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Queer eye for straight Congress

Queer eye for straight Congress
By Blanche S. Rivera
Inquirer



Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Mar. 20, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THEY'RE HERE, they're queer, and they're all set to become a political force.

Running on a platform of anti-discrimination and equal employment opportunity, the Philippines' lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people are ready to break into the political scene with their entry in the party-list elections next year.

Ang Ladlad, a network of 150 LGBT individuals and counting, plans to file its candidacy for party-list representation in the Commission on Elections in September.

"This is a test case for us. We want to see if Congress, if the Philippines is ready for us," Ang Ladlad's founding chair and top candidate Danton Remoto told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Ang Ladlad includes some members from LEAP (Lesbian Advocates Philippines), Rainbow Rights, Baguio-based Lumina, and members of lesbian and gay groups in the University of the Philippines, Polytechnic University of the Philippines and the University of the East.

The country's LGBT-- whom Remoto estimated to number about 8 million -- were not about to miss another chance to bring the concerns of a "marginalized sector" into the halls of Congress.

In the absence of current figures and citing a study by sociologist Margaret Mead in the 1950s that estimated gay people to make up 10 percent of a country's population, Remoto said 10 percent of the Philippine population of 82.7 million was about 8 million LGBT.

Even if only half of the estimated LGBT population would vote, then its party-list group would have a potential voter base of 4.35 million. Remoto said Ang Ladlad was aiming for at least 850,000 votes in the 2007 elections.

Long battle

"It's like a long battle. We have been preparing since 2003 ... It will be good if the people will give us a chance," he said. "The numbers are there, but you have to reach them. That's why we're asking around in the provinces."

Ang Ladlad had planned to launch its party-list bid in 2004. But the deadline to register was changed from January 2004 to October 2003 and the group failed to sign up the party on time.

This time though, Remoto's group is doing its homework early. They've already decided on a color motif -- hot pink. They're eyeing beauty parlors as possible headquarters in every region or province.

Ang Ladlad is also checking out the demographics (information about the number and characteristics) of LGBT people, deploying members to northern Luzon, southern and central Mindanao.

Politicians, hairdressers

Politicians, including a senatorial candidate and local candidates in Luzon and Mindanao, have agreed to carry Ang Ladlad in their campaign programs and materials, Remoto said.

Hairdressers, fashion designers, directors and show biz personalities, artists, hotel owners, bakery proprietors, and even college students have already pledged support for the group's electoral bid.

Major hairdressing associations such as FilHair (Filipino Hairdressers Cooperative Association of the Philippines), Hacap (Hairdressers Cooperatives Association of the Philippines) and Hair Asia have signified their willingness to participate in the campaign.

Each organization has between 20,000 and 30,000 members who own beauty parlors all over the country.

"Imagine how many parlors are out there ... We have the country surrounded," Remoto noted.

Anti-discrimination

Ang Ladlad will be taking up serious LGBT issues, foremost of which is discrimination.

Remoto said many LGBT, especially gays, were either not hired or not promoted because of their gender. In banks, for example, gays are often turned down despite good grades and passing exams.

"They have this notion that gays would just give money to their boyfriends, which is a stereotype," he said.

He cited an exclusive boys' school in Manila where its authorities would require parents or guardians of student applicants to sign a "pink slip" assuring the school that their boys did not exhibit effeminate tendencies.

In the provinces, the discrimination was harsher, with gays limited to beauty parlors, often receiving verbal and physical abuse from classmates, neighbors and even policemen who pick them up for vagrancy.

Surprisingly, Ang Ladlad did not include same-sex marriage in its platform, a touchy issue which is opposed by the Catholic Church, conservative groups like Opus Dei, and even Muslims who account for 5.1 percent (based on the 2000 census) of the population.

"Same-sex marriage is a very middle-class concern. We want to make our advocacy -- such as anti-discrimination -- a human rights issue," Remoto said.

Gay pride

Ang Ladlad will also push for microfinancing and livelihood opportunities for LGBT, as well as drop-in centers for "golden gays" and young LGBT who have been driven from home by their families.

"Not all gay men want to become hairdressers, and not all lesbians want to become bus conductors or security guards," Remoto said.

The Philippines is a leading advocate of LGBT issues in Asia. LGBT groups have also actively pushed for the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress. Pride parades all over the world are traditionally held in June. In the Philippines, pride parades started in 1994, but in 2003, they were moved to December to coincide with Human Rights Day which is observed on Dec. 10.

Remoto said: "We are serious about this, but we are not traditional politicians who will cheat for a seat in government. Kung lose, eh di lose, try na lang ulit sa 2010. Pero kung win, eh di winner (If we lose, we lose. We'll try again in 2010. But if we win, we're winners)."
Tags: ang ladlad, danton remoto, gay rights, press
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