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Uniting and rising up for healing and equality



Drag queen Mrs. Tan in a dramatic, pink bathed performance during the UP Pride Protest on 29 October. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MARIA TAN

The premier state university, University of the Philippines (UP) held its annual LGBTQ+ Pride event for the whole month of October and for the time, it involved the entire UP community or the whole school system, which includes its campuses in different regions in the country.

The 2021 UP Pride bannered the theme “Heal, Rise, Unite!” to amplify their call “for better pandemic response, respect for human rights and equality for all.” In order to heal, advocates demanded a pandemic response that is evidence-based and “that respects our rights and leaves no one behind.” They also continued the call for passing of the SOGIESC Equality Bill and rallied the country to unite “to defend human rights, and end discrimination, harassment and violence against our community.”

STUDENT leaders and activists gathered for a physical rally on the last day of UP Pride. / PhotoGRAPH COURTESY OF UP Babaylan

“Now is the time to come together in solidarity, and build a new and better normal for all of us,” they said.

UP held its first Pride event in 2008 by UP Babaylan, the student LGBTQ+ groups and other organizations, after which it was held every year mostly centered on the main campus in Diliman, Quezon City, each year with different themes — “March in Pink: Make Up an LGBT Safe Space” in 2009; “Babaylan vs. Discrimination” in 2010; “Marching Towards Equality” in 2011; “Educate to End Hate” in 2012; “Be Free, You’re Safe in UP!” in 2013; “Open Minds, Open Hearts” in 2014; “True Hue Through You” in 2015; “Live for Love” in 2016; “We Love Equality” in 2017; “Tumitindig, Tumitindi” in 2018; and “Embracing Diversity Towards Equality” in 2019.

Vice President Leni Robredo.

Last year, with the theme “Sama-sama, Pantay-pantay,” UP Pride was mostly held online because of the coronavirus pandemic, which restricted mobility and assembly, although advocates were able to gather and rally during the last day. This year, with the pandemic still ongoing, the event was also mostly held online, using Facebook and other platforms, with a physical gathering on the culminating day.

Opening program
The UP Pride Opening was held on 8 October, streamed live through Facebook. Prominent public servants and leaders graced the occasion to send their messages, led by Vice President Leni Robredo, who became one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly government officials. She said that we had a long way to go in terms of gender equality despite achievements of the LGBTQ+ community. She reiterated the importance of the SOGIESC Equality Bill, whose early form she co-authored. She also expressed solidarity with the fight of the community and encouraged them to march on: “Patuloy na makiisa, makilahok at huwag magsawang rumampa sa ngalan ng mga prinsipyo at paniniwalang nagbibigkis sa inyo (Continue to unite, join and don’t tire to march in the name of your principles and beliefs that bind you together).”


Senator and LGBTQ+ ally Risa Hontiveros.

Joining Robredo was senator and long-time LGBTQ+ ally Risa Hontiveros, human rights lawyer and academician Chel Diokno, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Marvic Leonen.

“As this pandemic drags on, we need what the LGBTQIA+ community preaches and braves every day. The LGBTQIA+ community is the undeterred and unshakeable force of love. Although every year we talk about the resounding need to carry on to be brave, to be resilient, take this Pride as a reminder to rest,” Hontiveros said.

“So, remember to rest. Rest will allow you to stay the course, recharged and energized. But rest is also freedom,” she further said. “That despite all the hate hurled at you, you are allowed to step away from it even in small ways, to live a life not defined by your pains. That is the spirit of Pride. Rest is a part of your revolution… Afterwards, you continue. Hinding-hindi tayo susuko. Hindi tayo patatalo (We will not give up. We will not be defeated).”

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno.

Diokno said he is in full support of the community and emphasized, “No to discrimination. Let’s open our hearts and embrace our diversity.”

“We are faced with challenges which are not simply caused by a virus. Our more fundamental challenges that come from deep-seated cultural and systemic causes. Discrimination is symptomatic of the convenient hegemony of domination. Stereotyping, caricatures and abusive essentialism assist those who enjoy privileges within the status quo at the expense of others,” Leonen explained. “We always take pride in who we are, regardless of whether this is tentatively what the dominant call nonconformists, regardless of whether our identity does not fall within their conception of what it is to be moral or to be human.”

“Every day and in every engagement, we should enlighten and assist others to understand. When others understand the diverse identities we have, our societies can become kinder and become a more compassionate space. This is when we really heal,” he further said.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Marvic Leonen.

For the first time, all chancellors of the UP System gathered together to support LGBTQ+ rights and sent messages to the UP Pride opening, including Larry Digal from UP Mindanao, Melinda Bandalaria from UP Open University, Clement Camposano from UP Visayas, Corazon Abansi from UP Baguio, Liza Corro from UP Cebu, Jose Camacho, Jr., from UP Los Baños and Louise Sonido, vice chancellor for Student Affairs of UP Diliman.

“In a time when democracy is under threat, the celebration of pride is resistance. Celebrating Pride is celebrating the promise of democracy. Love is political because how can one be free to live and not to love?” Camposano said.

On the other hand, Corro clarified that the “LGBTQIA+ community’s message is simple.” “They are humans, too. They want to be seen and be heard and be allowed to live their lives while being true to who they really are,” she said.

“I wish that this commemoration will instill positive behavioral changes among all people, so that we can fully live in a world free of discrimination and respectful of our human rights,” Padilla said.

Celebrities also graced the occasion including Miss Grand International 2016 first runner-up Nicole Cordoves, comedian Kaladkaren Davila, filmmaker JP Habac and Miss Trans Global Philippines 2021 Albeian Revalde, who said: “In a society that constantly manipulates us into believing into its illusion of choice, our rightful place is first and foremost in the struggle to change the society itself.”

Queer films
After launching the UP Pride campaign video, the UP Pride Film Festival started, showing queer films online for free through Vimeo. Running until 29 October, the lineup included Resolving ‘Your Biggest Fan’ by Stef Sapurlada Aranas; Budjang by Rhadem Musawah; My Family by Cha Roque; Dayong by Ann Ann; Blue is not my Favorite Color by Vahn Leinard Pascual; Nang Maglublob Ako sa Isang Mangkok ng Liwanag by Kukay Zinampan; Diva, Divine? by Francis Tavas; Pamalugu by Ram Botero; Mamu; and a Mother Too by Rod Singh; and Isang Daa’t Isang Mariposa by Norvin delos Santos.

‘Mamu And A Mother Too’ was shown during the UP Pride Film Festival. / Photograph courtesy of Cinema One

Discussions and talks were a notable part of the celebration. The main ones were the two “Equality Talks.” The first one, “Equality Talk 1: Being Queer in UP,” was held on 27 October, giving a platform for LGBTQ+ members of the UP community to tell their stories and experiences. The panelists included Kristel Gomez-Magdaraog, coordinator of the UP Diliman Gender Office; Arvin John Lauresta, UP Lipad chairperson of UP Visayas; Nadine Estampador from UP Los Baños Babaylan; Dr. Emilia Lastica-Ternura, coordinator of UPLB OASH; Latrell Felix, UPD USC Gender Committee head; Mimi Rodriguez, secretary of the UPMMPC Gender Committee of UP Mindanao; and Joshy Aguilar, research assistant of the Gender Law and Policy Program of UP Diliman.

“A way to make the university safer for us is to include persons of diverse SOGIESC in the conversation. We should encourage LGBTQI students to join LGBTQI organizations so they can organize for the UP SOGIESC Policy,” said Lauresta during the talk.

“Equality Talk 2: Seal the Bill” was held on 28 October and focused on the SOGIESC Equality Bill and its implications on all sectors of society. Sharing their thoughts and insights were Percival Cendaña of the group Akbayan; Dr. Nathalie Africa-Verceles, director of the UP Center for Women and Gender Studies; filmmaker Rhadem Musawah of Mujer LGBT Organization of Zamboanga City; Kakay Pamaran, pastor of Union Theological Seminary; Chris Eugenio, member of the board of trustees of the Philippine Financial and Inter-Industry Pride; Jubee Bautista, operations manager of Sunlife ASCP Operations; Dr. Ame Lopez of Region 2 Trauma and Medical Center; and lawyer Jazz Tamayo of Rainbow Rights Philippines.

Cendaña reiterated that the bill “is a development issue because it’s about people’s wellbeing.”

“What happens when there is a high level of wellbeing? May (There is) participation, productivity and development. This is a governance agenda and as such, this should be a priority,” he said.
“The SOGIE Equality Bill should be highlighted in the campaigns. Require all to state their position on the SOGIE Equality Bill and ask all candidates what they have done regarding the SOGIE Equality Bill and what their future plans are. Elect leaders who will respect and fulfill the rights of all LGBTQ people,” Verceles-Garcia advised.

Other events
Many student organizations in different campuses expressed solidarity and held events for UP Pride.
On 11 October, UP Babaylan commemorated the seventh death anniversary of Jennifer Laude, the transgender woman who was killed by Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton of the United States Marine Corps.

“As we grieve and demand justice for her death, we must continue to dissent and challenge the systemic prejudice that violates and dehumanizes transgender individuals every single day,” the organization said in a statement.

“Diverse SOGIESC is never an invitation for violence,” they emphasized.

On the other hand, UP Lipad of UP Visayas put up “Anong Kwentong Pride Mo Volume II” from 25 to 30 October, which included “Hutik sa Bulan: Whispers from the Heart” freedom wall and “Gab-i sang Balangaw,” their culminating night
UP Diliman Gender Office held the talk “Oh, May GAD So G: Huntahang SOGIESC Mainstreaming sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas” while the UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies put up “Kapihan sa UP with Pride 2021” on 30 October via Zoom.

The UP Baguio College of Social Sciences held a webinar series, “IPRA @ 24: Charting developments in Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights,” from 27 to 29 October via Zoom.
UP Babaylan Clark Chapter presented UPDEPP Pride with the theme “Rampa: Walk For Your Life,” and events such as an opening program, a SOGIESC primer, a roundtable discussion, and a quiz bee.

In the past few years, Pride celebrations were steered towards its true nature and roots — that it is a protest. On the culminating day of UP Pride on 29 October, a physical rally was held at the Quezon Hall grounds in Diliman. Advocates carried placards and spoke about the different issues of the community as well as of the Filipino society at large. Drag queen Mrs. Tan punctuated the event with a dramatic performance art, dressed in pink gown and enveloped in pink smoke.

UP Pride organizers released a statement on that day, saying, “As our government’s failing pandemic response endangers the welfare of all Filipinos, LGBTQI persons and other marginalized sectors are left at an even bigger disadvantage. The Covid-19 crisis has also been a human rights crisis for communities already facing systemic oppression and violence.”

“For the LGBTQI community, this means increased vulnerability to discrimination, abuse and human rights violations. Our government’s strategy of lockdown measures being enforced and loosened is shown to not be working, but changes in this system are yet to be seen. As this endless cycle continues, women and our queer siblings are left to fight the everyday struggle of being stuck in abusive, even hostile, homes and families. The dire need for accessible safe spaces and mental health services that are inclusive most especially to people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) rises,” the statement continued.

They reiterated the call for the passing of the SOGIESC Equality Bill, saying that “there are still countless cases of SOCIESC-based violence.”

“Victims of unprovoked cissexist, heterosexist, and monosexist attacks on LGBTQI people, as seen in viral videos circulating social media, have not yet been redressed. The trans lives lost due to anti-LGBTQI violence have not yet been given justice. Hate crimes like these, specifically directed towards our minorities, should not be left unpunished. Much like the anti-discrimination law, a need for legislation prohibiting hate crimes remains prevalent,” they explained.

Advocates also demanded “for stronger LGBTQI-affirmative protections like a UP system-wide policy on SOGIESC equality and non-discrimination to better safeguard the rights of all students, faculty, and other UP personnel regardless of their SOGIESC.”

They also conveyed their solidarity with healthcare workers who demand medical and not military solutions; with students and teachers to call for immediate and safe return to schools; with workers, farmers, fisherfolk, and the urban poor for apt assistance; “and the lives of every one of us that have been threatened and milked dry by an incompetent and murderous administration.”

“LGBTQI rights are human rights. To fight for equal rights entails that we fight for all human rights. Thus, as we strengthen our advocacy for SOGIESC equality, we also uphold our advocacy to end all forms of oppression, inequality, injustice, and human rights violations,” they emphasized.

The protest was followed by the UP Pride Twitter Rally in the afternoon. The day ended with the UP Pride Night program on Facebook. The live program featured messages from Robredo, Hontiveros, Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago, Commission on Human Rights commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit, UP Student Regent Renee Co and other student leaders. It also showed performances by Mrs. Tan, Stef and Euge, Lance Reblando, Erin Lee, Kale Capital, That Something, Turing Quinto, Samael Says Cünt, Aries Night, Keep Up, Tinig Amianan and Tabak, among others.