SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — The Anti-Discrimination Bill has been stuck in congress for 23 years, and this year, the SOGIE Equality Bill has faced another setback in both the Senate and at the House of Representative. The opposition has doubled its efforts in stopping the equal distribution of rights in the Philippines.
But the fight for equality is far from over with our growing equality champions in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Thanks to them, more and more LGBT organizations from all of the country are shifting in behavioral change by educating, influencing and pushing for local anti-discrimination policies in every city and regions. This is exactly what this Mindanao-based LGBT+ organization is leading, along with their local and international partners.
MUJER LGBT Organization, led by its Executive Director Toni Gee Fernandez and the Moro Human Rights Defender Rhadem Musawah, proudly echoed Mindanao voices in the international space while at the same time raising the Philippine Flag in 2023 WORLDPRIDE March/Parade and Human Rights Conference in Sydney, Australia. This representation was made possible by Google to make sure minorities are represented and has a voice in every discussion on equality globally.
When asked about the importance of this experience to them, Toni Gee Fernandez shared: “In the Philippines, LGBT movements are still mostly centralized in Metro Manila; and other regions are having a hard time keeping up with addressing the concerns of the sector. This holds true especially in less developed spaces and areas of conflict. WorldPride provided Mindanaoans representation and visibility. With that said, the unique struggles of our LGBTQ siblings in Mindanao will be shed light onto and will be much more properly addressed thru gender-responsive systems in conformity with the unique struggle of the LGBTQ Communities in Mindanao when it comes to grappling with their identities, sexualities, and reputations. Visibility and representation are essential for an area like Mindanao as it is a melting pot of diverse ethnic backgrounds, cultural differences, and religious beliefs that are oftentimes cannot be addressed by an all-too-sweeping blanket solution.”
Rhadem Musawah chimed in: “Whenever I get an opportunity to represent Mindanao or the Moro people, I always take that chance to show our Mindanaoan youths and our Filipino LGBT+ brothers and sisters that they are not alone and that there are movements fighting for their liberty. It was such a good experience to be reunited with local, regional and international activists at the Human Rights Conference to discuss possible strategies and ways on how to fight for the rights of those who are not visible in the movement. We cannot hide from the shadow forever and wait for our rights to be given, it needs to be claimed until we are SAFE, FREE and EQUAL.”
In this year’s SYDNEY WORLDPRIDE parade, Toni Gee Fernandez and Rhadem Musawah, along with ASEAN SOGIE Caucus Executive Director Ryan Silverio, was placed on the first wave of the march intended to feature all the equality heroes from all over the world – a first for the Philippines to have this kind of strategic representation in a WorldPride march and followed by estimated 50,000 marchers/attendees from all corners of the world.
Germany just got elected this year as the new European Union’s Gender Champion and along with this, the MUJER LGBT+ Organization is set to do a Mindanao-wide Human rights training, along with the Embassy of the Republic of Germany, Commission of Human Rights and Google. Paving the way in integrating inclusive language in the human rights movement and empowering the Mindanao local government units in handling human rights issues faced by many people in Mindanao.
The significance of this is not lost on Toni Gee: “In the upcoming Human Rights Caravan to be spearheaded by Mujer LGBT Organization, Inc., we hope to open more minds and illuminate more issues and struggles unique to the LGBTQ+ Communities across The Land of Promise — the beautiful Island of Mindanao. And we will strive to push for more causes to make the lives of our LGBTQ siblings in our island, as vibrant and serene as the vintas sailing on its seas.”
Rhadem added: “Based on our research, many of our local government workers and officials lack knowledge on Human Rights, and this leads to many serious cases of injustice. That is why we want to help the local government and turn them into Human Rights champ in their own agencies, making sure that despite the absence of Anti-Discrimination law in the Philippines, our public officials are empowered to uphold human rights for all Mindanaoans starting TODAY and TOGETHER.”
The Federal Government of Australia has allocated $3.5 million of developmental funds to help push for equal rights in Asia and the Pacific, and protection of the gender-marginalized communities from harm and abuse.
Human Rights movement has also encouraged the global leaders to do the same and help developing countries.