Archive for December, 2015

Galang=Respect for Filipino Lesbians, Part 2

by on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Galang with Anne Lim at left, a nominee for the Baldwin Award

Galang with Anne Lim at right, a nominee for the Baldwin Award

In order to “ground” this interview in its environment. I suggest watching Galang’s two videos before reading Anne’s story. These are “Mama Cash video GALANG English” <> and “Galang in the Grassroots” <>. Just copy the URLs contained in the angle brackets and paste to your navigation bar.

Anne’s story

Anne Lim, co-founder of Galang

Anne Lim, co-founder of Galang

“Galang” is the Filipino word for “respect.” Our organization was founded in 2008 by a group of lesbian dreamers who wanted to change the way things were going in the LGBT sector. A lot of the voices that we were hearing, like in the West, were those of upwardly-mobile gay men professionals. Even the lesbians who were speaking out were upper middle-class. Many felt that in a society such as ours it was necessary to hear also from women who were economically marginalized. Otherwise there wouldn’t be enough momentum for policy change. Our lawmakers need the numbers to know that there is indeed discrimination and there that a large number of lives would be affected by anti-discrimination laws.

Currently, Galang is a seven-year-old feminist human righs organization which has four program components: policy advocacy, research, institutional development and sustainability, and capacity building. Our goal is to help develop community-based LBT leaders who will be on the front lines of the LGBT movement in the Philippines. But that will be a long time coming. It’s easier to train educated, middle-class lesbians to be more articulate about their own issues. It’s a much harder task to expect high school graduates, or those with little education exposure, to articulate what they feel.

In fact, when we first went to the community, and even now from time to time, we found women couldn’t even talk about their  experience. What they know is that at a young age they realized they were attracted to women. They harbor feelings of insecurity because they believe they’re immoral sinners. That’s what they were been taught. However, through the years we’ve had some luck and made some progress, and a handful of community leaders have emerged—although not to the extent that we want. Through the years we’ve learned that this is something that will take a long time to develop.

So our policy advocacy program component is focused on local and national advocacy, anti-discrimination legislation, at the local level the gender-fair ordinances that were passed in Quezon City. There are several anti-discrimination ordinances all over the Philippines, but Quezon City was the first local unit to have one. Now it has a second one as of last year. The problem in the Philippines is we have a lot of laws protecting women, laws protecting several marginalized sectors. But it’s always a question of implementation rather than the passage of a law. These ordinances have never been tested. The first ordinance in Quezon City was passed in 2003, but there never was a case that was successfully won by invoking it. Currently we’re in the process of participating in the development of implementing rules and regulations, but it will take a while to develop because next year is an election year. There are politics among the actors involved. We are pursuing the implementation of these rules and regulations within the year. Because otherwise it won’t be possible to invoke the ordinance.

At the national level, since the early 2000s or the late 1990s, there have been anti-discrimination bills pending in Congress, several versions that have slight differences in nuance. Broadly speaking, there are those that are based only on SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression}, there are bills on SOGIE and several other bases for discrimination, like disability, race, ethnicity and HIV-status.

For a long time the anti-discrimination legislation sat in committees in both houses of Congress. The absence of a logistical champion has prevented it from getting passed. I think it’s the fifth or sixth time it’s been filed, and it looks like it won’t get passed this time either. What we’re asking for—in on online campaigns and position papers and such, as well as public hearings and depositions–-is support of the bill. Also as part of our policy advocacy we’re in the process of researching other policies that affect LBGTs. As you saw in the film, we’re in the process of getting into other service laws, like the Filipine Health Insurance Act, because we feel that these laws have been in existence for a long time but they don’t specify discrimination against LGBTs and their families. Policy advocacy has to do with the way these laws are applied on a day-to-day basis. Of course our policy advocacy component and our research component are very much intertwined. Our research is dedicated to ensuring that all advocacy work is evidence–based. It’s been easy for us to navigate because we have all these stories from LBTs in our partner communities detailing discrimination. Wherever it’s feasible we try to come up with research papers, such as the one on social protection. In the most recent one on social empowerment, we discuss how LBTs who are excluded from the formal labor sector try to be creative in seeking employment and  other means of earning, for instance by working abroad as domestic helpers or by becoming small or micro entrepreneurs like tricycle drivers.

We’re currently undergoing a survey of our LBT constituents, not only within Galang, but among activists in the Philippines. There are no quantitative data on the sectors, so each time there’s a need to pass an anti-discrimination law there are hardly any concrete numbers to cite except for anecdotal information. So what we’re trying to do is conduct a baseline study and develop an index that would measure at least LBTs that work in Quezon City. We hope to eventually expand the scope of that study so that at least we’ll be able to say how many have experienced discrimination and in what form.

Of course laws ares necessary, but one of the things we’ve learned is that discrimination is more cultural than legal. It’s crucial to change people’s perceptions, and that’s why we have all these education materials like the video, the comics and everything. This is sometimes a difficulty with foreign partners because for us the fight doesn’t end when the law gets passed. It’s not the same as in America and the UK. That’s why we do a lot of training, exposure to students, we give interviews to students and researchers as well. To the media also.

Finally, our institutional development and sustainability program focuses on our own sustainability as an organization. They say that 1.01% of all development worldwide goes to LBGT funding. It has been very difficult, probably in part because there’s the feeling that the LGBT community doesn’t need assistance anymore because marriage equality has been won in the West. It’s a constant struggle for groups like Galang to find funding, especially in the Philippines. There is less evidence of pain than in places like Uganda and Nigeria. Here people are said to be more tolerant. Perhaps it’s a matter of degree. What are counted as hate crimes are cases of murder based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but in the Philippines there are a lot of rapes of lesbians and bisexual women. Some say it’s “corrective.” The rapists don’t usually talk about it, but a lot of lesbians feel it’s punishment for being indifferent to the male gaze.

In terms of succession planning, Galang is also very much dedicated to the development of activists on the community level and on the level of Galang as an an institution. It’s important, in the feminist movement and the LGBT movement, for there to be young people involved. Activism is not a very rewarding job. A lot of us get burned out. When that happens it’s necessary for young people to take over. It’s a sensitive issue, I know. It’s something that we take very seriously in Galang because we’re here for the long haul. As you’ve seen in our videos, we invest in young people because we’ve seen they’re the ones who are more passionate about fighting for equal rights.

I would imagine that if it were properly implemented, the RH Bill it would also be very helpful to lesbians. What do you see is the relationship between that bill and the problems  you deal with?

Like any law on sexuality, the RH law would definitely help LBTs because it would improve access to health care and promote acceptance of sexual diversity. But for urban poor LBTs the issue is not necessarily access to women’s health care. For the urban poor, health care in general is not accessible. In the Philippines there is no universal health care. So it’s not just a matter of getting a law passed, it’s a matter of breaking through the barrier of low self-esteem.

We’ve partnered up with Likhaan [a non-government organization engaged in providing direct health care services to women in marginalized communities]. We’ve referred many lesbians to them, those who’ve experienced mioma [benign tumor in the uterus] and things like that, but in the end they refuse to seek further treatment. They don’t have the money, and they would rather spend what money they do have on their children or their partners. I’m speaking about butch lesbians–probably because there’s this notion that lesbians are not women.

Yeah, I heard that a couple of weeks ago. I was very surprised.

These identities are pretty much clear-cut elsewhere, but in the Philippines a lot of terms conflict, probably because our jargon is limited, Initially we were a group of lesbians who wanted to work with the lesbian community. Then we realized that we had to come up with an umbrella term. Personally, as a relatively educated lesbian I identify as a woman who has sexual attraction for another woman. But the lesbians we work with at the community level don’t necessarily feel the same way or identify as such. Masculine-presenting lesbians might say that they identify as lesbian or they are men trapped in women’s bodies, and they are attracted to other women. So “trans” might well be more appropriate. The feminine one in the relationship will identify as either straight or bisexual and see her more masculine partner as actually a man. So we had to come up with a term to embrace all these three identities. Probably the term that most lesbians use is “tomboy,” which describes gender expression, not sexual orientation. There is no Filipino term. There is one for gay men, I think. Bakla [“effeminate man” in my dictionary, or “gay man”] is used as “gay man.” For “lesbian” all we use is lesbyana, or “tomboy” which is also not Filipino.

I have a friend who said shortly after we met, “As you can tell I’m a lesbian.” Well, I hadn’t noticed. I don’t think people in the West do that butch-femme role-playing thing anymore.

Obviously, I’m wearing a dress right now, so people will usually say, “How can you be a lesbian?” Those are stereotypes from the 1950s. for instance, the feminine one is often called the girlfriend of the tomboy. She’s not necessarily thought of as a lesbian herself. One of the research projects we undertook involved migrant workers in Hong Kong. They say a lot of Filipino domestic workers end up “becoming lesbian” because there aren’t enough Filipino men to go around. Some of the women we interviewed said that they’re glad for the opportunity to work abroad—of course, primarily because there are no, or very few, employment opportunities for lesbians in the Philippines, but also because in a more open society they are able to express themselves sexually. As an aside, we can say there are a lot of straight women in need of companionship. So they end up having relationships with butch lesbians. Whether they were actually closet lesbians in the Philippines or not, that’s another issue altogether.

Something we would love to do research on eventually is the fact that some women who have husbands and kids in the Philippines go to Hong Kong and become the butch lesbian in their relationship with other Filipino domestic workers. When they come back to the Philippines they again become submissive to their husbands. So the role play, the power play, is something that would be very interesting to study.

Yeah, it would be. And to see how economics ties in as a component of this too.

In the dynamics among lesbian couples, there’s a distinct separation between “butch” and “femme,” especially among older lesbians for whom the LBT distinctions are not clear. Feminine lesbians tend to have more access to employment, and the butch ones don’t have that because there are gender-prescribed requirements like haircut and that. Usually the power is with the “femme” so that if there is violence between couples, the perpetrator of the violence is usually the femme. That surprised us, actually. When the media portrays lesbians as masculine they are the violent ones, but that’s not necessarily the case. That is also supported by the fact that when the victims go to the police to complain about violence against them, the police either turn them away and say, “You can’t be the victim of violence when you’re usually the perpetrator of violence.” Also there are cases of lesbians who report rape and are told by the police, “You’ve at least had the chance to experience sex with a man.”

The issue of violence and acceptance is inversely proportional to economic empowerment, meaning the more money a lesbian has, the more acceptance she has. That’s part of the relationship. So in the communities we work in some women who were disowned by their parents are accepted as soon as they have stable jobs.

We were talking about this earlier. They’re helping to pay the rent.

In Hong Kong I spoke with a woman who was very proud that she made all the decisions for the family back in the Philippines, even what her parents roles would be, because she was the sole income earner. Of course we’re not sure that’s connected with her being a lesbian. Anecdotally, if she didn’t have money to send I’d say she wouldn’t have that much power in her family.

One of the things I’ve observed since coming here is that the family dynamic is very interesting in terms of money. Money seems to have an awful lot to do with the way things happen in the Filipino family.

There’s not a lot to go around, so maybe that’s why it’s so important.

Yeah, and also because of the very peculiar class structure.

I would say that among well-to-do lesbians, having money could also be a barrier to their acceptance of their sexuality. The family applies a lot of pressure to maintain a certain social status. So that’s an irony in itself.

Yeah, because they feel they have a certain position.

For them coming out may not necessarily be an issue. They have all the perks they need without coming out, and they don’t want to shame the family. So the challenge for activists like us is to involve them. For tactical reasons and for political reasons.

Very interesting. And how are you doing this?

Honestly, as you said, money pays for a lot. Grassroots work requires a lot of money. It’s labor-intensive and ad-intensive. So our dream really is to be able to tap into lesbian heiresses who can support the movement, so to speak. We’ve actually tried to find technical support for that through an NGO in Hong Kong, but we learned that the culture of philanthropy in general is not well developed here. In the US and Europe funders could be the governments or private individuals like Bill and Linda Gates. Here funding is not necessarily possible, despite the extreme poverty in the region. So if you find anybody like that just give me a ring.

I will, although the only rich people I know are Filipinos. But I have another question: how do you avoid burnout?

I have ten dogs and a partner of thirteen years. I try to tell myself that this work is not all on my shoulders. In this office we try to remind ourselves that it’s never up to one person. Actually, I work in another office, and having another focus has helped as well.

Well, that’s certainly true of human rights in the US. The laws or policies put in place during times of prosperity are taken away during times of austerity. It swings back and forth.

Related items: Please copy URL and paste on your navigation bar

Anne Marie Lim and Charisse M. Jordan, “Policy Audit: Social Protection Policies and Urban Poor LBTs in the Philippines,” Evidence Report No. 21, Sexuality, Poverty and Law.

Galang Philippines, Inc. “How Filipino LBTs Cope with Economic Disadvantage,” Evidence Report No. 120, Sexuality, Poverty and Law.

Homophobia May Cost India’s Economy Billions of Dollars, India Real Time.


Galang=Respect for Filipino Lesbians, Part 1

by on Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

One of Galang's neighborhood groups at a meeting

One of Galang’s neighborhood groups at a meeting

Recently I spoke with women in Galang, an organization founded in 2008 in order to empower lesbians, bisexual women, and transsexuals (LBTs) among the urban poor and “to advocate on their own behalf with regard to education, legal and political awareness and economic independence.”  

In order to “ground” this topic in its environment, I suggest that readers watch Galang’s two short videos before reading the text. These are “Mama Cash video GALANG English” <> and “Galang in the Grassroots” <>. Just copy the URLs inside the angle brackets and paste to your navigation bar. Many thanks to Galang for the use of your materials. The staff of Galang also took me along to a Lesbians for Rights event where I could take photos.

Gyky G. Tangente (left) and Maroz R. Ramos

Gyky G. Tangente and Maroz R. Ramos

I spoke first with Gyky Tangente, a staff member in the Galang office on Xavierville Avenue in Quezon City. I said that twenty-some years ago I was surprised when an African-American, lesbian friend returned from a vacation in the Philippines very excited about how “gay-friendly” the place was. She was comparing what she heard from out-of-the-closet men she’d met here with the closeted gays and lesbians in South Korea, where we were both working.

Gyky’s story

I wonder whether you’re familiar with the Pew research about how “gay-friendly” the Philippines is. The Pew survey looked at the correlation of religion and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] acceptance and determined that the Philippines was one of the most LGBT-accepting countries.

One of the top ten.

But religion is a very powerful here. [The population is roughly 80% Catholic, 6% is Christian of other denominations, 5% to 10% Muslim, 3% Buddhist or Taoist, about 2% adherents of a traditional Filipino practice like shamanism and less than 1% non-religious. Divorce is illegal.] Most research shows that countries where religion has a powerful impact are very conservative, as opposed to liberal countries where religion is not so powerful. Maybe one of the reasons why the Philippines ranked so “gay friendly” is that LBGT people are quite visible in the media—although only as stereotypes. There are no national laws protecting their rights. So some people say, “You’re not really suffering from discrimination here. You’re not being killed like people are in other countries just for being who you are. You don’t need anti-discrimination legislation.” We want legal recognition that we have the same rights, including eventually the same rights for same-sex couples as heterosexual couples.

I would say the number-one barrier to equal rights is religious fundamentalism. The country is very conservative, and the separation of Church and State is not…

Is non-existent.

Yes. Actually, the arguments used against the anti-discrimination statues as misleading as those used against the Reproductive Health Bill. [The RH Bill provides for access to family planning, education and devices, but not abortion. Even after passage, the bill is still vigorously opposed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines despite the fact that the population is increasing among the poor at a desperate rate.  Tactics used by the CBCP are similar to those used by extreme “pro-life” groups in the US.]

The churches use their control over people to turn them against the HR Bill and the Anti-Discrimination Bill, which when passed into law will prevent discrimination against LGBTs and also people with SOGIE issues (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression). Actually, there are two versions of the anti-discrimination law. One prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation identity, and the other one includes age discrimination against older people, indigenous people, racial minorities, and LGBTs, so it’s more comprehensive. One legislator said that he would support this bill if the language about LGBTs were removed. It’s ironic that someone would support an anti-discrimination bill only if some people were excluded.

I think Galang is making an important contribution by looking at economic rights. When we first began looking at the plight of LBTs among the urban poor, we saw different dimension, different layers of discrimination, one based on sexuality and one based on social class. This makes people very vulnerable, which was really evident in the research Galang did. I should also include gender because of course the Philippine is still very patriarchal. If you’re born female you will be treated as a second-class citizen. Have you ever heard the expression “the third sex”?

Yes. In connection with people in Thailand. A friend of mine was talking about how open, uncloseted and creative his gay students were and how they were accepted as the “third sex.”

Unfortunately the term is also used in Philippines. It’s even deeply embedded in the LGBT communities.

And exactly what do people mean by that?

Well, there’s the first sex—male—and the second sex—female. The “third sex” means “not part of the male-female dynamic,” an outsider, ranked third in the hierarchy. That’s why it’s so important to provide capacity building activities. [Community capacity building is defined as the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in the fast-changing world.] People need to realize that human beings are all the same, that we have the same rights as everyone else and of course that we have to fight for those rights.

We also need comprehensive social protection policies for everyone. [Social protection is about people and families having security in the face of vulnerabilities and contingencies like health care and safe working conditions. The very poor, those struggling just to survive, are the most in need of protection and the least protected.]People are left behind because of how we define family, how we define marriage. Unlike for instance in the States, where the Supreme Court acknowledged that marriage is not only between a man and a woman, in the Philippines we have a law actually defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It’s very problematic. What we need to do is revise those words.

We had the Defense of Marriage Act, which did the same thing, until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. I would imagine that in the Philippines same-sex marriage is a long ways away.

Exactly. Even with the antidiscrimination bill it’s been about twenty years.

Gyky makes a presentation of the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Gyky makes a presentation of the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Are you familiar with Lee Badgett? She wrote The Economic Cost of Homophobia: How LGBT Exclusion Impacts Development. Her pilot country was India. She showed that, when LGBT people are denied access to employment, it has a negative effect on the country’s economy. I think it very important for development as a whole to have everyone be part of it. There’s also a problem with “development” per se, the definition is usually inclined toward economics as in money. In the Philippines the potential of LGBTs, especially the LBTs, remains untapped. It’s not recognized at all. If you’re poor, probably your education attainment is lower, and you’ll have a really hard time finding a job. There are financial difficulties with higher education. Or maybe people dropped out of school before finishing high school because they were bullied. So this leaves them vulnerable to a lot of abuse—getting a substandard wage and working really inhumane hours. They put up with it simply in order to survive.

Plus, especially if you’re a “butch” lesbian, you may not be seen as a potential employee because of a uniform requirement. You may be asked whether you’d be comfortable in makeup and a miniskirt. Or maybe it will just be assumed that you couldn’t wear those things.

When you apply for a job here, say some kind of office job, are you required to submit a photograph?

Yes, but if you don’t include a picture and you’re called in for an interview, you may be rejected as soon as they see you. You’ll also find small-scale places that don’t pay the standard wage. They might be hiring manual labor. The application process is usually walk-in. If you’re a “butch” lesbian you may be told, “We’re not hiring immoral people like you.” It may be considered bad for business. But I’ve heard stories about a factory which prefers butch lesbians because they believe they won’t be asking for maternity leave and they won’t have children to take care of. The presence of gender roles and stereotyping is very evident.

And they might also feel that these workers won’t have an easy time finding jobs somewhere else so they’ve got them trapped. Social class is more extreme here than anywhere I’ve ever been.

Oh, really? Well, unemployment is one issue and underemployment is another. Many of our LBT partners are employed on a short contract basis. For maybe six months a woman has a job, and then she’s out looking for another one. Or she applies over and over. It’s very hard to tell exactly how many, but most of our partners don’t have stable jobs.

Dancers at Lesbians for Rights

Dancers at Lesbians for Rights

We interviewed Filipino LBTs who worked in Hong Kong and those who worked in the Middle East. In Hong Kong they had more freedom to express themselves, but of course in the Middle East they weren’t allowed to have very short hair because it’s very dangerous for LGBTs there.

It’s dangerous for a lot of people there.

Right. We discovered they had problems finding jobs. Even though they were college graduates they had to work as domestic helpers when they went abroad. They were unable to find jobs in the Philippines, first because of the very limited number of jobs here and second of course because of their sexuality and sexual expression. During the interviews they said they were really happy to be contributing to the family finances and they could see that their family was more accepting of them. If you give money, you have economic power. We were very happy that they found acceptance, but there’s a problem in that not being able to contribute might mean never being accepted. Those are some of the results we collected and shared. We found them both interesting and depressing.

It’s kind of sad when your family only accepts you because you’re helping to pay the rent.

Three of the posts I did on the website dealt with squatters. Both of the families were forcibly moved by the National Housing Authority and sent out to a housing development way out of town, far away from their employment. The rent to own terms were very reasonable, but they had no running water or electricity for a year. Some people were relocated to a flood plain which was under water shortly thereafter. So I have an idea of what it’s like to be poor in the Philippines.

Dancers at Lesbians for Rights

Dancers at Lesbians for Rights

Actually, we dealt with that in our research. One of our social protection policies has to do with the Urban Development and Housing Act, which deals with the rights of everyone, but specifically the urban poor. Maybe their houses are demolished because they’re squatters public or private land [or for some other reason. The land could be on a fault line, and the authorities might be worried about being held responsible in case of an earthquake].

Same-sex partners are not considered a family, so in the National Housing Authority survey only one of the occupants would be registered as living in the house. This means you have less priority. Top priority is given to families with lots of children, even though the law, the Urban Development Housing Act, does not define a household as a family. It’s just a house, regardless of how many people are living in it or their relationship to each other. One demolished house is supposed to be replaced by one house in the relocation area. A group of friends should have the same rights as a traditional family, particularly if they were living in their home in the squatters’ community for a very long time.

The decision lies with the individuals doing the survey. They usually take “household” to mean “family,” using the culturally-embedded definition of “family” as father, mother, children. So same-sex couples without children go to the bottom of the list. So do single parents with children because they also don’t fit into the traditional definition of a family. When the relocation houses are handed out, they’re left behind. Of course those who are close to the head of the homeowner’s association have more houses than others.

Yeah, that would be very hard.

Supportive audience

Fun and supportive audience

In our partner LBO (?), there are areas where people have been moved, but also areas where the squatters are allowed to stay on public and private land until the owner or the government needs it. People feel insecure with possible demolition pending. That’s when the talk about relocation sites begins.

What we’re talking about today adds a whole new dimension to my thinking about poverty in the Philippines. I found it amazing to see how much people were able to do with how little.

Let me put it this way. Thirty years ago I was in China, and I interviewed another foreigner who said, “I don’t know how people can live like that.” My first reaction was shock at this judgmental statement. But then it occurred to me that he actually meant what he said. He really didn’t know how people lived. If he had gone into one of these Chinese rooms, about the size of this office with eight people living in it, and he had seen how they had divided things off to provide privacy and how they did their cooking and hung their washing on the balcony, then he would have known how people lived. So that was my reaction to the very friendly squatters in Makati who invited me in, let me take pictures, answered my questions and fed my friends and me a nice meal.

But when you add more discrimination to their lives, it puts the whole thing on a completely different level.



Related items: Please copy URL and paste on your navigation bar.

Anne Marie Lim and Charisse M. Jordan, “Policy Audit: Social Protection Policies and Urban Poor LBTs in the Philippines,” Evidence Report No. 21, Sexuality, Poverty and Law.

Galang Philippines, Inc. “How Filipino LBTs Cope with Economic Disadvantage,” Evidence Report No. 120, Sexuality, Poverty and Law.

Homophobia May Cost India’s Economy Billions of Dollars, India Real Time.