PRIDE MONTH 2020: No pride and dignity in a world that silences diversity!

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 June) — This year’s world-wide celebration of Pride Month 2020 was interrupted by the onslaught of the pandemic. Global resources and energies were all directed to address head on the scourge of COVID19. On this month, 51 years ago, we remember how the New York Police unjustly raided the Stonewall Inn, where LGBTs usually gathered. Many LGBTs in those days were assaulted, arrested and even tortured, until they organized themselves and pushed back against the community which systematically inflicts structural and physical violence on them. The reason for being a target? Their queer sexual orientations and gender identities.

But such targeted violence gave birth to the Pride resistance movement which is commemorated annually around the world. This social movement for equal rights is robust and so much alive even here in Davao.

Prof. Hadji Balajadia (center) leads the Davao Pride March in 2015, organized by the Ateneo de Davao University’s Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services (COPERS) and Dakila, a progressive circle of artists, filmmakers and activists. Photo from her FB page

The Davao LGBT movement is closest to my heart as I see myself, together with the many LGBT leaders, continuing to resist the violence of everyday life due to our sexual orientation and gender identities. Those who came before us have passed on the torch of resistance — that same torch which was lighted 51 years ago at Stonewall.

In Davao, the LGBT movement traces it roots to the women’s struggle until it carved an identity of its own. Back in the 1990s, the Davao LGBT movement was born out of the women’s rights movement. Funded by the USAID HIV/AIDS prevention and reproductive health program, I vividly remember how Iwag Davao widely organized the gay and transgender adolescents in many urban poor communities. I was second year college at Ateneo de Davao, at that time, when I was introduced to the world of activism. The prevailing ideological line in the 90s considered LGBT activism only as an ancillary to the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist struggle for national liberation. Thus, any legitimization of LGBT activism, as an expression of identity politics, was considered anathema as it was feared to dilute the socialist critique against capitalism.

I realized that even among self-professed “activists,” intolerance for diversities continues to exist. Yet, the LGBT movement found its cradle at the bosom of communities and the academe.

In my younger years, back to back with the series of adolescent reproductive health education were public parades, which both shocked and amused  Davaoenos of our time.

Looking back, perhaps that was my first political awakening of the importance of LGBT-visibility and the challenge for recognition, equal rights, and respect for  diversity.

Davao Pride Parade 2019, participated in by the Davao Pride Council and the LGBT Davao City Coalition. Photo from Commissioner Norman Baloro courtesy of PRIMUM

I can only hope that activism, which democratically allows both space and voice for anyone who commits to the dignity of the human person, will never be criminalized in my lifetime! Should that happen, it will certainly be a dismal setback to what we have all fought for since the Stonewall.

My years of teaching in the university ushered me to deeply appreciate the complex intersectionalities of my struggle as an LGBT, with the struggles of other diverse groups of people. Here, I learned the value of gaining allies in pushing for our LGBT-affirming policies.

In 2012, after years of lobbying, Davao saw the passage of an Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, the first of its kind in Mindanao.

Since 2015, Davao LGBT groups have consistently organized the annual Pride March to commemorate our struggles and celebrate our gains and victories.

In 2018, these LGBT organizations were finally organized and duly recognized as the LGBT Davao City Coalition with Oscar Jr. Obenza, Jofail Jeminico Failagutan, and Norman Baloro as my co-convenors. We invaded the Sangguniang Panglunsod.

Pride in Ateneo de Davao University. Davao Pride March 2018. Photo from Hadji Balajadi’as FB page

In the context of Ateneo de Davao community, the University took the lead, among all Catholic universities in the country, in boldly recognizing  the LGBT through the creation of “All Gender Comfort Rooms.”

I still feel thrilled and proud  each time I re-read the inclusive lines of that September 2016 University Memo by our Jesuit University President, Fr. Joel Tabora:

In my dialogue and dinner yesterday evening with student and faculty representatives of ADDU LGBT community, it was clear that dialogue between members of this community and others at ADDU is required to increase understanding and respect for the human needs and sensitivities of all. This would  include administrators, teachers, students, and staff on all levels. This is not only because Davao City has special legislation proscribing discrimination against the LGBT community, but more so because AdDU is itself positively committed to cultural sensitivity, inter-cultural dialogue and cultural transformation in favor of a society that is more deeply accepting of diversity, including gender diversity, based on a fundamental recognition of the dignity of all (….)

The dialogue, I pray, shall foster greater insight into and understanding of the LGBT community and the needs of others who interact with it, even as I already initiate certain changes in the management of our physical plant. All single CRs in the Jacinto Campus will now be designated as “all gender.”

For your information and guidance.

In the campus, there’s now an LGBT student organization called Libulan, organized to attend to the issues of its members ranging from experiences of discrimination, coming out, micro-aggressions, and even mental health.

Beyond the gated walls and ivory tower of our University, we gather to protest against social structures and practices which constantly silence diversity; and celebrate our gains in pushing for wider democratic spaces.

These teachers and students who march with us yearly already find this as their civic duty.

Faculty and students alike of AdDU come together to celebrate the values of human dignity, equality, and inclusion in the Pride March at Roxas Avene. Through collective action, just like 51 years ago at Stonewall, we bring our political struggle for recognition, inclusion, and non-discrimination to public spaces; keeping in mind that everyday-life is an assertion to legitimize our cause and identities in manifold spaces: in our families, schools, work-places, media, public policy & governance, healthcare, and wherever diversity is invisibled and invalidated.

Davao Pride March, 2018. Photo from Hadji Balajadia’s FB page

So each time I am asked by a colleague or a student why I march with a rainbow flag, I always answer:

….because we do not only teach what we know. Above all, we profoundly teach who we are!

The black American Nobel Prize Awardee in Literature, Toni Morrison, eloquently puts it: “If the University does not take seriously and vigorously its role as a guardian of wider civic freedoms, as interrogator of more and more complex ethical problems, as servant and preserver of deeper democratic practices, then some other regime or menage of regimes will do it for us, in spite of us, and without us.”

It is such an honor to march every year with those in the academe and the leaders of other sectors who never tire in weaving a Philippine society which equally cares for all!

Equality is a Human Right. Davao Pride March 2019. Photo from Commissioner Norman Baloro courtesy of PRIMUM

Let me repost some moments I proudly stood for equal rights and opportunities, social inclusion, and the dignity of all LGBT.

This year, due to the COVID19 pandemic, we will miss the streets and the streets will miss our colorful flags, but we will virtually march on.

We carry on in building a dignified world for all!

We continue to create spaces for dignity and equality!

Join us as we proudly raise the rainbow flag!

No pride and dignity in a world that silences diversity!

Happy Pride Month to one and all!


(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Hadji Balajadia is a full-time faculty of the Psychology Department of the Ateneo de Davao Universiy. She teaches social psychology and Filipino psychology. She is a member of the Social Psychology Division of the Psychological Association of the Philippines and the Philippine Sociological Association)