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Years of LGBTI Activism in the Philippines Nearing Landmark Victory

Members of LAGABLAB and LGBTI activists pose with Senator Risa Hontiveros.

After years of work, LGBTI activists in the Philippines are overcoming the final hurdle for the anti-discrimination bill.

LAGABLAB (“Burst of Flame” in Tagalog), the Philippine’s first LGBTI group dedicated to policy change, has worked on and off for nearly two decades to advance policies that protect LGBTI Filipinos. And one of their biggest wins for the community is in the making.

17 years ago, LAGABLAB provided essential input to the first draft of legislation aimed at prohibiting discriminatory practices based on one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE). The SOGIE Equality Bill (Anti-Discrimination Bill / ADB) has been “pending” in the Philippine Congress since then. The bill’s creation was met with staunch opposition—primarily from religious groups in the country—and failed to garner necessary support from legislators. The lower house of congress held hearings on it, but it never saw the light of day in the Senate.

In response to this setback, LGBTI organizations spent years building relationships with members of congress and campaigning for the ADB, setting the stage for the bill’s eventual relaunch. Moreover, the groups championed local anti-discrimination orders and worked in the health, education, and legal sectors to make positive change for LGBTI folks. These efforts, they hoped, would also convince decision makers of the value and need to protect LGBTI Filipinos.

All their work has started to yield results. A version of the bill was finally filed in the Senate by long-time ally Senator Risa Hontiveros and continues to be debated before a final vote takes place. In the House, the bill has fallen into limbo because of a drawn out shake-up in committee leadership.

Meanwhile, LAGABLAB is leveraging public pressure. In late June—in anticipation of the president’s “State of the Nation Address” (SONA) in July—the group partnered with other organizations to set up the Pink SONA 2017, which gathered 46 LGBTI and HIV/AIDS advocacy organization leaders from throughout the country to discuss priorities that the community should address. They also helped mobilize the LGBTI community to come out for Manila Pride:

LAGABLAB has also used social media to generate support and energize followers. After one congressional debate on the ADB, activists tweeted criticism of the committee chair—known for being sensitive to public opinion—about his refusal to allow debates on the bill. The twitterverse responded, and at the next hearing he allowed debates, citing the public criticism he received after the previous hearing; their work online also had the ADB issue repeatedly trending on Twitter. Further, LAGABLAB provided individuals in their network with the email addresses and social media profiles of the senators in the debates, making it easier for individuals to directly make their voice heard.

More importantly, perhaps, LAGABLAB is providing technical support to Senator Hontiveros, the author of the ADB, as she presents the bill to the Senate. LAGABLAB has played a similar role with allies in the lower house, including with Representative Kaka Bag-ao.

The passage of the ADB would be a crucial victory for the LGBTI community in the Philippines.

The Fund for Global Human Rights made its first grants to LAGABLAB in 2015, and continues to partner with the organization.

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