by Raven Victoria E. Lucero
As early as seven years old, Joel “Faith” Ibañez unfolded her self-discovery journey.
Unlike a typical boy, she spent most of her childhood playing with Barbie dolls and dressing up as a girl. Surrounded by kids her age, she became the center of bullying.
At a very young age and unaware of her sexuality, she was already subjected to different forms of discrimination.
“At first, it was difficult. On my age, bata pa so mahirap pa siyang i-process but I still remember nung mga time na ‘yon, I was subjected to different forms of discrimination, center of attention talaga ng bullying. One thing I remember is ‘yung support system–family and friends,” says Ibañez as she recalled how she coped with the negative experiences in her early life.
Her family as a strong support system was considered her “biggest flex” in this journey. She did not experience coming out, but never did she feel invalidated and unaccepted for who she is.
However, life became more challenging as she experienced the plight of a child who lost a parent. In 2006, her mother passed away.
“I lost one ally, one supporter, ” she said.
In this journey where having an ally is significant to conquer the battles of being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, she felt like she was already losing in the beginning.
As she stepped foot into adolescence and explored more of her identity, the discrimination also intensified. She was belittled by the people around her based on her gender. She also experienced being out of place and left out in school, which discouraged her from participating in activities like sports.
Her experiences with discrimination challenged her courage and strength. Before she became fully aware of these circumstances, she felt weak and unmotivated. More so, it became difficult for her to explore her social life.
“Instead of interacting with different people, ‘yung gusto mo mag isa ka lang kasi kapag marami kang kasama, you felt different and hindi ka accepted,” she added.
For Ibañez, strong allies played a crucial role in conquering these battles. Despite losing one in her early childhood, she found solace and acceptance from the people she met during her Senior High School.
It took a lot of time and effort before she finally stood up for herself and reaped the benefits of her past experiences.
“Sa school din talaga ‘yung platform to express ourselves. When I got into college, mas active na ako, loud and out sa kung sino ako,” Ibañez proudly said.
Being loud and out did not only change her life. She was given a chance to use her voice to amplify the calls and stories of other individuals in the colorful community. Despite the fear of going outside her comfort zone, Ibañez took the opportunity to work with strong allies to fight against discrimination.
She used her story as a driving force to empower other people and be an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community. She then joined Kaaikabat sa Inklusibong San Pablo (KAISA), an alliance that champions gender equity and social inclusion through coalition building and policy making.
“We started from scratch and nakita ko ‘yung dedication ng mga kasama ko sa coalition. Nakaka-uplift lang ng sarili kasi they are working with me knowing na they are not part of the LGBT community. Kita mo ‘yung pagka-diverse ng coalition,” explained Ibañez, who became the representative of the LGBTQIA+ community in the KAISA coalition.
Advocating for gender inclusivity was considered to be her calling in life. Together with KAISA and its four-point agenda: recognize and respect diversity, promote the progression of rights, empowering of individuals, and pass the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance; she was able to fulfill her passion.
In hopes of sparing other individuals the same sufferings she experienced, Ibañez took an active role in the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance (ADO) in San Pablo City.
The LGBTQIA+ community has been one of the biggest victims of the pervasive discrimination in the city. Society is not very welcoming to individuals part of the said community. They experienced unfair treatment, satirical judgments, and abuse.
Even though Ibañez already dares to stand up for herself, she still experiences discrimination. When she identified herself as a transgender woman, people questioned it. According to them, she did not go under the knife, so it is inappropriate to call her a “transgender woman.”
“Transgender” is often mistaken as “transsexual”. Although they are under the same umbrella, transgender is a more inclusive category for individuals who identify themselves opposite to the sex they were assigned at birth, whereas transsexual is a category that includes people who physically transitioned to the sex corresponding to their gender identity.
This situation is the very thing that ADO wants to address. People are unaware of the LGBT realities, which makes it hard for them to realize that they are already discriminating against the people in the colorful community.
KAISA coalition head, Cheska Garcia said, “We want to be preventive rather than curative. Kasi kapag tinanong mo ang tao kung nakakaranas ka ba ng diskriminasyon, syempre sasabihin nila hindi. Although hindi or hindi nila alam kung nakakaranas sila diba. The purpose really is para mas maging inclusive tayo. Napakarami na kasing progresibong bayan at saka mga municipalities, syempre ayaw naman natin magpahuli.”
KAISA also seeks to raise awareness about intersectionality. This concept acknowledges multiple factors that prompt discrimination and oppression among individuals.
“Lingid sa kaalaman ng karamihan na mayroon tayong tinatawag na intersectionality. Itong intersectionality na ito, kunyari mayroon isang babae, woman who identifies herself as a lesbian tapos nagkataon pa na she’s part of the group na persons with disabilities, kunyari mayroon siyang scoliosis tapos she’s also part of the indigenous people. Isipin mo kung gaano kadami or ka-intense nung discrimination doon sa tao na ‘yon. Ayun ang gusto natin maprevent,” Garcia further explained.
Currently, the City Legal Office is reviewing the ordinance.
KAISA recognized the challenge of gaining support from the community as they lobby for ADO. Aside from the lack of community support, there are also misconceptions about the ordinance describing it as a special treatment for minority groups.
This struggle is also reflected in the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill of the Philippines. Two decades have passed since the bill was proposed, yet many still believe that this is exclusive to specific communities. This fight to eliminate gender-based discrimination is still deemed questionable by people.
To help pass ADO, KAISA found the need to conduct on-ground campaigns. This is mainly to communicate with ordinary citizens in the City of San Pablo, raise awareness about the ordinance, and create a public clamor.
Ibañez believes that the passing of ADO will pave the way for inclusivity in the community.
“I think this is the start to lessen ‘yung discriminatory practices and of course, ‘yung mga discrimination na na-eexperience ng mga nasa community. We have to work harder para ma-stop na siya and magkaroon na ng inclusive society where everyone will be free and comfortable.”
San Pableños, who are also part of the LGBTQIA+ community, expect that hate crimes towards LGBTQIA+ people will be lessened once the ordinance is implemented and practiced. They are hopeful that ADO will create a space safe for them where open-mindedness and acceptance prevail.