Interview with Bruce Portugal Amoroto, President-Coordinator of TEAM PILIPINAS

Visiting the 2009 Manila Pride March was a hugely positive experience.  As you can see from the pics, the parade was full of energy and color.  Many thanks to all the members of the Philippines LGBT community who have made the experience so welcoming.

Even before the march, we’d been in contact with several individuals that helped us get connected with the community.  One of these persons was Bruce Portugal Amoroto, a gay activist living in Manila.  Bruce is the President-Coordinator of the Philippine Forum on Sports, Culture, Sexuality and Human Rights (TEAM PILIPINAS), Vice President of the Gay and Lesbian Asia Pacific Sport Association (GLISA Asia Pacific), and a member of the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA) International Board of Directors.  And, most recently Bruce has been kind enough to answer some questions I posed him about TEAM PILIPINAS, the “I Am Not Immoral” project, and his thoughts on this year’s pride parade.

The Seal of TEAM PILIPINAS

1.  Can you tell us about Team Pilipinas, and the organizations’ work concerning human rights in the Philippines.

The idea for TEAM PILIPINAS began in 2001 when about 22 Filipinos came together to organize ‘Team Philippines’ for the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney, Australia. I was a member of Team Philippines, a delegate at the Amnesty International Global Human Rights Conference, and the lone Philippine table tennis player for the Sydney 2002 Gay Games. Then in the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, USA, I took the lead in organizing the Philippine contingent which was named ‘Liga Pilipinas’. I was given a full scholarship for the Chicago Gay Games but the US Embassy here in Manila did not give me a visa despite having been given a Canadian visa for my participation in the 1st World Outgames and for the 1st International LGBT Human Rights Conference both in Montréal. I was part of the 5-member Philippine delegation to the Montréal Outgames and the Conference. During the 2002 and 2006 events as well as in the 2008 1st Asia Pacific Outgames in Melbourne, Australia, the main objective of the group was to promote, organize for and coordinate the participation of Filipino LGBTs in international sporting, cultural and human rights events like the Gay Games, the Outgames, and The Straits Games (TSG). However, in the process of preparing for the 2008 Melbourne Outgames, a need to formalize TEAM PILIPINAS into a non-stock, non-profit organization complete with vision, mission and goals was identified. There was a need to strengthen human rights, diversity, equality and peace through sports, culture and human rights and sexuality advocacy in the Philippines thus in October 2008, Philippine Forum on Sports, Culture, Sexuality and Human Rights Inc, also known as TEAM PILIPINAS, was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a non-stock, non-profit organization.

While Philippine Forum on Sports, Culture, Sexuality and Human Rights (TEAM PILIPINAS) still organizes and coordinates the participation of Filipinos in the Gay Games (Cologne in 2010), the Outgames (2011 Wellington 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames), and TSG (TSG2010 in Hong Kong), the organization now aims to contribute to social change that is led and participated by young Filipinos from the grassroots who may or may not openly identify as lesbian, gay, bakla, bantut, bayot, bisexual, tomboy, transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ) or as another sexual or gender minority (SGM) and this shall be done through human rights and community development work. Through sports and athleticism, Philippine culture and arts, ICT, multimedia culture and traditional media, TEAM PILIPINAS aims to involve young Filipinos in the critical and integrative analyses of ‘human rights’ and ‘sexuality’, drawing these from their everyday experiences, concretizing and localizing concepts and principles like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and the Yogyakarta Principles as well as collective issues like poverty, development, gender justice, sexual and gender diversity and equality, sexual and reproductive health, globalization, peace, and the environment, all towards the creation of community-owned and community-led action. TEAM PILIPINAS seeks to empower young Filipinos by equipping them with knowledge on human rights and sexuality and with skills on leadership, advocacy and livelihood.

2.  Can you also explain about the “I Am Not Immoral” campaign, and why it was started.

The ‘I AM NOT IMMORAL’ Photo and Video Project of TEAM PILIPINAS which took place on December 5 at G Hotel Manila is a brainchild of indie filmmaker-producer Jethro Patalinghug and renowned fashion photographer Niccolo Cosme and fully supported by social entrepreneur and TEAM PILIPINAS Ambassador Francis Martin Baraan. The Project is partly a response to the Commission on Elections 2nd Division’s recent decision to dismiss the petition of Ladlad LGBT Party to take part in the 2010 National Elections on the alleged grounds that “petitioner tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs” and that “homosexuals are a threat to the youth.” TEAM PILIPINAS recognizes that there is a global rise in religious fundamentalism and extremism due to the multiple crises humans are faced with however the organization believes that society’s view on LGBTIs and SGMs as being mentally disordered, sinners or immoral people is wrong, oppressive and unjust and that there is a need to raise Filipinos’ and the world’s awareness on these issues and to mobilize public action against discriminatory views. The Photo and Video Project is TEAM PILIPINAS’ attempt at fulfilling those needs. The final output of this project will be released in January 2010.

The ‘I AM NOT IMMORAL’ Photo and Video Project complements the following campaigns and projects of TEAM PILIPINAS:

a.       The I LOVE P.R.I.D.E. / I love Pinoys who Respect Rights, Identity, Diversity & Equality which aims to affirm the universality of human rights and protect the equal human rights of Filipino LGBTIs at the United Nations system. The cause exists to convince the Representative of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations to sign statements that uphold and protect the equal human rights of LGBTIs. This campaign is located at facebook http://www.causes.com/affirmuniversalityofHumanRights and at the petition site http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/affirm-the-universality-of-human-rights-protect-the-equal-human-rights-of-filipinos-regardless-of

b.      VOTE FOR P.R.I.D.E. / Vote for Pinoys who Respect Rights, Identity, Diversity & Equality which aims to support the effort of Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines (LAGABLAB Pilipinas) for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in both houses of Congress. With the National Elections taking place in May 2010, this campaign highlights the need for legislators and public officials who will champion the equal human rights of Filipinos who are stigmatized, discriminated and abused due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

c.       The Survey on the Oppression and Violence against Filipino LGBTIs and other SGMs which aims to identify the types and levels of oppression and violence against them. This project goes well with the ‘I AM NOT IMMORAL’ Photo and Video Project as oppression and violence is not just physical but also economic, social, emotional and psychological.

d.      The May 17 International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) Philippine Action to promote and protect diversity and equality through the Manila Diversity & Equality Week Project which will include among others outreach, education and skills building, and popular action and mobilization.

3. What would you say are some of the factors that have influenced you personally in becoming an activist, and one that works to change views and attitudes about the gay community?

I came out of the closet rather late. In 1999, at age 21, while waiting for my graduation march in University of the Philippines, I was surfing online and there I met and had my first boyfriend and first (long distance) relationship with a Republican American who is 30 years older than me. 😀  I suppose I have always had an activist streak and a questioning rebel in me but I only became a ‘hardcore’ activist when in 2000 I got employed first as a research and policy staff and then as a campaign staff at Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) Philippines working on debt, development, socio-economic justice and human rights-related issues. Through FDC, I came to know other justice activists especially human rights activists who also happen to be members of the LGBT community. I was slowly but surely coming out but I became more involved in the cause for equal human rights of LGBTIs and other SGMs through Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines and Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines (LAGABLAB Pilipinas). TFP is the official annual organizer of the Manila Pride March while LAGABLAB is the network that pushes for the passage of pro-equality legislations in both houses of Congress.

4. How many pride parades have you participated in?

All in all, and if my count is right, I have taken part in 13 Pride Marches. Aside from the recently-concluded 2009 Manila Pride March, I can think of three other memorable pride marches I have been part of. In 2005, instead of organizing the usual Manila Pride March, I and six colleagues and friends coordinated the organizing of the First Manila Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Freedom March to assert the freedoms and rights of all Filipino LGBTs at a time when the Arroyo Administration was faced with a political crisis and the possibility of another martial rule loomed. In 2006 in Montréal, Canada I took part in my first Pride March outside of the Philippines and just last July 2009, as part of the 2nd World Outgames, I took part in the historic longest Pride March in Copenhagen, Denmark.

5. What were your thoughts on this year’s Manila Pride Parade? And, how did it compare to past parades?

This year’s Manila Pride March was one of the most memorable pride marches I’ve been part of. Last year and for the first time in Manila Pride March history we were picketed by homophobic, bigoted and radical Christians but when they showed up again this year, they added more color and excitement to the March which I think is now the longest and probably the largest we’ve had in Metro Manila. I tremendously enjoyed this year’s Manila Pride March not only because of the radical Christians but also because it was also very timely—the Commission on Elections 2nd Division’s recent use of immorality in their decision to dismiss the petition of a LGBT party. I felt that suddenly many became activists and actively took part in the March this year because they believed that society’s view of LGBTIs as immoral people is downright wrong, oppressive and unjust. Albeit some organizational issues and concerns, I am still proud to have taken part in this year’s march because there was a strong emphasis on the equal human rights of LGBTs unlike in last year’s where pomp and pageantry totally took over and the march was basically a senseless, meaningless event. Lastly, I am especially proud of TEAM PILIPINAS’ participation because we carried the longest Philippine Rainbow Flag (30 meters long by 2.5 meters wide) in Manila Pride March history and some of those who carried it were heterosexuals and LGBTI-supportive people. The flag we got made is patterned after the logo and colors of TEAM PILIPINAS; it is a celebration of both sexual and gender diversity and equality and of the Filipino spirit. The TEAM PILIPINAS Philippine Rainbow Flag used the common colors of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, plus pink and brown. The brown celebrates the Filipino race, the lahing kayumanggi, and the 8 colors equate to the 8 rays of the sun in the Philippine National flag. The Philippine rainbow flag of TEAM PILIPINAS celebrates pride in being LGBTI and pride in being a Filipino.

6. What are your hopes for next year’s march?

My hope for next year’s march is that it will be a march of celebration and jubilation. I may be too confident in saying this but it would be nice if the Anti-Discrimination Bill gets passed into law next year. The ADB has been pending in the Lower House of Congress since 1999 but just recently I was invited to be one of the resource speakers in support of the bill and the main opponent legislator, who is also a Baptist pastor, walked out of the hearing in frustration and now the bill is up for the Technical Working Group phase. If the LGBT community sustains its involvement in the issues of morality and the human rights of LGBTIs (and here is where social networking sites and outreach to LGBTIs from the grassroots are helpful), we might just be able to convince both houses of Congress to approve the bill. And if the May 2010 National Elections becomes a huge success (with poll automation and the electorate voting on the basis of pro-human rights platforms and not on the basis of personality and popularity), we might just see the Anti-Discrimination Bill signed into law before the Manila Pride March in December. That is my hope.

7. What is the main obstacle you’d like to see the Philippines LGBT community overcome in 2010?

Aside from what I have mentioned above, with the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill, I would also like to see a Philippine LGBTI community that respects, promotes and protects the equality of all Filipinos regardless of whatever status. The Philippines is a Third World country; many LGBTIs and SGMs are actually living in poverty and this is because the State is not fulfilling its duty to uphold the equality in dignity, rights and freedoms of every Filipino. I would like to see the Philippine LGBTI community recognizing that the call for equality is not limited to sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity or for those who are able to join pride marches but that (the call for) equality is actually more relevant to those whose basic rights and fundamental freedoms are not protected and fulfilled. More than being stigmatized, oppressed and discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, many Filipino LGBTIs and other SGMs struggle daily with poverty—no food on the table, job insecurity, inadequate housing and living conditions, poor health, lack or poor quality of education etc. In addition to these, I would also like to see the Philippine LGBTI community recognizing that, aside from poverty, there are also other systemic and structural issues related to or compounding the stigma, oppression and violence against LGBTIs and they are heteronormativity/heterosexism, patriarchy, religious intolerance and religious fundamentalism, regionalism, and racism. These are the “obstacles” I would like the Philippine LGBTI community to realize and overcome not necessarily in 2010 but in time.

Bruce, second from left, with supporters of TEAM PILIPINAS at the 2009 Manila Pride March

Aside from the facebook group http://groups.to/teampilipinas/ TEAM PILIPINAS also have the following websites

http://diversityandequality.ph

http://teampilipinasorg.multiply.com

Thanks Bruce!!

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