The southeastern Philippine province of Dinagat Islands mounted its first Pride march on the first celebration of its Equality Day on 10 December 2021, celebrated worldwide as International Human Rights Day.
The day was highlighted by a lively parade from the port to the market of the capital town of San Jose. Governor Arlene “Kaka” J. Bag-ao welcomed the contingents of the parade, which was participated in by LGBTQ+ groups and allies from different municipalities of the province. Participants wore colorful costumes and waved rainbow flags.
The parade and other festivities were organized by the provincial government in partnership with local LGBTQ+ group Provincial Federated LGBTQIA+ Association (PROFLA).
Other events included the ceremonial placing of signs for the gender-inclusive restrooms at the Port of San Jose, the main gateway to the province. This was led by Provincial Board member Noli Abis, who authored the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance (ADO) of Dinagat Islands.
In line with the ADO, transgender persons will be allowed to use restrooms in accordance to the genders they identify with. There will also be restrooms that will accommodate all genders.
“Through this, everyone who enters the province through our primary port will know that Dinagat Islands embraces diversity, respect and equality,” Abis said.
Also known as Ordinance No. BBE2-007, the ADO says that “all government and private offices, commercial and industrial establishments, educational and training institutions, sea ports and other public places with toilet rooms and lavatories shall be inclusive of persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.” It also mandates the celebration of Equality Day.
The day also saw the oath-taking ceremony of the newly elected officers of PROFLA, which was administered by Bag-ao. The governor also signed three new executive orders addressing LGBTQ+ concerns and issues — the Transgender Affirmed Name Policy or “An Order Implementing an Affirmed Name Policy for Transgender Persons in the Provincial Government of Dinagat Islands;” the Ask First Policy or “An Order Implementing an ‘Ask First’ Policy Where Persons to be Addressed or Mentioned in Correspondences, Minutes of Meetings, and Other Permitted Documents Must be Asked About their Affirmed or Preferred names, Honorifics, and Pronouns in the Provincial Government of Dinagat Islands;” and the Gender-Inclusive Dress Policy or “An Order Implementing a Gender-Inclusive Dress Code in the Provincial Government of Dinagat Islands.”
The Transgender Affirmed Name Policy and the Ask First Policy recognize the affirmed names of transgender persons and encourage their usage in local government documents which do not require legal names. Affirmed name is “the name different from the one given at birth that some transgender individuals choose as part of their social transition into their affirmed identity.”
On the other hand, the Gender-Inclusive Dress Policy mandates the Provincial Human Resource Management and Development Office to “draft a revised dress code for the Provincial Government of Dinagat Islands that will… reflect the fundamental values of respect and equality for all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”
According to Abis, the executive orders will eventually be translated into provincial ordinances.
“These are just the first of many actions we will undertake in order to shape the entire province of Dinagat Islands into a safe space for all persons regardless of SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression) and a place where human rights and gender equality are at the core of our development initiatives along with people’s participation and conservation. Walang maliit, walang malayo, lahat mahalaga at pantay-pantay (No one is too small or too far; everyone is important and equal),” Bag-ao declared.
A human rights lawyer, Bag-ao has been a long-time LGBTQ+ ally and champion. She was the principal author of the SOGIE Equality Bill when she was Akbayan Partylist and Dinagat Islands representative in the 15th to 17th Congresses. Prohibiting SOGIE-based discrimination and other abuses, the bill underwent several iterations and is still not passed into law after more than two decades. It is the inspiration for the creation of the Dinagat Islands Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.
She is also the main author of Republic Act 11166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act, providing a stronger legal framework to address the issue of HIV and AIDS. The law is also the first one to define SOGIE.
For her advocacy, she was among the first to be hailed Equality Champs by LGBTQ+ organization The Library Foundation Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective or TLF Share.