Building LGBTIQ+ organizations in the rural Philippines

“Whether you live in the country or in the city, we don’t want anyone to be left behind,” says Jap Ignacio, director of Babaylanes Inc. The Philippine NGO helps LGBTIQ+ organizations in rural areas to professionalize and grow, a project made possible with support from our Voice program.

During the corona pandemic, discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people became much more public, says Jap. People were more active on social media, and so many more stories and videos were shared that featured intimidation and violence.

Jap tells us that a video came out showing women from a Muslim community having their heads shaved because they were (presumably) lesbian. Another one circulated on Facebook showing transgender underage youths forced to dance naked in front of the police. They had been arrested for violating the lockdown rules during the corona pandemic. In the Philippines, the lockdowns were extremely long and strict, and people were not allowed to leave their homes. “People from the LGBTIQ+ community were punished extremely severely just for being who they are,” says Jap.

The work of Babaylanes

Babaylanes Inc. works to end discrimination and violence against young LGBTIQ+ people in the Philippines. The small NGO was founded in 2008 and conducts research into, among other things, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The organization promotes equal rights through training and government lobbying. It also trains companies in inclusive policies regarding different sexual orientations and gender identities of employees.

Babaylanes also serves as secretary general of Lagablab LGBT Network, an organization that lobbies for an LGBTIQ+ anti-discrimination law. “We’ve been advocating for a law of this kind for 22 years. The process is difficult because the Senate and Congress are very conservative. They’re mainly macho straight men who don’t want to talk to us,” Jap explains.

Building Rainbow Communities

One of the Babaylanes Inc. projects that Hivos supports through the Voice program is Building Rainbow Communities, a three-year project that started in August 2021. It focuses on informal LGBTIQ+ organizations in rural areas instead of organizations in and around Manila, which have received most of the attention so far. “Out in the country, they’re often just informal groups of friends who don’t know how to organize themselves or how to lobby the government, Jap says. “They also don’t know much about their rights and or exactly what terms like sexual orientation and gender identity and expression mean.”

Training, organizational development and lobbying

So Babaylanes focuses on strengthening and professionalizing these organizations. “What we want to instill in them is that diversity should be allowed and that we all have rights. That the government should not forget us in decision-making and designing programs. We also give courses on health and teach them to deal with discrimination, intimidation and violence,” Jap continues.

My dream is that our society will embrace sexual and gender diversity.

Finally, Babaylanes helps these organizations set their mission, vision and goals and meet government requirements for formal recognition. It provides them with tools to enter into discussions with local authorities and argue convincingly for more inclusive policies or for cooperation in local programming.

From 300 to 500 members

Building Rainbow Communities has been running for less than a year, but Jap is already seeing progress. “Recently we visited one of the local organizations. Their membership has grown from 300 to 500 members since the start of the project. They are now even bigger than Babaylanes! This project has given them the self-confidence to approach people and talk about what their organization does and why.”

Dream for the future

Jap is an activist at heart. His own experiences are what give him the strength to devote himself to others. “My mother has fully accepted my sexual orientation. She reassured me that she loves me no matter what, even after I came out. She is a wonderful example of how all parents should react. Unfortunately, I hear many harrowing stories of parents rejecting their children because of who they are. My dream is that all young people in the Philippines can have the same experience I had with my mother and that our society will embrace sexual and gender diversity. And that one day, an organization like Babaylanes Inc. will no longer be necessary,” he smiles.

About Voice

Voice is an innovative grant facility executed by a consortium between Oxfam Novib and Hivos. It supports rightsholders and groups facing marginalization or discrimination in their efforts to express their views and demand their right to responsive and inclusive societies. Specifically: people with disability; LGBTIQ+ people; women facing exploitation, abuse or violence; vulnerable elderly and the youth; Indigenous people, and ethnic minorities.