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USAID’s Denise Rollins praises, challenges LGBT Filipinos

USAID – with UNDP – hosted a roundtable discussion between USAID’s Denise Rollins and the local LGBT community to allow LGBT Filipinos to illustrate how the local LGBT community is responding to the challenges faced by LGBT people in the Philippines; and for the USAID to get a glimpse of how else it can serve the same community.

As a move to ensure that “we become more inclusive,” USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Asia Denise Rollins met with some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) leaders in the Philippines. USAID – with UNDP – hosted the meeting as an opportunity to illustrate how the local LGBT community is responding to the challenges faced by LGBT people in the Philippines. Specifically, the round table discussion provided an opportunity for LGBT leaders to share their stories in advancing future work in human rights of LGBT people in Asia.

Present during the meeting were: Rainbow Rights Inc., TLF SHARE Collective, GANDA Filipinas, Association of Transgender People of the Philippines, GALANG Philippines, corporate sector representatives, and Outrage Magazine. While the LGBT representatives highlighted their existing efforts, the gathering also highlighted the key issues affecting the LGBT community in the Philippines, including: the lack of funds of LGBT organizations, which inadvertently affect the delivery of services for LGBT Filipinos; absence of law that will protect the human rights of LGBT people in the Philippines; and continuing issues surrounding HIV (e.g. shortage of antiretroviral medicines).

According to Michael David C. Tan, editor in chief of Outrage Magazine, “efforts like this are important to open communication channels between the LGBT community and those who openly express their willingness to help LGBT people,” he said.

Rollins, for her part, praised the LGBT leadership in the Philippines, even if she acknowledged that much still needs to be done to ensure that the human rights of LGBT people are protected. “I (want to) send my best wishes to the LGBT community in the Philippines. I am so impressed with the quality of some of your leadership here and I can see that they are really committed to ensuring equal rights, human rights for all in the Philippines. I want to encourage them to continue,” Rollins said to Outrage Magazine.

USAID takes pride in its LGBT-inclusive policies, which are “part of mainstreaming LGBT issues in foreign assistance.” LGBT-inclusive policies include: Gender-based Violence Strategy; Women, Peace and Security National Action Plan; Global Health Strategy; Youth Policy; USAID Policy Framework; and Project Design Guidance, among others.

Considering that among the biggest issues raised by LGBT leaders is the continuing lack of funding that will ensure the success of LGBT-related efforts, the LGBT leaders stressed the importance of “ensuring the inclusion of LGBT people in the implementation of existing programs.” For instance, the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division already partnered with the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA) to supposedly capacitate judges in the country to appreciate legal and human rights issues in resolving cases dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). However, no information was received by the LGBT community after the said gathering.

“USAID, for its part, could ensure that the projects it funds include LGBT people. For that matter, all its existing efforts that also already include LGBT people should be closely monitored, to ensure that the LGBT people really were/are included,” Tan said. “Mainstreaming our issues could prove beneficial in promoting our call for equal rights.”

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Rollins served as USAID’s Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Asia since September 2013. Prior to that, she served as Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator since July 2011. Rollins is responsible for overseeing USAID’s Asia portfolio, which stretches from the Central Asian Republics through the population-dense countries of South Asia to the diverse political economies of East Asia and the Pacific.

“The issues faced by members of the LGBT community are not only ‘our’ issues; these are human rights issues that affect everyone. And so we should always welcome efforts that look at integrating what else can be done to better our lives from those who openly support us,” Tan ended.

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