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[an opinion] Pride Month is a Protest

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Written by: Fritzie Rodriguez

Pride Month has always been about activism.

Yes, it is a celebration of love and diversity, but at the very heart of this colorful celebration is an activism which seeks justice for people who have unfairly endured socio-economic inequalities and discrimination for simply being who they are.

It also commemorates the victorious strides made by human rights defenders championing the fundamental freedoms of the LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and sexually or gender-diverse people) community.

While Pride celebrations allow us to come together to give thanks and appreciation to our community and allies, it also reminds us of all the work that is yet to be done in ensuring that society acknowledges and respects the fact that LGBTIQ+ rights are human rights—no more and no less.


We are all humans deserving of equal rights

For far too long, stereotypes and stigma against people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) have been reinforced—either deliberately or unwittingly—by mainstream media, schools, businesses, and governments.

All these deeply impact the LGBTIQ+ community’s quality of life, and restrict their access to fundamental human rights inherent to us all.

Take the case of LGBTIQ+ persons—both young and old—who have lost education and job opportunities due to gender-based biases and harassment across classrooms and workplaces. This affects not only their ability to become productive members of society and to financially support themselves and their loved ones, but also their physical health and mental well-being. 

Despite increasing reports of abuse against LGBTIQ+ persons, their access to justice—as well as healthcare—remains weak. This is especially alarming in countries where laws are used to harm rather than protect the LGBTIQ+ community. It must also be noted that human rights violations against LGBTIQ+ persons are largely underreported in contexts where speaking up might actually get them into even more trouble with the authorities, their employers, and families. 

Now imagine a same-sex couple who cannot access the same kind of rights and services readily available to their married heterosexual counterparts such as availing of insurance policies, housing, and tax benefits, to name a few. Oftentimes, it is extra difficult or virtually impossible for them to jointly adopt children and to have them both legally recognised as parents. The negative portrayal and censorship of LGBTIQ+ rights and SOGI-related issues in education systems in certain countries contribute to the bullying and abuse faced by LGBTIQ+ youth and those from LGBTIQ+ families.

Without national laws protecting us from gender-based discrimination, all these aforementioned problems would only continue to damage lives, spread hate and misinformation, and undermine the universality of human rights.

Compounding the absence of anti-discrimination legislation is the unchallenged existence of archaic and draconian laws that deem LGBTIQ+ persons illegal and immoral.

Discriminatory policies

As of 2023, same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults are still criminalised
in 64 countries, 22 of which are in Asia.

In Malaysia, for example, same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults can have a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, as reported by the Human Dignity Trust (HDT). In Brunei, prior to a moratorium resulting from global backlash, the maximum penalty was death by stoning. In Indonesia’s Aceh province, the HDT found that the ‘anti-pornography law’ is being used to arrest and prosecute LGBTIQ+ persons. And in 2022, the Indonesian parliament approved a new Penal Code criminalising sex outside of marriage, stirring fears as to how this may be used to target same-sex couples.

Meanwhile in Myanmar, LGBTIQ+ protestors report experiencing frequent arrest and detention following the attempted coup in 2021, according to OutRight International. In Sri Lanka, the Vagrancy Ordinance is allegedly being used to target transgender people. In Afghanistan, LGBTIQ+ persons have reported experiences of attacks, sexual assault, and threats since the Taliban takeover in 2021.

Many of these discriminatory policies were inherited from British colonisers, however, several countries have failed to abolish them up to this day. Just like everyone else, LGBTIQ+ persons have the right to live free from persecution and violence. These discriminatory policies deprive the LGBTIQ+ community of such right.

‘In Asia, while there’s an increasing LGBTIQ+ visibility, there are still setbacks, a strong anti-LGBTIQ+ resistance and misinformation campaign resulting from monolithic views of cultures and traditions which are used to dictate governments,’ said Ging Cristobal, OutRight International’s Project Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific.
In the Philippines, Cristobal observed, some LGBTIQ+ activists experience red-tagging. ‘Most governments are still dictated by their religions and traditions when in fact it should be regardless of. While there has been an increase in social tolerance, that’s still limiting, it should be acceptance,’ Cristobal continued.

Although being LGBTIQ+ is not criminalised in many Asian countries, Cristobal stressed the lack of anti-discrimination laws in the region as well as the persistence of unethical conversion practices.

Despite such challenges, Cristobal also emphasised the need to recognise Asia’s wins such as Taiwan’s marriage equality and adoption laws; Thailand’s civil partnership bill; Japan’s recent court rulings debating marriage equality; Vietnam’s ban on conversion therapy; India’s and Singapore’s repeal of discriminatory laws from the colonial era; Nepal’s national anti-discrimination legislation; the Philippines’ local ordinances on anti-discrimination; and the third gender marker in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

The next challenge is ensuring that such laws actually work. ‘If laws are not implemented properly, they’re just trophies. If we don’t capacitate LGBTIQ+ persons to use these laws and if the authorities aren’t on board, we still won’t have access to justice,’ said Cristobal.


Celebrating activists and allies

Working tirelessly to end gender-based discrimination—during and beyond Pride Month—are SOGI rights defenders.

In 2021 and 2022, FORUM-ASIA recorded 14 cases of violations against SOGI rights defenders, which affected at least 39 individuals and organisations. The actual number, however, may be higher. Due to the repressive policies of several Asian governments–as well as the negative portrayal of LGBTIQ+ persons in media and society at large–many SOGI rights defenders are forced to work underground. Hence, the violations they endure tend to be more underreported.

The most common violations against SOGI rights defenders include intimidation, threats, harassment, and online attacks. They also reported experiencing brutal attacks, assaults, death threats, and getting charged for organising or participating in events promoting equality.

‘SOGI rights defenders are at the forefront of ensuring that States recognise LGBTIQ+ rights as human rights. It is such an uphill struggle. We must applaud their work, ensure their protection, and support their demand for gender justice,’ said Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

‘The lack of resources is another issue faced by non-profit organisations supporting LGBTIQ+ rights,’ said Kevin Mandrilla, a corporate professional and Filipino SOGI rights advocate, ‘And the law is blind to us, it doesn’t know we exist. This is why we need to implement anti-discrimination laws and keep funding LGBTIQ+ rights organisations, so they can continue more awareness and policy work.’ 

‘We must also keep lobbying for parallel efforts at the local level,’ added Ron de Vera, a Filipino artist and SOGI rights defender, ‘We must continue the collaboration between LGBTIQ+ rights activists and the corporate world. If your government doesn’t protect your rights, at least private companies can have progressive policies ensuring that workplaces are safe and inclusive.’

Mandrilla transitioned to the corporate world after working in the human rights sector for years. Meanwhile, De Vera shifted from corporate work into human rights activism before entering the art world. Although they have already left their full-time jobs in humanitarian organisations, Mandrilla and De Vera continue to advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights in their own capacities—proving that everyone can be a human rights defender.  

‘Pride Month is, was, and will always be a protest,’ said Cristobal, ‘It’s about reclaiming our human rights. Like you, we’re human. There’s nothing extra special about LGBTIQ+ rights, those are equal rights which are irrationally and illegally taken away from us just because we’re LGBTIQ+.’

May this protest for equal rights continue beyond June.



Fritzie Rodriguez is a development worker and former journalist. She is the Media and Communications Programme Officer for FORUM-ASIA, a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia.

FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development. It has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and a consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. Its Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva, and Kathmandu.

This article was originally published in Rappler.