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Celebrating grassroots voices in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines

Rainbows and colours in faith and culture: Celebrating grassroots voices in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines

Written by: Kayla del Mundo Lapiz – Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer in the Philippines

Giany Amorita – Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer in Indonesia

Saophorn Phoeng – Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer in Cambodia

What a way to end the year! From the 28th of November to the 2nd of December 2022, the Voice Asia team and select grantee partners participated in the 9th ILGA Asia conference in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The 2022 conference theme was “Our Trials, Our Triumphs, and the Future We Demand”, providing a space for all participants to reflect on their individual and collective journey towards LGBTIQ+ inclusion. The teams presented both at the pre-donor and main session conferences, sharing particularly on the different contexts in grassroots movement-building and support systems that allow or hinder it from flourishing.

During the pre-donor conference, the Voice Asia team shared their experiences supporting community-based LGBTIQ+ movements, especially those led by emerging or informal groups. While differences in contexts are observable, using an intersectional lens was emphasised as a strategy to build and strengthen cross-movements, especially in countries with higher safety and security risks. It was an enriching space not only for Voice to share but also to learn from other funders across the globe on topics such as anti-gender movements, humanitarian response, and flexible funding, among others. Apart from the Voice Asia Team leading a pre-donor conference session, RJ Neyra represented the Initiatives and Movement for Gender Liberation Against Discrimination (IMGLAD), a grantee-partner from the Philippines, as a panellist in the Interfaith Pre-Conference Session led by the Global Interfaith Network. In that space, he shared about the challenges of the community vis-à-vis faith-based and anti-gender movements and the possible strategies in countering said forces.

Interfaith pre-conference session

The main conference session by Voice grantee-partners focused on “Faith, Culture, and LGBTIQ+ Inclusion: Reclaiming Spaces and Narratives”.  It took a knowledge exchange approach where learning questions were presented to dive into those through storytelling and share in an open space. Voice is very proud of its storytellers from Love is Diversity and SafeSpaceBTB (Cambodia), Community Health and Inclusion Association or CHIAS (Laos), Elderly Rights, Support, and Treatment (Indonesia)IMGLAD (Philippines), and the vibrant session moderator, Genica Bucao from ASEAN SOGIE Caucus (ASC).

Storytellers’ session from Voice together with the participants from various organisations and countries

All the fantastic storytellers, together with the session participants, delved into their narratives, reflecting whether faith, culture, and religions are facilitators or blockages of a harmonised and robust movement towards inclusive spaces. They shared a wide range of narratives on good practices for promoting just and inclusive spaces and initiatives, engaging allies and key stakeholders from religious, faith-based, and cultural groups, and facing barriers by recognising opportunities to explore and collaborate. It was an enriching experience (hopefully for everyone!) and, at the same time, a space that encouraged mutual empowerment—from preparations until the session’s conclusion’.

Below are reflections shared by our Storytellers and the Voice Asia Team, touching on the narrative they continue to hold and their key takeaways:

Thida Kuy from Love is Diversity presenting their wonderful amplification and campaigning efforts on LGBTI inclusion and protection

ILGA is a great opportunity to build more commitment through learning, sharing life experiences, and strategizing. It can help me explore numbers opportunities and shape deeper and wider critical thinking. This is the life library of LGBTIQ individuals and allies around Asia.

There is no such success without challenges or struggle. But, in the right way, we must work hard and smart, uniting supporters and learning from one another about how to be more engaged and establish crucial routes to equality. Furthermore, the resource person is vital for our foresting movement, helping LGBTIQ people become resources, fulfill their potential, and become a strong LGBTIQ community.” – Thida Kuy, Love is Diversity, Cambodia

Mami Rully sharing ERAT’s strategy in engaging religious/faith-based groups

What is quite impressive is the process of interacting with many donor organisations and agencies, which implement programmes that support the existence of queer/LGBTI+ groups through various issues. There are aspects of intersectionality that greatly influence one another, especially since each country has various cultural backgrounds and political situations and has different levels of challenges.

After participating in ILGA Asia Conference, I hope there will be more cooperation in the aspect of capacity strengthening and joint learning of processes implemented in strategies and programmess to support queer groups, especially on the issue of transgender elderly, so that we can achieve the equity and equality in terms of social justice. Comparative study and research involving more communities are also important. I also hope that ILGA will play a better role in linking community issues with donor agencies  Mami Rully, Senior Support Center, Indonesia

A photo-op moment with Mami Rully!

I feel very fulfilled and grateful to be able to share the Mindanao LGBTQIA+ situation through the platform provided by Voice at the ILGA Asia Conference. The breakout session also allowed me to know the specific context of my fellow grantees and the strategies they employed in response to the impact of faith and culture on our community. I also tried attending as many pre-conferences and breakout sessions as possible to derive inspiration from other organisations.

During conversations I had with advocates, we are on the same page regarding the need to forge partnerships, intersectional building, and exhausting all the spaces for inclusion. The theme of the conference also very much resonated with me. I will carry and share these lessons with my fellow Gladders and friends and see how we contribute and co-produce more initiatives in response to those said needs. RJ Neyra, IMGLAD, Philippines

RJ from IMGLAD talks about the situation of his LGBTI Tri-people queerblings in Mindanao

I am honoured to be part of this wonderful ILGA conference, where I was given opportunities to meet, connect, share and exchange with many great LGBTQI activists and CSOs from all over the ASIA countries. I have learned from many activists about their creative approaches and campaigns using arts, social media, and digital platforms to amplify their voices and advocate for equal rights, legal protection, and social inclusion for the LGBTQI community. I was so inspired by so many beautiful stories that were so touching, the challenges that the community is struggling with, and the dream and hope that the communities are fighting for. This space helps strengthen our strategic partnership to promote intersectionality approaches in grant-making and LGBTQI’s inclusion at the country and regional levels.

It was a long journey that we are moving forward; although it is a slow walk, we will be there!” said one of the activists from Cambodia.  It’s important to stand in solidary, build relationships, and network, particularly the TRUST among all civil society  organisations network with resource mobilisation support from donors to reach the common goal of “being acceptant” and “legalisation of same-sex marriage. – Sokha Srey, Voice Partnership & Grants Specialist, Voice Cambodia

lam from CHIAS shares stories, experiences, and successes in building inclusive workspaces

This is my first time participating ILGA conference. I think that I have learned about some new topics of LGBTQI+, which we need to think about a potential opportunity to start implementing in Laos, for example Intersex. I got a wider connection with LGBTQI community in the region and built more capacity of myself in sharing and voice out on behalf of the transgender women community in Laos in the international forum – Olam, CHIAS

The ILGA Asia Conference has provided me with a new experience that broadens my perspective, particularly with regard to my comprehension of the current progress and updates regarding the LGBTIQA issue in Asia. I have the opportunity to meet with a variety of individuals and organisations whose projects centre on intersex and gender-nonconforming issues and also intersect with other groups of rightsholders, such as people with disabilities and indigenous people. Because the theory surrounding gender and sexuality is constantly evolving, there is a great deal of things to learn and unpack. In my position as project manager for an inclusive grant facility such as Voice, the ability to participate in sharing sessions and workshops is crucial. Participating in the pre-conference meeting with the GPP (Global Philanthropy Project) is a valuable learning experience, another important factor. In addition to gaining insight into what donors’ organisations have experienced and learned, expanding our network is essential for future collaboration. The most exciting aspect is discovering new information, such as Trans Inclusive Grant Making – Siska Dewi Noya, Project Manager, Voice Indonesia

ILGA is a great opportunity; the most important thing for me is how resourceful it was individually and as a community advocate for my whole community. As I joined on behalf of SafeSpaceBTB, I could expand my broaden networks, learn more about other countries regarding human rights, fight to advocate inclusion, resources, challenges, and cultures, and share from my country. In addition, I could observe some of the most powerful strategies that Asian activists shared at the conference. After they got success using them, they could be the approach I will take away and apply as an LGBTIQA+ advocate in the Cambodian movement. As SafeSpaceBTB is grateful for the opportunity to learn from strategic advocates from around Asia, grantees and activists continue to be a source of inspiration. Keeping in touch with potential future collaboration and inspiration. I will never forget the beautiful memories I made with my team and the opportunity to meet so many new people during the conference!”– Thida Chhuon,  SafeSpaceBTB

I feel so curious when helping Mami Rully prepare the presentation. It feels like I want to include a lot of things and notes in the presentation, which, after being weighed, might become too complicated and complex. But after watching the course of the conference, it becomes easier to frame it more clearly and simply; the main thing is to share stories & efforts that have been lived together. Meetings with various figures and LBGTQ+ activists from various countries were something that really impressed me. There is a lot of knowledge and records of action that had never been imagined before in Jogja, but in fact, it emerged from the stories of colleagues from other countries. Either about opportunities or challenges that are beyond what we encountered in Jogja. For me, this is very important regarding knowledge & direct experience from other colleagues, including fellow Voice grantees. Of course, this is also my first opportunity to interact and learn directly from Voice colleagues from Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos & Vietnam.” – Sapta, ERAT Indonesia


It’s still thrilling to be a part of pre-facilitating with our grantee partners to deepen our community’s emphasis on faith and culture as both springboards and blockage to LGBTQI+ advocacy. Because of the long and far journey of our work on awareness, advocacy, and experiences of creating, supporting, and accepting diverse, inclusive narratives in communities, I initially thought this was too weighty to portray in 10 minutes. This is the first time that regional space has been shared. Presenter said. Nonetheless, we continued to engage and co-create on our essential themes to be focused, and confidence is rising and they could have it done.– Saophorn Phoeng, Linking, Learning & Amplifier Officer, Voice Cambodia

 “This is my brand-new experience in learning deeper about LGBTQI+ because even though I identified myself as a lesbian, I don’t fully understand myself, but thanks to this event, I could understand myself even more.  Moreover, I have learned about the livelihood of LGBTQI+ and what they have been through, as well as their strategies to overcome such issues. I am motivated by the topics shared by the panellists as those stories are new to me, so I have never heard/experienced them by myself. Also, this broadens my horizon towards how large the LGBTQI+ community in the world is, and I am impressed by the event organizing, which I think is one of the top-notch events in my life.

The key takeaway is to connect with the LGBTQI+ in the community to encourage them to learn and participate in the movement for equality and inclusion.  also, I will take the lessons of the LGBTQI+ movement I have learned during this event to apply to my workplan as well as to exchange with the partners in Laos; even though this topic is still not much open but at least I would like to be one force to drive the development of this.” – Vanna, Don’t Stop Dream Team, Laos

Genica from ASC moderated and holding the space together with the session participants
Genica from ASC moderated and holding the space together with the session participants

Preparing for the conference widened my horizons because the sessions I supported brought unique challenges that pushed me out of my comfort zone… I really appreciate being exposed to the initiatives of The Dalit Queer Project, IMGLAD, ERAT, CHIAs, LoveisDiversity, and Safe Space BTB because it brought discussions on caste, faith, culture, and LGBTIQ rights into my orbit of consciousness, which will help improve the lenses with which I view my activism.”

 I’ve always been aware and accepting of LGBTI and gender-expansive individuals and allies who are either religious or spiritual. But even then, I never thought of intentionally carving out space to marry LGBTI rights with religion and faith because I didn’t have one. After immersing myself in interfaith conversations, I now understand the importance of fostering queer circles where people can safely practice their faith or religion. When queer groups do not hold space for this, we are committing discrimination–the very thing that we are fighting against. Last November, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), issued a call for input to a thematic report on exploring the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in relation to SOGI. I am excited to contribute to the submission of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus based on the insights I gained from ILGA Asia. – Genica Bucao, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus



It was Voice’s first time participating at the ILGA Asia Conference, and we look forward to moving forward! This conference is a realisation that there is a much larger space and opportunity for us to listen more, to learn further, and to be aligned with what makes us thrive as human beings. As our Storytellers and Voicers have shared, this opportunity allowed us to work more collectively and bring in voices from communities to bigger spaces. It was a beautiful space that brought out diversity and the beauty and strength it brings. We cannot wait to reconnect with those we’ve meaningfully met and brew ideas for collective action with them. Cheers to the rainbow community, and cheers to living and loving freely!


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