Tuesday, March 19, 2013

US Peace Corps Interview

Fighting for the LGBT Community in the Philippines

(Note: AMELIA KENT, BSW, is a US Peace Corps Volunteer. Below are my kind reply to her questions)

1. Please describe the mission/goals of your organization, what events you organize and who are you members?
ROXANNE OMEGA DORON (ROD): The mission, vision and goals of our organization, anchored on the premise that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in particular, and the broad masses of Filipino people in general are marginalized and oppressed.
Our vision is, “We look forward for a society that is just, humane and democratic. Thus, we cry for Equality and Respect.” Our mission is, “We are committed to ensure the understanding and all-round promotion of the rights and responsibilities of the LGBT community.” Our goals, includes;
1. Assist LGBT organizations in the communities in their efforts to unite and collectively advance their problems and concerns so that their problems are addressed and their participation in community affairs improved.
2. Establish LGBT groups in communities where there is none.
3. Unite with non-LGBT sectors in their struggles and concerns and actively participate in the people’s movement for change.
4. To become a credible resource center in the Bisaya speaking communities on matters related to LGBT concerns.
We recruit LGBTs and non-LGBTs as gender equality advocates. We organize educational discussions to various communities like understanding gender and sexuality within the context of a feudal and patriarchal society, promoting human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS prevention, promotion of arts and culture activities and even traditional activities like joining Gawad Kalinga or giving slippers to poor and isolated towns.
2. Please describe some of the major issues or societal problems you think are facing the LGBT community in the Philippines?
ROD: Majority of the Philippine population, roughly 75% composed the peasantry, it follows that a significant portion of the LGBT community are within the peasant class or origin. Liberating the peasantry from the land problem is liberating the LGBT community from class and consequently gender issues.
The Philippines is a backward and pre-industrial country, therefore, feudal forms of exploitation remains a major issue faced by a significant portion of our population, including the LGBT community.
Hence, land monopoly is a major problem and backward agricultural methods deepened the oppression and marginalization of the LGBT community in the countryside. Due to the backward condition in far-flung areas, the LGBT community suffers the most since feudal, macho, and patriarchal culture is more deep and prevalent than in the metropolitan areas.
As a consequence, religion too (not only Roman Catholic) is deeply entrenched in the countryside and moralists castigating the LGBT community as sinful brought people to think LGBT is wrong. Even some LGBTs in rural areas think likewise and are affected by religious bigotry.
In urban areas, LGBT communities are somewhat tolerated but rarely accepted. Their talents, wit, and resourcefulness are taken advantage of for the benefit of the institutions they served. Even so, stigma, discrimination, marginalization, and oppression are still apparent than ever.
The LGBT community as part of the working class, which is roughly 15% of the entire population, in the cities also faced stigma, discrimination, marginalization, and oppression. Most working LGBTs prefer to stay in the closet than come-out due to the macho character of workplaces. However, the presence of contact centers as industries preferred by LGBTs is a welcome respite in a degrading macho working condition.
The gender issue is different from a class issue. While the presence of contact centers provided opportunities for the LGBTs, the working class issue on wages, security of tenure, benefits and other universally accepted labor rights are still issues which the working people, including the LGBTs, should confront head-on. In fact, in Cebu several years ago, LGBTs take the lead in facing issues confronted by the working people in business process outsourcing.
LGBT youth and students also faced discriminating school policies like the wearing of uniform, gender insensitive instructions and other archaic policies which affects the intellectual development of persons with different sexual orientation and gender identity but are implemented for various reasons, among them is intolerance.
And the openly LGBT youth in the communities and schools, while assertive of their gender and sexuality still experienced bullying and are stigmatized, often come from their immediate families, neighbors and school officials.

3. Describe how the Catholic faith plays a role in establishing an LGBT identity in the Philippines, what confusion or conflicts does it cause?
ROD: It is saddening that the Catholic Church in the Philippines coined a definition for LGBTs totally detached from reality. While it is understandable coming from their “moral” point of view and historical bias and bigotry, it does not make sense at all.
For example, it is totally OK with them for LGBTs to be “LGBT” as long as they will not practice the sexual act which is totally incomprehensible. It is an imposition with roots which can be traced way back during the Inquisition! They want to completely separate homosexual orientation from homosexual act.
They assumed that what you feel is “right” but when you practice what your heart and mind dictates it becomes a sin and you become immoral based on their own subjective interpretation on what morality is. But since the Philippines is deeply Catholic and at some point fanatical, it is a challenge to rightfully and objectively confront an institution which long betrayed the LGBT community but nonetheless takes advantage of LGBTs who are useful to them.
But I know a lot of LGBTs and heterosexual priests who are supportive of and proud to have worked with us.
4. In the Philippines how are LGBT usually treated when they “come out” to members of their family? How is it different for gays and lesbians?
ROD: I haven’t encountered a study regarding gays coming out and how they are treated or the difference of treatment between a gay (male-homosexual) and a lesbian. But sharing within the LGBT community and anecdotes will tell you that the more open the community or family, more LGBTs will come-out. Usually in urban areas, gays come-out a little bit easier especially if the family is more liberal and open. But it is much more difficult in rural areas where feudal exploitation is deep and religious bigotry is deep-seated. In general, it is still hard to come-out because the treatment is still harsh both psychologically, and some instances physically and sexually.
5. Can you talk a little about the ‘language of the gays’ in the Philippines?
ROD: Language exists, in fact it has been created in order to serve a specific community, as a means of intercourse between people irrespective of their social and economic status in life. On the other hand, the gay language, as I see it, is cultural assertion. It not only meant as a form of communication but also a means to code existing interactions to hide feelings, to express grief and most importantly to relate effectively within the LGBT community. The gay language, even if at most creatively constructed, is a grim reminder that gays can not effectively use its mother tongue or dialect to communicate with out fear.
6. Can you describe some differences in culture, policies or tolerance that you’ve noticed between the LGBT communities here in the Philippines compared to the LGBT community in the United States?
ROD: The advanced economic condition in the U.S. and the backwardness of Philippine society is a major contributory factor about tolerance and acceptance in each respective country. In the U.S some states are open to same-sex marriage or union, while the Philippines have a long way to go. In the Philippines, homophobia is more or less “sidelined,” while in the U.S. it is somewhat mainstreamed. In the U.S. reparative therapy as a means to “correct” or “cure” homosexuality is still in existence, in the Philippines traditional and far more destructive “conversion therapies” like a drunken father poured hot water to his gay son. Or a gay son whose father is a police man stripped his gay son naked on his way to school.
7. Please talk about the LGBT who are contributing to society in different ways which helps the general society “tolerate” them?
ROD: A portion of the LGBT community succeeded in penetrating different economic, political and cultural structures due to the fact that the LGBT community is often (and correctly) viewed as industrious, creative, active, participative, intelligent and even friendly. Their talents and attitudes are being taken advantage of and in some ways tolerated due to their contribution in any given undertakings. It is a fact, gays are embedded in almost all structures of governance and leadership, economic activity and most visible in the promotion of culture and arts. However, a truly heterosexual, or more precisely male-dominated society, like the Philippines, accommodated the LGBTs, tolerated its presence but never accepted it as part and contributor of a democratic society, because no significant laws protecting the LGBTs. Tolerance does not automatically translate to respect.
8. What role does the LGBT community play in events like Sinulog?
ROD: The LGBT community, specifically the openly gays are the planners, implementers of the Sinulog festival. A religious festival or any festival for that matter will never be the same without the involvement of the LGBTs.
You take a cursory look in any of the committees, from the top echelons of planning down to the bottom of it (even in the cleaning of garbage!) openly gays are involved – deeply involved. They create an exceptionally gay festival in a truly religious undertaking like what we have seen for decades. In an ironic twist of fate, beyond its materialism and consumerism lies the genuine expression of the LGBT community to their faith – the same faith that often echoed and brand LGBTs as immoral and sinful.
I suspect the reason why priest do not castigate LGBTs during the daily novena in preparation for any religious festivals is to tolerate gays as an important partner. Otherwise, no festival will ever succeed.
That is why, beyond its religiosity and fanaticism, lies the LGBT community’s expression of her/his faith. But there’s the rub, gays are being tolerated in any festivals like Sinulog as a cultural event, but not so much in some other areas of our life.
9. Can you share some information on the closeted gays in relation to spreading HIV?
ROD: The discreet or the so-called closeted gays are difficult to reach due to their covert behavior. Their being clandestine is truly understandable, given the fact that widespread stigma and oppression are apparent than ever. Coupled with a risky behavior, their vulnerability to STIs and even HIV infection is very high.
The risky behavior and vulnerability to diseases like HIV is the effect of widespread stigma, marginalization, discrimination, and oppression.
On the other hand, records of HIV cases are very alarming because the incidence of HIV cases is exponentially high among men-having-sex-with-men (MSM) and even the transgender (TG) community. But is, sadly, understandable because HIV cases affect communities which are already suffering from lack of human rights protection, for example lack of laws and enforcement of ordinances that protects LGBTs. A creative and innovative approach to penetrate the community of discreet gays is necessary coupled with a holistic understanding of their social behavior and community participation.
However, while laws are important instruments to protect LGBTs against stigma and discrimination, it is still the social system that allows LGBTs to be oppressed. And that social system should be changed.
10. What is the number one priority right now for the LGBT community?
Any other information you want to share about Bisdak Pride?
ROD: It is always a priority for the LGBT community to study society in order to move forward and to fully understand stigma, discrimination, marginalization and oppression. The LGBT community should study society from a progressive and scientific point of view, its history and background.
After studying history and analyzing the different social classes, the LGBT community should strengthen its organization and link with various sectoral and multi-sectoral organizations to advance its rightful place in our country.
No LGBT community will take pride in advancing its cause without the support and participation of different sectors and classes. An isolated LGBT community can not claim its place in our society. This is why Bisdak Pride, Inc. is not exclusively for LGBTs because we believe heterosexuals are also effective mouthpiece in our advocacy for gender equality and societal change.

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