2006, it only had 13 members. But even then, said Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa, it always had lofty dreams to do “charitable efforts to promote goodwill.”
When Cavite Smart Guys was established as a clan (an informal organization for men who have sex with men, whose members mainly communicated with the use of tech, from mobile phones to the Internet) in 2006, it only had 13 members. But even then, said Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa, CSG head of marketing, ads and multimedia arts, it had lofty dreams. Specifically, it eyed to do “charitable efforts to promote goodwill.”
“In (CSG), we keep on giving emphasis to the core value of sharing through charity works and other socio-activities,” added one of the clan’s heads, Micollo Zaragosa. So that “every events, we would always (give a) portion to a certain charity.”
CSG later evolved into a “global community” – that is, the membership expanded to include those not just from Cavite. The name changed, though it still gave tribute to its origin: Cavite Smart Guys Global (CSGG).
A “trademark”, if you will, is the consistent use of the surname “Zaragosa” by its members, mainly because CSGG was – to start – founded by Marcus Zaragosa with his friends. In a way, this is akin to LGBTQIA “families” involved in the “ball culture” in the US. There, competitors compete – e.g. voguing – while carrying the banner of “houses”. In the case of clans, no competition per se happens; but the same concept of belonging is applied by carrying a common house/family name.
With the help of the likes of Facebook, CSGG was able to grow its (online) membership to over 37,000, easily making it Cavite’s largest MSM group.
And among clans, it has been recognized as – among others – the #1 provincial clan; one of the top five ‘bi’ groups in the Philippines; and more recently, as a “Bi-Rainbow Community Diamond Awardee (Mega Manila)”.
But according to Micollo Zaragosa, even with their successes, there remain challenges for the clan. For instance, “a challenge we are facing right now is how (to) retain our members, and for them to be engaged in (online and actual) activities.” This challenge, however, helped “make us to become innovative,” he added, so that “we keep on providing new and innovative activities and events that most members haven’t heard/seen before. We want to keep them curious and hyped about the events and activities we are offering, so that they always join.”
Looking forward, Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa said that the group has numerous plans – e.g. be SEC registered, start including lesbians into the clan, and further strengthen the clan’s presence (on- and offline). But in the end, the intention is always to “be relevant to its members, even as we eye to be relevant to the community.”
For more information about Cavite Smart Guys Global, visit HERE.
Transman United Iloilo: Lending a hand to our trans and non-binary brothers in Panay
On September 17, 2017, Transman United Iloilo (TUI) was established to allow trans and non-binary brothers in that area to be able to offer support to each other.
In the third quarter of 2017, two trans men from Iloilo – Lee Co and PJ – saw the need to “encourage the trans man community to come together within Panay, especially in Iloilo.” Because even then, “(our) trans and non-binary brothers (did not have means to) exchange their experiences as well offer support to others,” recalled Lee Co.
And so on September 17, 2017, they established Transman United Iloilo (TUI) to be – exactly – this channel to allow trans and non-binary brothers in that area to be able to offer support to each other.
Lee Co said that nowadays, particularly for those in non-metropolitan areas, major challenges continue to abound for trans and non-binary people.
In TUI’s experience, in particular, “we still have issues with getting adequate medical care despite multiple health issues, from depression to high rates of suicidal as well as searching for trans-friendly doctors.”
Currently, TUI is connected with one doctor “who agreed to help fellow trans brothers and non-binary people when it comes to hormone replacement therapy (HRT),” Lee Co said. This “helps us out (a lot).”
The group is still very new, but it aims to be the best in what it does – i.e. “To assist our fellow trans and non-binary brothers within Panay island and guide them properly.”
And here, Lee Co said, “everyone is welcome… if they want to learn what being trans and/or non-binary is.”
For more information, head to Transman United Iloilo’s Facebook page.
San Julian PRIDE: Aiming for equality in rural areas
In 2017, a group of LGBTQI community members noted that the one existing LGBTQI organization in San Julian in Eastern Samar was – to be blunt – “dead” because of its inactivity. And so San Julian PRIDE was established to give the LGBTQI community here a presence that can actually be seen and felt.
On December 23, 2017, a group of LGBTQI community members noted that the one existing LGBTQI organization in San Julian in Eastern Samar was – to be blunt – “dead” because of its inactivity. And so – because “the prolonged inactivity meant that the community was unserved” – Roel Andag founded San Julian PRIDE.
“We are still without legal protection,” Roel said to Outrage Magazine, so that “not surprisingly, LGBTQI people remain marginalized and prone to discrimination, which adversely impact (our) health, career, livelihood, education and life as a whole. It is also sad to note that Pride-related developments remain Metro Manila-centric, and this is even if rural LGBTQI people face more acute economic and sociocultural vulnerabilities.”
Aside from Roel, also involved in the organization’s establishment were: Wilmar Operario, Judy Operario, Francis Cabrales and Jill Jargue.
San Julian is a rural, fifth class (i.e. very poor) agriculture-based municipality with 16 barangays (villages) located in one of the chronically poorest provinces of the Philippines. Poverty incidence here – already at 64.7% in 2009 – deteriorated further when Typhoon Haiyan hit the area in 2013.
“Predominantly Roman Catholic… the rural attitudes towards LGBTQI people here remain fraught with stigma, thereby resulting in extremely limited opportunities,” Roel said. “Organizing and mobilizing for equality will mean significant empowerment.”
San Julian PRIDE, in its own way, eyes to remedy this situation by giving the LGBTQI community from here a presence that can actually be seen and felt.
An interesting tidbit of info: San Julian actually has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO), which was passed in 2015, making it the first municipality in the Philippines to pass such legislation.
But this does not mean that the local LGBTQI community’s issues are already dealt with.
“Our tagline, ‘Rural and Equal’, captures our unique essence. The multiplicity of our challenges (rural poverty, geographical predisposition to frequent natural disasters, our being a discriminated minority in a rural milieu, and low health-seeking behavior in the face of the HIV epidemic) define the intersectionality of the identity that makes us unique,” Roel said.
To date, San Julian PRIDE has 40 active members.
Considering that the organization is relatively very new, plans are lofty, including:
- Lobbying for the formulation of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of San Julian’s ADO, and popularizing its salient points;
- Raising awareness regarding sexuality- and gender-based bullying in schools;
- Building the capacity of LGBTQI people in universities and municipalities of Eastern Samar to organize themselves;
- Partnering with the treatment hubs in the province to implement the Department of Health’s HIV program; and
- Creating/supporting livelihood and skills enhancement opportunities for LGBTQI people in the province, and then involve the community in promoting LGBT rights and equality in our rural setting.
For Roel, “(let this serve as) our ad hoc platform for advocacy and serve as a safe space where members engage in discussions of topics of interest including human rights, HIV and SOGIE, among others.”
San Julian PRIDE is open for membership, though the focus is on gay men and transwomen from San Julian, Eastern Samar. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/SanJulianPride/.