Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Project Headshot ACT

Head shot

I almost forgot that for World AIDS Day this year, I was warmly invited by renowned photographer Niccolo Cosme and talented videographer Jethro Patalinghug to take part in the third offering of Project Headshot (see above). Project Headshot is an HIV and AIDS-focused photography campaign sponsored by UNAIDS Philippines with the tag line Saving humanity through profile pictures. It began in 2008 with the the theme "Aware". In 2009, they had a second round of shoots for the next phase called "Move." This year the campaign calls people to action to emphasize voluntary HIV and AIDS screening and counseling for the third installment called "Act." Project Headshot has a Facebook fan page that you can like here.
The head shots were released on 1 December 2010 and many web sites have carried it. You can see it on Spot here and at the Female Network here. To view the entire gallery, click here.

With Niccolo

This is not the first time I worked with Niccolo, who is a celebrated photography artist here (see pic above). I had the pleasure of being shot by him when he was not yet internationally famous for an anniversary photo shoot of one of my organizations. So it was really amazing to me when the next time I saw him was when he joined the local singing reality TV show, Duets. I am happy to note, though, that fame has not changed him one bit. He is still the self-effacing, nice and sweet guy I met years back.

With Jethro Patalinghug

I was also very happy to have met for the first time the talented Jethro Patalinghug (see above). Jethro is the person behind the promotional video for the 2010 Manila Pride March called One Love. He is also a singer and performer and his talent just inspires me. I hope we can work together some more in the future.

With Ana Santos

It was a great day doing the Project Headshot ACT shoot. Ana Santos, a long-time ally and editorial director of Sex and Sensibilities.com, was there as well (see pic above).

I would like to thank Niccolo and Jethro for inviting me to be part of the Headshot Clinic this year. For updates on the clinic, visit their blog here. The best part about ACT was the fact that I was the only transwoman there. Hopefully for the next installment, we will see more head shots of transpeople. That is definitely something to look forward to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010 Manila Pride March


Last 4 December 2010, the Transgender Lesbian Bisexual and Gay (TLBG) community in Manila concluded another historical Pride Parade. For the first time, the TLBG Pride March was sponsored by the local government of Quezon City. Of course, the girls were there and we decided to come in fiery and radical red.

Affirm the right to self-determination

We had two calls this year: AFFIRM THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION and STOP DISCRIMINATION BASED ON GENDER IDENTITY AND EXPRESSION. We also brought back the red truck last year that we rented again out of our own pockets this year.

With Princess & Seanel

Our hardworking member Seanel Caparas (rightmost in the pic above) along with her best friend Princess Jimenez (leftmost in the pic above) decorated the truck and turned it into a parade float. I was so touched when I saw the truck. Seanel and Princess truly outdid themselves and I am so grateful to them up to now.

Once again, joining the march was a tiring but fulfilling experience. Every year, it just seems to get bigger and grander. I was so proud to see that many of the people organizing the march were the first-timers when I was the co-coordinator of  two years ago. I am glad that they kept the flame alive and served Task Force Pride Philippines this year. The TFP execom did a very good job this year and they deserve a big congrats!

With best friend Rey

At last I was able to get a picture taken with my best gay friend in the world, Rey Banag (see above). A week before, Rey sent me a "surprise" Christmas card which had a picture of him and his partner, JM. I cried when I saw the pic and fell in love with them all over again. They are one of the best gay couples I know and I love them both to pieces. I was so elated to receive their loving message with a beautiful picture of them to boot. Now I have their picture in my wallet and it can finally be said that yes I am a fag hag. I am a true-blooded girl who loves boys who like boys. And the pic with me and Rey is my favorite picture from the march.

With Arnel Pineda

During the program, I was surprised when one of the stage hands went up to me and said that Arnel Pineda, the front man of Journey just arrived. Arnel made every Filipino proud when he became Journey's lead singer around 3 years ago. It was such a treat for him to drop by and give a solidarity message to the LGBT community. And of course, it was great meeting him in person (see above)!

Awarding Akbayan

One of the highlights of the program that night was seeing old allies winning a special prize. Akbayan party, the partylist that originaly filed the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) in Congress 10 years ago, attended this year's march with their usual huge contingent. The ADB seeks to penalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression but its passage has foundered since it was first filed 3 Congresses ago. Akbayan won Most Number of Participants in this year's parade. It was an honor to hand the award to Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and Akbayan Chairperson Percival Cendaña (see pic above).

With Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista

The best part of the night was meeting Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista again (see pic above). Mayor Bautista and I actually met 3 years ago when I was just a TFP volunteer and he was still the Vice-Mayor of Quezon City. We saw him in a restaurant and asked him to support the march which was going to be held in Manila then. He asked me to send in a letter to his office and I guess that gave him an idea to fully support the march in a bigger way in the future.

All in all, One Love was amazing. It was also heart-warming to see the media acknowledge the advocacy work of the transgender community. Many of the media write-ups and features on the March showed transwomen in the news. It beats me though why even if I kept saying LGBT during the program, most of the news agencies present called it the "gay pride parade" in the news the day after. I guess old habits die hard but at least now, they say LGBT as well and not only "gay and lesbian this" or "gay and lesbian" that, which is a good change.

Congratulations again to TFP. May this be the start of a long and good relationship between the annual LGBT Pride Parade and the Quezon City Government. We cannot wait for next year's Pride March!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One Love

On 4 December 2010, the Filipino Transgender Lesbian Gay & Bisexual (TLGB) community will come together once again in a show of unity to assert their right to love and their right to be which comes from one heart at the 2010 Manila Pride March. The March, still organized by Task Force Pride Philippines (TFP), is different this year as the celebrations focus on the fight against HIV and AIDS. It will also be held after a long time in Quezon City. See the publicity video for the march which features TLGB human rights activists here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Portugal passes new trans law

Below is a press release from Transgender Europe.

Since November 25th Portugal has a law regulating the legal gender recognition. It is filling a legal gap human rights activists have been pointing out for a long time. With the new law, the preferred gender can be obtained using a standardized administrative procedure within 8 days. Besides the application a certificate from a medical multi-disciplinary team is necessary to fulfill the pre-conditions.

Read the rest of this release here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Miss International Queen 2010

Mini Han of South Korea

Congratulations to the newly crowned Miss International Queen, Mini Han of South Korea (see pic above). The Korean stunner was crowned on 19 November 2010, Saturday in Pattaya, Thailand where Miss International Queen, the world's most prestigious pageant for transwomen, is beamed live from Tiffany's, the world's biggest transgender cabaret.

Mini with Ms USA & Ms Japan

Completing Mini's court are First Runner Up Ami Takeuchi of Japan (right in the pic above) and Second Runner Up Stasha Sanchez of the USA (left in the pic above).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Queen, COLORS and the Cebuana transwoman

Queen 2010

Over the weekend from November 5-7, I went to Cebu for the second offering of Queen, a spectacular pageant for transwomen (see pic above). Queen this year, like the last one, was held at the Pacific Ballroom of the Waterfront Hotel Cebu, where I was billeted thanks to the generosity of the Queen organizers.

Naomi & Rica with Cary Santiago

Queen is the brainchild of the Clothes for Life Foundation, an organization mostly composed of fashion designers who are Cebu-based. Its current chair is Cary Santiago, one of Cebu's most prominent people. Cary is a world-known couturier whose clientele includes the creme de la creme of the Philippines. I chatted with him post-pageant and had our pic taken as well (see above). Cary told us of his plans for Queen to be a platform to help needy communities in Cebu. I was quite impressed with his vision for Queen to be a pageant that will showcase the best of Cebu and benefit the poorest of the poor. After having met Cary, I have now become a firm believer in the aspirations of Clothes for Life and Queen. If I am ever in a position to help, I would easily choose Clothes for Life foundation as my charitable institution of choice.

Rain Villagonzalo

My presence in Cebu was made even more special by Rain, who was crowned the first Queen in 2009 (see above).

Rain's farewell walk

Rain was stunning on pageant night as she made her farewell walk in a breath-taking Cary Santiago cream gown (see above). We realized while there that Queen was not only a pageant for Cebuanas. It is actually open to all transgender women of Filipino descent even those who live abroad. The real name of the pageant is just Queen and not Queen of Cebu. They just had to name their Facebook page Queen of Cebu as the name Queen was already taken. I think that having an international pageant like Queen in Cebu is a fantastic idea. It is a challenge to Manila-centrism and also a way to up the ante in pageantry in the country. Queen, I personally believe, has raised the bar very high for trans pageantry in the world. From concept to execution, Queen is truly one pageant for the books. It has the potential to change the face of beauty pageants for transwomen in the world.

With STRAP Cebu ladies

I was very happy to get the chance to come back to Cebu. I was there in 2007 and met a group of Cebuano transwomen, one of whom turned out to be the star of The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, Minerva Buzon. Rain opened their home to us for a delicious feast for lunch on our last day in the city. She also invited her friends over. The ladies on the left are Rain's friends (Meg in black beside me and Paula, in a denim tube dress) Syndy (in the red dress), Weng (in white shirt, seated), Minerva (in yellow), Judy (beside Minerva) and Etep (in a striped shirt, standing).I am proud to have met these amazing Cebuanas indeed.

With COLORS members

Community organizing is strong in Cebu now and I am very happy to tell all of you that a new trans organization has just been established there called COLORS (Coalition for the Liberation of the Reassigned Sex). On the first night, I went out with the members of COLORS and had a smashing time (see pic above). From left to right in the pic above are Honey and her boyfriend, me, Rica, Eda, Minerva and Bonita (seated) while the girls at the back standing are Syndy, Brax and Magda.

With Queen 2010

The new Queen herself (in the middle in the pic above), Maki Mercedes, is a member of COLORS. I wish her well and hope this new chapter in her life as reigning Queen will open doors for her and opportunities to do good for the transgender community in Cebu. Congratulations again to the new Queen Universe, Queen World and Queen International 2010! Mabuhay ang Cebuana transpinay!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wan Chai bars shock transgender experts, barring them as 'lady boys'

Naomi arguing with Amazonia doorman

Below is a news article that came out in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Hong Kong's most widely read English broadsheet. I decided to go back to the bar in Wan Chai, Amazonia, which refused me entry in the past and luckily an SCMP journalist was there to see it all happen again. I politely introduced myself to the manager named Dave (see pic above) and he said that he'd let me in if Dr. Sam Winter and Atty. Michael Vidler, a human rights lawyer, who were with me that night would escort me the entire time. We said no. The Hong Kong trans community is in a very vulnerable position right now after the W decision barring a transsexual woman's petition to marry in the gender she identifies as. I hope that by exposing more of the bigotry that seems to pervade Hong Kong society nowadays, we have been able to call people's attention in Hong Kong enough for them to start agitating for badly needed change.

Wan Chai bars shock transgender experts, barring them as 'lady boys'

John Carney and Lana Lam Oct 31, 2010

Two transgender professionals from the Philippines attending a conference in Hong Kong fell victim to the very discrimination they'd come to talk about - they were denied entry to bars in the city "because they were not women".

Last week, Naomi Fontanos and Santy Layno attended a lecture for an undergraduate course at Hong Kong University entitled Sexuality and Gender: Diversity and Society. That evening they went to Wan Chai for a drink with Dr Sam Winter, the course organiser and an associate professor in the faculty of education at the University of Hong Kong, and human rights lawyer Michael Vidler, who had attended the lectur

On arriving in Wan Chai, they were told they were not welcome in certain bars. Initially, the group went to Amazonia, known for its live music.

Winter and Vidler were allowed to enter but the others were not.

The men remonstrated with door staff about this, only to be told that they were allowed to come in, but their friends weren't.

The doorman was insistent. They couldn't go in because "they are not women, they are men".

"They are lady boys" and "there are other places for people like that," he said - meaning gay clubs.

Later that night the pair were also refused entry to other Wan Chai bars - Escape and Dusk til Dawn.

Amazonia in Wan Chai

A spokesman for Amazonia said: "It's up to our security's discretion who gets in on any given night. There is no discrimination here. We often let transvestites in and we have no problem with that. They are all paying customers."

A spokesman for Escape said this was also their policy. Dusk til Dawn said it reserved the right to refuse admission to customers.

Fontanos, 32, has a degree in secondary education from the University of the Philippines in Manila and prepares teaching materials for an English language teaching company. "I felt very offended and hurt. We were doing nothing wrong or illegal," Fontanos said. "I was surprised that this thinking exists in Hong Kong as it is a global city. It markets itself as a cosmopolitan place where all cultures converge, but there's an underlying bigotry and ignorance here."

Layno 27, has a degree in mass communications from the University of St Louis in Baguio City, and works in communications. She was equally shocked. "Hong Kong should be more advanced than this but the fact is it isn't. These people associate us with working girls, which is why they didn't let us in, but we are not. The thing is, working girls can still go into these bars but we can't."

The pair also work for the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines. Winter had brought them to speak at the University of Hong Kong, where he runs the course Sexuality and Gender: Diversity and Society.

"Naomi did a presentation about being transgender in the Philippines, while Santy took part in the question and answer session afterwards," Winter said. "They are educated, eloquent and teach on transgender issues around various campuses in the Philippines ... It's a quite depressing reminder of the ignorance, bigotry and prejudice that still exists on the streets of this city. There's a real issue here as to why ordinary, decent and law-abiding people can't get through the door at Amazonia or places like it in Hong Kong."

Human rights solicitor Vidler was appalled that the transgender pair came to Hong Kong to address transgender issues here, only to fall prey to the very discrimination that they had come to talk about.

He said he knew at least two women officers in the disciplined services - he would not say which one lest doing so revealed their identities - who are transgender.

"If they were working undercover, they wouldn't be allowed into these bars either, as they'd be assumed to be lady boys.

"They also would have no recourse against an establishment like this. But they would have recourse if the discrimination was to do with a government establishment.

"This is why there's got to be legislation introduced to protect against this kind of thing happening."

The Equal Opportunities Commission has received fewer than 10 complaints from transgender people since it was formed in 1996, a spokeswoman said.

Such complaints must be made under the disability discrimination ordinance since there is no law specifically on transgender discrimination, she said.

Sam Winter looking on

Monday, November 1, 2010

Proud woman

Speaking at HKU

When the chance to return to Hong Kong arose, I did not have second thoughts and immediately said yes to the invitation from Dr. Sam Winter to speak once again in his Sexual and Gender Diversity course at the University of Hong Kong. (see pic above) The first time I did so was in 2009. But already it feels like a long time.

It is my hope that more of the world will see the many other Filipina transactivists who are here in the Philippines, working hard to make real change.Many of them have overcome the stage of "victimhood." Of course we always acknowledge the travails and hardships that come with being trans but more and more of us seem to be rejecting the victim mentality and really taking charge of our lives. They are not just complaining about how hard life is they are actually doing something about it, dreaming big, breaking barriers and going after jobs that transwomen of the past generation would have never dared go into: human resources, management, entrepreneurship, health care, information and communications technology, journalism, foreign language teaching, research, etc. I am truly in awe of this great community of sisters, proud transwomen, working to make Philippine society a better place.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


As you all know, I am in love with Adam Lambert. I wanted him to win the 8th season of American Idol and even when he didn't, it really didn't matter. The first time I saw him in the auditions for that season, I had a feeling that he was going places. He was going to be a star. And I was right.

Concert screen

So when I heard that his first headlining concert, Glamnation, was making its Manila stop on 10/10/2010, I just had to see it (see pic above).

JayZ and me

Luckily, I scored VVIP tickets to the concert.


Anyway, seeing Glambert perform was a nostalgic experience for me (see pic above). I was so emotionally invested in his stint on Idol that seeing him here in Manila made me feel like a stage mother! The entire evening I felt like a mother watching her son perform, all the while grinning from ear to ear. It was fantastic. Although short as expected (there were only a dozen or so songs), Adam Lambert's concert rocked it.

With girl dressed up as geisha

I was also happy to note that his fans range from the very young to the more senior. There were a lot of high school-looking kids in the audience that night as well as mature men and women dressed very formally but singing along to "For Your Entertainment" or "What Do You Want From Me?". I loved the crowd that night and many Glambert fans came out dressed up. I had to take a pic with a girl who came dressed like a Japanese geisha (see pic above).

His concert is far from those of Madonna's or Lady Gaga's although it was good enough. It didn't reinvent the concert wheel nor did it showcase anything new in terms of technology or theatricality. It is Adam Lambert's first concert tour and it put his singing prowess in the center of it. I know that he is taking a lot of inspiration from old school Glam Rock but I just wish he would add something fresh to it aside from his voice and looks.

I have high hopes for him though but he has to make his concerts more exciting. I know in the future he will master the art and science of staging concerts down pat and I can imagine him headlining concerts as unforgettable as Madonna's Blond Ambition, Virgin, or Girlie Show tours. Those were highly conceptual and even if sometimes, Madonna's voice cracked or got hoarse, you never felt cheated because they were all a spectacular extravaganza.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

High estrogen levels impact brain: study

Studies like the one below make me frustrated about the status of transgender health in the Philippine. It does give me reason to want to keep advocating for medical practitioners to study the health care needs of those who want to affirm their gender through hormonal and surgical means.

Agence France-Presse

MONTREAL - High estrogen levels in women while they are ovulating may be directly responsible for sluggishness or problems concentrating, a Canadian study released Friday has found.

Researchers at Concordia University's Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology in Montreal linked high estrogen levels in laboratory rats to an inability to pay attention and learn.

These high levels have also been shown to interfere with women’s ability to pay attention, but the study, to be published in the journal Brain and Cognition, is the first to show "how this impediment can be due to a direct effect of the hormone on mature brain structures," said a statement.

Both humans and rodents have similar brain physiology.

"Although estrogen is known to play a significant role in learning and memory, there has been no clear consensus on its effect," said study lead author Wayne Brake.

"Our findings ... show conclusively that high estrogen levels inhibit the cognitive ability in female rodents."
Researchers repeatedly exposed rats to a tone, with no consequences.
Once they became used to it and ignored it, another stimulus was linked to the tone.

Rats with low levels of estrogen quickly learned that the tone was associated with the new stimulus whereas those with higher levels of estrogen took longer to form this memory.

"We only observed this effect in adult female rats," Brake said. "This and our other findings indicate that estrogen directly affects the brain, perhaps by interfering with brain signaling molecules."

The next step, he said, will be to determine how this occurs.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

W cannot marry

A decision on a case that I have been tensely monitoring from Manila has finally come out and sadly the outcome is most unfortunate. You will remember W, the transwoman from Hong Kong who in August filed a petition so she could marry her long-time boyfriend. Because Hong Kong law does not allow changing the sex in birth certificates, W's potential marriage to her partner would be considered same-sex marriage, which is also not allowed in Hong Kong. You can read more here.

The High Court where she lodged her petition has finally come out with a decision that disallows her from marrying. In the decision, the High Court essentially washes its hands off the responsibility to decide whether transpeople in Hong Kong can marry or not. The High Court leaves it up to the legislature to decide.

I can see shades of the infamous Silverio decision here. Mely Silverio is an accomplished transpinay who 3 years ago petitioned our Supreme Court (SC) for a change of name and sex in her birth certificate. An amended Clerical Error Law passed in 2002 which disallows changing any Filipino's sex in his or her birth certificate led to the SC to deny Mely's petition and left it to Philippine congress to decide on the matter of birth certificate sex-changes involving transsexual Filipinos.

The irony in the Hong Kong high court's decision is that W can actually marry a woman and socially it will be a same-sex marriage. And so presently, even if Hong Kong law does not allow such, it can actually happen if one spouse is transsexual. The High Court dismisses this particular reality and the bigger reality of the existence of transpeople. I think this is a good opportunity for the global transcommunity to give the Hong Kong High Court a highly deserved rude awakening.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thank you UNO Magazine!

I woke up this morning and pleasantly discovered that UNO Magazine Philippines, a men's magazine that has given the Pinoy version of FHM here a run for its money for its quality content and groundbreaking art and features, finally put up the article featuring me. You can see the article here.

Thank you UNO Magazine Philippines for your courage to write about Filipino transgender women! We will be forever grateful!

Friday, September 17, 2010

EDUC8, LIBER8, CELEBR8: The 8-Campus Rainbow Tour


I am happy to announce the start of EDUC8, LIBER8, CELEBR8: The 8-Campus Rainbow Tour, a free symposium on LGBT human rights (see poster above). It will have its first stop at the College of Saint Benilde (CSB) on 29 September 2010. Below is a write-up of this historical initiative.

TrueColors Publishing Inc., the makers of Ketchup Magazine, the only Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) magazine in the Philippines in keeping with its thrust to promote social awareness of LGBT issues, proudly presents Educ8, Liber8, Celebr8: The 8-Campus Rainbow Tour.

This Rainbow Tour brings together noted leaders of the LGBT community to conduct a free symposium targeting students in 8 colleges and universities in the Metro Manila area in an 8-month period from September 2010 to April 2011.

The symposium, which covers various issues including LGBT Politics, Spirituality and Sexuality, Gender Identity and Human Rights & Media Activism, is designed as a “crash course” on human rights and the Filipino LGBT community, their needs and concerns and the advocacy work they carry out in their pursuit of equality and dignity.

The symposium seeks to provide a venue where students can:
a) deepen their understanding of the human rights issues facing the LGBT community in the Philippines (EDUC8)
b) free themselves from damaging, stereotypical and incorrect notions about LGBT people & culture (LIBER8)
c) and affirm & respect the inherent dignity of all human beings including themselves (CELEBR8)

By hosting this symposium, colleges and universities bring themselves on par with leading higher education institutions in the world that advance human rights education. They also affirm their role as bastions of a truly international, liberal and liberative education by giving their students an opportunity to critically engage with pressing issues confronting civil society. As well, they take part in a change-making project to promote greater social equality and equity. The symposium also provides students, faculty and staff a venue to explore research ideas and interests.

The 8-Campus Rainbow Tour is organized by TrueColors Publishing in collaboration with 4 leading LGBT organizations. Speakers include representatives of Ang Ladlad Partylist, Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City (MCCQC), Vic Alba of Ketchup Magazine and Ms Naomi Fontanos.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Two transgender women found murdered in Puerto Rico

Below is an alert from Daryl Hannah, GLAAD's Media Field Strategist. For more information, visit GLAAD's blog here.

13 September 2010

Two Transgender Women Found Murdered in Puerto Rico

Two transgender women were found murdered in Puerto Rico on Monday, reports El Nuevo Dia. According to the media outlet, local police discovered the bodies of two individuals “dressed in women’s clothes” along Highway 512 in Juana Diaz with bullet wounds to the head.

Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian task Force urged the Puerto Rican authorities to investigate the deaths as hate crimes, according to Edge.

In a statement Serrano said:
“At the very least it is probable that these crimes could have been motivated by prejudice based on the victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity.” He added “the authorities have an obligation under the law to investigate this hate angle.”

Serrano said “We urge the police and the prosecutor to appropriately and quickly investigate this double murder and to classify them… as hate crimes if they discover enough evidence to determine it was motivated by prejudice.”

The murder of these two women is the latest in a rash of anti-LGBT murders happening on the island. Since 2002, more than 25 gay or transgender individuals have been murdered. Among these were: Ashley Santiago Oscasio, who was stabbed to death in her home in April, and Jorge Steve Lopez Mercado who was stabbed, decapitated, dismembered and partially burned late last year.

Two months ago, the New York City Council, which represents the largest Puerto Rican constituency in the Continental US, declared July 13th the “Day Against Homophobia” in direct response to the anti-gay and transgender murders in Puerto Rico.

GLAAD is working to elevate these stories to a national platform as well as monitor the coverage.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Meet Kayo Sato

Kayo Satoh

Some parts of the interweb have been fired up recently with discussions about Kayo Sato (see pic above). Also known as Kayo Police, she is said to be a well-known celebrity, model and host of a video game show in Japan. According to various accounts, she recently admitted on national TV that she was in fact a "man" and that she said so again on her very popular blog.

The 22 year old supposedly came out after persistent rumors about her gender. Many predict that she will become even more popular now that she has come out. Although some web sites have chosen to use male pronouns to talk about her, most comments about her recent revelation have been encouraging and respectful. You can read more info here.

Well what can I say, she looks amazing! Sato San wa utsukushii desu yo! Ki o tsukete kudasai! Ganbatte kudasai ne!

Honduran transwoman gets justice

Below is a media release from Human Rights Watch regarding the case of Nohelia, a Honduran transwoman who was stabbed repeatedly by a policeman, Amado Rodriguez Borjas, two years ago. Nohelia survived although she carries scars from the brutal stabbing. A lot of transwomen in Honduras have suffered from macho violence and many of them have ended up in the list of those honored during the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. I am glad that at least Nohelia has won her case. I am not sure though if she is sufficiently protected from any kind of retaliation from Borjas and his ilk. Let us hope for the best. To my Honduran sisters: Teneis que ser fuerte y ayudarse unas a otras! Vamos a continuar la lucha contra la transfobia!

Honduras: Police Officer Sentenced for Stabbing Transgender Sex Worker
Rare Conviction Despite Intimidation a Victory for Justice

(Tegucigalpa, September 10, 2010) – The conviction of an off-duty police officer for a stabbing attack on a transgender woman is a major victory for justice and equal rights in Honduras, Human Rights Watch and Red Lésbica Cattrachas, a Honduran lesbian rights organization, said today. The two organizations attended the trial as observers.

On September 9, 2010, a three-judge bench sentenced the police officer, Amado Rodriguez Borjas, to 10 to 13 years in prison for his role in the attack. Nohelia, the transgender woman, was abducted and stabbed 17 times on December 18, 2008. It is the first conviction of a police officer in Honduras since 2003 for a crime against a transgender person, even though police abuse is common.

“This was a crime fueled by hate, as the 17 stab wounds attest,” said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “It is a testament to the integrity and courage of all involved with the case that they advanced the cause of justice notwithstanding the threats and intimidation.”

The case was fraught with acts of intimidation, with police, a witness, and prosecutors as well as Nohelia threatened by anonymous attackers and callers. On March 21, unknown men kidnapped Nohelia and threatened to kill her if she continued with the case. She was shot in the arm in the ensuing struggle with the kidnappers but managed to escape.

A witness for the prosecution and police in charge of the investigation received anonymous threats. As a result, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights extended protection measures to Nohelia, the police officers, and prosecutors.

Attacks on transgender people – often targeted because their looks and demeanor challenge prevailing sex-role stereotypes – are commonplace in Honduras.Nearly every transgender person who Human Rights Watch interviewed during research in Honduras in 2008 and 2009 spoke of harassment, beatings, and-ill treatment at the hands of police. The most recent killing took place on August 30. Two men in a motorcycle shot and killed Imperia Gamaniel Parson, a trangender sex worker in San Pedro Sula and member of the Colectivo Unidad Rosa.

Bias-motivated attacks on transgender people by private individuals are endemic. At least 19 transgender persons have been killed in public places in Honduras since 2004; many more have been injured in beatings, stabbings, or shootings.

These attacks rarely lead to an investigation or prosecution in Honduras.

“The larger question is whether this trial will be followed by the prosecution of other individuals who commit hate crimes against the transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people,” Cano Nieto said.

The fact that the court’s judgment did not address discrimination even though the prosecution presented evidence of homophobia and transphobia as motives for the attack was a weakness in the outcome of the Borjas case, Human Rights Watch said. Nor did the court accept prosecutors’ arguments that the sentence should be increased because of homophobic bias.

In addition, most court personnel treated Nohelia and a transgender witness with seeming disdain; only the prosecutor and one of the three judges referred to them by their chosen pronoun.

“The court should be applauded for finding that a serious crime had been committed, but we look to the day when the courts understand the full measure of hatred behind the crime,” said Indyra Mendoza, director of Red Lésbica Cattrachas. “We still have a long way to go to ensure that the justice system understands and properly addresses sexual orientation and gender identity.”

On the night of December 17, 2008, Nohelia, a sex worker in Tegulcigalpa, refused to have sex with Borjas. The next evening, he returned by car with two other men. Based on evidence presented at the trial, Borjas stabbed her in the neck when she approached the car, not knowing who was inside. The men then dragged her into the car and drove to the outskirts of the capital, where Borjas stabbed her on her arms, back, and front of her body.

She managed to escape through the car window, and a passerby later picked her up and took her to a hospital. Nohelia has a permanent scar on her throat and several others on her arms.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/lgbt

For more information, please contact:
In New York, Juliana Cano Nieto (English, Spanish): +1-212-216-1233; +1-646-407-0020 (mobile)
In Tegucigalpa, Indyra Mendoza (Spanish): + 504-9486-7865 (mobile)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tragedia y triunfo

Yesterday in Spanish class everybody talked about the twin events that touched the nation in the week that just passed--one a tragedy, another, a triumph. In Spanish, they translate literally into tragedia y triunfo.

The tragic moment that I am talking about here is the hostage-taking that happened on Monday when a policeman, Leonardo Mendoza, 55 years old, who claimed to have been wrongfully sacked from his job hitched a ride with a bus full of tourists from Hong Kong and declared that he was taking them hostage. Mendoza wanted to be reinstated as a police officer and had hoped that by taking people hostage, authorities would actually review his case and take him back into the force. He was fired after being accused of extortion.

I was busy the whole of Monday and only got to see the latter part of the hostage taking when I switched on the TV at around 8 pm. I did not even have a clue that, in fact, the whole drama started at 10 that morning. I have seen too many hostage-taking on TV in the past here and the fact that nobody was controlling the media at that point gave me a sense of foreboding.

Once I saw a man take a child hostage in a bus terminal. I do not exactly remember his reasons for seizing the child. But police responded and the media flocked around him. The whole ordeal unfolded on live TV. There was a crowd around the man who held the child in a grip with a knife to the child's throat. So many people were talking to him--bystanders, policemen, media people. It was horrible to watch. It felt like watching something terrible happen without doing anything about it.

The whole scene was so chaotic and was made even more so by the TV crews wielding their flashy cameras around. The hostage-taker moved around holding the child in a choke-hold with his arm. The child kept crying and the crowd kept screaming at the man. All of a sudden, the man started stabbing the child in front of everyone. Only then did the police start to shoot at the hostage taker and in the process shot the boy as well. It was the most heartbreaking thing to see. My insides turned as I watched the TV.

Police seize the tourist bus

That queasy feeling was dredged up again Monday night when I saw the police closing in on the bus (see pic above). I love my country and am a very proud Filipino but at the back of my head I had an inkling that the Manila police sent an inexperienced team. For one, they had many chances to neutralize Mendoza. They could have controlled the media first and ordered them off the scene and they could have negotiated with him to release more hostages. What happened instead was a nightmare that was broadcast all over the world--the police doing a botched up job and 9 hostages ending up dead. It was too horrible for words.

Even when it ended, it left one with a very heavy feeling. I could not take any more of it and switched the TV off. It was one of those things that one would normally wish away but could not. The images were just too raw and too vividly etched in your head.So I found it very ironic that the next day, the nation woke up excitedly to watch a beauty pageant. Somehow though I was thankful for the respite it offered from the melodramatic spectacle of the night before.

Maria Venus Raj

I am so proud that Miss Philippines Maria Venus Raj (see pic above) clinched a spot in the final five of the Miss Universe 2010 and showed the world the beauty, elegance and grace of a Filipina. Venus was an early favorite and back home we knew that the Miss Universe 2010 was truly an epic battle between her and Miss Mexico. Interestingly, both nations are former Spanish colonies.

When I saw Miss Mexico the first time, I predicted that she would win it not unless our beauty wiped her out with a universe-conquering answer to her final question. Alas in the end, my prediction was proven right. Venus got a tricky one and answered it in the only way she knew how. Although there has been global or dare I say it, major, major ballyhoo over her answer, I think that at 22 and being Miss Universe 2010 4th runner up, she has made a great achievement.

I particularly relish the fact the she hails from the same area where I grew up in as a child, the Bicol Region. It was a proud moment for me to see her profile on live TV that announced to the world that her home town was the Bicol Region. I believe that she is the first Bicolana to have ever made it this far in the Miss Universe and she deserves all the success, fame and fortune that this achievement should bring.

It was also of particular note to me that she looked darker than Miss Jamaica, another runner-up. I just love the fact that Maria Venus Raj has the potential to change the standard look of Filipina beauty queens. I hope to meet her one day soon so I can hug her and congratulate her for truly representing us well. I wish modeling agencies abroad would pluck her up because she is actually supermodel material. She is as tall as Naomi Campbell and as exquisitely beautiful. If not modeling, then I hope that she can actually conquer Hollywood. It is time for a Filipina of her looks to wow the world. She should be the beauty queen version of Charice! Hey Oprah and Ellen, please have Venus in your shows so doors will open for her. This impoverished lass truly deserves more in life.

Mabuhay ka Venus! Malamong gayon (you are so beautiful) and I am so proud of you!


SONNET 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bodies electric

The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward
toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the
marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of
the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!

--I Sing the Body Electric, Walt Whitman

Lea T Face

Last May, stories started circulating about Givenchy employing a transsexual model for its fall campaign. The said model was revealed to be Lea T (in the pic above) who is currently generating a lot of internet buzz for her appearance in the August 2010 edition of French Vogue.

Lea is Brazilian and is managed by WomenManagement. She used to work for Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci as his personal assistant and fitting model and is now being touted as Tisci's muse for embodying the androgyny that Givenchy is supposedly known for.
Lea T censored

I do not know about you, but Lea T does not look androgynous to me. She looks all woman. This PR spin is just part of the media blitz for Givenchy. It along with her French Vogue profile (see above) which shows her naked has managed to catapult her to the world's attention. I love the bold approach--no pun intended--that Lea T is taking to steer her new-found career as a fashion model. I hope that her story will be used to show the world the beauty and diversity of transsexual bodies, human bodies. I am sure that it will inspire a lot of transphobia as well. Already, news stories are coming out that Lea T is getting ready for genital reconstruction surgery (GRS) as if to assure the public that her body in French Vogue is just temporary, an invalid body to be in.

Thomas Beatie 2

This reminds me of the backlash that Thomas Beatie, the pregnant transman, (see pic above) received when he started using the media for his "bodily" outing as well.
But there are millions of transpeople like Thomas Beatie and Lea T and it is time for the world to get used to human bodies like theirs.

Thomas Beatie 1

One of the reasons why I cheered Thomas Beatie was because of the powerful images he showed the world that have never been seen before. I especially find unforgettable the pic of him above. As sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) advocates, sensitizing society to the idea of sexual and gender diversity means sensitizing them to the idea of bodily integrity as well--the idea that our bodies belong to us and that only we have the right to make choices for and about our bodies including choices on who to have sexual relations with and reshaping our bodies in accordance with the gender we see ourselves as. I hope that Lea T's French Vogue story will be used to drive home the very idea behind this fundamental human right.

Thursday, July 29, 2010



Yesterday I was walking around the mall when I saw a carousel. I have never ridden one in my life although I have always been fascinated by the merry-go-rounds I saw in the pages of the old Childcraft encyclopedia (see pic above) my family had when I was growing up. Needless to say, I felt like an over-eager kid!

On horse

I bought a ticket and immediately mounted a pony. It was so much! I do not think that that would be my last carousel ride. Here's looking forward to more fun and games soon!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Widow of Wharton

Nikki Araguz

Nikki Araguz is the 35 year old widow of fallen Wharton, Texas firefighter, Captain Thomas Araguz III (see pic above). On July 3, Capt. Araguz died in the line of duty. Capt. Araguz was buried on July 11 and the next day, his mother Simona Longoria filed documents in court aimed at dissolving Nikki & Thomas's marriage claiming that Nikki was born male and therefore could not be Capt. Araguz' lawful spouse under Texas law.

Capt. Araguz' ex-wife, Heather Delgado, with whom he has two children, filed a similar suit two days later. Capt. Araguz's death benefits amount to more than $600,000 and by law should be shared by his wife, Nikki and his two children. Both Longoria and Delgado claim that their move to question Nikki's gender in court and have her marriage to Capt. Araguz' dissolved is for the benefit of the children.

In an early news report about the case, Nikki's parents are quoted as saying that Nikki has complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) an intersex condition of girls and women with normal female bodies but with no ovaries or uterus. Nikki's initial gender assignment at birth, as recorded in her birth certificate, was male and her original birth name was Justin Graham Purdue, which she had changed in the mid-90s.

Lawyers of Longoria & Delgado, in different news stories, refer incessantly to an infamous 1999 case involving a transwoman, Littleton v. Prange. Christie Littleton was a transsexual woman who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her dead husband's doctor, Mark Prange. Prange's attorney argued that Christie's marriage to Johnathan Mark Littleton was invalid because she was originally assigned male at birth. Chief Justice Phil Hardberger ruled that Christie's gender was not the gender she said she was but her birth assigned sex, thereby declaring her male and invalidating her marriage to her husband. As such, she could not file a wrongful death case which can only be lodged by a legal spouse. Because there was no precedent case in the US, Littleton v. Prange followed the wisdom of an English decision that came out in 1970, Corbett v. Corbett which held that a marriage involving a transsexual spouse was invalid.

Transgender Americans are closely watching how Mrs. Araguz' case will turn out as it has the potential to challenge Littleton v. Prange. Ever since Littleton, marriages involving a trans spouse have been upheld in Californa & New Jersey. There is also case law outside US borders. In 2000, a UK high court in W v. W, held that a marriage involving an intersex spouse was valid. In Australia, the 2001 decision Re Kevin recognized the marriage of a transman who had not undergone any form of genital surgery.

I am going to keep my fingers crossed for Mrs. Araguz & hope that things turn out well for her. According to her, she has lost not only her husband but her best friend as well. I hope that she will be given time to grieve her husband properly. I pray too that the Texas judicial system, in the end, will recognize her gender identity. In the mean time, I hope that those who will come to know this case will realize that a person's gender is a matter that only that person can resolve. For doctors, lawyers, commentators and judges to usurp that right is a crime against that very person's humanity.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Toward gender and age-responsive HIV and AIDS programmes in the Philippines

National HIV & AIDS Consultation

Last Friday, 16 July 2010, I attended a whole-day, national consultation meeting upon the invitation of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in line with their project on Developing a Gender- and Age-Sensitive AIDS Response in the Philippines (see pic above). The project is jointly supported by UNDP, UNAIDS & UNICEF. The meeting, which was attended by representatives of NGOs, government agencies, and advocates from around the country aimed to 1) validate the preliminary country assessment report of the gender- and age-responsiveness of national AIDS policies and programmes, including indicators and 2) get feedback and recommendations from the national consultation participants on strengthening the gender- and age-responsiveness of the national AIDS response.

I was happy that finally this conversation has been started in HIV & AIDS circles. The preliminary assessment report for the meeting was prepared by the Health & Development Initiatives Institute in collaboration with EnGendeRights. The preliminary assessment was conducted using secondary data analysis of regional focus groups discussions (FGDs) in the National Capital Region (NCR), Cebu & Davao and interviews with key informants from different target groups including People Living with HIV (PLHIVs) and affected women, women in prostitution (WIPs), NGOs, Males who have Sex with other Males (MSMs), injecting drug users (IDUs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The feedback from the national consultation meeting would be included in the assessment report that would be given to NEDA.

Preliminary Recommendations

The results of the assessment, which were presented to the plenary were not surprising (see pic above). HDII & EnGendeRights found that the level of gender- and age-responsiveness of HIV and AIDS programmes in the country was low. Further, they also found that mainstreaming gender issues and including age-appropriate interventions into HIV & AIDS response programmes lagged behind bio-medical interventions.

MSM & TG Workshop Group

After an open forum that spilled into lunch, the participants were asked to break into various workshop groups that would give recommendations on how to include gender- and age-responsiveness into the various HIV and AIDS interventions, services and policies that are in place. I decided to join the group for MSM & TGs (see above). As expected, I was the only transperson present in the meeting, the only transperson in the workshop group and the only female.

Our workshop group was tasked to make recommendations for gender- and age-mainstreaming in various areas of interventions including: information & education campaign (IEC) materials including behavior change communication (BCC); training which covers HIV 101, peer education, life skills building & others; voluntary counseling & testing; gender-based violence & child abuse and STI services.

At the onset our group decided to make general recommendations that could not be accommodated into the matrix we needed to follow. I made it very clear to the group that for gender-mainstreaming to be fully accomplished for the transcommunity the first thing that needed to be done was to separate MSM & TG populations in HIV & AIDS response programmes in all aspects. Although STRAP does not have a programme on HIV yet, we have been having informal discussions on what a desirable programme for us would look like. We are in agreement that it should be included under a comprehensive transgender health framework that addresses access to hormones, surgeries and general well-being that does not adhere to a pathological model and has a clear component on transphobia-reduction.

I am glad that I was able to have a conversation with representatives of some of the MSM groups who joined our workshop group. I told them that our needs as transpeople especially those who are afflicted with HIV & AIDS have been invisibilized by the domination of MSMs in the discourse on HIV & AIDS in the Philippines. I have heard from positive communities that they have been accepting more and more transwomen in their support groups which clearly indicate increase in infections among tranpinays. Any intervention geared towards them should first & foremost respect their gender identity. Unfortunately, because they are subsumed under the MSM label, they are treated as men by NGO workers, health care professionals & government agencies. And because there is, as yet, no established support group for infected transpinays most of them have joined MSM support groups.

We have a long way to go before developing an intervention programme for transpinays with HIV & AIDS. In the meantime, I am starting to feel frustrated about having to attend all these HIV & AIDS meetings where I keep repeating myself. At some point, we in STRAP need to start walking the walk and doing something concrete in line with HIV & AIDS advocacy. But because we are already over-burdened by our main advocacy concerns, including HIV in our work will be spreading thinly our already limited resources & manpower. I hope our members who are studying to be or are already in the medical field will step up & decide to take on HIV & AIDS advocacy. Their biomedical knowledge will be a good foundation for social justice work in this area. This is something that we need to do and quickly at that.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Those who love me can take the train

Metro Rail Transit

As I write this, oh how the world has turned indeed! The Philippines has a new President. Rafael Nadal & Serena Williams are the latest Wimbledon champions. The World Cup has been won by Spain.

In the mean time, I have been living life as I know it: making heroic attempts to write a long-delayed Master's thesis, meeting friends & loved ones when I can, taking care of things for STRAP, studying Spanish in the weekends, running, working out & day dreaming of a future with Carl. The last one always gives me a warm & fuzzy feeling and leaves me endlessly inspired. Ahhh, the future!

Anyway, this will be a catch up post just to let everyone know that I'm doing well & to justify my blogging absence in the last two weeks or so. The title of this entry is actually taken from an unforgettable French movie that I saw in one of the film festivals here in Manila. Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train is about the death of a painter which results in those who love him having to take the train from Paris to provincial Limoges where he asks to be buried.

Because I have been waxing nostalgic lately, this movie has come back to me. I have been taking the train, the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) (see pic above), a lot to see people I love and now I have come to think of taking trains as a gesture of love. If I am on the train then that means I am on my way to see people who are dear to me. I'm sure Carl will say that I am being overly dramatic & ask if it's just the hormones. Perhaps! *sticks tongue out* One of these days I will take train rides for you baby love. *wink*

Inside the ladies' train

Anyway, as an interesting side note: here in the Philippines people are really hung up on gender. We divide lines into male & female & the trains are no exception. We actually have an all-women's train at the MRT. Of course I take that all the time. One day I was on my way to see Rica, our transpinay celebrity, and the train was a bit full (see pic above). I ended up standing in the middle aisle holding on to one of the support straps. The very sweet girl in front of me said, "Miss are you pregnant? Would you like to take my seat?" I almost laughed out loud! I didn't know if it was my dress or the food baby I had from breakfast. It was weird & flattering at the same time.

Here are some pics showing me with friends after taking train rides to see them.

Farewell get-together for Nadine

A farewell get-together with the girls.

Dinner with Sass & Aernout

Dinner the girls.

Dinner with Adri

Another dinner on a rainy night.

Dinner with Rica

Dinner after watching Toy Story 3.

Dinner with Greta

Dinner with the beloved Greta, who is hugging me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Civil Service Commission (CSC) memorandum on LGBT applicants

It is very heartwarming to note that the 110-year old Civil Service Commission (CSC) of the Philippines made history in late May when it became the first government agency to acknowledge Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Filipinos particularly those who apply for the Civil Service Examination and explicitly ban any form of discrimination in the handling, verifying and processing of their applications based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The internal memo circulated through all 15 regional offices of the CSC and cascaded to the more than 1 million employees of the Commission can be viewed here.

Certainly this memo is ground-breaking and deserves all the praise it can get. It is not only a step in the right direction in the government's promotion of gender equality but as well as of human rights. In a nutshell, the memo affirms the Constitutional principle that all people deserve equal protection in law including in the access of public services. LGBT applicants of the Civil Service exam must then be treated, like any other applicants, with utmost respect and dignity.

The common stereotype of government employees is that they are rude and disrespectful, lazy and corruptible and in my many dealings with various government offices, I have met so many government workers who filled this bill perfectly. At the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), for example, when I was applying for the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET), I witnessed a PRC employee put a sign saying CLOSED at her glass window from the inside of an air-conditioned office at the middle of the afternoon and made so many poor applicants wait in long, crowded and cramped lines so she could eat her afternoon snack in full view of everyone for the next half hour. Most waiting areas in government offices do not have air conditioning and it was not lost on us that while she ate her snack lazily, she was also wasting paid government time comfortably. She looked like one of those more mature PRC employees and I figured that the only reason why she had the gall to take such liberties was because she was probably protected by tenure.

Many LGBT people I'm sure have their own share of horror stories in dealing with government agencies--from unwanted remarks to humiliating treatment. It is good to know that the CSC, in its pursuit of professionalizing our public personnel, is taking steps to ensure the dignified treatment of LGBT applicants of the Civil Service exam. I hope that the CSC will not only stop at this memo but also take concrete steps in educating its rank and file so they could truly deepen their understanding of LGBT issues.

I take only one issue regarding this memo and that is its reliance on physical appearance as an indicator of sexual orientation and gender identity. This may lead to embarrassing situations where a CSC handler might think that an applicant is LGBT based on stereotyped notions but turn out otherwise. I also do not know how they will keep a running tally of LGBT Civil Service exam applicants unless they will ask people outright about their sexual orientation and gender identity. In that case, that would be violating applicants' right to privacy.

I also do not see any problems about applicants not matching the picture in their application forms. Most government applications require you to submit a recent picture. I think the memo was trying to refer to the mismatch of the applicants' appearance to the indicated sex or name in the application form--a clear reference to transgender people. Because we still have to indicate our legal names and sex in government applications, many transpinoys and transpinays do encounter some unwelcome remarks in cases where they have to present legal documents. In my case, for example, when I pass by Immigration at the airport, I have encountered male customs officials who would say "I thought you were really a girl!" or "You fooled me for a moment!" This has changed through the years thankfully and now I never hear anyone make such comments anymore.

But my point is, transgender Filipinos are still at a disadvantage when it comes to legal documents. Although this CSC memo does not allow us to identify as the gender we present in our application nor use the name we prefer, at least it protects us from potential rude treatment. I am not sure though if the process outlined in the memo makes thing easier or harder for transgender applicants of the Civil Service exam. It is something that we have yet to see.

Still I am glad that efforts like this are being undertaken by government offices, which highlights the need for the TLBG community here to do more in terms of engaging with government agencies because while there are well-meaning, upright civil servants in government who will try to do their best in delivering quality service to the majority of Filipinos who come through their offices, there are also a number of government officials who have relied on conservative and fundamentalist beliefs about gender and sexuality at the expense of the GLBT community. Thus, BTLG activists will be best served if they remain vigilant and really proactively engage more government institutions in the future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Congenid closes

The second day of the International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights or Congenid was even more tumultuous. The dissatisfaction of the international participants came to a head at dinner during the first day and a town hall was called. The biggest complaint that people had was that they felt left out and excluded in the organization and decision-making of and for the Barcelona conference.

The Congenid was organized by Spanish activists who wanted to create a document that could be used as reference by governments in protecting the human rights of their transgender citizens. Prior to Congenid, an International Executive Committee (IEC) was created composed of transactivists from different continents to help identify the people who would be invited to the conference. All the activists were then asked to choose among four work groups that separately would flesh out human rights protections for transpeople in the area of Violence and Criminalization (Group 1), Access to Health (Group 2), Equality and Discrimination (Group 3) and Legal Change of Sex (Group 4). A special group that everyone could be part of was tasked to work on creating a global trans network (Group 5).

At the town hall, people took issue with the four groups. Who decided that these would be the working groups? Who decided who should be leading the working groups? They also questioned the constitution of the IEC. Why were people not consulted on the creation of the IEC some asked. After sharing sentiments, it was decided that the program for the second day should be scrapped. Instead, since the aim of the conference was to create a document outlining trans rights, it was agreed that the second day should be devoted for the work groups to spend the day together polishing their documents. In the afternoon, a plenary would be called where the output of each group would be presented.

The plenary sadly was unable to achieve what it was meant for. More people raised objections to the handling of the conference as a whole. Sex workers from South America expressed their dismay that the Conference did not respect their issue and give it due space in the work groups. In fact, many of them took offense at the term sex work for they said it masked the real dangers that they faced daily. Many of them have experienced violence and persecution because of prostitution. They said, if what they were doing were really work, then how come they were not enjoying the same benefits as someone who worked in an office? They said that sex work was a misleading euphemism that did not do anybody any good and a concept that was being imposed on them. What they did was prostitution and it should be called as such.

Others felt that the Spanish organizers were trying to rush a document that should take more time and more consultation. In the end, the plenary was divided into two: those who wanted to produce a Barcelona declaration (mainly those from Spain and Latin America) and those who wanted to stall a declaration and instead treat the Congenid documents as working papers that could be discussed further in the future (the rest of the international participants from Asia, North America, Eastern Europe and Africa).

I am home now and reflecting on what happened in Spain. In hindsight, a world congress would have been successful if prior regional meetings were held first. For example, the Asia and Pacific activists could have met before Spain and discussed the Asia and Pacific transagenda. The same thing should have happened in South America, North America, Eastern Europe, and Africa with help from the organizers in Spain. That way, a relationship was established with the local organizers in Barcelona. A year-long preparation time should have been devoted to these regional meetings before a world congress was called. As well, the pre-conference that happened in Barcelona should have been spent towards the work of the four work groups instead of devoting those three important days to workshops that sometimes had nothing to do with the topics of the work groups.

In the end, a Barcelona declaration could have still been possible if it was kept local. Opening the idea to international participants was a mistake. But the Barcelona meeting was not completely useless. Giving transactivists from around the world a chance to meet is always fruitful in a way because it opens doors to create connections and friendships. Whenever I am with other transactivists from different countries, I feel extremely humbled and feel less alone in my activism. Their stories inspire me to do so much more back home in the Philippines. I am sure it is the same for them. Meeting your contemporaries is always a refreshing and renewing experience. It is really up to you how you will nurture the linkages made. I do look forward to working with all of these lovely activists from different continents. It is truly my honor to have met all of them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Conference controversy

First day of the main conference

Today, 4 June 2010, the main conference of the International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights officially opened at the Faculty of Law, University of Barcelona. Immediately after the opening plenary, sentiments that have been festering among the international participants started to bubble up to the surface. People lamented the fact that they were working with limited information. The opening plenary coincided with a session that was not announced. Nobody knew where the rooms were for the parallel sessions. I myself was given wrong directions for a workshop I wanted to attend. By the time I found the right room, I was so tired and had gone up and down several flights of stairs.

Many began commenting about the lack of organization and coordination between the local organizers here in Barcelona and the organizers of the pre-conference. As well, the members of the International Executive Committee (IEC) expressly constituted for this historic gathering were feeling powerless over the program that everyone just got on the first day. Most of the sessions turned out to be very Northern Eurocentric in spite of the presence of many participants from Latin America, Asia, North America, Africa, and even Eastern Europe. There was also a seeming tension among the Spanish activists and many of us international participants are getting quite unfairly caught in the middle of their squabble.

No matter, we are here to move our global community of transactivists forward. We did not come here to fight with anyone but instead came here to link forces with our counterparts from other parts of the world. We are here to ensure that transgender human rights are being articulated in our different contexts in a concerted way.

With African participants

I am very to have met so many people here. It humbles me to know of the kind of struggle that other participants have in their home countries. The girls from Africa have told me of their difficulties (see pic above).

With Kenyan girl

The girl from Kenya who is very beautiful wants to be a model but she has found it difficult to look for work in her own country being trans (see pic above).

With Laxmi

A participant from India, Laxmi is a hijra and many of them are the poorest of the poor in Indian society.

With El Salvadorean & Spanish participants

I also took a picture with a girl from El Salvador (in the middle in the pic above) where many transwomen suffer continued violence, marginalization and discrimination.

Afternoon plenary

So it is clear what we all came here to do. We wanted to come up with a document outlining the human rights claims of the global transgender community that will be used to influence equality, diversity and anti-discrimination policy at the international, national and local levels. It is understandable that we may not all agree on how to go about it but I hope we will be able to put our differences aside and work in unison for this very important task. I hope that happens tomorrow.