Sunday, September 28, 2008

GALANG launch solidarity message

Below is the solidarity speech I wrote for the launch of GALANG (Gay and Lesbian Activist Network for Gender Equality), a new LGBT organization working at the grass roots level here, at Café Rallos along Tomas Morato in Quezon City last 20 September 2008. I heard it was very successful and well-attended. I was out of town but somebody else kindly delivered it for me. I thank Anne Lim (the current president of GALANG) sincerely. :)

Good evening! Congratulations to GALANG and welcome to the family of Filipino sex and gender rights advocates. Every time there is a new organization that will fight lesbian, gay, bisexual, bakla/bayot/bantut, tomboy and transgender or LGBT oppression, it is important that we as a community come together in support.

It is important, particularly at this time, because the movement advocating for LGBT rights that we all belong to, have grown up with, and have come to love is almost pushing 20 years. That’s almost one score of rallying tirelessly in the streets, of relentlessly campaigning in and educating our communities, and of indefatigably advocating in our homes, schools, churches, places of work, legislatures and elsewhere. That’s almost two decades of truly hard work and solidarity and yet it seems there remains so much more to be done.

The fact is that after 15 years or so of LGBT activism in the country and in spite of one local ordinance in Quezon City there is no other law, municipal or national, that grants civil rights protections to LGBT Filipinos. Thus, many if not most of us remain vulnerable to violence and discrimination in education, housing, health care, the legal system, employment and other public accommodations; and this while our community is caught in the cusp of history. This year, we are not only commemorating the 60th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR60) and the 30th year of the Rainbow Flag but also putting up the10th Pride March.

Surely these are milestones in our history and before we celebrate them, isn’t it time we paused and took stock of our community and the direction it is taking? I think that the time to ask ourselves the hard questions has come. It is now. After 10 years of declaring ourselves and our dignity in the streets, of proudly marching with friends, lovers, family and equals, has the quality of life of the average LGBT Filipino changed for the better? After almost 20 years of advocacy, have we instituted real social change that would increase and improve the life chances of the generation that will come after us?

Just in the first quarter of this year, we all witnessed the sad story of Jan Jan whose rectal surgery was turned into a circus spectacle by the very practitioners who were supposed to give him competent and professional medical care; then we saw the raids by unscrupulous policemen of gay bars and bathhouses, which was also milked for ratings by several media outlets. After this we heard members of the Catholic clergy wanting to ban transgender people from joining the Santacruzan. This was followed by the Ice Vodka Bar incident where several transgender people were refused entrance. A similar incident happened in Café Havana recently involving two transwomen from Cebu. Any day now, we will hear another story of indignity involving a member of our community.

Certainly, it is a good thing when young, enthusiastic and idealistic people like the members of GALANG and others who are here come along and say “I’ve had enough! That is oppression and I want to fight it!” but it is also equally important for them to be able to look back in the past and see where others who came before them have failed, have erred and could have done so much more. It is undeniably a good thing if our community can learn our lessons and vow not to make the same mistakes and do better next time.

Because this is also ultimately how our activism will be sustained: always, always in the spirit of renewal. This is why every time a new group of people comes together and so decides to take on the challenge of advocating for LGBT equality and acceptance, we must rally behind them to show how much we appreciate it. For our community needs as many people who care as possible. Hopefully they will be fresh-faced, dynamic and vibrant people who will continue our struggle, who will explore new and inspiring ways of doing LGBT rights advocacy, who will not be afraid to face head on and challenge the institutions that oppress and marginalize us, who will willingly work together, listen to and learn from each other, and who will put aside their differences and agree to disagree but still be mature and professional enough to keep doing the work at hand. Hopefully they will not use our community for their own selfish interests but instead will always have the interests of the community at heart. Hopefully they will steer the community in the right direction and do it with integrity, humility, and unselfish service.

So GALANG faces a tall order tonight. :) But it is always good to begin with high expectations because history will unquestionably judge us. When that time comes, let us hope that posterity will look back at all of us only kindly and say we did right by them. Soon our nation will face another Presidential election and a new race to Congress. And I say, there has been no better time to be an advocate for LGBT rights than now. Almost 10 years into the 21st century and already we can see that societal mindsets are changing. Even non-LGBT people are becoming bolder and are fighting back against one of our biggest foes, the Church because of the reproductive health controversy. The political landscape as well is shifting as it is peopled more and more by young and vibrant politicians who speak our language. Meanwhile, the international community continues to offer us their unwavering support.

I hope we can take advantage of this permissive climate and seize all these opportunities to further our cause. Indeed, this is the best time to get our act together as a community and solidify our unity. And a good way to start is by welcoming the efforts of people who want to put up new organizations like GALANG, brave young activists who will hopefully take the lessons of the past and harness them into a more dynamic, vibrant, collegial, intelligent, strategic and effective activism. So congratulations GALANG! Mabuhay kayo at maraming salamat po!

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