The United Gay and Lesbian Association (UGLA) of Santo Tomas was established in the Municipality of Santo Tomas in Batangas in October 2013. However, according to Rusty Dela Cruz, who helms the organization, at that time, it was only an informal organization with limited recognition (e.g. the local government did not really recognize it) and was therefore limited in delivering services.
On June 20, 2014, however, UGLA was re-organized, with the full backing of the municipal mayor of Santo Tomas, Edna P. Sanchez. During a leadership training given to local leaders (and participated by LGBT people), the mayor “told us of her plans for us,” Dela Cruz said. “She wanted us to become active members of our community… for us to be self-reliant.”
Dela Cruz was eventually voted president of UGLA.
“Ang UGLA pa lamang ang organisadong samahan ng LGBT sa buong Batangas na kung saan ay magkasama ang gays at lesbians. Ang samahang ito rin ay binuo ng may pagmamahal at hangarin na ma-improve ang pamumuhay ng bawat myembro, at naroon ang pagnanais na makatulong sa iba pang LGBT organizations upang sama-sama naming bigyan ng katuparan ang mga pangarap at layunin ng bawat isa (UGLA is the only organization in the entire Batangas area with gays and lesbians as members. This group was formed with love and with the intention of bettering/improving the lives of every member, as well as the intention to help other LGBT organizations so that we can reach for our dreams and intentions as one),” Dela Cruz said.
Like any starting organization, UGLA was not immune to challenges. For instance, particularly when it was just started, reaching out to members proved challenging, particularly to teach them “ang tunay na kahalagahan o importansiya ng pagiging isang LGBT (the real worth or importance of being LGBT),” Dela Cruz said.
Education proved helpful – largely helped by the support given by the local government, which provides, among others, more formalized education in livelihood programs. UGLA is, by the way, the one recognized LGBT organization by the local government of Santo Tomas when it offers projects to its LGBT constituencies. This is because the LGBT community is among those served by the Municipal Social Welfare Development Office; and UGLA is the go-to organization when dealing with the local LGBT population.
A feather in UGLA’s cap was Santo Tomas’ hosting of the 1st Batangan Pride parade. “Dahil dito ay nagkaroon ng pagnanais ang ibat ibang bayan dito sa (This created a desire for other LGBT people in various towns in) Batangas to have their own legitimate organizations,” Dela Cruz said.
Future plans include: having an anti-discrimination ordinance in place, as well as furthering education through SOGIE 101 and HIV 101 workshops.
For Dela Cruz, LGBT people should have “mayroong ganitong objectives: ang makatulong sa organisasyon at hindi pagsimulan ng pagkakawatak-watak ng mga members, at naroon ang kagustuhan niyang maiangat ang sarili at maging katuwang ng lokal na pamahalaan sa pag-unlad ng komunidad (have these objectives: to help the organization and not be the source of disarray, and the desire to raise him/herself up and be part of the local governance in uplifting the community).”