[OPINION] The extra struggles of the LGBTQ+ community in Mindanao
Openly LGBTQ+ are everywhere in the Philippines. Given this level of normalcy, pride events are organized in the Philippines’ central metropolitan cities – a celebration of gender diversity by parading in eleganza, extravaganza, and an ensemble of rainbows all over the route. (READ: 'Rise Up Together:' Metro Manila Pride March set for June 30)
Inspite of this environment, there are two sides of defining the extent of tolerance in the country. Philippine society is very much open and welcoming to LGBTQ+, though with certain conditions and limitations. It also varies per area.
The LGBTQ+ in Mindanao have more hurdles to face compared to those in the country's two other main island groups. Being an LGBTQ+ is already a daily struggle. This is further amplified when poverty and armed conflict are evident.
Diverse ethnic backgrounds, cultural differences, and religious beliefs also contribute to the perpetuation of problems and violence. These manifest through hate crimes, human rights violations, stigma, and discrimination. Rigid gender stereotypes and gender norms are more apparent in the communities as Mindanao is predominantly rural.
These issues still prevail because there is a lack of conversation in policy-making bodies. The absence of discussion about the rights of LGBTQ+s and their welfare not only promotes gender inequality but also reinforces an oppressive status quo.
Having gender lens shouldn’t stop in the inclusion of women in decision-making processes. The invitation must also be extended to the LGBTQ+ community to make the policies genuinely inclusive, sensitive, and responsive. There is a need to recognize that issues in Mindanao affect everyone including the LGBTQ+s. Thus, their participation in public consultations and focus-group initiatives is essential.
The necessities of LGBTQ+s are often ignored in different circumstances especially in times of conflict and refuge. Temporary evacuation sites do not adhere to needs particular to the LGBTQ+s. These pose a higher risk to LGBTQ+s to experience various forms of violence. Furthermore, families led by same-sex couples are not recognized in relief goods distribution and disaster assistance. This problem also manifests in poverty alleviation programs of the government. Only traditional families or those that fit conventional norms are recognized by the State to avail of those benefits.
Meanwhile, the pending Bangsamoro Basic Law also posits questions on the effect of the statute as to how the LGBTQ+s will and can live in Muslim Mindanao.
These topics are not being considered as issues because there’s no legal recognition of and protection for the LGBTQ+ community. The anti-discrimination bill is still pending in Congress 18 years after it was first filed.
Meanwhile, local ordinances with a similar purpose have been enacted in 6 provinces and 18 cities all over the Philippines. 3 provinces and 3 cities are in Mindanao. However, none of them cover a predominantly Muslim area, leaving behind Muslim LGBTQ+s in the coverage. The enactment of more local ordinances to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity must be encouraged.
Another issue is the increase in the number of identified People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Mindanao. In a report by the Department of Health (DOH), 3 cities in Mindanao are included in the country’s urban areas with the highest HIV prevalence rate. Because of this, the virus is perceived as a disease of the LGBTQ+ population particularly because most identified PLHIV are men who have sex with men (MSM). Thus, LGBTQ+ people are being blamed for this.
This is unjustly used as a basis to generalize and describe them in a negative light. The close association of HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ+ only adds to the social stigma of the community. Instead of publicly shaming and generalizing the negative judgment towards LGBTQ+, the public and private sector must pool resources to educate the public and prevent the proliferation of the virus.
As ignorance feeds intolerance, the lack of a gender and development curriculum in the country's education system takes a toll on the LGBTQ+ population. The absence of avenues to correct information on gender identity can create maltreatment and antagonistic connotations.
A study on the correlation of sexual orientation and suicide risk shows that suicide ideation was more than two times higher among homosexual Filipinos compared to heterosexual Filipinos. This is not anymore surprising as LGBTQ+s experience intense discrimination and depression because of their identities.
In some instances, they are seen as possessed by evil spirits or as mentally ill who can be cured. Due to unawareness, LGBTQ+ references are wrongly interchanged, incorrectly associated, or ill perceived in such a way that they become part of jokes and profanities in daily conversations. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: #RiseUpTogether and becoming better LGBTQIA+ advocates)
An article in Outrage Magazine in 2013 said that violence experienced by LGBTQ+ people are underreported, thereby not addressed, especially in Muslim Mindanao. In fact, the article reported that in Marawi City, gay beauticians were being gunned down. Furthermore, abusive families are common and cases of harassment and abuse are widespread. These are most often unreported due to fear and intimidation. Stories of abandonment and neglect of family members are typical narratives.
We should join together to eliminate these kinds of gender-based violence and promote gender justice. LGBTQ+s are human beings who deserve respect and have the right to live their life their way, no matter where they are from.
The issues presented are just a few of the many struggles the LGBTQ+ community in Mindanao experience in their daily lives. It is true that the LGBTQ+s in Mindanao have the same issues as the other LGBTQ+s in other parts of the country. However, it differs in the level of exclusion and violence that they need to deal with. As LGBTQs, they are facing problems from different aspects: economically, mentally, and politically. They are marginalized in the political sphere, underserved in times of disaster and conflict, and challenged by society due to threats, victimization, and pressure.
Given these issues, we must emphasize the additional burden that LGBTQs in Mindanao face. When we champion the security and rights of LGBTQ+s in the Philippines, we must be as inclusive as possible. We cannot achieve peace and genuine development if gender equality is not upheld especially in Mindanao. Thus, recognition of the plight and establishment of solutions for the whole country are important. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Getting to know Bisdak and Mindanao Pride)
If you want to get involved in initiatives that promote the LGBTQ+ rights and welfare in Mindanao, you may contact Mindanao Pride (MP). Mindanao Pride (MP) is an organization that aims to unite the voices of LGBT groups, LGBT+ rights advocates, and allies in Mindanao. For more information, reach MP on facebook (/mindaprideph) twitter (mindanaopride) and instagram (mindanaopride) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.– Rappler.com
Hamilcar Chanjueco Jr is the Founder and President of Mindanao Pride. Ham is a native of Cagayan de Oro and a Development Communication graduate of Xavier University. Hans Madanguit is one of the founding trustees of Mindanao Pride. Ham and Hans are currently affiliated with SPARK! Philippines, an organization that promotes women’s economic empowerment and gender equality, as program manager and campaign manager, respectively.