We can do better, and we can be better: Interview with Real Life Hero Irish Inoceto

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One of our diverse SOGIESC #RealLifeHeroes is Irish Inoceto, an LGBTIQ+ activist from the Western Visayas, Philippines. Irish (she/her) is the chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team, a network that brings together LGBTIQ+ people in Iloilo city. Irish’s work includes advocacy, pushing for legislative reform, engaging queer youth, COVID-19 assistance and more.

Tell us about your activism. What do you do?

I am the Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team, a five years old network of Ilonggo LGBTIQ+ at Iloilo city that aims to put attention to LGBTIQ+ issues through social conversations and storytelling to pave our ways towards visibility, involvement, empowerment and equality. We initiated the Pride march and we have different programs for the communities such as a critical writing workshop to raise queer youth narratives. We also do advocacy and push for legislative reform through the inclusion of SOGIESC and other marginalized sectors in the comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinance.

I am also the Secretary-General of Gabriela Panay-Guimaras and I represent the LGBTIQ+ community at Gabriela. As a national democratic mass-organization that composes of women, we focus on issues faced by women and we are also critical of the government projects, to assure it is inclusive towards women. We also push for projects towards sustainable income for women and we are also finding means to provide healthy alternatives such as herbal medicines and healthy foods to our community. We partner with different organizations on this.

What inspires you to advocate for social change?

The idea that we can do better, we can be better, there is something much better for everybody, not just for those who have privilege but everybody. There is also so much oppression that we have to do something about it, and not doing something about it makes us more depressed. So, for inspiration, it’s really about getting those who are marginalized a better chance, a better kind of lives than how we are all suffering, and however we are suffering, some suffer more than us.

What is your experience with humanitarian disasters?

Covid19 pandemic is a humanitarian crisis for everybody, for those who are in lockdown. I was involved to provide services, food and everything else to students in Visayas dormitories. They were locked down and they did not have much food and they were scared of contracting the virus, so we responded to that. There is also care-packages for LGBTIQ+ community at Iloilo city.

As of Gabriela Panay-Guimaras, we were engaged in community cases for those in lockdown in the communities. The Philippines has the longest lockdown in the world. Many communities still suffering and right now, Iloilo city is under general community quarantine, so a lot of people will be suffering from the loss of jobs and lack of economic opportunities.

We are also limiting the chances of contracting the virus. We are coordinating different community-based organizations to deliver services, so we don’t have to go there as transportation and travel is limited. We move resources around; we coordinate donations for people affected and involved the community in the delivery of the services.

For Iloilo Pride Team, we focus on delivering services to the LGBTIQ+ communities who are not considered as those who receive care packages, food and allowances from the government. Mainly the LGBTIQ+ community are not part of any financial aid as they are not counted as families, not counted as part of the household, not counted as one unit. Usually, they are relying on their short-terms jobs like beauty parlours, hairdressers, makeup artist. Because of that they lost a lot of work and income opportunities and they were not given aid or cash assistance, so we reach out to them as a network of LGBTIQ+ organizations, so we were able to reach out to the community and provide assistance.

Aside of that, Iloilo Pride Team and Youth Voices Count also reached out to the local government and they decided to provide financial assistance for members of the LGBITQ+ community (2,500 PHP or 70 AUD per person). We reached out to around 250 people for the financial assistance and almost 200 people for the care packages. What’s unique about the care packages, it’s not only food and canned food, it also contains hygiene packages like toothbrushes, condoms, underwear, and sanitary packs.

How did you become involved in supporting LGBTIQ+ people in humanitarian contexts?

When it comes to LGBTIQ+ organizations, there are no organizations that existed in our part of the city before the Iloilo Pride Team. There were other LGBTIQ+ organizations but they are gay, bisexual, transwomen organizations and they focused on organizing their community through meetups and pageants. We are now looking at the wider picture of the community.

Covid-19 pandemic also made us realized that there are so many of us who cannot have economic opportunities because of the lockdown. We use our network to reach out to those who need help from our organization. ASEAN SOGIE Caucus also donated cash to sew our pockets, so it’s not just Iloilo Pride Team but we also work in collaboration with other organizations and local governments for various initiatives and assistances.

How long have you been involved in this work?

Before that, we did some work and we grew over the past 2 years. The humanitarian issues that we are facing now are one of the things that further grow us forward. Before Iloilo Pride Team, I helped in Yolanda response where we donated food and money for those affected by the super typhoon. We also donated relief goods and clothing for urban poor communities who were affected by fires.

What are some of the challenges you face in advocating for more inclusion in the humanitarian system?

Usually, the head of the family accepts the donation. When we talk about family it consists of a man, a woman, and their children. There is a case when one a household has an LGBTIQ+ person who is not married and they were funded as part of the heterosexual household, so they had to divide food-aid amongst so many people in one household. It’s important to understand that a family and a household does not only compose of male and female.

It is good in our city because our Mayor and the local government recognizes that LGBTIQ+ also need food aid. The situation in other cities is not the same due to lack of legislation that assures equality of persons of diverse SOGIESC, so the community were not given the same opportunity as in our city, so they lost their jobs and they can’t eat. The situation is very challenging for persons of diverse SOGIESC in different parts of the country.

If there was one change that you would like to see for LGBTIQ+ people, what would that change be?

If I want something to change, it is the passage on laws and legislation to assure that we are not invisible anymore. How can we be recognized if we are invisible in the law? There is still no national LGBTIQ+ organizations to lobby for changes at the national government, policy and legislation. We are one organization who is part of a larger national network and we focus our work for our city and our Province. If we can establish more LGBTIQ+ organizations in different parts of the country, train more individuals to be advocates/ activists, then we can be more visible and we push for more changes in the country, including pushing for legislative reform.

What are ways can humanitarian and development organisations support LGBTIQ+ inclusion?

Humanitarian/ development organizations need to recognize that persons of diverse SOGIESC have different needs, not just food or cash. We have different needs, such as lack of acceptance. Aside from that, there is a lot of issues on Gender-based violence and discrimination faced by the community but they are not visible because they are not asked about their identity & SOGIESC, so we don’t know. We need to start asking for their SOGIESC.

Whether you ask for the data or not, persons of diverse SOGIESC continue to face violence and discrimination. Humanitarian/ development organizations will not know it happens unless they ask. If you have no data, you should ask, at least you know the data. You know the community that you are working with.

For example, the recent siege at Marawi. They were cases of violence against transwomen and LGBTIQ+ at Mindanao, but we don’t know this violence because they are transwomen. There are security risks related to the SOGIES data and information, and humanitarian/ development organizations should have better judgements of this.

The bottom line, humanitarian/ development organisations needs us, it needs to go hand in hand, it needs to go together.

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One of our diverse SOGIESC #RealLifeHeroes is Irish Inoceto, an LGBTIQ+ activist from the Western Visayas, Philippines. Irish (she/her) is the chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team, a network that brings together LGBTIQ+ people in Iloilo city. Irish’s work includes advocacy, pushing for legislative reform, engaging queer youth, COVID-19 assistance and more.

Tell us about your activism. What do you do?

I am the Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team, a five years old network of Ilonggo LGBTIQ+ at Iloilo city that aims to put attention to LGBTIQ+ issues through social conversations and storytelling to pave our ways towards visibility, involvement, empowerment and equality. We initiated the Pride march and we have different programs for the communities such as a critical writing workshop to raise queer youth narratives. We also do advocacy and push for legislative reform through the inclusion of SOGIESC and other marginalized sectors in the comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinance.

I am also the Secretary-General of Gabriela Panay-Guimaras and I represent the LGBTIQ+ community at Gabriela. As a national democratic mass-organization that composes of women, we focus on issues faced by women and we are also critical of the government projects, to assure it is inclusive towards women. We also push for projects towards sustainable income for women and we are also finding means to provide healthy alternatives such as herbal medicines and healthy foods to our community. We partner with different organizations on this.

What inspires you to advocate for social change?

The idea that we can do better, we can be better, there is something much better for everybody, not just for those who have privilege but everybody. There is also so much oppression that we have to do something about it, and not doing something about it makes us more depressed. So, for inspiration, it’s really about getting those who are marginalized a better chance, a better kind of lives than how we are all suffering, and however we are suffering, some suffer more than us.

What is your experience with humanitarian disasters?

Covid19 pandemic is a humanitarian crisis for everybody, for those who are in lockdown. I was involved to provide services, food and everything else to students in Visayas dormitories. They were locked down and they did not have much food and they were scared of contracting the virus, so we responded to that. There is also care-packages for LGBTIQ+ community at Iloilo city.

As of Gabriela Panay-Guimaras, we were engaged in community cases for those in lockdown in the communities. The Philippines has the longest lockdown in the world. Many communities still suffering and right now, Iloilo city is under general community quarantine, so a lot of people will be suffering from the loss of jobs and lack of economic opportunities.

We are also limiting the chances of contracting the virus. We are coordinating different community-based organizations to deliver services, so we don’t have to go there as transportation and travel is limited. We move resources around; we coordinate donations for people affected and involved the community in the delivery of the services.

For Iloilo Pride Team, we focus on delivering services to the LGBTIQ+ communities who are not considered as those who receive care packages, food and allowances from the government. Mainly the LGBTIQ+ community are not part of any financial aid as they are not counted as families, not counted as part of the household, not counted as one unit. Usually, they are relying on their short-terms jobs like beauty parlours, hairdressers, makeup artist. Because of that they lost a lot of work and income opportunities and they were not given aid or cash assistance, so we reach out to them as a network of LGBTIQ+ organizations, so we were able to reach out to the community and provide assistance.

Aside of that, Iloilo Pride Team and Youth Voices Count also reached out to the local government and they decided to provide financial assistance for members of the LGBITQ+ community (2,500 PHP or 70 AUD per person). We reached out to around 250 people for the financial assistance and almost 200 people for the care packages. What’s unique about the care packages, it’s not only food and canned food, it also contains hygiene packages like toothbrushes, condoms, underwear, and sanitary packs.

How did you become involved in supporting LGBTIQ+ people in humanitarian contexts?

When it comes to LGBTIQ+ organizations, there are no organizations that existed in our part of the city before the Iloilo Pride Team. There were other LGBTIQ+ organizations but they are gay, bisexual, transwomen organizations and they focused on organizing their community through meetups and pageants. We are now looking at the wider picture of the community.

Covid-19 pandemic also made us realized that there are so many of us who cannot have economic opportunities because of the lockdown. We use our network to reach out to those who need help from our organization. ASEAN SOGIE Caucus also donated cash to sew our pockets, so it’s not just Iloilo Pride Team but we also work in collaboration with other organizations and local governments for various initiatives and assistances.

How long have you been involved in this work?

Before that, we did some work and we grew over the past 2 years. The humanitarian issues that we are facing now are one of the things that further grow us forward. Before Iloilo Pride Team, I helped in Yolanda response where we donated food and money for those affected by the super typhoon. We also donated relief goods and clothing for urban poor communities who were affected by fires.

What are some of the challenges you face in advocating for more inclusion in the humanitarian system?

Usually, the head of the family accepts the donation. When we talk about family it consists of a man, a woman, and their children. There is a case when one a household has an LGBTIQ+ person who is not married and they were funded as part of the heterosexual household, so they had to divide food-aid amongst so many people in one household. It’s important to understand that a family and a household does not only compose of male and female.

It is good in our city because our Mayor and the local government recognizes that LGBTIQ+ also need food aid. The situation in other cities is not the same due to lack of legislation that assures equality of persons of diverse SOGIESC, so the community were not given the same opportunity as in our city, so they lost their jobs and they can’t eat. The situation is very challenging for persons of diverse SOGIESC in different parts of the country.

If there was one change that you would like to see for LGBTIQ+ people, what would that change be?

If I want something to change, it is the passage on laws and legislation to assure that we are not invisible anymore. How can we be recognized if we are invisible in the law? There is still no national LGBTIQ+ organizations to lobby for changes at the national government, policy and legislation. We are one organization who is part of a larger national network and we focus our work for our city and our Province. If we can establish more LGBTIQ+ organizations in different parts of the country, train more individuals to be advocates/ activists, then we can be more visible and we push for more changes in the country, including pushing for legislative reform.

What are ways can humanitarian and development organisations support LGBTIQ+ inclusion?

Humanitarian/ development organizations need to recognize that persons of diverse SOGIESC have different needs, not just food or cash. We have different needs, such as lack of acceptance. Aside from that, there is a lot of issues on Gender-based violence and discrimination faced by the community but they are not visible because they are not asked about their identity & SOGIESC, so we don’t know. We need to start asking for their SOGIESC.

Whether you ask for the data or not, persons of diverse SOGIESC continue to face violence and discrimination. Humanitarian/ development organizations will not know it happens unless they ask. If you have no data, you should ask, at least you know the data. You know the community that you are working with.

For example, the recent siege at Marawi. They were cases of violence against transwomen and LGBTIQ+ at Mindanao, but we don’t know this violence because they are transwomen. There are security risks related to the SOGIES data and information, and humanitarian/ development organizations should have better judgements of this.

The bottom line, humanitarian/ development organisations needs us, it needs to go hand in hand, it needs to go together.