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Listening Before Speaking: an important element in Outreach for Voice

– Zack Lee, Voice Linking, Learning and Communication Officer Indonesia and Philippines – 

First days and times are always full of trepidation, excitement and worry. I felt this when attending the first day of an event called The War on Discrimination: On the State of LGBT Filipinos. It was also my first outreach activity since joining as the fulltime Linking and Learning Coordinator for Voice Indonesia and Philippines, barely a month and a half prior. I entered the large ballroom and saw scores of people milling about, conversing with their friends and colleagues. I casually asked myself, what am I doing here? I didn’t know anybody and was only slated to give a presentation about Voice on the last day of this 3-day event.

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I sat myself down at one of the round tables at the back of the room where a few people were already seated. The person next to me immediately asked me which organisation I was from. I thought to myself, this is great! There’s someone who may be interested in Voice! I went into a spiel that introduced our grants, who are our target groups, what the themes are, and where they can find more information. He and other people at the table seemed interested enough. I gave them the brochures and the conversation ended there. There were no follow-up questions. I just assumed that they were just trying to absorb the information.

Part of me though was a bit bothered and disappointed. I expected greater interest in the grants. Funding is a re-occurring challenge for many civil society organisations and groups. I thought if I were in their position, I would be keener in asking questions and thinking about all the projects that we could fund. Maybe it was also the way I talked about Voice. I merely shrugged the feeling off when attendees were asked to sit down. I did not dwell any further.

The programme started with community statements from 4 LGBTQI groups. They shared their harrowing experiences facing discrimination, their desires for equality, and the fears for their safety. It was followed by a presentation of a Human Rights Watch report on LGBT bullying in schools. One of the things that struck me was that many of the school staff and educators were complicit in the bullying. A representative from the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus gave a talk on how the current War on Drugs of the Philippine government is overshadowing other human rights issues. More specifically, he presented their efforts in highlighting LGBTQI issues to other countries during the Universal Periodic Review process. Staff from 2 legislators gave updates on the progress of the Anti-Discrimination and SOGIE Bills in Congress.

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It was an informative and packed first day. The room was set up in such a way so that LGBTQI representatives were seated in front. External allies were seated at the back. It was an understandable arrangement but didn’t always allow me to fully participate. However, the event was supposed to culminate in the writing of the Pink State of the Nation Address (SONA). Inspired by the SONA of Philippine Presidents, the Pink SONA aimed to declare the current state of the LGBTQI community and a common agenda for change. The text would come from the inputs and priorities of the community to be read during the Pride March two days later.

As a result, I did not get a chance to speak with any of the organisations. Part of me felt disappointed again. I thought I could have done other tasks instead of simply sitting there the entire day and listening. However, I did gain a better understanding of the issues of the LGBTQI community yet that was not my primary reason for being there. I shrugged it off and thought, I’ll come back on the 3rd day for my presentation.

It was Saturday morning when I returned to the event. Attendees were still eating breakfast in the ballroom and chatting amongst themselves. I approached the organisers to say hello and ask about how the 2nd day went. They informed me that the results of their activities were up on the walls. I decided to check them out and see what happened. They did a dotmocracy, which prioritised all the different issues they wanted to address in the Pink SONA. Issue such as the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill, access to education about SOGIE, and access to health services emerged on top. Although these issues were stated in our contextual analysis, it was quite different to see them validated in such tangible and specific ways.

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