Fighting at the forefront of LGBTQIA+rights

Fighting at the forefront of LGBTQIA+rights

Anyone around Regal Oliva will immediately see how effortlessly she commands attention. Who could possibly miss a power-dressed lawyer with the perfect bouffant updo and a magnetic presence? Even her words, when she speaks, are clear and profound that easily cuts the fog of uncertainty.

But the rooms she now leaves sparkling are not the same as those she spent much of her youth avoiding. There were rooms she was excluded from, rooms she longed to escape and rooms that taught her the meaning of fear as a child.

“I used to go three floors down to the grade school’s restroom,” Regal recalled, reflecting on her high school days. “Why? Because the grade school students were smaller than me, and I could defend myself against them.”

As a child aware of her sexuality from the very beginning, she witnessed how gay children had to defend themselves against potential attacks in spaces meant to be safe, like comfort rooms, like schools.

But young Regal, finding more friends in the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual) community, promised to stand up and break the cycle of victimhood for herself and her friends. Sooner, she took up spaces in student government, in courtrooms, in city halls and — in every room.

Years later, Regal, now a lawyer, a City treasurer and several other esteemed positions, would be among the few who made Mandaue City the first outside Luzon to pass the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.

“Ordinance has teeth,” Regal said, only because there was a fist that started the change.

Pain into power

Before graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Silliman University in 1999, Regal’s crusade against discrimination began in a harrowing manner, a nightmare no one should endure.

For two consecutive years, she witnessed her best friends being subjected to violent sexual harassment, their voices for help falling on deaf ears.

Even worse, Regal herself walked the school’s hallways, a right every student should enjoy, only to be groped so forcefully by an engineering student that it caused her pain. The harasser callously remarked, “Why is it flat?”

Fighting at the forefront of LGBTQIA+rights

“We fought our way through; we held symposia, talk shows and everything in school just to discuss it. We invited the dean to listen to us, and she was like, ‘Oh my goodness, people are talking about it,’ until it became a national issue of what’s going on in Silliman,” said Regal.

Fear once lurked like a silent predator. Yet, when the spotlight finally shone upon Regal Oliva and her companions, it was not a moment to succumb. Not now, not ever.

The final arrow to pierce the veil of silence was seeking support from the Silliman pastor. The endorsement of this revered figure marked the dawn of a broader, more resonant conversation.

In the end, all they needed was for someone to listen. “It took us a year from 1997 to 1998 to really have them listen to us,” Regal recalled. She became president of the student government at Silliman and her presidency became a battleground for equal protection.

“It all started with a few voiceless people, and that’s why, when you see my earliest support group, it’s those two friends of mine,” said Regal.

Legislative battle

In a sit-down interview, Regal recounted the origins of the Pride March. She spoke of the Stonewall Uprising in the 1960s with such familiarity, as if she knew every word by heart. It was clear she had shared this story countless times. Anyone listening could tell she had passionately fought for the cause for the past years.

”Every year since then, there were marches made to protest the violence against people of diverse SOGIE, and that was 50 years ago. The Philippines only started its campaign of gay rights some time in 20 years ago. It’s sad that for two decades now, we have just accomplished little when it comes to government support,” said Regal.

SOGIE stands for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

Regal paints the Pride march as a tradition — a march of protest and hope until comprehensive legal protections embrace individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Our fight is supposed to be one under a national law. We started advocating this in congress in 2003, with Etta Rosales then sponsoring the bill, it was the Anti-Discrimination Bill. Ten years later in 2013, we again submitted the SOGIE Bill, and now just recently in 2022, we submitted again the SOGIESC bill,” shared Regal.

Despite its passage in the House of Representatives, the SOGIE Equality Bill faced significant opposition in the Senate.

“The amendments sadly includes that LGBT will not be included in the Anti-Discrimination Law. The Anti-Discrimination law protects the senior citizens, the indigenous people, the PWD and more but then there is a specific section that says the LGBT sector will also be part of the bill but Sen. Villanueva wanted to erase that,” said Regal.

Every day, the LGBT community faces discrimination based on their SOGIE. “They want to remove that from the law, but why? What about our fight and our advocacy if we just erase it?” Regal questioned.

Seeing the national government’s limited efforts to protect everyone under the law, Regal decided there was no reason to wait. She took action in ways she could, which is why ordinances have been fought for over 10 years.

Mandaue’s Public Information Office states that the city’s comprehensive LGBT code protects the rights of the LGBT community based on the Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights, existing laws and international conventions.

While senior citizens have their special lanes, PWDs (persons with disabilities) have designated walk paths and pregnant individuals have their own queues, the LGBT community is not seeking special privileges; they are simply asking for equal rights.

Regal elaborated, “The right to education is being denied to us because of our long hair, being born male and our sexual characteristics and gender expressions. Schools refuse to enroll us.”

She continued, “The right to health is another battle. Many LGBT individuals with HIV are denied access to healthcare institutions. Instead of receiving immediate care, we have to undergo HIV tests first, even when we are not positive. This stigma severely impacts our access to healthcare.”

“So many rights are being denied to the LGBT sector,” Regal concluded.

With Mandaue City taking significant steps to address the needs of the LGBT community, Regal expressed her hope for the future: “I hope that many ordinances in our locality will follow suit.”

Continued advocacy

The sun painted the sky with its golden fingers, bathing Mandaue City Hall in a warm glow. The air was alive with the fluttering of large rainbow flags, boldly displayed outside and inside the halls.

While it might have seemed like a regular day to many, for Regal Oliva and the LGBTQ+ community, it was a powerful sight to watch. It was a reminder of the positive impact government support can have.

Regal reminisced about the humble beginnings of the Pride march in Mandaue, now one of the largest in the Philippines. It started with just a handful of people walking from the complex to the city hall, without any elaborate celebration. She vividly remembered instructing participants to bring placards expressing their thoughts.

“One of these days, I’ll lose my sparkle,” Regal mused, her smile tinged with a hint of wistfulness. Despite the joy she found in others’ appreciation of what she does, she knew she wasn’t going to be around forever. For her, true pride lies in seeing someone else carry on the fight. “You have to understand the battles I’ve fought over the decades,” she said.

Regal, with her gift for words and her ability to captivate audiences, acknowledged that there would come a time when people might not listen to her anymore.

“There will be somebody who will come and shine brighter, talk better and fight stronger and I will be there to applaud that person,” she continued, her tone filled with both humility and a sense of passing the torch to the next generation.

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