By Anne Lim, interviewed by Deepa Panchang
Anne Lim is from Quezon City, Philippines, where she serves as Executive Director of GALANG, a lesbian-led organization that works with urban poor LBTs (lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people) in the city. She was recently nominated for the 2014 Baldwin Award, which recognizes human rights work outside the U.S. Anne gave this interview during the last Association for Women’s Rights in Development conference in Istanbul.
I’m Anne Lim and I’m a lesbian rights activist. Currently I’m running an organization called GALANG Philippines. Galang is the Filipino word for respect. We work to build leadership capacities of lesbians in metropolitan Manila, doing advocacy and forming LBT people’s organizations.
We felt from the beginning that in order to push policy, it was necessary to have a critical mass among those most affected by discrimination and violence against sexual minorities, which is poor people. We’re a very poor country. About a third of our population lives on less than a dollar a day and despite economic growth in recent years, unemployment remains at an alarming rate.
But the problem with the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] discourse in the Philippines, and maybe it is reflected elsewhere in the world, is that it’s mostly dominated by middle-class and educated people who have a different context altogether. Poor people’s voices are hardly ever heard in the discourse. Why? Because the people who are able to participate are those with access. Those who can afford to take a day off and go to these activities.
And language is another issue: we don’t even have a popular indigenous term for lesbian, and those discussions are mostly conducted in English. That in itself is threatening to those who are not familiar with English, and excludes a whole bunch of LGBTs who should be part of the discourse.
So what GALANG seeks to do is to bring these people to the table. Because how can we even call ourselves a movement when we’re only a handful speaking for an entire marginalized community? We have to push ourselves a little harder to make the movements more inclusive. Otherwise, it’s just talk, and talk is cheap.
So GALANG works to build the capacity of urban, poor LBTs in Quezon City through leadership development, capacity-building activities, and a platform to utilize and hone these skills through our help in forming their own people’s organizations.
Right now, we’re engaged in several initiatives documenting violence and discrimination specifically against urban poor LBTs. We are also documenting innovative ways that LBTs try to get around the lack of economic opportunities. We’ve recently co-conducted a policy audit of social protection policies where we tried to show how Filipino LBTs are often deprived of the protection offered by laws that were intended precisely to provide safety nets against poverty.