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JUST HOW AWARE ARE GAY Filipinos of their rights?

One gay organization, the Rainbow Rights Project (or R-Rights), helps educate gays and straights alike by spearheading discussions about the Filipino LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.

Founded in 2005 by Law graduates from the University of the Philippines, R-Rights has evolved to include volunteers from different colleges and organizations. Current president and legal rights activist Angie S. Umbac is elated that the group is working closely with various gay groups and that their combined efforts help people talk about issues faced by gay Filipinos.

?We co-sponsor forums with the other LGBT organizations,? says Umbac. ?We often seek them out for their expertise that R-Rights does not possess. We build alliances that cross political fences. We focus on legal rights and policies, but in order to address well the needs of the community, it is imperative to know the community well. That is why our forums are interactive; we learn from each other.?

R-Rights has co-sponsored 17 forums, so far. The ?Dyke Dialogues? holds discussions about lesbian relationships and dynamics. The discussions, funded by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, have been held in Cagayan de Oro, Baguio and Cebu.

Other projects include the Pink Card, which protects gay patrons of bars and restaurants from harassment, and holds discussions on transgender concerns, such as suicide among gay youths.

?Gay Filipinos are very innovative,? says Umbac. ?Faced with many adversities, they make do with what they have, and do it with such flair and ingenuity. They carry their pain privately, but they can surprise you with their strength and resilience. And because of what we know of gay Filipinos, we?ve learned to never take anything for granted. We?ve learned to be respectful, to be ready to learn from others.?

What are lawmakers doing to protect gay rights?

?Bills have been filed on LGBT rights since the 11th Congress, but there is still no national law,? Umbac laments. ?The Anti-discrimination Bill has has no significant movement. However, there are successes among local legislators. In Quezon City and Albay, anti-discrimination ordinances have been passed. The passage of these can be credited to the active LGBT groups in those areas. LGBT-friendly provisions are also contained in the Quezon City Gender and Development Ordinance.?

For some gay men and women, accepting their homosexuality may be difficult. Some seek acceptance and support from their families and co-workers, while others easily accept their sexual orientation and proceed with their lives, regardless of what people may think.

Umbac is glad that there are many openly gay parents who are now raising their own families in the Philippines.

?There is love and respect between the parents and the child, and for each other,? he says. ?I have seen this picture in many gay families and I have observed how ideal they are. It takes a village to raise a child, and the LGBT community looks after its own. The child and his or her parents are assured of a strong support system. Each child in a gay family is wanted and loved. Some hetero families are not this lucky.?

And R-Rights will keep talking about gay relationships, families and related topics in upcoming projects and activities.

?R-Rights just launched the Rainbow Radio Pilipinas. Also, if funding permits, we?ll be having a legal rights LGBT forum in Davao, and Dyke Dialogues on topics like lesbian art and lesbian visibility in Philippine literature.?

For further information on R-Rights, visit rainbowrightsproject.multiply.com, or e-mail r_rightsproject@yahoo.com.