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Writing Lavan Letters, photo courtesy of Babaylanes

Love letters for LGBTIQ+ legislation in the Philippines

Free to be Me is our flagship program that builds and maintains movements of self-confident and diverse LGBTIQ+ organizations and activists who advocate for their human and socio-economic rights. The Philippines is one of the countries it works in.

And in the Philippines, although a SOGIE(SC) Equality Bill (SEB) was introduced in Congress 23 years ago, deeply rooted prejudice against the LGBTIQ+ community has continually hindered it being passed into law. Without the guaranteed protection of law, the local LGBTIQ+ community still struggles to enjoy their fundamental human rights within academic and religious institutions, in health care, in the workplace, and other spheres of public life.

Major campaign to pass the SEB

In 2022, the Philippine government once again rejected various anti-discrimination measures including the SOGIE Equality Bill. This prompted the LGBTIQ+ community to engage in large-scale actions, including campaigns targeting the country’s 19th Congress (2022-2025).

Free to be Me was an integral part of these efforts through our partner Babaylanes who led the program’s Legal and Policy Cluster. The cluster designed a direct action campaign for 2023 called the Lavan Letters that targeted Filipino youth people from 17 to 25 and the content-creator generation. It amplified the voices of the LGBTIQ+ community and its allies to build momentum for passing the SEB by highlighting Filipino family values.

The campaign involved collecting and sending love letters to members of Congress. Participants “mailed” the letters using drop boxes in their communities or by submitting them online to the implementing organizations. This national campaign included 27 organizations from various parts of the country, from LGBTIQ+ student-based groups, community-based organizations, and civil society groups, to advocacy organizations, local governments, and LGBTIQ+ networks.

Reach and impact

The president of Mayari, a youth-led organization in Mandaluyong City, noted the campaign’s considerable reach: “We were surprised that the call for letters reached Mindanao and even Canada, so we’re happy with the result of the campaign because we were able to reach many people through the initiative.” The campaign not only heightened organizational awareness, but also played a crucial role in supporting the LGBTIQ+ community against discrimination by striving for national protective laws.

Various LGBTIQ+ student organizations said the Lavan Letters campaign provided an important platform for small organizations like them to create awareness in their universities and have impact beyond their campuses. They observed increased interest in their organizations and in related legislation like anti-discrimination ordinances among their peers in person and on social media. Before, the same issue only attracted comments opposing the passage of anti-discrimination laws and policies.

20,000 love letters, mass rallies and full press court

Working with partner organizations, the Lavan Letters campaign collected over 20,000 letters nationwide and culminated in a rally in Malolos City that targeted local legislators and duty-bearers. The rally garnered support from hundreds of advocates and allies who called for the immediate passage of the SEB. Media outlets such as TV Patrol, CNN Philippines, Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, and The Manila Times covered these events and the letters.

The combined efforts of the national campaign and rallies also led to commitments from local legislators to support the passage and proper implementation of the anti-discrimination ordinances in their jurisdictions, including the Governor of Bulacan, the Mayor of Malolos City, and the Malolos city council.

In December 2023, on Human Rights Day, the Lavan Letters campaign “delivered its mail” to all members of the Senate, thus securing the support of Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Loren Legarda for passing the SEB.

Lavan Letters
Delivering the letters to the Senate. Photo courtesy of Babaylanes

Stronger together

Although the SEB continues to languish in the 19th Congress, the Lavan Letters lobbying campaign was enormously successful in rallying additional support for the legislation. And the campaign would have not been possible without the close collaboration of Babaylanes and its partner organizations. Their contributions are crucial for the pursuit of a more equal Filipino society. Free to be Me is proud to have Babaylanes as a partner.