happy thoughts and worthy causes

Archive for January, 2013

Hits and Misses

A few days ago, a colleague in the civil society movement congratulated me for all the media exposure the LGBT Community was getting. He said TV and print media not only “picked up” on our LGBT news, but we were able to “sustain” it on air for quite some time. For someone who worked on migrant workers rights, he certainly knows what he’s talking about; because even for them, whose issues should’ve been constant fodder for the news, it is still quite hard to get media coverage sometimes.

Once upon a time, I would have believed the saying too; that whether it’s good or bad publicity, it’s STILL publicity, after all. But as we have learned throughout the years, sometimes media can be so “irresponsible” as to hype up and make so controversial such a small thing. In addition, “traditional” media would not even attempt to be politically correct and even reinforce negative stereotypes about LGBTs because that is “what sells”.

In the past weeks, features on Boy Abunda’s public support for Ladlad, the spate of gay killings now being documented by the Philippine Hate Crime Watch led by Marlon and Reighben, and the Baguio Pride celebration of a mass same-sex wedding got so much media mileage. For my part, with a human interest story on Rated K and the development in New York allowing same-sex marriage, I was also given my 15 minutes of fame for the last weekend of June.

As Vice-Chairperson of Ladlad, I know first-hand about all the difficulties we went through campaigning for Ladlad in the past elections. Tito Boy coming out to support the Filipino LGBT Community through Ladlad LGBT Partylist was probably one of the best things that came out of our “loss”. Besides using his own popularity to give Ladlad the exposure it needs through his own TV shows, he has been providing us the necessary resources to do the groundwork early for 2013, like providing us an office/headquarters and donating the proceeds of one of his endorsements. What more, his coming out in the open and serving as Ladlad’s Senior Adviser, has given us more credibility as a legitimate sector entitled to representation in Congress, and other LGBTs around the country now know about Ladlad and are willing to support us as well.

Once or twice, Tito Boy has spoken about other LGBT issues too, like the gay killings for example. For many years, murders of gays have been reported, but there has never been sufficient attention given to it by authorities. Police were always dismissive of these cases and categorized them as “robberies gone wrong” or engagements with male sex workers (call boys) which led to “misunderstandings about the rate of services.” Families were known to avoid any focus on their kin’s homosexuality because of embarrassment, and this attitude leads to cases not being pursued. Police also discontinue their investigations and leave these murders unresolved. For the LGBT Community, this issue has been the major consideration for a proposed “hate crime” bill similar to what are being passed in the USA.

After the initial forum conducted at the Metropolitan Community Church-Quezon City, where Marlon presented his initial inventory, Rainbow Rights Project and Ladlad sponsored a special human rights violations documentation training at ISIS International as a follow-up activity. QTV 11’s Brigada featured gay killings in one of their episodes, while Philippine Graphic magazine also released a special issue on the subject matter. This even prompted Anti-Discrimination bill sponsor Rep. Teddy Casino to also pass a resolution in Congress to investigate such cases of violence against Filipino LGBTs.

 Meanwhile, as part of their annual June Pride celebrations, Baguio Pride Network in cooperation with the different resident pastors of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) held a mass gay wedding for eight same-sex couples in Baguio City. Obviously, this exercise was meant to bring to light just one other issue of Filipino LGBTs, the societal recognition and acceptance of their partnerships as legitimate and valid couplings entitled to respect and legal protection.  

It was a happy surprise that it got front page exposure in a broadsheet, but since Baguio City is notorious for its rather “vocal” clergy, the bishops overreacted again calling it immoral and “kadiri”. But what is more embarrassing for Baguio City besides revealing itself as an Anti-LGBT locality, was the fact that city officials and councillors likewise joined the bandwagon of negativity and started calling it “illegal” and that they will pass a resolution “banning” such activity in the future. There were even threats of censuring all the MCC pastors who officiated the said weddings.

They totally missed the point. While the activity clearly had some very serious reasons behind it, as the original intention of all those who participated in it, this event was also a “gimmick” of sorts. Maybe the local officials had “no sense of humor” about it, or the media was just being “helpful” for exposing it, but the message was sadly lost in all the controversy.

Rev.Ceejay was forced to answer the issues of illegality and immorality in all his interviews as a seeming knee-jerk reaction to the city officials’ and bishops’ homophobic and discriminatory statements. Time and again, he had to tackle the rather “irrelevant at this point” questions about the way LGBTs are and if we can still change and become straights.    

As I said during my own interviews, people cannot say they accept us as LGBTs and yet deny us the right to love someone and take him/her as our life partner. It is not enough that they acknowledge us as LGBT individuals because who we actually love, and that is a person of the same sex, is the single important aspect that defines us. So the Catholic Church statement of “love the sinner and hate the sin”, which “accepts” us as LGBT people but prohibits us from “practicing such a lifestyle”, just wouldn’t work. It is our same-sex relationships that comprises our most unique self-expression of gender and sexuality.    

With the bishops spouting cries of ”immorality” once again, they seem not to get it through their thick skulls that nobody really cares about them imposing their Catholic self-righteousness on every Filipino, what with sexual harassment and child abuse cases within their ranks. Not every Filipino is Catholic after all, so they cannot claim to be the vanguards of morality for the whole country. Besides, there is also such a principle as “separation of State and Church” in our Constitution which they seem to have a penchant for violating. Talk about violating the laws of the land!

As for the alleged “illegality” of the same-sex wedding, nobody claimed it was “legal” after all. The pastors and the couples present there were all aware the ceremony would have no legal consequences whatsoever and never made representations to the contrary. The Holy Union wouldn’t need to be registered with the local civil registrar or NSO, and no one would get to change their civil status or legal  surnames. But these couples were still willing to do their commitment ceremony publicly for the acknowledgement of their family and friends even if the greater majority of society doesn’t appreciate it. This was the real message that was the meant for the media to make noise about – why same-sex partners want their relationships recognized and respected so badly.

But hope springs eternal. Philippine media can still prove itself a supportive ally of the Filipino LGBT Community.

Lessons

I once told a friend working on child rights that I envied him for being regularly exposed to the energy and idealism of the youth. I believed it was that kind of positivity that was needed in our advocacy work. It envigorates any veteran activist on the brink of burn-out. He answered that he envied me too, because working with, and for, the elderly also had its advantages. I get to benefit from their wisdom and years of experience from which I can learn a great deal. And he may have a point there.

I have been working on senior citizens concerns for four years now, and admittedly, while dealing with the elderly can sometimes try one’s patience, I have found it quite rewarding too. Firstly, I learned that besides patience, our elderly just want someone to truly listen to them. In exchange, they listen to what you’re trying to say too. Besides true communication, I learned from my beloved senior citizens the power of gratitude and appreciation. It must be their generation of exacting “politeness”, but when they are pleased with your efforts at addressing their concern, they never lack for “thank you’s” and “we really appreciate it”. Maybe because of all they’ve seen and experienced, I think they truly know by now what is important in life and that is what they put a premium on. You can sense it in the way they are respectful of authority, the way they value family and friends, and the way they deal with problems or conflicts…even the way they enjoy everyday experiences.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of knowing what the elderly know, especially the youth. Young people are sometimes too much in a hurry to grow up, so they fail to enjoy their childhood, their freedom from responsibility, their only chance at making mistakes. As busy adults, we waste so much time on pursuits that we think will give us the most material gain; never realizing that whatever we accumulate in this mundane life, we can’t take with us when we die.

With the success of the senior citizens in getting sectoral representation in Congress, lobbying for and getting laws passed for their benefit, and having nationwide membership in senior citizens federations and associations, I’d say advocacy groups and aspiring party lists can learn a thing or two from our seniors.

Going Sectoral: Learning from the Seniors

Of late, there is so much talk about vulnerable sectors and their unique concerns. Probably because our own Constitution identifies them explicitly for political representation in Congress and they have been recognized as “marginalized”, or maybe because our national human rights framework was geared towards protecting these identified sectors as a “priority” for years, especially if they already have their own United Nations Convention.

The elderly community is one such sector, and although they are sometimes lumped together with Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), they have certainly come a long way compared to others. Like women and children, there was specific mention about them in the Philippine Constitution – something about recognizing their contributions to society, etc.etc. As such, senior citizens also have several legislations to their name that provide them specific benefits and privileges. Laws bestow unto them certain “advantages”; a more “preferential treatment” than the rather “protectionist” view applied to women and children. Maybe that is why the original Magna Carta of Senior Citizens was more about discounts on purchases, than addressing neglect or abuse committed against them.

But what makes the senior citizens sector “special” is how they manage to get things done and to achieve things that run in their favour. Note that while women have the Philippine Commission on Women (formerly known as the NCRFW or National Commission on the Role of the Filipino Women), children have the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) and the youth, the National Youth Commission (NYC), the PWDs have the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) or what was formerly known as NCWDP.  Senior citizens do not have any agency, council or commission. All they have is an inter-agency National Coordinating and Monitoring Board (NCMB) chaired by the DSWD and focused on monitoring the implementation of the senior citizens act.

Note also that older persons do not have their own treaty or UN Convention unlike other sectors. Children have the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) while women have the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). PWDs have the UNCRPD or the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while migrant workers have the UN Convention of the Migrant Workers Rights. The only international instruments “of stature” that seniors can use are the Macau Plan of Action, the Madrid Programme of Action, and the Shanghai Implementation Strategy, plus a few proceedings of World Assemblies on Ageing.

But since the early 1990s, senior citizens have managed to organize themselves nationwide. With initial help from DSWD, the Federation of Senior Citizens Associations of the Philippines (FSCAP) was established with a national membership and representation from all the regions. From the most basic political unit in the barangay, to municipalities or cities, to the provincial level, up to the regional federation president, they were able to build up their ranks from the grassroots up to the national level. It was this very same mechanism that got them organized enough to apply for partylist accreditation and achieve that 10% of electoral votes enough for sectoral representation in Congress. For the PWD sector and the LGBT Community seeking to run under the partylist system, there is a clear lesson to be learned here. Get organized as a true sector and not just as a hodge-podge community of “marginalized” individuals; and make sure you are able to reach all regions and provinces to harness that nationwide membership, come campaign period and most importantly, election day.

We must get our act together first, get unified and work to achieve a common goal. Senior citizens have repeatedly shown their highly effective legislative advocacy and lobbying work. In a span of almost two decades, they have managed a third amendment to their senior citizens act and which now provides for even more additional benefits and privileges. Meanwhile, the Anti-Discrimination bill that seeks to protect Filipino LGBTs has languished in the halls of legislature for the past three Congresses or over nine years!

With all these things working out positively for senior citizens, I guess they do know something we don’t…because they seem to be doing everything right.

Our Work Never Ends

We were not kidding when we said we “get it from all sides”. Some people might say it’s that “victim complex” rising up again; but we as LGBTs know those “horror stories” are real because we “live” it everyday of our lives. Some of us may be “lucky” enough to simply be ignored by our families, laughed at behind our backs by our peers, but some of us can be subjected to the most violent treatment b y our own parents, deprived of our rights and humiliated in public, or even killed because of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s one thing that people’s behaviour around LGBTs is dictated by generation upon generation of homophobia and prejudice. But it’s another thing when in this age of reason and enlightenment, some people still choose to perpetuate this injustice against sexual minorities.

Thus, I call to task people who have been given the power and authority to influence other people – people in the media and in the educational system.

When LADLAD sought to participate in the elections through the Party List system, it was refused accreditation by the COMELEC with sweeping statements labelling LGBTs as “immoral” and a “threat to the youth”. Now with university professors bribing students with extra credit just to oppose a ground-breaking piece of legislation that would mean better health and well-being for millions of poor families, and imposing a personal religious beliefs on students in a non-sectarian university, I wonder who is the real threat to our Filipino youth. I can understand the oldest, pontifical, etc.etc. university abiding by its denomination’s hierarchy and compelling its poor students to submit to the dictates of Catholic dogma. But I find it hard to believe that a public school, a State university at that, now allows teachers to set classroom rules by their Christian faith, tossing aside the basic principles of freedom of expression, self-determinism, and respect for human dignity which defined the halls of this great university.

While print media remains to be the Thinking Man’s material, television has gained ground more than we can imagine. While graphic visuals is its true power, its television’s ability to capture and hold the public’s attention is its controlling factor. Hence, the mere number of individuals it can reach is the real magnitude of its influence. So, when a show allows its personalities to lambast another pubic figure for his sexual orientation or gender identity, what message are the producers trying to convey? They may only care about getting the highest ratings for the controversy it generates, but I must ask – where is their sense of responsibility?

At the height of the Vice Ganda fiasco at a leading TV station, the general public chose sides and happily joined in the word-war. In the heated exchanges that followed, the marginalized sector Vice Ganda represented was dragged through the mire. Yet, that network could have done better and apologized to their viewers for the circus they created. Personally, all I can say is that guy Tado truly deserves his name.

Today, a morning show suddenly decided to do a feature on LGBT issues, particularly about coming out and being a “successful” LGBT. I reluctantly did an interview with them since I didn’t like the context of their topic. The premise of experiencing those “horror stories” and managing to survive it all was clearly misplaced. I even explained during my interview that the idea of success is relative, and maybe they just want to show how an “out” and openly-gay individual can lead a “normal”, ordinary life. But my own intention was to say something to all those young LGBTs; that even as they endure all the heartaches of discrimination and inequality, they can still grow up to be happy, useful, and productive human beings because they are intelligent and talented kids who have so much to share with other people.

Sadly, the segment producer decided not to use my taped interview and instead wanted me to show up for a LIVE interview this morning. That impromptu interview was already short-notice and I declined to appear on national TV because I too have a day-job to attend to. So the disaster this morning was probably partly my fault. They got this so-called psychology “expert” who said that LGBTs should “subject themselves to therapy so they can lead normal lives and have families”; that it’s all a matter of choice because “studies have shown that gays can live as straights”…Also, “LGBTs should worry about not having kids who can take care of them in their old age…”

Oh Boy! Have we got our work cut out for us..and that’s just for this week.