LGBTQI Rights are Indigenous Rights: How Land is Life focuses on Inclusion in the Philippines


Cordillera Peoples Alliance and other organisations protest for LGBT and Indigenous Peoples rights. Photo: Bestang Dekdeken

By Ashley Hernandez and Bestang Dekdeken
Indigenous People’s right to self determination is central to Land is Life’s mission, a global network of Indigenous communities and organizations.  These rights are also human rights, asserts Bestang Dekdeken, Asia Program Director for Land is Life. Indigenous Peoples includes women, men, the disabled, the elderly, the young and LGBTQI people. Wider issues like the impact of extractive industries and climate change affect all these identities, especially for Indigenous Peoples. This is why Land is Life is forging ahead with ways to integrate a focus on LGBTQI concerns in their programs, so no one is left behind. Bestang shares with IFIP her experience with integrating LGBTQI rights into her work with Indigenous communities in the Philippines, the challenges, and how Indigenous philanthropy can successfully propel this effort forward.
In the Philippines LGBTQI people experience systemic discrimination in several areas of their lives. Similarily, the same type of prejudice is also a reality in many of the country’s Indigenous communities. This can create a difficult balancing act where one of the goals of the Indigenous movement is to celebrate their traditional knowledge and cultural practices.  In some cases, there is a culture of  “machismo”, which impacts the way in which day-to-day decisions are organized. For example, men and boys are seen as responsible for a range of activities from agriculture, Indigenous rituals to local politics. This cements ideas of specific roles of men and women, marginalizing individuals who do not fall neatly into these binary categories. This is especially a difficult subject to broach with the elders who may view this aspect as an important element of their society’s social order. This is when conversations about rights are especially important. In the Philippines, protecting Indigenous cultural practices, knowledge and identity is paramount. Yet it is also important to highlight sectoral rights. Bestang clarifies, “when we talk about Indigenous People’s rights to self-determination, we are also talking about their rights as people belonging to various sectors of society. This is a common aspiration: full respect of Indigenous Peoples, including those who are LGBTQI”
For groups like Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Bestang’s mother organization, experience has shown that this can be overcome by not only emphasizing that LGBTQI people are Indigenous, too, but also by underscoring that they are some of the most powerful movers and shakers in the movement for Indigenous rights. “What we have seen when LGBTQI people became a part of the Indigenous rights movement is they go back and organize. There is respect for people like this and they are seen as leaders. This brings a currency and some level of acceptance”, Bestang explains.

“Justice for me is equal rights for gays and lesbians” Clyde Pumihic an indigenous activist belonging to the LGBTQI community. Photo: Bestang Dekdeken

These two strategies are important, but the road to integrating LGBTQI rights into the Indigenous movement is long.  Land is Life’s work on this issue is still a project in motion. This is why last March Land is Life explicitly included LGBTQI rights and inclusion into their Asia strategy. The organization recognizes that there needs to be a deeper understanding of LGBTQI issues and how Land is Life can support this from the grassroots to the international level. One tool the network is exploring is launching a study on the lived experiences and challenges faced by LGBTQI people, so organizations can more effectively advocate for their rights and acceptance.
When IFIP asked Bestang how the donor community could support this goal of inclusion, she emphasized that flexible, long-term grants are key. Flexibility is essential because context can change, whether at the local or national levels, impacting the way programs move forward.  For example, southern Philippines is currently under martial law, which is effecting Indigenous Peoples’ current programs. A long-term relationship with funders is especially important when it comes to supporting the integration of LGBTQI rights in Indigenous movements. Like dealing with other rights-based approaches, this effort is largely strengthened by awareness, education and empowerment, all of which takes time. Understanding LGBTQI rights as an important subsection of Indigenous rights is crucial. It can be achieved in the Philippines and globally, and long-term, flexible partnerships with funders are two fundamental building blocks.
Bestang Dekdeken is Asia Program Director for Land is Life. She is a Kankanaey-Igorot Indigenous leader and a member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance
Ashley Hernandez is Program Associate at International Funders for Indigenous Peoples