Iloilo LGBTQ+ group bats for rights, safe spaces at Tourism Pride Summit

The Iloilo Pride Team, an LGBTQ+ organization based in the Iloilo City, Iloilo, participated in Tourism Pride Summit, organized by the Department of Tourism, at the Rizal Ballroom of Makati Shangri-La Hotel, Makati City, on 28 September. Other LGBTQ+ groups and individuals and tourism industry representatives also attended the summit, which is the first of its kind, which had the theme, “Weaving an Inclusive Philippine Tourism Industry.”

Present during the event was the Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco, who delivered the keynote speech. She was joined by other DoT officials in welcoming participants from all over the country.

In her speech, the Tourism chief highlighted how inclusivity, diversity and equality can boost the tourism of the country. She also shared on the ongoing projects of the Department in partnership with other NGAs, NGOs and LGUs that will deliver the Filipino brand in tourism. Among these were multiple training programs for tourism workers including members of the LGBTQ+ community. “No one should be left behind,” she said.

Rep. Christopher ‘Toff’ de Venecia was one of the speakers at the summit. | PhotoGRAPHS COURTESY OF DOT

Among the panelists were Ronil Villacorta, board secretary of Philippine Financial and Inter-Industry; Rielle Alcantara-Castro, assistant professor at University of the Philippines’ Asian Institute of Tourism; Regine Carmelli F. Reyes, Philippine Commission on Women’s GAD Specialist II; Regal Oliva, president of the Cebu Lady Lawyers Association; Girly Gravador, owner of Cygnal Travel; and Rep. Christopher “Toff” de Venecia of the Fourth District of Pangasinan.

Villacorta talked about the need to have inclusive industries and shared how PFIP through its Rainbow Youth Academy has provided financial and training support for young LGBTQ+ members, while Alcantara-Castro elaborated on how the academe can be a strategic venue for gender mainstreaming and emphasized the importance of gendered experience of workers in the tourism industry.

According to Reyes, local LGBTQ+ organizations and DOT should collaborate in training programs for an inclusive tourism, which is also the vision of the current administration. Oliva, the first transgender woman to be part of Zonta Club, an all-women organization mostly comprised of elderly conservative women, shared the dilemmas faced by transgender men and women when travelling, especially overseas. “This way, please,” according to her, is what transgender men and women tourists fear to hear because it simply means one thing — another layer of scrutiny due to the misalignment between the physical appearance and the gender indicated on the passport. She emphasized how having an inclusive tourism will attract more LGBTQ+ travelers around the world, which will translate to economic benefits for the country. She ended her speech with a strong message to have gender-affirming amenities and safe spaces for both local and foreign tourists.

On the other hand, Gravador shared the success story of her travel agency and shared insights on how to be inclusive in services provided.

She said, “LGBTs don’t need special offers or packages. They need the same offers or packages as everyone else. They just need to be treated equally.”

She added that LGBTQ+ travelers don’t need additional stress because of lack of safe spaces when they travel. She also highlighted how LGBTQ+ tourists are the top spenders when it comes to traveling with their numbers showing more than cisgender heterosexual men and women.

Lastly, Rep. De Venecia talked about the creative industry’s role in tourism and how it can help in strengthening cultural diplomacy and soft power. The young lawmaker shared how drag performances can boost our tourism industry and talked briefly about the emergence of voguing schools in the country. He ended his speech with a call to “pass SOGIESC Equality Bill now!” De Venecia is one of the authors of this long overdue bill.

Iloilo Pride Team welcomes this effort from a government agency and acknowledges the recognition given to the need for safe spaces in the tourism industry together with the recognition of the role of the community. It is hoped though that the DoT will work with human rights organizations to acknowledge, protect and promote the rights and welfare of the LGBTQ+ workers and tourists. In addition, the organization hopes that the DoT will help in the call for the passage of the SOGIESC Equality Bill as this is currently the best measure to protect the community from many forms of discriminations, injustices, and gender-based violence.

On the other hand, IPT expresses dismay for the lack of representation from human rights organizations. Many questions raised by the participants were not presented to be addressed by the panelists and the DoT itself.

As this is an inaugural event, the organization hopes that future Pride summits will ensure representation from LGBTQ+ organizations from the grassroots and human rights defenders, and craft collective policy recommendations. IPT also said that they hold and mainstream drag not only for tourism but mainly to advance the creation of safe spaces and facilitate open discussion of the lived realities of persons of diverse SOGIESC.

“We are not your entertainers, we are siblings who deserve as much rights and equal treatment as everyone else,” they assert.