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Teaching a thing or two about LGBT human rights

Meet Atty. Jazz Tamayo, VP and executive director of Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights). “I sure would really love for us to stop putting each other down sometimes,” she says. “I think that alarmingly, it has become easier to find difference than commonality. I am not saying that all must be perfect and smooth since conflicts are also good in affecting change, but I wish that the conflicts be of perspectives, mature discourses, and less about other things.”

In 2008, Atty. Jazz Tamayo had a chance encounter with Germaine Leonin in the UP Office of Legal Aid (UP OLA). She was told then that “the community is in need of more LGBT lawyers.” And so “I made a promise that if I pass the bar, I will volunteer with Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights),” she recalled. Months after she was admitted to the bar, Jazz sought R-Rights; and that was when she, basically, started becoming an LGBT advocate.

Now looking back, Jazz said that two other things made her go into LGBT advocacy.

For one, there was the realization that since her job is political, the ‘lawyering’ part has very little use and that would be such a waste. “There has got to be some place where it could be of greater use. Using it for vulnerable groups was a very easy choice,” she said.

The second realization is “that I belong to the very small percent of Pinoy LGBTs who have not experienced violence and discrimination the way most do (at least not that I know of or at least not directly). Knowing how different it could have been and how different it is for others have always been the impetus.”

Jazz is now the VP and executive director of R-Rights; though she is also now its acting president.

For Jazz, there are key issues that the LGBT community should focus on.

First is popularizing the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) and eventually passing it. “It is one of the most misunderstood proposed laws out there, I think. It is not about same-sex marriage. Nor is it something that is only for lesbians and gays. An example I am often forced to give in order to make people understand is that if a heterosexual man is discriminated in an establishment simply because he is NOT GAY, this possible legislation can also protect him for as long as the reason behind the discrimination is his gender identity or sexual orientation (in this case his heterosexual orientation),” Jazz said. “The bill is for everyone. The ADB wants to give equal rights to a vulnerable group that finds it difficult to access equality.”

Second, the issue on lack of accurate, consolidated, accessible and updated data specific to SOGIE on various aspects, such as experiences of violence and discrimination, access to services, demography, et cetera. “Having data can guide so many multisector efforts to be much more effective and efficient than how they are being done at the moment.”

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Third, her experience in R-Rights strengthened the realization of the need to fully embrace intersectionality. “The causes and plights of those who fall in the cracks can no longer be set aside,” Jazz said, citing – among others – the issues of LGBT youth (not just in school but also those who are in conflict with the law), LGBT prisoners, elderly LGBTs, Deaf LGBTs and LBGT people in distressed areas.

For Jazz, some of the challenges are from within the LGBT community itself. “I don’t think it is unique to the LGBT community… (but) I sure would really love for us to stop putting each other down sometimes. I think that alarmingly, it has become easier to find difference than commonality. I am not saying that all must be perfect and smooth since conflicts are also good in affecting change, but I wish that the conflicts be of perspectives, mature discourses, and less about other things.”

Jazz lamented that there are also instances where members of the community “profit” from the community in the guise of advocacy. “I am not saying businesses or proprietary endeavors are bad, I’m just saying that with a community that is in need of real support, let’s call it what it really is and not use the ‘advocacy’ as a front.”

But Jazz is happy to note that more and more international companies operating under jurisdiction, as well as professional organizations and employer groups have opened up their doors to D&I and SOGIE trainings, many of them given by R-Rights.

“Our foremother, Angie Umbac, has always stressed that while it is important that we provide services to the community, it is just as important to be creating allies in the other sectors, the academe, other CSOs, government agencies, and the private sector,” Jazz said. “We are both proud and grateful that R-Rights has established continuous partnerships with many of them not just in Luzon but also in other parts of the country.”

Jazz is personally proud of the paralegal trainings being offered by R-Rights, since it allows her to teach legal first aid with the perspective of advocating for LGBT rights. “Empowerment starts from knowledge and it unfolds before my eyes in those few hours when I observe the attendees. It’s one of the most enjoyable things for me,” she said.

Future plans as far as LGBT advocacy is concerned now include working with other LGBT organizations for the passage of the ADB (and maybe Gender Recognition Law for the transgender members of the community), developing paralegal manuals to increase legal literacy, and looking into non-traditional data gathering that could address the data problems in the advocacy.

When all is said and done, Jazz said she just wants to be known as “that lesbian lawyer,” she laughed. Then turning serious, she said she hopes to be “someone whom they have learned a thing or two from. Someone who have made them even slightly less scared of the law and believe that it can be, even in increments be capable of being elucidated.”

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