Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Interview: Outrage Magazine

Roxanne Omega Doron: Unabashedly pink

Bisdak Pride Inc.: Unifying LGBT efforts

SECTION: Group Games
• When was the group formed? Who formed the group? Why was it formed?
Roxanne Omega Doron (ROD): Bisdak Pride, Inc. (BPI) was formed eight years ago as a response to the proposal from individuals, university and community-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations that their must be a unifying LGBT organization that will extend support to several community-based LGBT groups in the Bisaya speaking populace. Hence, Bisdak Pride. 

Most LGBT groups in the community are composed mainly of effeminate gay men. The establishment of BPI as an LBGT group is to unify all sub-populations within the gay community in different geographical location, within the Bisaya speaking areas – at least those who will adhere to our principles. In fact, heterosexual men and women who advocates for the rights and responsibilities of LGBTs are welcome in our organization.

Significantly, it was floated the during the “In the Pink of Health: First Visayas-Mindanao LGBT Leadership Conference”, a project of ProGay Philippines with support from The Royal Netherlands Embassy, on August 28-29, 2005, in Davao City, that challenged those who attended the conference to strengthen LGBT communities – I was one of those who attended and took the challenge.

I had the courage to established this group from scratch because even before its establishment in 2005, I was already invited to speak in various schools, communities and even factories to extend support to LGBTs and provide timely and relevant educational discussions that affects them and society.

• What are the challenges you face now? How are these faced?
ROD: As founder and currently the executive director, the challenge is how to sustain the momentum we establish more than half a decade ago. 

I am grateful that I am accompanied by dedicated, hardworking and selfless individuals who are passionate in serving the LGBT community. Allow me to mention their names; Third, Lucky, Ronz, Cres and Beejhun, they are my co-equal in these difficult tasks to help other LGBTs in our day-to-day affair, and many other individuals who are supportive of and proud to contribute to BPIs development.

Then, of course, the finances; I can say it is a feat to survive for eight years without external funding that supports our four core programs. However, we are in the right track now and the ground is fertile to look for funds and donors that will help us consolidate our gains.  Two of our advocates are in the United States and Australia finishing their doctorate degree and are in-charge in strengthening international linkages.
We are also in close contact with an NGO in Switzerland for a pioneering study on MSM. The Graduate School of Southwestern University (SWU) in Cebu City is in collaboration with us to finance the printing of our IEC materials.

• What makes your group different from others also existing for the LGBTcommunity?

ROD: We are different in various ways; in strategy, tactics, and notably principles and direction.
First, we are an LGBT group that includes heterosexual men and women who are determined as we are to become advocates for gender and sexual rights and commit for social change. We do not want to alienate those who wish to support LGBT rights and welfare just because they are heterosexuals. They can be good mouthpiece for gender equality, too.

Second, we have four (4) core programs that best articulate the needs and interests of LGBTs as we see it. Our core programs include, Queer Politics, Queer Health, Queer Theology and Queer Culture.

Third, we look at the issue of the LGBT community as part and parcel of the entire struggle of the Filipino people for social change – you can’t go any deeper than that. LGBTs, like women, cut across all sectors. We are widely present in the peasant class where feudal and patriarchal exploitation is more apparent and deep. The working class, too, has its share of a significant gay minority. Even within the women, young professionals and adolescents, gays are present and seemingly more tolerated – but rarely accepted.

• Achievements that the group is proud of?
ROD: Our existence without funding is a feat in itself. But we can not brag about it in the next few years – it would be an utter failure.

We are happy and proud to have traveled in various communities in the Visayas and Mindanao using our own resources and support from generous individuals and institutions. For example, our trip in Mindanao last year was supported by Small Wonders Academic Center (SWAC) a local Chinese community school and Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Inc. Or the trip in Baybay City, Leyte two years ago was made possible through the kind support of Visayas State University (VSU) and Roble Shipping Lines. 

We conduct activities through networking and alliances. Local government units also supported our trainings like the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) and municipal and city governments.

Other achievements we can brag about is when we hosted the arrival of Prof. Ted Jennings, noted biblical scholar and was the acting dean of Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), he later funded our groundbreaking one-time activity titled, “Queer Theology: Impact to Queer Communities in Third World Countries” five years ago.

We are also the co-organizer of the “First Visayas-Mindanao MSM and TG Conference”, A project of Health Action Information Network (HAIN) with support from United Nations Development Program (UNDP), on September 24-25, 2010, in Davao City.

We are also the co-convenor in Cebu of the international campaign One Billion Rising to end violence against women and girls last February 14, 2013. We also contribute to the development of Visayan arts and culture by hosting the regional Cinema Rehiyon “Binisaya Film Festival” a flagship project of the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) sub-committee on film and currently working for the Bisdak Pride First Queer Literary contest.

• What are the group’s future plans?
ROD: Our future and present plan includes strengthening our organization as we celebrate our eight year, consolidate our various LGBT partner groups, and ensure heightened partnership with non-government organizations (NGOs), people’s organization (POs), academe, ecumenical groups, youth and students’ groups and local government units (LGUs).

We are finalizing our system and mechanisms in recruiting gender equality advocates in hundreds. We are done with the membership form that also serves as a research tool on gender, rights, religion and health. This is an initial step as we leapfrog.

• How can one join and be a part of the group?
ROD: The good thing about our current members is we do not recruit them, they applied. So you can see from there that they are really interested. It is easy to join BPI because we are very accessible in various ways; social networking and physical presence. We travel a lot, partnered with various sectarian and non-sectarian institutions, government and non-government institutions and very active-online.

SECTION: Shakers & Movers

• When did you start becoming an LGBT advocate?

Roxanne Omega Doron (ROD): It all started during the “60th National Student Press Convention and 30th Biennial Student Press Congress” of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) on May 23 – 28, 2000, in Itogon, Benguet. After the five day conference we elected the first, if I am not mistaken, openly gay national chair of CEGP, the indefatigable Rey Asis.

Openly-gays met after the tiring whole-day conferences and it was during our evening get-together that we unabashedly call ourselves the “Pink Collective.” My understanding of LGBT rights hand-in-hand with the people’s movement for social change became more visible as we discussed until the wee hours.

• Who/What triggered you to be an LGBT advocate?
ROD:  In 1995, I am already a student activist during my first year as engineering student at the University of San Carlos. I became an advocate for the people’s cause then and eventually became so for LGBTs. The issues confronted by LGBTs are not separate from the issues faced by peasants, workers, women, youth and professionals. But it was during the year 2000 when I attended the CEGP convention and thereafter was elected in absentia as national founding vice-president for the Visayas of Anakbayan where I exponentially struggle for youth and people’s issues, including the LGBTs.

For example, unabated oil price increases, onerous school fees, unfair taxation, high prices of basic commodities, unemployment and underemployment, low wages and less benefits and genuine land reform are issues all sectors and classes, including the LGBTs confronted daily. Because LGBTs also ride public utility vehicles, send someone to school or self-supporting students, budget family income, breadwinners, toil the land and even manage small and medium enterprises.

• What are the key issues you believe we should focus on in the LGBTcommunity in the Philippines?
ROD: From a macro-level, the LGBT community, along with various sectors and classes, should study the historical circumstances of stigma, discrimination, marginalization and oppression based on gender, sexuality and class.

From a micro-level, the LGBT community, specifically, the sub-population of gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) and even the transgender (TG), should consider the issue on health a major concern in order to prevent the spread of HIV to the general population and maintain it at its alarming level within the MSM and TG community.

• What disappoints you in the local LGBT community?
ROD: My patience revolves around the universe and far extends even beyond my mortality; I am not someone who easily gets pissed-off.

My theoretical training and practical experiences as a political and social activist of the national democratic (ND) movement for half of my life, has given me a more solid, profound and objective understanding of the different social construct and classes. The more you understand society and classes, the more you are able to understand people’s behavior – their stand, viewpoint and method. In a way, you will be able to objectify and adjust – and learn from them – which are crucial.

I was once an active (full-time) ND activist and we were being taught in theory and in practice to be objective. When you are objective, you look at ‘disappointments’ not as negative limiting but positive limiting. 

• What inspires you in the LGBT community? Why so?
ROD: I am happy that wherever I go, community-based LGBT groups sprouting like mushrooms in the wilderness but still traditional and non-political. Whatever the circumstances of their existence, it is notable to see and help them in a way because directly or indirectly, it is a form of political assertion. Several inquiries within and outside Cebu province are also in the offing on how they can establish their own group.

• What achievements are you specifically most proud of?
ROD: I am proud to collaborate to various individuals and groups. But I dare say it is an achievement to maintain people with the same caliber and commitment as me. The likes of Third, Lucky, Ronz, Cres and Beejhun – my co-equal within the BPI organization are my important comrades in this struggle. Maintaining them, encouraging them (and they encourage me), and knowing someday they will run this organization with their own style, intellect, fervor, principle, commitment and hope is a feat I want to see soonest.

• How would you want for the LGBT community to know, and remember you?
ROD: As someone who established Bisdak Pride, Inc. from scratch – meaning to say without direct support and supervision from various groups and individuals, like no group planned for its establishment or no prominent individual encourages me to put up one. But I deeply value the suggestions of veteran LGBT organizers and non-LGBTs whom I prefer to keep anonymous.

But I do not own this organization, it is just that I am fortunate enough to initiate its establishment.

• Future plans as far as LGBT advocacy is concerned?
ROD: Help ensure that the Anti-discrimination bill, specifically authored by Rep. Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna and a candidate for senator of Makabayan coalition will soon become a law, and encourage LGUs to pass their own ordinances. Ensure visibility of our organization on issues that affects the LGBT community and the people. Continue expanding and strengthening LGBT organizations and decisively link them to the people’s movement for social change.  


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